Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite phrase: “reluctant readers.” I’m firmly of the opinion that readers are only reluctant because they haven’t yet found a book that suits them, or are simply tired of only being handed books about thin, white, cishet protagonists. Whatever the reason may be, this list seeks to provide recommendations for many different types of “reluctant” readers, whether it be a resistance to series commitment, a need for a captivating story, a short attention span that requires breaks, or just needing something funny.
Justyce is in handcuffs, but he shouldn’t be. It doesn’t matter to the officer who put them on him that Justyce is an honors student, loyal friend, and good human being. Desperate for answers, he turns to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., writing in a journal to ask King for wisdom. And when tragedy arrives, Justyce has to fight against preconceived notions and media fallout that ignore who he truly is.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: At under 250 pages, Dear Martin is relevant, emotional, and at a length that doesn’t feel like a huge time commitment.
The Crisis Girls are the defenders of Crisis City, the most dangerous corner of Tokyo. They are young girls, born of a cursed bloodline, who use their varying powers to help protect the city from those who’d harm it. Crisis Girl Kaede is a necromancer, and she is duty-bound to protect the innocent. If April Ludgate and Andy Dwyer from Parks & Recreation had a magical daughter, she would be Kaede.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: Manga appeals to many who aren’t necessarily fans of full-text books, and this first volume of Crisis Girls is an excellent entry into the world of manga.
Claudia’s best friend, Monday, is missing, but no one seems to notice. Monday’s mother won’t give Claudia a clear answer, and Monday’s sister is far from helpful. But as she asks around, she discovers that no one really remembers the last time they saw Monday. Claudia knows something is wrong, and she’s the only one willing to seek out answers.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: Jackson is a masterful storyteller, and Monday’s Not Coming is a story that will keep readers turning pages, trying to discover the answers to the mystery.
In this graphic novel anthology, Pénélope Bagieu tells the stories of many different historical women who rebelled against the world as it was presented to them. Featured are women both celebrated and quietly remembered: Las Mariposas, the sisters who fought against a dictator; Nellie Bly, a reporter who went undercover in an asylum; Frances Glessner Lee, a divorcee who was influential in the development of forensic science; Josephine Baker, a dancer who aided the French Resistance in WWII and contributed to the Civil Rights movement; and more.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: Both informative and incredibly illustrated, this graphic novel offers glimpses into the lives of women many teens may not have heard of. Plus, it’s easy to read in pieces, story by story.
When Will gets on the elevator, he has a gun shoved in the waistband of his jeans. He knows the rules—no snitching, no crying, revenge—and after the murder of his brother, he’s ready to follow through. But as the elevator stops at different floors, on come figures from Will’s past, figures of those dead and gone, who add to Will’s understanding of what really happened to his brother.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: With many of the readers I’ve worked with, there can be a delicate balance between wanting to read a book without a long time commitment and wanting to experience longer books. Novels in verse help with that balance, offering a shorter reading experience in a longer book.
This anthology features fifteen stories from some of YA’s greatest authors. Each story is a reimagining of East or South Asian mythologies and folklore, told by authors of Asian descent. Featured authors include Renée Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar, and Alyssa Wong. Plus, it was masterfully edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, making it an anthology in which each story is a winner.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: The anthology format makes it easy to read one story, put the book away for a little while, and then come back to it without feeling like you’re missing something!
Xiomara pours her frustrations with school, Mami, and religion onto the pages of her notebook, writing poetry she shares with no one. All she can think about is a boy in her class named Aman, and how Mami can’t know about him—and all Mami wants is for Xiomara to be a good religious girl. But Xiomara just got offered a spot in her school’s slam poetry club, and she wonders what it would be like to read her poems out loud.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: As with Long Way Down, this is a longer book with a shorter time commitment. Plus, Acevedo’s writing is stunning and will leave readers anxiously awaiting more.
After her mother’s death, Artemisia Gentileschi was given a choice: become a nun, or grind paint for her father. She chose paint, and as she grew so did her skill—until she became one of the most talented painters Rome had to offer, even if people were unaware she was the one behind her paintings. After Artemisia is raped, she must choose once again: silence or truth. Telling the story of the Baroque-era Italian painter, best known for “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” Blood Water Paint is an extraordinary debut.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: Blending prose and verse, Blood Water Paint manages to make a historical fiction novel extremely accessible. Artemisia’s story also ties in with current conversations surrounding sexual assault, so even though her story takes place in the early 1600s, it is wildly relevant for today.
Eelyn has been trained for two things her whole life: to be a warrior, and to fight against the Riki clan, rivals to her own Aska clan. When she sees her brother fighting with the Riki on the battlefield, the brother who died five years ago, her whole world shifts. Now, she’ll have to survive in the mountains with the Riki, facing her brother and his best friend, who doesn’t trust her. And when a third clan, thought to be nothing but legend, attacks the Riki, Eelyn will have to work to unite the Aska and the Riki before both are wiped out.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: So often fantasies are hard for those readers who worry about commitments. While Sky in the Deep is slated to have a companion novel, it isn’t the first in a series, so readers can pick it up without stressing about story arcs being incomplete.
Cat is the daughter of legendary geneticist Lachlan Agatta, living in a post-plague world where people are implanted with tech to recode their DNA. Lachlan may be the last hope of defeating the plague, but he was kidnapped by Cartaxus, a shadowy organization, two years ago. Cat is a hacker who can gene-hack better than anyone. When she receives news of her father’s death, it comes with the discovery that before his death, he created a vaccine that could help save the human race, and it’s up to Cat and a soldier to release it.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: If there was a dictionary article for “books that leave you gasping out loud,” this book would be the accompanying picture. It’s breathtaking sci-fi with a breakneck pace and twists upon twists upon twists, keeping eyes glued to the pages.
In Knox’s world, the rich take no punishments—they have a paid Proxy who takes their punishments for them. For Knox, that person is Syd. And when Knox gets into a car accident that kills the girl he’s with, it’s Syd who is sentenced to death. When the two boys cross paths, they discover there are more forces at play in their situation than they know, and they’ll have to work together to get out alive.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: One of the best dystopian novels out there, Proxy is not only relevant to today in terms of the rich/poor divide, but also is one of the few YA sci-fis that features a gay lead.
Taliah Sahar Abdallat has never met Julian Oliver, but has sent him letters since she was thirteen. After all, he is her father. So it’s rather surprising when Julian, a rock star, all of a sudden shows up, asking if she’ll come to his hometown and meet his dying father. With her best friend by her side, Taliah goes to discover a part of her family she never knew.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: Family stories are always a big win, especially when they involve learning about pieces of family that were previously unknown. Warga’s writing makes this story absolutely stunning, and the music connection will hook any readers who has wondered what it might be like to have a rock star as a parent.
Clara is a prank queen. When she takes a prank at prom too far, she and classmate Rose (who do not get along) are called to the office. Instead of suspension, the principal, Clara’s dad, and Rose’s parents come up with a solution: the girls will spend the summer working at the KoBra (Clara’s dad’s food truck). While it’s nowhere close to the summer she imagined, she’ll learn new things about her family, Rose, and a cute boy named Hamlet who’s crushing on her.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: I’ve been able to get a book into a teen’s hands just based on the statement that it will make them hungry, and this book will definitely make you want to hit a food truck. Plus, it’s super funny, and features one of the best (if not the best) YA dads of all time.
In Denton’s world, everyone knows the day they’ll die. Denton’s deathdate is in two days, which happens to coincide with his senior prom. His last few days are certainly not boring—first hangover, first time having sex, first love triangle resulting from said sex. To top it all off, there’s a purple rash making its way up his body. When a mysterious man shows up at his funeral, claiming to have known Denton’s late mother, Denton is warned to beware of suspicious government figures.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: Another book that literally made me LOL, Denton is fun, fresh, and wildly unlike anything I’d ever read before. Give this to the skeptic who tells you, “but all YA is the same!”
Genie Lo is working her hardest to get into Harvard. The only problem is, her hometown is sort of under attack from hellspawn straight out of Chinese folklore, which is not exactly conducive to studying. Mysterious transfer kid Quentin becomes Genie’s guide to battling the demons—and as it turns out, Quentin might just be out of a myth himself. Suddenly, the Bay Area’s safety rests on Genie summoning an inner power Quentin is convinced she possesses.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: Just take a look to Percy Jackson to see how mythology has helped so-called reluctant readers bridge into books. Bless F. C. Yee for providing us with this beautiful book involving Chinese mythology and folklore!
Avery Dennis just got dumped. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s right before prom, and she is now dateless. But she has a report due in history class, where they’ve been discussing oral histories, and an idea forms. What if she interviewed her family, friends, enemies, and exes, putting together an oral history of her dating life? Maybe that will finally help her figure out why all her relationships end!
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal:
Told entirely in dialogue, It’s Not Me, It’s You
has both a unique format and a fun story. Plus, the reader can turn to its companion novel, The Date to Save
, when they’re through.
Graffiti murals in Brooklyn are weeping, and Sierra Santiago discovers she is a Shadowshaper, one of a supernatural order who connect with spirits via their art. Her grandfather shared the order’s secrets with Dr. Jonathan Wick, an anthropologist, who used the Caribbean magic for hiw own nefarious means. And Wick doesn’t want to stop there—he’s determined to harness the power of all the Shadowshapers by killing them one by one. With her friends by her side (not to mention Robbie, a hot graffiti artist), Sierra has to fight Wick’s creations while learning the extent of her own power.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: A fantasy on the shorter side, Shadowshaper also has the advantage of having one of the most glorious covers in all of YA. As much as I firmly believe in “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” people do. And Shadowshaper can draw people in just with that.
Emika Chen is a bounty hunter, working on finding players who bet illegally on virtual reality game Warcross. After she hacks into the game and is summoned by its young and enigmatic creator, she’s certain her life is all over. But Hideo Tanaka has a different offer in mind: Warcross has a security problem, and Hideo needs someone on the inside of the tournament to uncover the truth.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: Warcross is perhaps the best YA book featuring virtual reality . Plus, it’s action-packed, full of covert operations and twists and turns that will keep readers highly interested.
After their breakup, Theo moved away for college and started seeing Jackson. But Griffin still believed that when the time was right, Theo would return to him. But after a drowning accident claims Theo’s life, Griffin’s world goes to pieces. The only person who seems to understand what he’s going through is Jackson. But in order to find hope in the future, Griffin has to piece together his past.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: Perfect for the reader who loves cathartic art. Silvera is a master storyteller, and after reading this, readers will want to pick up everything else he has written.
The true story of Sandra Uwiriniyimana begins when she was just ten years old. Sandra and her family were in a refugee camp, and when rebels attacked, she had to watch as her mother and six-year-old sister were shot. Eventually, a United Nations refugee program helped their family move to America, but in this new land, they were met with a cultural disconnect. Sandra has gone on to become a human rights activist, speaker, and the founder of the Jimbere Fund.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: Sandra’s story is an accessible memoir—easy to read, and in a narrative format. Plus, for any teen reader who has been trying to understand what it means to be a refugee, this is a great first stepping stone into further research.
In the world of Orléans, everyone is born gray, and it’s only with the help of a Belle that they can become beautiful. Belles control Beauty, but Camellia isn’t content with just being a Belle. She is determined to be the favorite—the Belle selected by the queen to serve the nobility at the palace—and to be recognized as the best of all the Belles. But the palace walls hold dark secrets, and soon, Camellia must make difficult choices about her own future and the future of Orléans.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: Dark and inventive, The Belles leaves readers on the edge of their seats.
Farway was born out of time. The son of a time traveler and a Roman gladiator, all he wants to do is pass his final exams to become a Recorder, traveling through time like his mother. But when he fails his final test, he takes up a post as a commander of a ship, traveling throughout time to steal artifacts from places like the Titanic before they are lost.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: A standalone with shades of Doctor Who, Invictus is the rare sci-fi that is honestly just freaking fun. There are high stakes for sure, but it avoids the hopelessness and dreariness that future-set sci-fi books can fall into.
Elle grew up watching the sci-fi show Starfield with her late father, and when she sees a cosplay contest in advance of the release of the new movie, she has to enter. The winner will receive an invitation to a cosplay ball and will meet the actor playing fan favorite character Prince Carmindor in the reboot. Darien is a teen actor who just scored his most exciting role ever—Prince Carmindor. But the fandom thinks he’s just a heartthrob, and feels like a fake. With the help of a food truck fairy godmother, can these two find each other?
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: A clever take on Cinderella, Poston’s book adds some much needed geeky-cuteness to the magical story.
In futuristic Taiwan, the pollution is so bad that special suits are worn to protect citizens from its effects. Problem is, the rich are the only ones who can afford the suits. Jason Zhou is frustrated by the lack of protection for the poor, and is determined to change things. To do so, he infiltrates the Jin Corporation—responsible for manufacturing the suits (and possibly the pollution). The only thing that could complicate his mission? Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: The best YA book published in 2017, Want is filled with action, suspense, and incredible characters, and will keep the attention of any reader.
A pandit predicted Winnie would find the love of her life before her 18th birthday—but it turns out Raj, her boyfriend of three years, was hooking up with another girl while Winnie was at film camp. To make the situation worse, the chair of the student film festival, a spot Winnie coveted, is given to Raj. But fellow film geek Dev is there to help Winnie look beyond the life predicted for her, and fight for her cinematic dreams.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: A super cute romance featuring film, fate, and fabulous characters is an easy sell!
Nix’s father can sail anywhere—to any time or place—as long as he has a hand-drawn and dated map to take him there. But the one map he seeks is one that will lead him to 1868 Honolulu, returning him to Nix’s mother, his lost love. But if he succeeds, Nix could be erased from existence. Filled to the brim with epic adventures, family drama, and an excellent cast of characters, The Girl from Everywhere is a book not to miss!
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: Time travel is always super fun, but The Girl From Everywhere also has a compelling central conflict with the highest stakes imaginable, leaving the reader (and Nix herself) questioning whether you actually want them to succeed.
When Abigail Rook travels to New Fiddleham, New England, in 1892 on a job search, she soon finds herself in the employ of R. F. Jackaby. Jackaby is a detective who solves crimes of the supernatural variety, and Abigail begins work as his assistant. A serial killer is on the loose, and Jackaby believes a magical being is responsible.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: With a premise that’s basically Sherlock Holmes meets Supernatural, Jackaby manages to be a one-of-a-kind historical mystery adventure that features minimal romance (seriously, the most that happens in book one is a crush) and no chapter thirteen.
Rufus’s ex-boyfriend Sebastian just turned up saying they need to talk—yikes. Then Rufus’s estranged half-sister, April, calls, begging for help. When the boys find her, she’s drenched in blood, holding a knife, beside the dead body of her boyfriend. Rufus knows April too well to believe her denial of involvement is the whole truth, but she has something he needs. In order to get it, he’ll have to help prove her innocence…and he only has one night to do it.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: White Rabbit is a wildly compelling mystery that happens to have a really shippable romance, so it’s a win on all fronts.
Lara Jean Song writes letters to the boys she has had crushes on, but she never sends them. The letters live in a hatbox in her room—and she’s the only one who knows they exist. Until one day, the letters are mailed, and Lara Jean has to deal with the fallout.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: With the upcoming Netflix movie adaptation, now is the perfect time for new readers to discover the awkward cuteness of Lara Jean.
Xifeng is destined for greatness—at least, the stars say she is. Her aunt, the witch Guma, has promised her a destiny as the Empress of Feng Lu, but only if she embraces the darkness within her. To do so, she will have to give up the young man who loves her and embrace the magic within. But the magic comes with a cost: it’s fueled by eating the hearts of those recently killed. This is a dark East Asian–inspired origin story for the Evil Queen from Snow White.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: Sometimes, you just need to read about a villain.
The Old Gods aren’t supposed to die. But somehow, they are all slowly and miserably dying, in very different ways. Athena, who has feathers sprouting from her skin and lungs, is desperately seeking the cause of the deaths with Hermes in tow, and their search brings them to Cassandra. Unbeknownst to her, she was once a prophetess, but now she doesn’t even remember that the gods exist. But she’ll need to learn, because Hera is aligning herself with other Olympians, readying herself for an epic battle.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: This is YA’s darkest take on Greek mythology, which makes it perfect for recommending to: teens who love mythology and teens who loved Percy Jackson and are ready for what’s next!
The witch gene somehow skipped Amber Sand, but luckily she still got one talent: she can see true love after five seconds of eye contact, for anyone but herself. She also works at Windy City Magic, her mother’s magic shop in Chicago. When the mayor’s son, Charlie, comes for help finding the missing girlfriend of his father, she finds herself falling for him. But she can see his match, and it isn’t her.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: This is the perfect book for anyone who loves Disney Channel Original Movies, and is a great younger-skewing YA for those making the transition from middle grade books.
Princess Lia of Morrighan runs away from her arranged marriage on her wedding day. In pursuit of her are two people: the jilted prince, whom she’s never actually met, and an assassin from a third kingdom. Lia is unaware of the true nature of either, and she finds herself falling in love. But eventually, Lia will discover she’s not the only one with a secret identity.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: The central mystery of which boy is the prince and which the assassin will keep readers hooked.
Abby is focused on her plus-size style blog and fashion dreams—and an internship at her favorite local boutique seems like her first big step. Even though she knows it’s a big no-no to fall for a coworker, she falls hard for Jordi Perez, a fellow intern who documents her whole life in photos. Matters are further complicated when Jordi and Abby start competing for a paid job a the boutique, and Jordi’s photography puts Abby in a spotlight she never wanted.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: In addition to the amazingness that is a book featuring both a plus-sized protagonist and a girl-girl relationship at its heart, this story is charming, sweet, and always in style. Plus, the spine of the book is a literal rainbow.
Mila and Riley are inseparable, and devote much of their time to studying witchcraft. But when Riley dies under suspicious circumstances, along with two of their school’s mean girls, everyone assumes it was a suicide pact. Mila refuses to believe it, and seeks answers from the only people who might have them: the three dead girls. After bringing the trio back to life, however, she discovers they remember nothing about their deaths. Under a time crunch of seven days (when the spell wears off), Mila must work with the distracted undead girls to help discover who murdered them.
“Reluctant” Reader Appeal: The perfect blend of Pushing Daisies and Heathers (although those references may be lost on teens), this book is both super fun and super dark.