Overview: It can be hard to find good clean books for teens that are interesting AND appropriate. Here is my list of books I’m not scared to recommend to anyone!
Today we come to the last installment in our series on giving books as gifts — just in time to head to the bookstore or order with 2-day shipping for Christmas! This has been a fun series to write as I’ve revisited many of my family’s favorites.
If you are just joining us, you may want to read the introduction to the series and the three other installments: books for toddler – early elementary, for girls ages 8 – 14 (give or take), and for boys of the same age.
Teen fiction is an interesting genre. I actually have a few problems with it. The main one is that in most books labelled “Young Adult,” the main characters are in fact portrayed as adults that just happen to be younger. In other words, they are teens, but they are wise, intelligent, and verbal beyond their years. Tim Challies says it this way:
“The way the main characters express themselves sounds suspiciously like the way a middle-aged man would express himself, and especially so if he was trying to impress everyone else with his deep thoughts and extensive lexicon.”
He is discussing a particular book, but I think his observation applies throughout the teen literature genre. You can read his full article here.
Another problem for me is that many of the currently popular teen books are set in a dystopian society. And the main character teen just happens to save the world without much help from the adults. In fact, the adults are generally in the way or ineffective. Also, in these dystopian books there is often an element of horror that I find disturbing.
And last but not least, in teen books of today we often find teens partaking in activity that should be left to the adults, if you get my meaning. To me this is not a good thing. The idea of purity and innocence until marriage seems to have been thrown out by most of society; well, I for one would like to keep it. So a book with “scenes” is not going to be one I let my child read. Nor will I recommend it here.
So in this book list you will not find horror or dystopia. You will not find teens who think they are adults. You will not find sex. You will just find good clean books for teens that don’t need to rely on those other things to be great. They speak for themselves with excellent characterization, plot, and setting. They are not “fad” books; they will be on your teen’s shelf for a long time and will be read over and over again.
Good Clean Books for Teens
- The Ranger’s Apprentice series, by John Flanagan. Similar to the Squire’s Tales series from the list for junior high boys, this series features an orphan boy who finds himself in situations where he can make a difference. Will becomes an apprentice to a Ranger, who is kind of like a spy. The time period is sometime when the most advanced weaponry is a crossbow, so one’s wits are very important to survival. There is a lot of adventure, a few battles, and plenty of suspense as Will learns his trade, growing in skill and character throughout the series.
- Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. I didn’t read this book until adulthood, but all of my older girls have read it as part of their high-school literature curriculum. I recommend it because it is a classic, because the use of language will stretch your brain, and because it is a good commentary on developing snap judgments about people based on appearances or hearsay. Guys may not be too into it, but the girls on your list will love it. (Suprisingly enough, my son enjoyed Jane Eyre, so don’t make assumptions about what either boys or girls will prefer.)
- Anything by Jules Verne. These are great books for guys, and girls may enjoy them, too. They are thick reads with lots of detail. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth are two that stand out. (And yes, they both have movies — but this article is about good clean BOOKS for teens — not good clean MOVIES for teens. Books keep kids entertained longer than movies; have you noticed?) These are science fiction at its best.
- The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. This is a fun, suspenseful story that takes place during the French Revolution. The Scarlet Pimpernel is a man who helps aristocrats escape from France to England. He is dashing, debonair, very smart, and also a big secret — until the woman he loves finds out who he is… I frankly LOVE this story.
- The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. This is the true story about Corrie Ten Boom and her family, who helped hide Jews from the Nazis in Holland during World War II. Spoiler alert: they get arrested and taken to a concentration camp. It is an amazing testimony to our response to suffering and the faithfulness of God. It brings perspective back to our materialistic, me-first existence.
- Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. In homeschool circles the Harris family is well-known. Two of their boys wrote this book about the low expectations prevalent in today’s society in regard to teen behavior; they advocate a “Rebelution” in which teens seek to aim higher and practice discipline and diligence as they pursue difficult tasks and projects. What parent doesn’t want this message given to their teen? The writing is very motivating; all of my teens have been impacted by this book.
- Saved Without a Doubt, by John MacArthur. In my opinion this should be required reading for every teen in every Christian family. Praying a prayer as a small child does not necessarily salvation make; in the teen years a child may be re-thinking everything he has been taught. In this book, MacArthur lists the characteristics of someone who has been saved for anyone to evaluate themselves against. It is clear and easy to understand, and it just may help your teen clarify his own thoughts.
- Stepping Heavenward, by Elizabeth Prentiss. This book is fiction but reads like the diary of a real person. The main character is turning 16 at the beginning of her diary; we follow along as she grows in her Christian faith throughout the years. We are encouraged and spurred on in our own walk through reading about hers. This one is probably more for girls than guys, in general.
- The All Creatures Great and Small series, by James Herriot. These books have been around since I was in high school… which means awhile, lol. They are the sorta fictionalized sorta true account of the author’s life as a large-animal veterinarian in England in the mid-twentieth century. These books are full of lovable characters and funny/interesting stories. They make great reading for anyone interested in animals, but the rest of the population will like them, too. Both of my “hands-on, less interested in sitting still” kids really liked this series. It has been re-created by PBS twice now — I haven’t watched the newest version, but the original TV series was done really well. But as always, books first!
- anything by Agatha Christie. These mystery books will be found in the adult section, but any teenager can read them as their introduction to the mystery genre — there is nothing inappropriate or overtly “adult” in them. And Agatha Christie is not considered the Grand Dame of mystery for nothing. The plots are complicated, the characters intriguing, and you never can figure out who dunnit. This is good suspense writing, folks, not your gory horrific variety. Start with And Then There Were None — ten people on an island are getting killed off one by one… shiver…
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I love books. And these are no exception. Hopefully in this list you’ve found some good clean books for teens that will be a hit in your home.
This series has been a joy to write, to share some of my friends with y’all. That’s what happens with a good book — it becomes your friend. Give your teen new “friends” that will remain faithful through their whole lives!
- Episode 91: Unschooling Teens — My Experience and Advice (with Julie Polanco) - November 18, 2022
- Episode 90: Are You Giving Grace to Your Teen? - November 4, 2022
- Episode 89: Kristin Moon’s Homeschool Experience — Do’s and Don’ts for High School - October 21, 2022