Looking for new reads for your tween that aren’t Harry Potter (though we do love that series)? Check out our list of exciting middle grade and young adult books that’ll keep your kid glued to their seats!
Popular authors like JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins and Leigh Bardugo often dominate conversations about young adult books, but there are actually plenty of great books on the scene that are just as good, if not better. And while magic, fantasy and dystopian futures are common in many young adult books, there’s also plenty that focus on social issues, pop-culture discourse, ethnic voices and diversity, plus relevant themes for life in the modern age. Thinking of getting some young adult fantasy books or middle grade literature for your tween or teen? We’ve shortlisted 15 great options to get you started. Happy reading!
1. Amari and the Night Brothers
By B.B. Alston
Amari’s big brother, Quinton, has gone missing and no one seems to care. But when she discovers a mysterious ticking briefcase in his closet, she realises there’s more to his disappearance than she initially thought. To find Quinton, Amari must face the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs and undergo three tryouts, all while being surrounded by classmates who think she’s an evil magician that’s trying to take over the magical world.
Why we love it: Amari and the Night Brothers isn’t just another young adult book about magical worlds and mythical beings. At the heart of it, the book also shows how the lead character – a person of colour – learns lessons such as the importance of friendship, perseverance, self-confidence in a world where people are afraid of her abilities and her looks, and how fear can very easily turn into hate. We’re not the only ones who adore this book; Universal Pictures loved it so much, they’re turning it into a movie starring Marsai Martin!
Suitable for: Ages 8 to 12
Price: From $15.95. Purchase online from Amazon.sg, Book Depository or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
2. Aru Shah and the End of Time
By Roshani Chokshi
12-year-old Aru Shah spends all her time at the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture. She often tells a white lie or two to fit in at school, until one day when three classmates decide to call her out on her lies and dare her to prove her story about the curse of the Lamp of Bharata. Lighting the lamp won’t hurt, right? But Aru is quickly proven wrong when her actions free the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose job it is to unleash chaos and destruction on the world.
Why we love it: We’re a complete sucker for a good underdog story, and this young adult book serves up plenty of feel-good vibes and excellent storytelling. What excites us is how the book is shaped by Hindu mythology and lore, which means readers will be exposed to figures from the Mahabharata epic such as the Pandava brothers, the Apsaras (cloud and water spirits) and deities like Hanuman, Indra and Yama.
Suitable for: Ages 7 to 12
Price: From $14.20. Purchase online from Amazon.sg and Book Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
3. Children of Blood and Bone
By Tomi Adeyemi
Zélie Adebola remembers a time when the soil of her nation, Orïsha, was rife with maji who practised magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned the souls of the dead. All that changed when a ruthless king ordered the maji killed, leaving Zélie without hope and a mother. Things start to change when she bumps into the king’s daughter who is escaping her father’s brutality. While Zélie must outwit and outrun the king’s son, who intends to eradicate magic for good, she must also battle herself as she tries to control her new powers and growing feelings for the enemy.
Why we love it: This New York Times bestseller blends Yoruba culture, mysticism and solid world-building to create a page-turner you won’t be able to put down. Much of her book also zeroes in on themes like slavery, oppression, murder, genocide and more, beautifully written in Tomi Adeyemi’s graceful style. This young adult fantasy book is part of a trilogy, and its sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance is an equally good read.
Suitable for: Ages 14 and up
Price: From $13.44. Purchase online from Amazon.sg and Book Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
4. The Dragon Defenders
By James Russell, animations by Yongtao Zhang
Paddy and Flynn live on a paradise island, spending their days running, playing and adventuring. But they also hide a major secret – they live alongside dragons. But when the evil boss The Pitbull discovers the island and sends his henchmen to kill a dragon, bring back the body and a dragon egg so he can hatch it and keep it in his private zoo, the boys have to use all their skills and wit to stop his dastardly plan.
Why we love it: There’s plenty of space between the lines and chapters, which is helpful if your child is a less confident reader. This young adult book is a series of five books and each one has built-in augmented reality (AR) content. Simply download the app and place it over items like dragons, maps and illustrations, which will bring it to life. The book also has fun elements like code-cracking and video and audio messages.
Suitable for: Ages 7 to 12
Price: From $14.45. Purchase online from Amazon.sg and Book Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
5. The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding
By Alexandra Bracken
Prosper Redding is the only disappointment in a long line of exceptional and talented Reddings. But even the very best families have dark secrets, and the Reddings’ skeletons include a secret pact with an 800-year-old demon named Alastor. When Alastor is set free, Prosper has mere days to break the curse, escape his family history and set right a whole bunch of wrongs, with only the help of a tiny witch-in-training.
Why we love it: You’ll root for poor old Prosper who doesn’t seem to have an ounce of genuine love in his life, but as the story develops with exciting twists and turns, you’ll find yourself chuckling at Alastor’s antics, too. The book is easy to read and there’s a second part – The Last Life of Prince Alastor – that’s just as thrilling. Alexandra Bracken is also the author of another solid young adult fantasy series called The Darkest Minds (great for readers aged 13 and up).
Suitable for: Ages 8 to 12
Price: From $6.81. Purchase online from Amazon.sg and Book Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
6. The Graveyard Book
By Neil Gaiman
Bod’s had an eccentric childhood. After all, he was raised by ghosts, ghouls and spectres at the town graveyard. But Bod is also being hunted by a murderer who wiped out his entire family; a killer who wants to finish what he started years ago.
Why we love it: The premise is slightly morbid and rather brutal, but it is stunningly constructed by Neil Gaiman’s excellent wordsmithery. Bod is not a wimpy protagonist. He’s tough and completely unapologetic for what needs to be done to survive. The graveyard’s host of characters and dead inhabitants are also a thrill to discover in each chapter, and you’ll get to follow Bod from babyhood to adolescence. If audiobooks are your thing, then you’ll love Neil Gaiman’s narration of this young adult fantasy book.
Suitable for: Ages 11 to 14
Price: From $14.47. Purchase online on Amazon.sg or Book Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
7. The Hobbit
By J.R.R. Tolkien
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who loves a quiet, comfortable life. Travelling beyond his cellar, pantry or the town of Hobbiton is certainly out of the question; until a wizard, Gandalf the Grey, shows up on his doorstep with a party of loud dwarves and a daring plan to travel to the Lonely Mountain – an ancient dwarven stronghold – where they intend to rob Smaug the dragon and reclaim the mountain.
Why we love it: Director Peter Jackson’s already turned The Hobbit into a movie with the prettiest dwarves you’ve ever seen (hello, Richard Armitage!) but what the movie sorely lacks is Bilbo Baggin’s innocence, quiet courage and sometimes big head – all of which shine in the book. The sentences are rather lengthy, and you may need to explain things here and there, but there’s plenty of heartwarming moments and thrilling chapters – Riddles in the Dark is our favourite! – that will delight. This young adult book is also a literary classic, which makes it a worthy addition to your child’s bookshelf.
Suitable for: Ages 8 to 15
Price: From $14.21. Purchase online from Amazon.sg and Book Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
8. Maya and the Rising Dark
By Rena Barron
12-year-old Maya is the only person in her entire South Side Chicago neighbourhood who can see strange things like the werehyenas that stalk the streets and a scary man that’s made of shadows who plagues her dreams. She doesn’t believe any of it until her Papa goes missing. Her search for him reveals the Dark, where the Lord of Shadows and his menacing army hide, plotting to take over and destroy the human world. Along the way, Maya learns the truth about her father, and discovers her own little secret in the process, but can she stop the Lord of Shadows in time for Comic-Con before summer is over?
Why we love it: This young adult book is focused on West African mythology and features a host of characters that are fun and easy to root for. There’s plenty of diversity and LGBTQIA+ representation weaved into the book (one of the characters has two mamas), and it’s a fast, exciting read. We also love the spin on the usual “Chosen One” trope, because Maya is not the only one with a major superpower and the task of saving the world doesn’t lie squarely on her shoulders. Teamwork makes the dream work and how Maya and her group of friends band together to defeat the evil that surrounds them is what ultimately makes this book a winner.
Suitable for: Ages 8 to 12
Price: From $12.18. Purchase online on Amazon.sg and Books Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
9. Midnight for Charlie Bone
By Jenny Nimmo
10-year-old Charlie Bone has a special power, and when his cruel grandmother, Grizelda Bone, discovers it, she ships him off to Bloor’s Academy where students are sorted into houses according to their talent – magical or otherwise. Here, he uncovers a horrible secret and sets out to put it right with the help of his friends, a mysterious man named Mr Onimous and three magical cats. Along the way, Charlie finds out the truth about his father, who everyone assumes is dead and learns about his descendant, The Red King.
Why we love it: This young adult book is the first in the Children of the Red King series. We like that magical talents aren’t the only thing that’s appreciated; Charlie’s non-magical friends and their talents in drama and music are also celebrated here. The book is easy to read, with simple sentences and an uncomplicated plot.
Suitable for: Ages 7 to 12
Price: From $14.62. Purchase online from Amazon.sg and Book Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
10. Murder Most Unladylike
By Robin Stevens
It’s 1934, and Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong have set up their own secret detective agency at the Deepdean School for Girls. There’s nothing really exciting to investigate – unless you count their schoolmate’s missing tie – until their Science Mistress, Miss Bell, turns up dead in the gym. But the body disappears before Daisy and Hazel can even bat an eyelid. Now, the duo must rely on their cunning and intuition to prove a murder even took place before they can solve it.
Why we love it: Say yay for British sleuths, a smart Asian main character and an intriguing plot! We also like that the character of Daisy Wells is quite a terrible friend. While a lot of other readers lament her bossy behaviour and rudeness towards Hazel, we think it’s a teachable example for children to learn how to appreciate friendships, set healthy boundaries and how to stand their ground. There’s plenty of LGBTQIA+ mentions in the book, along with a side of murder and mature themes like alcohol consumption. So even though many bookstores and online communities say this young adult book is great for ages 9 and above, we’d firmly recommend it for older kids. There are currently 11 books in the Murder Most Unladylike series.
Suitable for: Ages 14 and up
Price: From $15.80. Purchase online from Amazon.sg and Book Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
11. The Mysterious Benedict Society
By Trenton Lee Stewart
Booksmart Reynie Muldoon is the brightest child at the Stonetown Orphanage. When his tutor, Miss Perumal, finds an ad offering special opportunities for gifted children, she encourages him to apply and he becomes one of four children who pass a series of mind-bending tests successfully. The opportunity turns out to be a secret mission for the narcoleptic Mr Benedict, who sends them undercover to an institution called L.I.V.E. (the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened) that’s run by a man named Ledroptha Curtain. The only rule is that there are no rules, and Reynie and his friends must use all their unique skills to unravel and stop Mr Curtain’s sinister plans.
Why we love it: We’ve all seen the plot before: four friends come together to save the world, but what sets this book apart is the complete lack of magic and fantasy. The group doesn’t have superpowers and yet, they are called on to fight an evil megalomaniac with nothing but their wit and quick thinking. Intelligence is celebrated in this young adult book, and it doesn’t shy away from discussing difficult life situations (missing or dead parents, abandonment, neglect, loneliness etc), the damage these issues cause, and just how resilient children can be in coping with these matters. The characters also face plenty of moral and ethical situations that serve as learning examples. If you’re done with the book, we’d highly recommend the TV adaptation on Disney+.
Suitable for: Ages 10 and up
Price: From $14.87. Purchase online on Amazon.sg and Book Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
12. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow
By Jessica Townsend
Morrigan Crow was born on Eventide, a cursed day for the birth of a child. She’s often blamed for all the town’s misfortunes, and her curse means she’ll die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. But on the day of her death, Morrigan is saved by a strange yet charming man called Jupiter North, who whisks her away to the Hotel Deucalion within the magical city of Nevermoor. Jupiter enrols her in the Wundrous Society, where she must compete in four dangerous trials against hundreds of others to stay and learn how to use her talent – one that she insists she does not have.
Why we love it: Morrigan Crow, a.k.a Mog, is your average 11-year-old who is also a social outcast with a hint of self-doubt. And while you end up rooting for her eventually, what we really fell for was the diverse crowd of supporting characters that add so much colour to the overall plot. Favourites include Fenestra the Wundercat who has plenty of sarcasm for every situation; Frank, the event planner with an attitude who throws lavish parties at Hotel Deucalion; and Hawthorne Swift, Morrigan’s BFF and partner-in-crime who knows his way around dragons. And while it’s a young adult book for middle graders, it’s also an entertaining read for any fantasy-loving adult.
Suitable for: Ages 9 and up
Price: From $14.20. Purchase online on Amazon.sg and Book Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
13. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
By Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson isn’t just your average schoolboy battling dyslexia and ADHD. He’s also the son of Poseidon with a hero complex and the subject of an ancient prophecy. When Percy arrives at Camp Half Blood, he learns that Zeus and Poseidon are at war. Zeus’s weapon, the Master Bolt, has been stolen, and he thinks Poseidon stole it with Percy’s help. Together with his friends Annabeth, daughter of Athena, and the satyr, Grover Underwood, Percy must find the Master Bolt and return it to Zeus on Mount Olympus by the Summer Solstice, before Zeus declares war on Poseidon.
Why we love it: Rick Riordan doesn’t necessarily take himself seriously, and it’s evident by the lighthearted tone and laidback writing style he employs with this young adult fantasy book. There’s plenty of humour to be enjoyed, and we found ourselves laughing out loud often. The book also highlights some of the struggles of growing up with abusive adults or single parents, parental neglect and what home truly means to each person. The entire book – and the subsequent books in the five-part Percy Jackson and the Olympians series – is all about Greek mythology; think Greek Gods, harpies, cyclopes, centaurs and minotaurs and plenty of lore from ancient Greece.
Rick Riordan is also – in our opinion – the unspoken king of young adult fantasy books that dabble in mythical lore. His other YA collections that are worth investing in include The Heroes of Olympus, The Kane Chronicles, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard and The Trials of Apollo. He’s also the author of The Maze of Bones, which is the first book in The 39 Clues series, a collaborative effort between 11 young adult authors that’s great for kids aged 8 to 12.
Suitable for: Ages 9 to 12
Price: From $12.80. Purchase online on Amazon.sg and Book Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
14. The Ship of Shadows
By Maria Kuzniar
Aleja craves a life filled with magic and adventure, so when a mysterious ship with an all-female crew anchors at the harbour in her Spanish city, she leaps at the first chance to sail away on a sea adventure.
Why we love it: Pirates, hidden treasure, the Kraken and lots of magic; it’s like Pirates of the Caribbean, but with lots of girl power. Aleja is one smart, tough cookie, and she’s constantly doing all the things people say girls cannot do. What’s not to like really?
Suitable for: Ages 9 to 12
Price: From $15.41. Purchase online on Amazon.sg and Book Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
15. Where the World Ends
By Geraldine McCaughrean
Every summer, Quill and his friends are sent to a remote sea stack to hunt for birds. This summer, no one came to take them home. The boys are abandoned to starve in the cold, surrounded by a raging ocean, as they try to understand why they’ve been left behind.
Why we love it: This young adult book is based on a true story and is set in St Kilda, Scotland. Beautifully written prose aside, the book examines the effects of isolation, loneliness and abandonment. There are some mature themes within the book, too, that your child can discuss with and learn from you.
Suitable for: Ages 14 and up
Price: From $14.59. Purchase online on Amazon.sg and Book Depository, or pick up a copy at Books Kinokuniya
16. The Rebirth of Bao
By SJ Garland
Like every undergrad student, Lena Lau just wants to drink bubble tea freely and dream about the handsome hunk next door. But Lena isn’t your average Singaporean girl. In fact, she’s got the ability to heal the sick, an ancient and forgotten gift that has been passed down through the generations in her family – one that many seek to control. And while she’s always managed to keep her gift hidden from others, her secret is revealed one day when she’s forced to heal her friend. But her action comes with consequences, and Lena has to manoeuvre a treacherous path that’s controlled by Singapore’s black market Chinese medicine trade and the city’s glittering elite.
Why we love it: We love how everything is set in Singapore, and as you read, you’ll relate to familiar things like Peranakan shophouses, traditional Chinese medicine, the red dot’s hawker centres and more. YA literature that’s set in SG is rare, and it’s always nice to find a young adult book that we can relate to. Besides, healing people as a magical gift? How cool is that!
Suitable for: Ages 15 and up
Price: From $18.95. Purchase online on Amazon Singapore or the Partridge Bookstore