What are funny, smart, quirky 13 yr olds reading these days?
January 16, 2022 2:52 AM   Subscribe

I've always loved my niece, but the older she gets the more everyone is starting to say "she's just like you!"  If I tell you what I'm like can you tell me what books she'll like?

Sadly due to the %$#*# pandemic I haven't actually spent much time with her in the last 2 years, but she's about to turn 13 and I'd like to send a book. Or even several books.

Since she's a voracious reader with a library card and a Libby app, even her parents don't know everything she's read, but I'd like to take a stab at sending her something she hasn't already discovered.

I don't necessarily want to send her something from my reading list at the same age because A) she's probably already read it and B) that stuff doesn't always meet 21st century standards.

But to give a sense of what sort of sensibility we're dealing with here when I was that age I liked The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Daniel Pinkwater but also Anne of Green Gables and Alice in Wonderland. I loved (and love!) things with very clever language, fantasy, humor, and kindness. I didn't like things that were depressing, dark, or gritty.

please feel free to include graphic novels in suggestions, and any books that really benefit from reading in a physical format over a digital format.

posted by Jenny'sCricket to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
(Having some trouble getting this to post - apologies if it shows up a few times!)

Perhaps she would like The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor by Shaenon K. Garrity, illustrated by Christopher Baldwin. It's a graphic novel; it's odd and amusing and charming. Here's a review directed at parents ("No swearing, sex, or drugs; some brooding."); here's what Publishers Weekly has to say.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:07 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]

At that age I loved The Annotated Alice, mostly for the nerdy annotations but also because it was a lovely hardcover. It looks like there are two newer editions (1999/1999 and 2015) that improve on the edition I received.

If you're unsure if she'd like The Hitchhikers Guide, my 13 year old loves it. And it's especially nice to receive it with a fancy (but functional!) towel or pair of tea cups.

Might she like How to Lie with Maps?

And a final suggestion: the MIT Press Bookshop has some fun oddball reads appropriate for bookish teens. It's harder to discover them or get a sense of the heft via online catalogue, but a poke around might unearth something unusual.
posted by cocoagirl at 5:19 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]

I had similar taste as yours at that age, and I've been devouring Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books and wishing I'd had them when I was a kid. They start with The Wee Free Men.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:35 AM on January 16 [8 favorites]

A millenial I know and I were talking books once and she absolutely floored me by saying she had never really liked the Earthsea books but that Tamora Pierce was her absolute favorite.

After I had recovered I obviously went out and read all the Pierce my library could provide. Can confirm, they’re pretty good.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 6:07 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]

I had very similar tastes! Terry Pratchett was wonderful, and Hitchhiker's Guide was a constant. You might look to get her a fancy or annotated version of something you loved. I remember we used to pass around annotated versions of books in high school because they were too expensive for our stretched-thin book budgets, too fancy for our struggling library, and a great eye into how authors thought. Also, we all loved them.

As for recommendations? I absolutely love Seanan McGuire's Every Heart a Doorway, which is a pretty robust series now. Portal fantasy, inclusive language, super enjoyable and emotional. Not terribly quirky, exactly, but a wonderful read.

Diana Wynne Jones, specifically the Dark Lord of Derkholm. It's a tongue in cheek parody of fantasy, and has a sequel if she likes it. She may also love Howl's Moving Castle already, and be pleased to know that there is a book and two sequels.

Sara Reese Brennan's In Other Lands is a combination of the two above- and probably my favorite book right now. "Sometimes it’s not the kid you expect who falls through to magicland, sometimes it’s . . . Elliott. He’s grumpy, nerdy, and appalled by both the dearth of technology and the levels of fitness involved in swinging swords around."
posted by Torosaurus at 6:35 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dun hits the clever language and humor requirement, and the protagonist is around that age, if I remember correctly.
posted by timestep at 7:02 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]

Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson would be a great choice. A funny, lovable, fantastical graphic novel that subverts expectations in clever ways.

posted by booky at 7:11 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]

Based on the Hitchhikers Guide and Daniel Pinkwater mentions, I'd go with Space Opera by Catherynne Valente (Wikipedia summary). Bonus opportunity to get her into Eurovision and/or David Bowie, if she isn't already! Plus the author is working on a sequel, and has a good back catalogue if she's the type to look for other books by authors she's liked.

In general, I would pick something you would like to read or have loved, which opens the door to talking about it with her. Can still be YA if that's what you want to go with - I've read a couple really fun YA books this year as a grown up, though none of them fit quite the vibe/genre you seem to be aiming for.
posted by the primroses were over at 7:19 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]

She would probably like The True Meaning of Smekday, but there's a good chance she's already read it.

If you want something she almost certainly hasn't read, you could go with The Everlasting Story of Nory by Nicholson Baker, which is delightful and funny. It's about a 9 year old girl and there's nothing in it that's inappropriate for a 9 year old. (I read it to my daughter when she was about that age and she loved it.) But it was published for an adult audience so a 13 year old is not too old for it. (Though she might feel like she was. She might not yet be old enough to enjoy reading about younger kids in the fond, nostalgic way adults do.)

A boxed set of Tove Jansson's Moomin books could be a great gift unless you think she already owns them all. (There doesn't seem to be a boxed set that actually includes all of them. The one I linked to leaves out a book.) They're the kind of books you can enjoy reading over and over again, and she won't outgrow them. The later ones in particular are really better appreciated by adults than by children. But this is another case where she might be too young to not feel like she's too old for them.
posted by Redstart at 7:20 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]

Also, if you go with a current author, check to see if they do personalized signatures with their local bookstore; that can really be fun for a gift.

If you do want to go with a Cat Valente book, here's a link for personalized copies, assuming you don't need it shipped immediately.
posted by the primroses were over at 7:26 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]

At that age I loved The Annotated Alice, mostly for the nerdy annotations but also because it was a lovely hardcover. It looks like there are two newer editions (1999/1999 and 2015) that improve on the edition I received.

I loved The Annotated Alice in my late teens -- but if memory serves, there is stuff in Martin Gardner's commentary that is not apppropriate for a 13-year-old. If you get this one for your niece, I urge you to read it yourself before passing it along, to make sure you're comfortable with everything in it.

At 12-going-on-thirteen, she may or may not consider herself too old for middle grade books. If she's open to them, The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes is the closest thing I've seen to a contemporary Middle Grade novel with a Douglas Adams-style sense of humor.
posted by yankeefog at 9:59 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]

I wa obsessed with The Annotated Alice at that age as well. Agree that it's important to be aware of the Lewis Carrol pedo stuff though, in case it's discussed in the commentary. My copy didn't have anything about that.

I also loved

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder - her husband Almanzo's childhood on an 1860s New York State farm, lots of "how they did this in the olden times" content. The best book in the Little House on the Prairie series for sure.

Girl of the Limberlost - Very similar to Anne of Green Gables, but the girl is older + collects moths. It's a big thick read. In retrospect it sounds boring even to me, but I was really into it.

The Island of the Blue Dolphins - Robinson Crusoe type "abandoned on an island" story featuring an Indigenous girl, based on a true story

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - hilarious memoir of an animal-obsessed boy growing up in Greece with a very charming cast of characters and great animal stories. I just ADORED this book as a tween/teen. There are some mild sexual intellectual / jokey comments by Durrell's older brother, but they're like, 1940s British so the phrasing is less-familiar and the language is not super vulgar: "By Jove, what a specimen, she's certainly a mammal" - type comments, so they totally went over my head at that age.

A Wrinkle in Time and The Young Unicorns, by Madeleine L'Engle - Prickly teen girls save the world.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:23 PM on January 16

For graphic novels maybe the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O'Malley, or Blankets by Craig Thompson?
Note that there is non-graphic respectful consensual sex in both. Definitely read them over first to check if they're in line with her exposure level from the shows she watches, but if she watches normal TV it's probably in line with stuff she's already seen, and in both cases the lead is a nice boy who is madly in love with the girl.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:32 PM on January 16

Here are some graphic novels I can suggest for a young female teenager (since I have one):

Blue Flag series

Fence series

The Ancient Magus' Bride series

Yotsuba&! series

The Mortal Instruments series

Teen Titans: Raven and Teen Titans: Beast Boy

There are a lot more graphic novels I can recommend if you would like some additional suggestions.
posted by Dansaman at 11:33 PM on April 29

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