50 Must-Read Books for Twelfth Graders


50 Must-Read Books for Twelfth Graders

Welcome to Amy’s Bookshelf! Here, teachers will find carefully curated book lists for each grade level from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Moving forward, new lists filled with book recommendations will be published weekly. Sometimes, these lists will be organized around a specific theme, like a holiday or seasonal event. Other times, they will feature rockstar books – books practically guaranteed to get your students reading. 

Before jumping into reading recommendations, a few words about how books are selected.

First, it is so important that teachers prioritize reading interest over reading level. Students will often choose to read well above or below their reading level if they are particularly interested in a book or topic. Teachers only hurt students by limiting them to a specific selection of titles grouped according to an arbitrary number or level. Think of the books on these lists as starting places for you and your students, but if a student wants to read up (or down), that is a-ok.

Also, please note that these lists lean heavily toward modern selections as opposed to the classics many teachers are familiar with. A true renaissance is happening in children’s literature today, and the books coming out are truly exciting. One of the factors that makes this such an exciting time for kid lit is how diverse the selections are in terms of genre, characters and subject matter. These lists will feature fiction and nonfiction selection as well as graphic novels, novels written in verse, and more.

Any book list or classroom library worth its salt includes books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters, racially diverse characters, characters with disabilities, characters in the foster care system, characters from a wide variety of socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, and so on. Importantly, the diversity of the characters doesn’t always need to be the focus of the literature – in other words, a book featuring a black character or gay character doesn’t need to be about those individuals exploring their blackness or their gayness; those characters can have kid problems that apply to all children regardless of their race or sexual orientation. Similarly, students should be encouraged to read stories featuring people of diversity all year long – not just during a month set aside to celebrate a specific heritage.

One final note: today’s children’s literature does not shy away from frank discussions of gender, race, sex, sexuality, abuse, mental illness, and more – nor should it. I will not censor books from these lists based on these controversial areas. What books you recommend will depend on the specific district you work in and your clientele. I encourage you and your students to read widely without fear.

Just so you know, Bored Teachers may get a small share of the sales made through the Amazon affiliate links on this page.

Twelfth Grade

The senior year of high school stands apart from the previous years. Students are on the cusp of adulthood, and they are about to leave the familiar routine they have known for 13 years. This list contains a number of titles that pay homage to their journey. Seniors get a bit nostalgic about their childhood days, so some of the titles on this list are a tribute to their younger days, while others confront adult issues head-on. 

1. The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas_50 Must-Read Books for Twelfth Graders

Get it HERE.

Starr’s life is forever changed when she is in the car when she witnesses police shoot and kill her childhood best friend Khalil, who was unarmed. Khalil’s shooting becomes national news and soon people are debating whether or not he was a thug while protestors take to the streets. Starr was the one and only witness to the shooting and the novel is about Starr finding her voice to speak up in the name of justice. 

2. The Serpent King

by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Get it HERE.

Dill, Lydia, and Travis realize that their time together is short, because at the end of their senior year, they will all be going their separate ways. Lydia, a viral blogger fashionista, will be off to bigger and better things, whereas Dill knows he’s stuck in his small town with his father’s reputation following him around. 

3. The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives

by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

Get it HERE.

Sasha, a white teen who prefers the pronoun “they,” got on the 57 bus in Oakland one day. Sasha was wearing a skirt. Sasha fell asleep during the bus ride. Richard, a black teen, rides the same bus route. One day, Richard sees Sasha asleep on the bus and lights Sasha’s skirt on fire. This is the true story about the aftermath of this horrific incident. The author does a brilliant job of presenting every angle of the story, and the book looks at issues ranging from hate crimes and transphobia to black incarceration rates. It’s a must-read. 

4. The Three Questions

written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth

The Three Questions written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth

Get it HERE.

This quiet picture book is Jon J. Muth’s adaptation of a Leo Tolstoy story. A young boy is searching for the answer to three questions. In the end, this book is a fable with a powerful set of lessons about how best to live one’s life. 

5. The Steep and Thorny Way

by Cat Winters

The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

Get it HERE.

This is a Hamlet retelling set in 1920s Oregon. Hanalee Denney is half-black, meaning she is has virtually no rights by law. Hanalee is the Hamlet of the story. Her father was killed in a drunk driving accident that may not have been an accident after all. 

6. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Get it HERE.

Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman living during the 1950s, went to the doctor for her cervical cancer. Some of her cells were taken from her without her consent during and exam and these cells have developed into some of the most important cells in science because they have the unique ability to perpetually divide in a lab environment. The cell line is invaluable and yet Henrietta Lacks’ ancestors don’t have access to decent health care or insurance. This excellent nonfiction book explores medical ethics and race. 

7. A Time to Dance

by Padma Venkatraman

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman_50 Must-Read Books for Twelfth Graders

Get it HERE.

Dancer Veda has an accident that leaves her an amputee with a prosthetic leg. She refuses to quit, and enrolls in beginning dance classes to reteach her body skills she learned years ago. She connects with a young man who helps her see past her pain. 

8. Bone Gap

by Laura Ruby

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Get it HERE.

Sean and Finn live in the town of Bone Gap, where people commonly disappear. Like their mom, who skipped town with her boyfriend. And like Sean’s girlfriend Roza. The thing is, Finn saw Roza kidnapped, but because Finn is always telling stories, no one believes him. Everyone just assumes that Roza left like the others do. A little romance and a dash of magical realism make this a unique and worthwhile read. 

9. Salt and Storm

by Kendall Kulper

 Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper

Get it HERE.

Avery’s grandmother is the witch of Prince Island, and Avery is set to inherit the title and the magic one day. But Avery’s mother forbids her from her birthright, knowing that being the island’s witch comes at a heavy cost. 

10. Hey, Kiddo:  How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction

by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo:  How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Get it HERE.

This graphic novel memoir packs a punch. In it, Jarrett Krisoczka, the product of a heroin addict mother and an absent father, tells his story of being raised by his grandparents. As a child he finds solace in his art, which helps him come to terms with his family history.

11. This Mortal Coil

by Emily Suvada

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada

Get it HERE.

In this futuristic sci-fi novel, a plague has devastated the planet, and Cat, the daughter of a brilliant geneticist, is determined to use her gene-hacking skills to cut down the virus. Cat and her fellow humans live in a new era of technology where people have technology embedded in their DNA, and programmers can re-program DNA. Hackers like Cat can hack into the genome to manipulate genes. But is Cat smart enough to defeat the greatest threat to the species there has ever been?

12. Where Things Come Back

by John Corey Whaley

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Get it HERE.

Cullen Witters’ 15-year-old brother disappears mysteriously. At the same time, there is a sighting of a Lord God Bird, a woodpecker assumed to be extinct. The two stories overlap in this theme-driven book ladden with symbolism. It’s a quiet book that takes some focus to carefully read. That focus is rewarded in the end. 

13. Words in Deep Blue

by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Get it HERE.

Henry and Rachel were best friends. When Rachel moved away, she confessed her love for Henry in a love letter she left for him, but she never heard back. Now, after her brother’s death, Rachel is moving back to Henry’s town a changed person. The two of them are forced to work alongside each other, and Rachel begins a summer of healing, of both love and loss. 

14. Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz

by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Get it HERE.

This is the true story of Michael Bornstein, who left Auschwitz at four years old. As a young holocaust survivor, Michael spent years piecing together his family’s survival story. With the help of his daughter and stories passed down in his family, he wrote Survivors Club to tell his heart-rending and hopeful story of survival. 

15. Unbroken (the Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive

by Laura Hillebrand 

Unbroken (the Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympian's Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Laura Hillebrand

Get it HERE.

Olympic runner Louis Zamperini enlisted to serve his country in World War II. His plane crashed behind enemy lines and he spent days drifting at sea only to be captured as a prisoner of war by the Japanese. As a POW, he faced brutal beatings and starvation but comes out on the other side, as the title says, unbroken. 

16. Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption

by Katie J. Davis with Beth Clark

Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie J. Davis with Beth Clark

Get it HERE.

A mission trip to Uganda during the winter of her senior year changed Katie forever. When she graduated high school, her Christian faith compelled her to move to Uganda to care for the people there, which includes starting a ministry and adopting 13 girls. 

17. My Sister’s Keeper

by Jodi Picoult

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Get it HERE.

Anna was conceived to help her older sister, Kate, battle her leukemia. As a young teen, Anna decides she has had enough of the endless medical procedures and sues her parents for the rights to her own body. It’s a decision that tears a rift through the family and one that may have dire consequences for her sister. 

18. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal

by Eric Schlosser 

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

Get it HERE.

Fast Food Nation is a highly readable nonfiction book that takes a behind-the-scenes look at the American fast food industry. Readers will discover that fast food chains have contributed negatively to not just their health but the environment and divide between socioeconomic classes in our country. 

19. The Poisonwood Bible

by Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Get it HERE.

A Baptist minister takes his wife and four daughters on a mission trip to the Congo in 1959. They believe they can change Africa with their scripture but are in for a rude awakening. This postcolonial novel delves deeply into the family’s tragic downfall. 

20. Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell

Get it HERE.

Author Malcolm Gladwell takes a deep dive into the lives of successful people, looking at factors outside their control such as their cultural upbringing, their family life, and the history of the world unfolding around them to decipher what makes successful people actually successful. 

21. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Get it HERE.

This book explores, as the title suggests, habit-forming activities and how establishing habits that support one’s goals can help readers achieve their biggest dreams. 

22. A Secret History of Witches

by Louisa Morgan

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

Get it HERE.

This historical fiction novel follows five generations of Orchire women. Orchire magic is passed down from mother to daughter, but being a witch is dangerous, no matter the historical era. 

23. Jonathan Livingston Seagull

by Richard Bach

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Get it HERE.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is an allegory told in novella form. The short novella is illustrated, making it a quick, but powerful read about the importance of following one’s own path in life. Jonathan is a seagull who longs to fly faster than his flock. His desire to be different drives him from the flock, but still he follows his soul. It’s a perfect metaphor to read teens as they approach graduation. 

24. Oh, the Places You’ll Go

by Dr. Seuss

Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

Get it HERE.

One of the world’s most famous picture books, Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go has been given to high school graduates for decades. It’s written and illustrated in signature Seuss style with an important message – life may have highs and lows, but it’s sure worth living. 

25. The Book of Mistakes

by Corinna Luyken

The Book of Mistakes

Get it HERE.

Like the previous two books on this list, The Book of Mistakes is a picture book perfect for high school seniors about to start the next stage in their lives. This one is about the creative process. The author/illustrator Corinna Luyken incorporates accidental mistakes into her drawings, showing that accidents can lead to great inspiration. 

26. Grasshopper Jungle

by Andrew Smith

Get it HERE.

In this bizarre and brilliant novel, two best friends, Robby and Austin, are growing up in small-town Iowa. There isn’t much to do, and so Austin thinks about sex a lot. He’s in love with his girlfriend but also Robby, who is gay. As the teens wander around town, they start to notice odd things, like an underground bomb shelter. This knowledge comes in handy when a plague of giant praying mantises descends on the town – and it’s up to Robby and Austin to save everyone. 

27. Jellicoe Road

by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Get it HERE.

In this layered novel that is part mystery, part coming of age story, Taylor struggles to come to terms with being abandoned on the Jellicoe Road by her mother at age 11. Now, at 17, Taylor’s long-buried past starts cropping up, refusing to be ignored. 

28. Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

Get it HERE.

Jacob Janowski finds himself the caretaker for the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus. Here, he falls in love with Marlena, who is already married, and with Rosie, an elephant in his care. 

29. The Night Circus

by Erin MOrgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin MOrgenstern

Get it HERE.

Celia and Marco are two dueling magicians, and their battlefield is the Night Circus, a circus that appears without warning in the middle of the night. The circus is enchanted, thanks to the two magicians, both of whom are eager to prove their powers are greater than the other’s. As Celia and Marco fall for each other, they learn that at the end of their duel, only one magician can remain standing.  

30. The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passions

by Elle Luna

The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passions by Elle Luna

Get it HERE.

This self-help title is perfect for teens about to explore the world on their own for the first time. It explores both the inspirational and practical sides of finding and following your passion. 

31. Sold

by Patricia McCormick

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Get it HERE.

13-year-old Lakshmi lives in Nepal, but when monsoons wash away the family crops, her father sends her to India to “work.” Lakshmi finds herself sold into prostitution. She befriends the other girls at her brothel and learns to endure. In the end, she is faced with a risk that might allow her to return to her old life. 

32. 1984 by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell

Get it HERE.

In this dystopian classic, Winston Smith rewrites history for the Ministry of Truth. After a while, Winston becomes disenfranchised with the authoritarian government that rules with an iron fist, and he begins to rebel, all while knowing that Big Brother is always watching. 

33. The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupéry

Get it HERE.

The narrator in The Little Prince is a pilot who has crash-landed in the desert. While he is trying to repair his plane, a small man, the Little Prince, appears and tells stories of traveling from planet to planet. This classic of children’s literature looks closely at loneliness and the journey from childhood to adulthood. 

34. The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Get it HERE.

The Help is the story of a white female journalist and two black female maids living in the south in the 1960s. The journalist, Skeeter, graduated from college with a degree but without a husband, disappointing her family. She decides to interview two black maids and write a tell-all book about race relations from the maids’ point of view. 

35. Tuesdays with Morrie

by Mitch Albom

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Get it HERE.

Author Mitch Albom reconnects with his mentor and college professor Morrie Schwartz just as Schwartz enters the last months of his life. Schwartz is dying from ALS, and both teacher and student are determined to pass on Schwartz’s lessons about living. Albom visits Morrie each Tuesday to take one final class from his favorite professor. 

36. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Get it HERE.

Santiago is on a quest to discover the riches of the world, and he travels a traditional hero’s journey in this text, a series of failures and triumphs that ultimately lead to the knowledge of the true, non-tangible riches of the world. This book is filled with wisdom that makes it worthy of re-reading. 

37. Watchmen

by Alan Moore

Watchmen by Alan Moore

Get it HERE.

Watchmen is a dark, adult graphic novel, unlike anything most graphic novel enthusiasts will have encountered. It tells the story of a superhero team unraveling as it investigates the murder of one of their own. 

38. Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

Get it HERE.

This book features Janie Crawford as a strong black protagonist. Janie returns home to Eatonville, Florida as a middle-aged woman and tells her life story to her friend Pheoby, including the story of two miserable marriages before Janie finally finds her true love in a man named Tea Cake. 

39. Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Get it HERE.

Okonkwo, a Nigerian man, rules his household with an iron fist based on fears passed down from previous generations. Things Fall Apart is a book about a culture on the verge of drastic change and that culture’s attempt to walk a fine line between modernizing and staying true to their traditions.

40. Prep

by Curtis Sittenfeld

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld\
12th grade

Get it HERE.

Lee Fiora receives a scholarship to the prestigious prep school Ault. She leaves her family and everything she’s known in Indiana for the pristine environment of East Coast prep school life. 

41. The Kite Runner

by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini12th graders

Get it HERE.

Amir looks back on his boyhood in Afghanistan where he was friends with Hassan, the son of a servant in his household. Amir and Hassan’s friendship grows stronger until Amir witnesses a horrifying event at the annual kite-fighting tournament that changes their lives forever.

42. The Handmaid’s Tale

by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Get it HERE.

In this dystopian future, humanity is challenged by a declining birth rate and a world where the environment has been destroyed. These pressures lead to the rise of Gilead, a strict regime that enslaves women able to bear children. Rich members of upper-class Gilead rape these women in an elaborate ceremony to impregnate the women. These women are called handmaids and this is Offred’s story. 

43. On the Road

by Jack Kerouac

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Get it HERE.

On the Road is the quintessential road trip novel, a slice of Americana, and an exploration of living a life in the moment versus a life of convention. 

44. Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Get it HERE.

Ramona, with her trademark blue hair, lives in Mississippi but is sure she is destined for bigger things than her small-town life can provide. Her childhood friend, Freddie, moves back to town and Ramona develops feelings for him, which is confusing for her since she has always liked girls. 

45. Leah on the Offbeat

by Becky Albertalli

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Get it HERE.

Leah Burke, Simon’s best friend from the book Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, is afraid to open up to her friends about her true self. She loves to draw but is afraid of criticism, she’s bisexual in an accepting group of peers and yet has told no one. As their senior year unfolds, Leah must figure out how to be who she really is. 

46. This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Get it HERE.

This is Where it Ends is a difficult book to read as it is a fictionalized account of a school shooting. The book opens at a school assembly, and once the assembly is dismissed, students find they are locked inside the auditorium, and gunshots start. 

47. Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

Get it HERE.

A young woman named Charlie is the protagonist of this book, and she has been through a terrible number of tragedies. She finds escape in cutting. This book takes an unflinching look at self-harm and helps readers understand how they might help if they know someone who self-harms. 

48. The Fault in Our Stars

by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Get it HERE.

Hazel has terminal cancer. She meets Augustus Waters in her cancer support group and the two begin a whirlwind, star-crossed romance. 

49. How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child

By Sandra Uwiringiyimana

How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child

Get it HERE.

Sandra Uwiringiyimana watched her family gunned down in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a United Nations refugee, she moved to America where today she is an activist and an artist.

50. For Every One by Jason Reynolds

For Every One by Jason Reynolds

Get it HERE.

For Every One is Jason Reynolds’s poem that he wrote for the unveiling of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. The poem is an inspiration for, well, everyone. It talks about dreams and tenacity, and is a great gift for graduating seniors. 

Other book lists from Amy’s bookshelf you’ll love: 


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AuthorAmy

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I am an unrepentant lover of words - and lucky me, I spend all day, every day immersed in them. When I'm not teaching, I'm reading. Or writing. Or teaching eager (and sometimes not-so-eager) adolescents about the power of the written word. I live on the scenic Oregon Coast with my dog, two cats, and five-year-old son.

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