As I set out to identify ten books that every teen girl should read, I was cautious to not make the list patronizing.
As a teenage girl myself, I’ve read many female YA book recommendation lists that only hold John Green-esque romantic comedies and middle-grade dystopian staples.
While these are both essential parts of being a teenage book lover, they don’t actually capture what it’s like to be a teenage girl.
It’s unexplainable to anyone who hasn’t been one herself. It’s a conglomeration of big, unidentifiable feelings and casual cruelties. Nobody would go back to that era of life for any amount of money – but it’s still so widely romanticized.
Nothing can really explain the teenage girl phenomenon – but today, we’ll go over ten books that come close.
The best books for teen girls to read of all time
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Read Stargirl when… you want to have more empathy for other people.
Written by brilliant YA fiction mastermind Jerry Spinelli, Stargirl takes place in Mica High School. Mica is predictable and dull, until fifteen-year-old Stargirl Caraway transfers to the school.
Stargirl is bright and musical. She sings “Happy Birthday” to her classmates in the school cafeteria and carries her ukulele (and pet rat) everywhere. Desperate for a little bit of color, the student body is enchanted with her.
But after she goes too far, the school turns against her. Protagonist Leo Borlock, who has started to fall for her, has to choose between sticking by her and fitting in.
As I mature, I realize that Stargirl a little annoying. But when I was an early teenager and reading this for the first time, she inspired me. Stargirl taught me how to love the world, and how to love people.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
I recommended this book in my list of the best middle grade books, but it really is the book for teenage girls. It follows Margaret, who’s the new student at her New Jersey school. Insecure about the pace at which she’s experiencing puberty, she tries too hard to grow up.
But what truly bothers her, more than her friends getting their periods before her, is her disconnection from religion. Where she lives, everybody is either Jewish or Christian. Her parents are nonreligious, so she spends the book dabbling in both.
Through it all, however, she never stops talking to God. In fact, He’s the one who gets her through all the big moments of her little life.
Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
Read Flipped when… you’ve fallen in love with an average boy and don’t know what to do about it.
A dreamy early 2000s book, Flipped is told from the alternating perspectives of Julie Baker and Bryce Loski.
Julie has been in love with Bryce since they were little. The moment he moved into her neighborhood, she convinced herself that he was her dream boy. On the other hand, Bryce does not reciprocate her feelings. In fact, he goes out of his way to avoid her.
But over the course of the book, their feelings flip. Suddenly, Julie realizes that she deserves better than Bryce – right as he realizes that he took her affection for granted.
Words cannot describe how much I love this book. If there’s anything we are good at, it’s romanticizing people so much that we have completely altered who they are. Watching Julie realize that Bryce is not the boy she’s dreamed about for years is inexplicably empowering.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Read The Bell Jar when… you’re burnt out from trying to reach everybody’s expectations.
Maybe one of my favorite classic books for teens, The Bell Jar chronicles a young woman’s spiraling mental health.
Esther Greenwood is beautiful, smart and talented. She’s a scholarship college student with her life ahead of her. Her teachers expect great things from her, and her mother has established that she doesn’t need to worry about her.
But something is off. The little cruelties of life, along with her imbalanced mind, take Esther from preparing for the next school year to receiving shock therapy.
Plath seamlessly describes the descent and recovery of her mental health and strikes a chord with every overachieving teenage girl.
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Wintergirls is about two best friends: Lia and Cassie. They silently compete to see who can lose the most weight, developing extremely unhealthy relationships with food.
When the story turns tragic, Lia is left with the guilt of not saving her best friend. Memories of their old competition haunt her as her eating habits get worse.
In one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read, Anderson chronicles Lia’s road to recovery.
Jean and Johnny by Beverly Cleary
Read Jean and Johnny when… you have that gut feeling that you deserve more in a relationship.
Everybody needs to stop pretending that Beverly Cleary did not write YA books. Even though her Ramona books were iconic, her books for teenagers dispense far more wisdom. Jean and Johnny is my favorite of her books.
It’s about fifteen-year-old Jean, who lives a life of mediocrity until an older boy named Johnny dances with her at a social function.
After that, she’s all about him – she tries to get his picture, looks for him after school, and makes futile plans to see him outside of class.
After he strings her on for enough time, she realizes that she likes him far more than he likes her.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxanne Gay
The only nonfiction book on this list, Hunger is a memoir by prominent author and speaker Roxanne Gay. It’s also the most mature book on this list.
In this startlingly honest memoir, Gay recounts the events that led to her weight gain and mental spiral. When she was a child, a violent act from a boy she loved led to her downward spiral. She began to eat excessively, because she thought she would be safer if she were bigger.
Gay also offers commentary about women’s relationship with food, body image, and how society treats overweight people. Without a doubt, it was the most formative book I read in 2022.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
This book follows freshman Melinda Sordino, whose life changed forever at a party the summer before. Disorientated and confused, she had to call the police.
Because nobody knew what really happened, the whole school assumed that she was “snitching” and shunned her.
Going into freshman year, Melinda has no friends and no will to talk. Instead of speaking, she chews on the inside of her mouth and watches her social life crumble with a dry internal narrative.
But when seeing the boy who ruined her life walking freely through the halls becomes too much for her to handle, Melinda finds her voice.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Read Little Women when… you need an older sister voice for comfort and guidance.
Little Women follows the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – as they grow up amidst hardship and build on their sisterly bond. As they come of age, they overcome their little flaws and become well-rounded women.
I think Little Women resonates so deeply with teenage girls because the characters go through every struggle imaginable as they come of age.
But we figure that if Amy can go from pining after a boy from afar to marrying him, we can too. If Jo can get out of her directionless 20s and build a family, we can too.
Reading this classic is a rite of passage for every girl. The entire book feels like home, and readers will find a relatable protagonist in Jo March.
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Spanning three decades of female friendship, Firefly Lane follows two best friends: Kate Mularkey and Tully Hart.
Kate is plain and friendless, but has a loving family that’s behind her no matter what. Tully is drop-dead gorgeous and makes friends wherever she goes, but is haunted by her mother’s abandonment.
When Tully moves to Kate’s middle school in 1974, the girls become inseparable. But through high school, college and adulthood, their friendship is tested by seeds of envy and resentment. It’s up to them to remember what matters most: their love for each other.
For more of the best books for teen girls, you might like…
- 10 of the most wholesome comfort reads for a hug from a book
- 10 best classic books for teens to read of all time
- 10 best YA books ever for readers of all ages
- 15 best books to read before you start college
- 10 best middle grade books that kids and adults will love
- 20 of the best modern novels of the 21st century
If you adore books, need a bit of a boost, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, check out The Sanctuary, a seven-day course from Tolstoy Therapy.