Top 10 Books for Struggling Teen Readers

Top 10 Books for Struggling Teen Readers

Please welcome author Jim Westcott who is a literacy specialist as well. Today, he shares his favorite young adult books for teen struggling readers. These books are high interest with a lower reader level to draw in reluctant teen readers, both boys and girls.

We’d love your suggestions as well! Please share!

10. Bi-Normal by M.G. Higgins

Brett Miller is one of the kings of Elkhead High. Everyone knows the kings rule the school. Football stars. Pretty girls. The in-crowd. Brett and his buddies are the tormentors; nobody messes with them. His life seems perfect, Normal. His girlfriend Jillia is hot. He loves her. He imagines marrying her someday. Then Brett meets Zach… [young adult, reading level 3rd, ages 14 and up]

9. I’m Just Me by M.G. Higgins

Nasreen and Mia are two very different girls. But they stand out at Arondale High. And kids make assumptions about the only Muslim and the new black girl–the only African American–in school.

“Who let you into the suburbs?” Samantha asks.

Everyone gawks. Nasreen has kept her head down for years. Eighteen months and she’s out, she tells herself. Off to college. Mia is bold. Yeah, she wishes she were somewhere else, but she’s not going to take the bullying lying down. She has to live her life. Graduate. Get into a good school.

The school administrators are ignorant. And worse. The bullying escalates. Both at school and online. The girls come up with a plan to fight back. To regain some dignity. To turn the tables on the bullies. [young adult, reading level 3rd, ages 12 and up]

8. Bike Thief by Rita Feutl

Nick just wants to replace the TV his sister accidentally broke before their foster parents find out. To repay the debt, the sixteen-year-old has to steal bikes, break them down and rebuild them to sell. But the debt and the violence keep growing. Even Nick’s own beloved fixed-gear bike—the fixie he built with his dad—is up for grabs.
Should Nick recruit younger “runts” to do his dirty work? Should he find a way to give back the bike of the cute girl at the diner now that he sort of likes her? And how can Nick protect his little sister from the creepy guy with the shades? [young adult, reading level 3rd, ages 12 and up]

7. Grind by Eric Walters

When Wally is badly injured skateboarding, Philip must decide what is more important: skating or making things right with his friends.

Philip lives for skateboarding. School is merely the break between trying to land a difficult jump and outrunning the security guards. When he and his best friend Wally meet a professional skateboarder who videotapes himself for his website, Philip thinks they can do it too—and make money at the same time. When they start getting hits on their website—and making money—they start to feel the pressure to do more and more dangerous stunts. [young adult, reading level late 2nd, ages 12 and up]

6. Crash by Jerry Spinelli

Ever since first grade “Crash” Coogan has been tormenting dweeby Penn Ward, a skinny vegetarian Quaker boy who lives in a tiny former garage with his aged parents. Now that they’re in seventh grade, “chippy chirpy perky” Penn becomes an even better target: not only does Penn still wear outdated used clothes, he joins the cheerleading squad.

But even though Crash becomes the school’s star football player and wears the most expensive togs from the mall, he still can’t get what Penn has?his parents’ attention and the admiration of the most gorgeous girl in school.

And when his beloved grandfather Scooter is severely disabled by a stroke, Crash no longer sees the fun in playing brutal pranks and begins to realize that there are more important things in life than wearing new sneaks and being a sports star.

Without being preachy, Spinelli packs a powerful moral wallop, leaving it to the pitch-perfect narration to drive home his point. All ages.

I’ve read this. I love his writing. The theme is an awesome twist on the classic bully-bullied relationship. [young adult, reading level late 5th, ages 12 and up]

5. Diary of an (Un) Teenager by Pete Johnson

Spencer is disgusted by the idea of being a teenager. He’s not interested in girls, sports, skateboards, or huge trainers. Spencer decides to be an (Un) teenager instead. This is a funny book about growing older and facing change. [young adult, reading level 3rd, ages 12 and up]

4. Dream On by Bali Rai

This is an excellent book about holding onto dreams no matter who thinks what.  Boys especially will identify with this theme, not letting go of being a sports star, or in this case playing for a Premiere League team. [young adult, reading level 3rd, ages 12 and up]

3. Crow Girl by Kate Cann

Bullied Lily takes refuge in the woods, where she meets the crows and finds the confidence to exact a spectacular revenge on her tormentors.  [young adult, reading level 3rd, ages 12 and up]

2. Fighter’s Alley by Heather Duffy-Stone

After a legendary but over-the-hill fighter reluctantly agrees to train fifteen-year-old Will, the son of a rich local politician in nineteenth-century New York City, Will finds himself pleading with the stubborn older fighter to retire before he dies in the ring.  [young adult, reading level 3rd, ages 12 and up]

1. 30 Guys in 30 Days by Ostow Micol

When Claudia goes away to college she and her high school boyfriend break up, but after being in a relationship for so long she’s forgotten how to meet boys and flirt.  [young adult, reading level 3rd, ages 12 and up]

Jim Westcott

Jim Westcott taught special education for fifteen years before deciding to write for children full-time. His first book, called The Gift, is a high interest chapter book for struggling readers.

Jack’s Tales (published with Splashing Cow Books), is his second book, a book written especially for boy reluctant readers. Jim lives outside of Rochester, New York with his wife, Sue, and his two sons, Andrew and Jack. Learn more at his website.

Jim Wescott Jack's Tales for reluctant readers

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Top 10 Books for Struggling Teen Readers

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. This is such an important list for teens who are reluctant readers. I didn’t know that there are teen novels for kids reading at the 3rd grade level. And, they all sound like great reads. I’ll have to pay more attention!
    Patricia Tilton recently posted…Ella Wood by Michelle IsenhoffMy Profile

    • Hi Patricia,
      I think high interest with lower reading level books are hard to find but they really seem to do the trick to get kids reading. I tried a few of these types of books from Orca publishing for my friend’s son and it worked like a charm. He wasn’t reading on his own but he loves skateboarding so I found a few that matched up and his mom was thrilled he read them and asked for more.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…How to Draw Hands and FeetMy Profile

  2. Here’s another…JG’s by M.D. Marrone…great story at setting of Junior Lifeguards! Get it on Amazon…

  3. Marjorie (MWD)

    Great list – thank you!
    Marjorie (MWD) recently posted…Review: Bulbuli’s Bamboo by Mita Bordoloi and Proiti RoyMy Profile

  4. Wonderful list–thanks so much for sharing!

  5. Jim Westcott

    Hello Patricia,

    Thanks for commenting. There are some great books for this kind of niche. I think just recently they are getting recognized for their usefulness and quality.
    Publishers to look for are: Saddleback, Orca Soundings, Ransom Publishing, and Stoke Books.

  6. Jim Westcott

    Thank you, Maria, I’ll have to check it out.

  7. Jim Westcott

    You’re welcome, Marjorie:)
    Bulbui’s Bamboo looks like a great book.

  8. These sound like good stories! There are a couple I want to check out. I think getting books on subjects kids are interested in is a great way to get kids to read. Maybe not event books but also magazines or comics.
    Erik – TKRB recently posted…Perfect Picture Book Friday! Beach House by Deanna CaswellMy Profile

  9. Training Mummy

    What a great list – sometime it is easy for people just to give up on teens who don’t want to read and not try to help. Great to have a few suggestions at hand for those who are struggling #weekendbookclub
    Training Mummy recently posted…Getting gifts from Wicked UncleMy Profile

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