Contemporary Fiction Book Choices for 9th and 10th Graders For Use in the High School Classroom
After many years teaching predominantly seniors, I teach freshmen/9th grade again! My classes consisted of only freshmen for the first nine years of my career, so it is an age group I know well. However, many of the independent reading options I used to recommend are no longer of interest to today’s generation.
So, I am on a mission to find new, engaging, and age-appropriate young adult fiction for my students.
Ninth grade is a critical year when it comes to interest in reading. Most freshmen are at a new and bigger school, making new friends and trying new things.
Any prior interest in reading can quickly wane and old habits can be quickly lost. I count myself lucky to work in a school that supports independent reading throughout all four years, but I know that is not the case everywhere.
I love it when my students ask when I am going to introduce the next round of books, and love watching them research the titles I offer and carefully make their final decisions.
On a proud side note, several of my students have asked their parent(s) to order them all of the books on the list to continue reading after the school year is over! That makes me proud and emotional, and ultimately reaffirms why I do the work I do.
Finding contemporary, high interest books that are age-appropriate for high schoolers is not always easy, but the results are so very worth it!
A Reliable Resource For My Fellow English Teachers
My hope is that this book list series will be a resource to other teachers as I share the books that I assign (or plan to) for independent reading to my ninth grade students. These are also appropriate books for 10th graders as well!
I have personally read each and every one of these and find them to be age appropriate and engaging for high school freshmen and older. These are good books that will help encourage a love of reading with reading levels that work for our students.
Please check back for updates, as I hope to add further books to this list or make it a series as I search.
Also, please note that these are the options I give for independent reading projects, so most of the books are contemporary. I teach classics as well, but that is for a different blog post!
This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link.
Choice #1: A Young Adult Fantasy / Dystopian Book Series
Summary: In this dystopian world, Mare is a Red, meaning red blooded, which also means she is oppressed by the Silvers….you got it, silver blooded, and add in really cool powers. Without giving too much away, Mare finds herself almost between two worlds and struggles to find the place where she truly belongs.
An Age-Appropriate and Engaging Series for Freshman Students
What a great book series for freshmen! I really enjoyed reading these books and I know my freshmen students will too. Red Queen is definitely going on my list of independent reading books.
First, these books are very readable. The story line moves quickly and will keep the interest of my students who need instant gratification. It is not super violent or gory, but this story is action packed, which will attract many of my freshman students. Think of it like a G-rated Game of Thrones.
Next, the characters are likable.
I have seen this series compared to The Hunger Games, and I can see some connection, however I liked Mare a heck of a lot more than I liked Katniss.
But, what I also like about this story is that the characters are not so black and white. Just because someone is a Silver does not necessarily mean they are an enemy to the Reds.
Students will be excited to discuss human nature and stereotyping, along with right and wrong and the gray areas in between.
Finally, I love that Red Queen is a series. If you know me then you know once I am attached, it is really hard for me to let go of my book friends, and I know many students are the same way.
Red Queen Book Series - In Order
Choice #2: A Young Adult Book Series that Will Engage Reluctant Readers
Summary: Dear Martin features Justyce, a student who doesn’t quite fit in with his tough neighborhood or at the private school he attends. Justyce searches for insight and decides to journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a way to make sense of the world around him.
A Social Justice Story
Let me start by saying that I am pretty sure this book holds magic powers! It engages the most reluctant of readers, many who initially chose it because of its shorter length. I have even heard students talking to each other about this book outside of class. I told you: MAGIC!
One of my favorite things (among many) about this generation is how committed they are to social justice causes, and this book speaks directly to that.
This book also focuses on the importance of having best friends and what a “best” friend really looks like.
Even better, this book is part of a series. Dear Justyce was released in 2020. I have not read it yet, but many of my students have and enjoyed it.
Check out this post I wrote with a much more detailed review of Dear Martin here!
Purchase a copy of Dear Martin here.
Purchase a copy of Dear Justyce here.
Choice #3: A YA Horror Mystery Story
Summary: Edinburgh, Scotland, 1817: Hazel Sinnett is from a wealthy family and is expected to marry well. She is not supposed to want to be a surgeon, a profession that, at the time, is considered butchery and available only to men.
Jack Currer is a “resurrection man” who digs up freshly buried bodies to sell to the black market of the medical community. The problem is that people around Jack are going missing, and what Hazel and Jack find will change their lives forever.
A Historical Fiction Mystery Perfect for 9th Graders
This novel leads to interesting class discussions! Anatomy pairs well with Frankenstein, so I have added it as an option for my senior students as well.
When we study Gothicism and read Frankenstein senior year, my students are fascinated by the grotesque practice of what we laughingly call “BYOB” (Bring Your Own Body ), which was commonplace in the 19th century in England and America.
Although it is only mentioned over a couple of lines in Shelley’s novel, my students want to know more! I have even had students use this as their research project thesis.
Check out this article here that gives some historical insight into grave robbing for medical purposes.
However, this novel is written for young adults, making it a perfect choice for freshmen students. I plan to offer it as a reading choice, and I feel like this will be a top choice amongst my kids.
It also could be a freshman conversation about how this is seen in Frankenstein, making them excited to read Shelley’s novel later in their high school careers!
Be aware that Anatomy is a gory story. There is blood and guts and insides on the outsides. There are mutilated corpses and butchered surgeries. It is certainly not for everyone, but I fell in love with the characters and I was entranced by the story. I also am obsessed with the city of Edinburgh, so this gave me another chance to “visit”.
Choice #4: A Story With a Strong Message about Family
Summary: Grace is the only child of loving and caring parents, but she is suffering after recently giving up her baby for adoption. This spurs her to start asking questions about her own biological family, finding out that she is not an only child after all.
A Young Adult Novel That Celebrates Differences
This is a beautiful book for teenagers. The three siblings are endearing characters that are each dealing with their own trauma.
Today’s students will identify with many of the books’ themes: teen pregnancy, relationships, adoption, alcoholism, racial disparities, a gay protagonist, bullying, isolation, etc.
Students who are feeling different or like they don’t belong could potentially connect to this book.
My freshman students love this story and it leads to valuable classroom discussion. Robin Benway’s message is clear: every family is different and no family is perfect.
In the current climate of likes and clicks and perfect Instagram photos, this is an essential reminder to our kids – NO family is perfect, no matter what it may look like from the outside looking in.
Another important note is that Benway portrays adoption in a positive light. There are no evildoers here. It is truly a story of people trying to do their best, sometimes in the toughest of circumstances.
Who this book is for: high school students (any grade). This novel is easy to read and not super long, which initially attracts my more reluctant and/or struggling readers.
I also promote the audiobook, which was read by Julia Whelan and was very well done. Be warned, there are many uses of the ‘F’ word, the teenagers smoke pot in one scene, and there is a brief reference to a graphic sexual act.
I live to talk books, so please feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with recommendations, comments, or questions about how I use these novels in the classroom!
For more of my book recommendations, check out my site here!
Check out the lesson planning template that I use for creating and organizing my lessons here!