by Kiersten Frost, Bookseller

Take it from someone who was homeschooled on a rural farmstead: when you’re a teenager just beginning to get a taste of the independence that adults enjoy, isolation is gutting. If you have a teen at home, they may be feeling helpless, angry, or overwhelmed, even if they seem all right (or at least passive) at the dinner table. This is not normal, as the new adage goes, and that's just as true for them as it is for us.

When I was grappling with those same feelings as a teen, I turned to books. I craved the escapism of fantasy novels and the frank, validating voices of what would become the Young Adult genre. Books helped me process the emotions I had deemed too messy, confusing, or ugly to confront directly, especially not out loud. (Talking to an adult? Mortifying.) Books offered a chance to understand myself at an age when teenagers generally believe that no one ever could.

Now, more than ever, I think it’s important to embrace the power that stories have to help us feel seen and acknowledged in a world that seems more isolating than ever before.

I’ve selected the following books not because they are all cheerful, funny, or distracting—although plenty of them are!—but because they all offer a different outlet for what a teen might be feeling, and however they might want to work through it. All of these books were written for a teen audience:

Wilder Girls

Wilder Girls

On a quarantined island off the coast of Maine, the students of an all-girls boarding school must face a deadly virus, their own mutating bodies, and the brutality of survival when the wider world abandons them. It might seem like a strange pick for such strange times, but Power brings an honesty and compassion to this feminist spin on The Lord of the Flies that I think teens need to hear. Recommended for the teen who’s eating up books about the Spanish Flu and the Black Death at a worrying pace.
In Other Lands

In Other Lands

What if the kid who insists that he would make a much better hero than Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins actually wound up stumbling into a fantasy world? Escapism doesn’t get more literal than this. Although the book is hilarious, it doesn’t shy away from the real, difficult emotions and experiences that teens deal with. Get it for your reader who couldn’t get enough of Rick Riordan or J.K. Rowling and wants a fresh take on the genre of magical schools.
The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza

A 16-year-old Starbucks barista, the product of a virgin birth, discovers she has miraculous healing powers. The catch? Whenever she heals someone—like the girl she’s had a crush on for years—other people disappear into the sky. And don’t even get her started on the voices she keeps hearing in her head. This surreal coming-of-age romp is a little bit about first love and a little bit about the end of the world, but mostly it’s about finding your own reasons to hope. If a teen likes both John Green and Good Omens, this is for them.
Sparrow

Sparrow

When the world gets too frightening, 14-year-old Sparrow likes to fly. Her vivid daydreams of soaring over the city with the birds land her in huge trouble when she’s caught sitting on the school roof. Instantly, she’s stuck in therapy—and she’s mad. If none of the other adults in her life have ever understood her, why would a total stranger? This novel approaches anxiety, mental health care, and the struggles of being a young teen without condescension or sugarcoating, and its optimism is infectious. Recommended for any teen who doesn’t like to talk about their feelings.
White Rabbit

White Rabbit

Out-of-control teen parties. A killer on the loose. An ex-boyfriend who just wants to “talk.” Oh, what simpler times. White Rabbit is a non-stop thriller that will make readers forget all about the four walls of their home as our teen hero scrambles to escape his own, which is now a crime scene. Is his sister really a murderer, or is something even more sinister at work? He only has until dawn to find out.
  This book is the ideal distraction, and nothing can get you out of your own head better than a good mystery to solve.
Sadie

Sadie

Sadie knows exactly who killed her little sister, and she’s going to make him pay. A year later, a true-crime podcast host hears the story of Sadie’s disappearance, and he launches his own investigation into a murder that everyone else seems to want to forget. This gripping, heart-wrenching novel about sisterhood, survival, and revenge is so much more than a thriller. The award-winning full-cast audiobook is available on Libro.fm.
Content Note: This novel includes discussions of difficult topics such as sexual assault, physical abuse, alcoholism, and the death of a child.
Sorcery of Thorns

Sorcery of Thorns

And now, the palette cleanser: a delicious fantasy of manners featuring a sentient library, a plucky orphan, a brooding sorcerer, and a magical butler. The stakes? High. The magic? Dangerous. The banter? To die for. Readers will want to savor every single paragraph. Best of all, it's a stand-alone fantasy that requires no waiting for a sequel to fully enjoy the story. This is the ideal comfort read for bookish teens with a flair for drama.
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