Cross-Unders Revisited: Great Teen Books for Tween Readers

Today’s post is co-written by myself and Kenzie Moore. Kenzie is a student in her final semester of Syracuse University iSchool’s MLIS program, where she’s been focusing on teen services in between watching episodes of Teen Wolf and going to One Direction concerts. You can connect with her on Twitter.

It feels like every day we meet new tweens who are reading above their grade level and seeking recommendations. Cross-unders, or teen books with tween appeal, were well-covered in this 2013 Hub post from Erin Bush and Diane Colson. The YALSA Blog chimed in with reasons why these books are an important part of a teen collection serving reluctant and ELL teen readers as well as advanced tweens and younger teens. Knowing how frequently we search for titles to fit these diverse needs, Kenzie and I offer some additional cross-under suggestions. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

Cross-Unders Collage for the Hub

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie — 14-year-old Junior is going to do something he thought was impossible: he’s going to leave the Spokane Indian reservation where he lives. Not permanently or anything, but he deserves better than decades-old math books, and he’s mad about it. Mad enough to do something. Sherman Alexie’s highly-buzzed book deals with some complicated topics: bullying, racism, alcoholism, but it also deals with what it is like to find your own path to walk as a young person. That, combined with the humor in Junior’s voice and his drawings that pepper the pages, is going to make this a high-appeal book for readers just starting to dip their toes into the teen waters.

His Dark Materials Trilogy, by Philip Pullman — Philip Pullman’s trilogy is another good recommendation for those fantasy readers that have exhausted every series you suggest… and that one… and yep, they read that one too. The first book in the series, The Golden Compass, was originally published in 1995, but the story has a timeless feel that keeps the series from feeling dated. Daemons, witches, alternate universes, and of course, a coming of age tale at the heart of it all. His Dark Materials is a trilogy that is ideal for readers that like the lyrical flow of epic fantasies but don’t necessarily want the romance or the explicit violence that you can sometimes get in fantasy novels.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart — At 14, Frankie Landau-Banks was a little bit of a nerd trying to navigate life at her prestigious boarding school. At 15, she’s dating a senior and possibly becoming the greatest criminal mastermind her school has ever seen. This is a story about growing up in a boys’ world and deciding that it just isn’t good enough. Younger readers reading up will connect with Frankie’s no-nonsense attitude and youthful voice, plus they’ll appreciate the look forward to what your early years in high school are like.

Ash, by Malinda Lo — Lo’s retelling of the Cinderella myth is the story of a young girl, Ash, abused by her step-family in the wake of her father’s death, who can’t stop thinking about the woods by her childhood home, the woods where the fairies lived. That is, until she can’t stop thinking about the King’s Huntress, Kaisa. Ash is a beautifully crafted fantasy that includes LGBTQ representation and heavier topics, like death and abuse, without ever feeling vulgar or overwhelming. Readers that have exhausted the fantasy offerings on the children’s side of the library will appreciate the new voice.

Under the Egg, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald — Manhattan. Art theft. Intrigue. Theodora (just call her Theo) Tenpenny finds what she believes to be the find of the century on accident, when she spills some rubbing alcohol on a painting that belonged to her late grandfather. If only she didn’t suspect he’d stolen it from the Met. As Theo tries to unravel the mystery, she goes on adventures all around Manhattan and meets a whole cast of interesting characters. Under the Egg is a good recommendation for the budding mystery-readers or the readers that like their books with a bit of quirk to them.

The Maze Runner, by James DashnerSo hard to put down! This dystopian series grabs you from the beginning and keeps the twists coming. The author was influenced by Ender’s Game and Lord of the Flies, and fans of those stories will appreciate the connections. Sensitive readers may want to proceed carefully, but those who love grit, mystery, and scares will devour this series.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona — There is so much for young readers to identify with in the story of Kamala Khan. Though she is a Pakistani-American girl growing up in New Jersey and chafing against her conservative Muslim parents (and mysteriously acquiring powers), her story’s themes are universal: just wanting to be normal while feeling like her family is the weirdest and her body is out of control. The story and artwork include wonderful details (whose phone hasn’t died at the worst time possible? And who else wears giant, unflattering glasses at home when only family can see?). Don’t miss recommending this series kickoff that was a gamechanger in the not-so-diverse comics landscape.

The Glass Sentence, by S. E. Grove — Fantasy fans won’t want to miss this debut and series opener, with its complex weaving of timelines and worlds. Sophia has been living in a broken-apart world since the Great Disruption of 1799, when the continents were thrust into different Ages of the past, present, and future, and she was separated from her parents. Now she lives in New Occident Boston with her Uncle Shadrack, a famed mapmaker and magician, until the day he is kidnapped and it is up to Sophia to find the answers.

The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt — Holling Hoodhood knows how to make enemies, and he’s pretty sure he’s made one of his teacher, Mrs. Baker, when he has to stay with her on Wednesday afternoons when all of his classmates leave early for Hebrew school or catechism. He’s even more convinced of it when she assigns him the reading of Shakespeare during their time together. But it doesn’t turn out all bad, as he and Mrs. Baker slowly become friends over the background tumult of the late 1960’s, Holling’s home life, and the wisdom of Shakespeare.

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander — Twins Josh (Filthy McNasty) and Jordan (JB) Bell have always been basketball phenoms (their dad is a former pro player), and they’ve always been close. But their 7th grade year brings some major changes — a girlfriend, a championship, and their dad’s shaky health — that test their relationship. Rap + sports + family + girl drama + fast read = high appeal. This one is great on audio, too.

~Rebecca O’Neil, currently reading George by Alex Gino

2 thoughts on “Cross-Unders Revisited: Great Teen Books for Tween Readers”

  1. Hurrah for Gary Schmidt (Okay for Now after Wednesday Wars!) I also like to recommend Shannon Hale’s Books of Bayern and Book of a Thousand Days. Hi’lary McKay’s books about the Casson family starting with Saffy’s Angel also work well for these readers. And John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series and the Bartimeus books by Jonathan Stroud. Great topic!

    1. Thanks, Robin! Shannon Hale and Ranger’s Apprentice got a mention in the previous post — we need one giant super-list! I love Hilary McKay, too!

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