Teen books where friends are imperfect
November 11, 2019 2:59 AM   Subscribe

My 11-year-old son is struggling with new friendships at a new school. He is very loyal to his friends, who can be difficult and get in trouble, and that can lead him into trouble. I would like to find teen fiction books that address these kinds of situations -- for example, where the kids have friends, and those friends are imperfect and do bad things, and kids have to decide how they will respond. I'd also be interested in teen fiction that addresses issues of troublemaking, independence or loyalty more generally. He is a fairly mature reader for his age, so books aimed at 10-14 year olds might fit the bill.
posted by beniamino to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've been loving Cathy Cassidy's books. They deal with exactly these issues, but in quite a light, warm, loving way - not as grim or upsetting as some teen books can be. Broken Hearts Club has a mixed group of protagonists, sometimes from the point of view of a girl, and sometimes from a boy, but dealing with fairly serious issues of broken trust between friends, young people struggling with managing their anger, etc. The cover of some editions is a bit on the girly, frilly side (mentioning this as some teenagers of all genders are self conscious about that kind of thing) but the text is down to earth.
posted by Zumbador at 4:16 AM on November 11, 2019

Sorry, me again :)
Winger by Andrew Smith is very much a boy's point of view book - a rugby playing, joke cracking boy who has to negotiate friendship, jealousy, and homophobia. He is straight, his best friend is gay. Spoiler alert - this is unfortunately a bury your gays story, but I still found it worth reading and memorable.
posted by Zumbador at 4:20 AM on November 11, 2019

I love Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series for all ages; you could read it with him, too, and enjoy it both from a teen and an adult perspective. There are flawed protagonists in the books who struggle with good and evil, and the books are gorgeously written. One of the main characters is an 11 year old boy (he shows up starting in the second book).
posted by wicked_sassy at 5:57 AM on November 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

judy blume's Then Again Maybe I Won't has Tony's friend group being mean to a waitperson they don't like and one of them caught shoplifting.
posted by brujita at 7:01 AM on November 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

This might be aimed more at girls, but I just finished Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy. One of the main themes (besides divorce and homophobia) is friendship—how being loyal to one friend might hurt another friend, friends sometimes outgrow friends, and that people you like might not like each other. The characters are preparing to go from 7th to 8th grade, but Sweet Pea herself seems younger.
posted by elphaba at 7:02 AM on November 11, 2019

Three with boys as main characters, middle-grade and YA:

What you're describing is precisely the central theme of the superb The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon.

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis is also great. It's historical fiction and the central character is pulled into a gradually revealed, truly evil deed, and must figure out whether and how to respond. The narrative makes it evident how easy it is to become complicit.

He might also like Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher - all the central characters are misunderstood kids of one variety or another who find community and defy expectations together.
posted by jocelmeow at 8:46 AM on November 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Hulu series Looking for Alaska--based on the John Green YA novel of the same name--seems to hit all these points. I don't know if this will satisfy what you're looking to gain though, because while there are consequences for their decisions, many of the these go unimpeached. Perhaps watching (or reading) along with your teen would be appropriate here.
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 11:04 AM on November 11, 2019

The Gordon Korman Boots & Bruno books are super fun, and deal with a variety of friendships, and I remember his one-off "No Coins, Please" being great for kid me on understanding team dynamics. Also on the desirability of being a con artist, but that's not the ultimate moral...
posted by Gin and Broadband at 1:05 PM on November 11, 2019

There is an absolutely marvelous book called Masterminds and Wingmen about the complex social world of boys. (It's written by the same person who wrote the Queen Bees & Wannabees book that the movie Mean Girls was based on.) It's not necessarily something your son would read right now but I read portions of it with my sons and it is really illuminating. My older son did end up reading the whole thing when he was about 13.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:15 PM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks for these suggestions! They are all great but I've highlighted some that seem most appealing to my son personally, and we will try those first.
posted by beniamino at 1:08 AM on November 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I really like The Year of Secret Assignments (also known as Finding Cassie Crazy) by Jaclyn Moriarty. It's about a tight group of friends who give each other kind of crazy quests, in part to distract one of them from grieving for her dad. It goes over the line from fun quirky quests to they shouldn't be doing it and get in trouble. What I like is that their friendship starts strong, even as they figure out how to, y'know, stop breaking rules for each other.
posted by Margalo Epps at 4:07 PM on November 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Awkward, Brave, and Crush are great graphic novels about making friends in middle school.

Slot Machine by Chris Lynch deals with very complex friend issues and is very funny if you're into wry, sarcastic humor.
posted by tangosnail at 10:14 AM on November 13, 2019

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