Book recommendations for 13 year old avid reader
April 1, 2019 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Young Cocoa is having trouble finding books for pleasure reading. With a school break coming up, we need some recommendations. He likes looooong books or series. His favorite genres are humorous fantasy/wordplay (Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde) as well as historical fiction, memoir, and some character-driven/idea-driven sci-fi (The Martian, Dune) and speculative fiction (Ted Chiang). He dislikes a lot of current realistic YA fiction because it feels formulaic. He doesn't like Terry Pratchett. He doesn't like the situations in a lot of adult fiction:

- current politics
- overt sex
- detailed realistic military violence, misogyny, and cruelty
- humorous references aimed generations older than he
- adult world-weariness, or/and depressing endings

I think he'd like current adult fiction that retains an upbeat view even if the main characters go through tough stuff---the book equivalent of a PG-13 rating.

I'm going to tee up a number of the books from this 2016 question because some might hit the spot but some probably break the rules set out above.

Recent-ish Favorites...
David Sedaris (Holidays on Ice)
The War that Saved My Life
How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America
The Last Magician

As of a few years ago he had read and liked....
A Natural History of Dragons series
Sabriel series
Lord of the Rings/Hobbit
Eragon series
My Side of the Mountain
Harry Potter series
The Last Dragonslayer/Chronicles of Zazam
Benedict Society series
Series of Unfortunate Events series
Narnia series
Rick Riordan - all the series
Some Neil Gaiman
posted by cocoagirl to Writing & Language (48 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
What about things by Isaac Asimov? I find his stuff easy to read and filled with interesting ideas. His stuff seems to meet your restrictions as well. I would in particular recommend the "Caves of Steel" trilogy, as well as his short stories.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:37 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub.
posted by Fukiyama at 9:38 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Joe Abercrombie's Shattered Sea trilogy might suffice.

The series tells the story of Yarvi, youngest son of a warlike king. Born with a crippled hand, he can never live up to his father's expectations of what a real man should be and his destiny is not the throne but the Ministry, not the sword and shield but the book and the soft word spoken. But when his father and brother are killed, Yarvi is propelled to kingship and must sit in the Black Chair, between gods and men, and half a man must find a way to rule as half a king.
posted by porpoise at 9:38 AM on April 1, 2019

The Miss Peregrine series might fit the speculative/fantasy bill and has a small romance side plot but no overt sexuality. There are 4 decently-long books in the series, plus a book of short stories.

If he likes Ted Chiang he may like Octavia Butler--Kindred would be a good place to start; I think I was about 13 when I read it. The Lilith's Brood series is very long but very concerned with politics of gender and sexuality so might not be a good fit for his interests right now.
posted by assenav at 9:38 AM on April 1, 2019

I see the humorous references aimed older thing you cite above, but it doesn't get much funnier than P.G. Wodehouse, and I was not biffing around in the 1920s. There are so many of those books, too - they could keep him going quite a while if he likes them.

Has he read Ursula Le Guin?

Has he read Tamora Pierce?

How about the Swallows and Amazons books? I thought they were boring when I was 10, but really dug into them in my later teens, and I still like to read them occasionally. They are full of the same feeling that I got reading My Side of the Mountain. They are also rewarding to me on a historical level, I think Ransome was an interesting figure and those books teach a lot about the underlying mechanisms of Empire. They also have boats in them, and learning to build your own fire, and rescuing kittens off shipwrecks in the North Sea.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 9:44 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

David McCullough has an engaging style that your son may like. While I found his biography of Truman to be kind of dull, I think it's mostly because Truman himself was sort of dull (or even-keeled, I suppose you'd say). However, his history of the American Revolution is a good read, and his John Adams biography is really insightful (although it should probably be balanced with a competing biography of Thomas Jefferson).
posted by JamesBay at 9:44 AM on April 1, 2019

Got two kids who enjoyed many of those series around that age, and their top choice not on the list was the Goose Girl/Bayern series. The rest of Hale's books not so much, but those very much.
posted by bendybendy at 9:44 AM on April 1, 2019

T H White's The Once and Future King is rather wonderful. And if he likes that, he could also check out Sherwood by Parke Godwin. He may enjoy Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence as well. All fairly similar in tone and subject matter (fantasy/ historical fantasy) to the list of books he's enjoyed.
posted by unicorn chaser at 9:47 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Rick Riordan has his own imprint. I have not read any of them so I can't personally recommend any but those books seem like a decent place to start.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 9:48 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

He will gobble up the incredibly unique Monster Blood Tattoo series. It appears to be mostly out-of-print (and weirdly pricey on Amazon), but cheaper used copies are easily findable.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:52 AM on April 1, 2019

The second book in Holly Black's The Folk of the Air series just came out a couple of months ago. Amazon has it listed as a 2 book series but I'm almost positive it will be a trilogy. I don't necessarily like YA but I did love The Cruel Prince.
posted by lyssabee at 9:54 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Robert Lynn Aspirin's Myth series seems like it would tickle his fancy.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:58 AM on April 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hmm, also my favourite fantasy series as a young podling was The Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:00 AM on April 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

I just read Tess of the Road, which appears to be part of a series. It's definitely a very adult-feeling YA book with lots of adventure.
posted by torridly at 10:00 AM on April 1, 2019

Ooh, also any of the vampire books by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Her thing is extensive historical research, and each book is set in a different time period. They're well written and quite exciting.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:01 AM on April 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

How about Jason Cosmo by Dan McGirt?
posted by dhruva at 10:04 AM on April 1, 2019

SFF: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. Fascinating aliens. Not YA. Several of the ideas in that book made a lifelong impression on me.

DIanna Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci books are YA and would fit in with the list of books your son liked a few years ago, but they're great and I still enjoy them as an adult.
posted by henuani at 10:08 AM on April 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Seeing how he liked "How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America" has he given "Long Division" a try?

I'd second the Isaac Asimov suggestion. Classic science fiction in general might be a good fit.

I'd recommend Connie Willis' "Time Travel" series as well.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:15 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

With the caveat that I'm dumb about kids and what ages mean for basically anything would the Red Rising series be appropriate?
posted by bowmaniac at 10:16 AM on April 1, 2019

How about Ruby Redfort?
posted by msbubbaclees at 10:27 AM on April 1, 2019

The Wodehouse rec. above made me think of Saki.

Has he read Neverwhere? Roadmarks is another thought I had. He's probably too mature for a lot of Diana Wynne Jones, but Dark Lord of Derkholm might be a possibility. Also maybe Snow-walker by Catherine Fisher.
posted by gudrun at 10:29 AM on April 1, 2019

I'd recommend Connie Willis' "Time Travel" series as well.

Totally agreed (especially To Say Nothing of the Dog). Be aware, however, that The Doomsday Book in this series is a huuuuge bummer.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:34 AM on April 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Since he likes long series and dragons, I would get him His Majesty's Dragon, the first book of the Temeraire series. It's the Napoleanic wars but with a corps of dragon-riders in addition to navies. A fun, fast read with some cool ideas.

He would probably really enjoy the His Dark Materials trilogy. I loved it at his age and still reread it.

SFF: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. Fascinating aliens. Not YA. Several of the ideas in that book made a lifelong impression on me.

Seconded! It's one of my favorites.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:35 AM on April 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Wayfairer's Series by Becky Chambers. The first book, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was shortlisted for a n Arthur C Clarke Award. It is funny and also a fascinating examination of species, artificial intelligence and the question of personhood. It is really, really, really good.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:41 AM on April 1, 2019 [10 favorites]

In the interests of trying to get him to read books with female protagonists, you might also try Novik's Spinning Silver or Uprooted (which won the Nebula).
posted by praemunire at 11:40 AM on April 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Definitely seconding the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers, came to post that! My daughter (12 yo, avid reader) devoured all 3 books in about a week and has already re-read them.

I haven't read them myself, but she just read the Legends of the Dragonrealm books by Richard A. Knaak and really enjoyed them. She's starting the Temeraire series noted above which I think she'll like too- she read Uprooted by Naomi Novik and really liked that.

On her list is the Dragonbone Chair (Tad Williams) which I am currently reading and think she and your son would probably like.

If he is open to short fiction I would recommend the Big Book of Science Fiction, which has a variety of short stories (most of which are great!!) from authors around the world, including faves like Ted Chiang, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R.R. Martin, and Isaac Asimov. I loved, loved, loved this book and my daughter has enjoyed the stories she read from it as well.

As to the Red Rising trilogy mentioned above, there is a lot of military and hand-to-hand violence in it so that might not be quite what you're looking for given his tastes mentioned above!
posted by DTMFA at 11:52 AM on April 1, 2019

Sourdough by Robin Sloan. Humorous, great plot, has a strong female protagonist, passes the Bechdel Test, uplifting, smart, has elements of fantasy (more like magic realism). I loved it and think it would be totally appropriate for your son!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:55 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation series (two books) checks off many of the boxes you list. I read it as an adult and thought it was fantastic, the first book especially.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:16 PM on April 1, 2019

He might enjoy the Akata Witch books, which have been described as "Nigerian Harry Potter."
posted by belladonna at 12:17 PM on April 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

As a teen, I though The Stainless Steel Rat, by Harry Harrison was hilarious. With a sassy protagonist who was bad enough to be cool, but not really bad, so you could still root for him.

I have no idea if it holds up; this was 25 years ago.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:18 PM on April 1, 2019

Based on the likes list, I think he'd get a real kick out of Daniel Pinkwater. I'd recommend these.

I also discovered Vonnegut around that age (starting either with Breakfast of Champions or Sirens of Titan).
posted by Mchelly at 12:54 PM on April 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

When I was that age, I devoured the Incarnations of Immortality series by Piers Anthony.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 2:22 PM on April 1, 2019

Walter Moers: long, complicated, silly, relentless buildup of tension (with occasional tremendously awful puns for relief), somewhat grim setups that pretty much always resolve happily. Great illustrations. Amazing that these are so pitch-perfect hilarious even in translation from the original German. Maybe start with The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, and the rest of the Zamonia series might follow. While I personally adore Moers's A Wild Ride Through the Night it's quite disturbing, with themes of cheating death.

In a similar vein: The Cyberiad, by Stanisław Lem. Not all of Lem's fantasy would be ideal; in particular, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub is supremely dark and troubling.
posted by scruss at 2:34 PM on April 1, 2019

I loved the Heinlein juveniles at that age, although looking back there's maybe a little too much right wing propaganda slipped in there by ol' Bob
posted by el_presidente at 2:38 PM on April 1, 2019

Also Ian McDonald's Desolation Road. Magical
posted by el_presidente at 3:03 PM on April 1, 2019

Oooh I know, try Douglas Adams!!!
posted by Lawn Beaver at 3:40 PM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

*I dis-recommend anything by Piers Anthony. Very patriarchal, very objectifying of women; very damaging to young men's minds. Similarly, also avoid the Stainless Steel Rat; while I love the stories, the main character is always going on about how women are X (where X is mid-20th century American stay-at-home mom), and his wife Angela is so surprising because she's not X. Also avoid any Heinlein, and check on the Asimov before you put it in front of him.

Any classic Fantasy/SF written by a woman, instead, will be a better choice 99% of the time.

I've read all of this stuff, multiple times in many cases, and it has not aged well into the 21st century. Just some caveats.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:41 PM on April 1, 2019 [11 favorites]

If he wants an upbeat view, I suspect Octavian Nothing may not go (although it is fantastic). And um, Piers Anthony is just... no.

I recommend Le Guin's Annals of the Western Shore, which are very well-written, have YA protagonists, include adventures (magic, escaping slavery, dealing with invasions), and also deal with systems of oppression in non-didactic ways. Highly recommended, but doesn't get much attention compared to the Earthsea books.

If he's bored with a lot of contemporary stuff, you might look to old historical fiction, with the caveat that a lot of it is misogynist and racist. But when I was a kid, I loved adventure novels by writers like Samuel Shellabarger and Rosemary Sutcliff.

Sutcliff has a whole series of novels set in Roman Britain that culminates in a brilliant retelling of the Arthur story. These vary from middle-grade to adult, but the difference is gradual and given what your kid has been reading he's likely to be fine with them.
posted by suelac at 3:47 PM on April 1, 2019

John Christopher's Tripods. Make sure to start in the right place, with The White Mountains.
posted by Rash at 3:50 PM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

When I was around that age, I was reading a lot of Arthur C. Clarke, patient SciFi with a bit of lite philosophizing. I was also reading Michael Moorcock's Elric fantasy series, which eventually led to more weirder and adult rated stuff...
posted by ovvl at 5:08 PM on April 1, 2019

I didn't see Neal Stephenson mentioned. I would think "Diamond Age", "Cryptonomicron" and "Snow Crash" might be idea driven sci-fi or speculative fiction. Just a thought.
posted by forthright at 6:41 PM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you for the reality check, seanmpuckett. It‘s sad how many childhood favourites just...ended up injecting crap into our brains.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:27 PM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’m pretty sure I got into Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series when I was about young Cocoa’s age (when it was one book instead of five with a sixth and last pending), and it’s still an all time favorite as an adult. Historical fantasy which starts out heist-ish and gets political, clever storytelling that encourages a reread and memorable, likeable characters both admirable and intensely flawed. There’s some violence, but I’d put it on the level of LOTR - it’s taken seriously and has consequences, but it’s not dwelled upon in graphic detail.

I haven’t read Tess of the Road yet, but I was going to recommend the Seraphina duology set in the same universe — great female protagonist, feels very “classic fantasy” in vibe without being much like classic fantasy at all.
posted by bettafish at 1:40 AM on April 2, 2019

Has he read any David Mitchell? Black Swan Green would be perfect for someone his age.
posted by aiglet at 3:56 AM on April 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am back to say, I thought about it some more and wanted to recommend Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Why Weeps the Brogan by Hugh Scott and MapHead by Lesley Howarth. I read the latter 2 at the age of 13/14 and really enjoyed them and they stuck with me. Also when I was a pre-teen I read a lot more short stories than I do, especially supernatural or horror anthologies but also murder mysteries, and it introduced me to the work of plenty of authors whom i continued to seek out more of.
posted by unicorn chaser at 5:55 AM on April 2, 2019

Is he too old for Redwall? I believe there are many books in the series now. Also, Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain series.
posted by CiaoMela at 6:35 AM on April 2, 2019

The Magicians series, by Lev Grossman.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 4:25 PM on April 3, 2019

Response by poster: Impossible to highlight one best answer as there were so many bests, so thanks to all! Some of the books suggested he's already read and others are in queue to dip into. Thanks especially for books with female protagonists (which Young Cocoa does enjoy) and for heads up on problematic classics.

For posterity, in the course of searching out some of the books listed here, I was also led to the American Library Association's Best Of lists, one of which is the Alex Awards, "given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. The winning titles are selected from the previous year's publishing."
posted by cocoagirl at 7:14 AM on April 8, 2019

« Older What's the best way to buy advance train tickets...   |   Factory landlord won't wear safety glasses Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.