Ten Books on Your Teen Girl's Holiday List

By Nancy Barile on December 6, 2010
  • Grades: 9–12

There are few things harder than shopping for a teen. Let me make it easier for you by suggesting books that I guarantee your teen girl will love. Read on for my top ten holiday gift suggestions.


1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar, a proto-feminist novel, is one of the building blocks of American literature. It is both timeless and time-bound: while it accurately portrays the frustrations of an intelligent and talented woman growing up in the 1950s, any young woman trying to find direction in her life will relate to it. The prose style of The Bell Jar mirrors the disorientation of adolescence, making the novel highly personal and comprehensible. A must-read for today's teen girl.

2. Girl by Blake Nelson. This is one of my favorite books of all time. It's one of those novels that still resonates with me no matter how many times I pick it up. And as I stated in a previous post, I am still mystified at how author Blake Nelson so accurately captured the voice of a teenage girl. This was also the first novel that compelled me to actually write a letter to the author (who answered!). I have never read a book that more precisely portrays the true feelings of a teenage crush.

3. She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. A novel of acceptance and self-discovery, She's Come Undone got its legs as a selection in Oprah's Book Club. The book is definitely suited for older teens because of the mature issues it deals with, including rape, sexual ambiguity, and madness. That being said, it's a highly compelling read. I didn't want it to end, even though we follow Dolores until she is in her 40s! Like Blake Nelson, Wally Lamb shows great mastery in writing in first person as a female — especially one that is as multifaceted and multidimensional as Dolores.

4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I read this with my Mysteries class, and it never ceases to grab the attention of even my most jaded teens. From the minute the reader learns that Melinda is being ostracized by her peer group for calling the cops on a party, the reader is hooked. Speak is a very important book that can provoke necessary conversations with teens.

5. Rumors of Peace by Ella Leffland. Teens will be riveted to Suse Hansen's coming of age story, which spans World War II, including the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. As she lives through these historical events, Suse's growth from fierce tomboy to moral young woman is infused with humor, honesty, and intelligence. The supporting characters in this novel are also richly drawn and compelling.

6. Joy School by Elizabeth Berg. I first learned of Joy School when author Elizabeth Berg read excerpts from her book at a conference I attended. From the protagonist's spot-on description of her teachers, I knew this would be perfect for younger teens who will identify with 12-year-old Katie's coming of age. Katie's struggles with family and friends, and her older man crush make for a fun yet meaningful read.

7. Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall. I read this one in college, and I remember being so moved and transformed by it. The novel is set in Brooklyn and covers the Depression as well as World War II. The dialogue in this passionate book is honest and precise, and teens will relate to the book's heroine, Selina Boyce, who, as a Caribbean-American, deals with issues of family, identity, sexuality, and values.

8. Sloppy Firsts
 by Megan McCafferty. In 8th grade, Jessica Darling, the protagonist of this novel, was voted "Brainiac." Her best friend, Hope, was named "Class Artist," and together the girls hoped to navigate their way through high school, secure in their geekdom. Hope moves away, however, and Sloppy Firsts is composed of Jessica's letters to Hope, as Jessica begins to realize her friends are phonies, and that the boy she considered a dreg is actually an intelligent and mysterious rebel, who just might capture her heart. I love this book because Jessica is strong and smart — the antithesis of the vapid and materialistic teen girls who populate much of young adult literature.   

9. Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah. This novel explores what it's like being a teenager who is different in today's society. Reconciling religious and cultural beliefs with trying to fit in, Amal helps readers see why wearing the hijab is a choice for so many young Muslim women. This novel was a huge hit with my very multicultural students, whether they were Muslims or not.

10. The Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Flake. Thirteen-year-old Maleeka Madison is miserable. Her father has been dead two years, and she's mercilessly bullied because her skin is "too dark" and her clothes are unfashionable. Maleeka's bond with a new teacher, who is comfortable in the "skin she's in," eventually opens up a whole new world for Maleeka. Teens will love Maleeka's authentic voice and the honest descriptions of her experiences.

The teen girl in your life will most definitely devour these books. So don't obsess about what to get for a hard-to-buy-for teenager — everything is right here!


~ Nancy


Thanks, SJ! Always open to new suggestions!

This pretty much hit the nail with the books that I read as a teen. Even though I'm past those years by a few years now I passed down the books to my younger family and the girls were really in love with Sloppy First as well as The Bell Jar. Great choices!

Any other suggestions, you might have, Boyfriend 2.0?

A great mix of stuff. I still read The Bell Jar once every couple of years. And I loved the racey but perfectly YA Sloppy Firsts books.

I'd love it if you could follow up and let me know what she says!

I just bought five of these books for my daughter, she will absolutely love them!

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