The 17 Best Books for 12-Year Olds in 2020

The 17 Best Books for 12-Year Olds in 2020

Reading is a fantastic way to expand a child’s understanding of the world, improve their ability to see things from a different perspective, and to ace vocabulary tests. It’s also just a great way to spend a rainy day. The only problem is a lot of people associate reading with work and tedium.

Learning to appreciate books at a young age makes it much easier to continue the hobby later in life. An early enthusiasm for reading also helps expose readers to new ideas and ways of thinking they hadn’t previously considered.

The only issue? Some kids find it tedious or difficult to get into reading. The best way to overcome this obstacle is by introducing your young ones to books that are sure to grab their attention and keep them captivated until they reach the end.

Finding a book that is age-appropriate and engrossing can be difficult especially when considering how different one child’s taste and maturity level can be from another. To help you out for the preteen in your life, we have put together this resource of the best books for 12-year-olds.

What to Look for in Books for 12-Year-Olds

Finding the right book for the 12-year-old reader in your life is made easier by equipping yourself with the basic knowledge needed to assess whether that book is a good fit for the young adult you have in mind. We have structured our reviews to help you quickly weed out the books that may not be a good fit by briefly addressing the core aspects of each book.

Our reviews are consistently structured so you can easily navigate this page and find the right book for your 12-year-old. Each review is broken into three sections: what sets it apart, what to consider, and what type of reader it’s best for.

What Sets It Apart

In this section, we go over the aspects of the book that make it unique. This is where you’ll find a brief overview of the story with mentions of setting and theme when it’s deemed relevant.

Things to Consider

Here is where we discuss the aspects of the book that could be a potential issue for the reader or the parents concerning content and topics discussed within the book.

Who It’s Best For

This section is where we talk about the kind of person that would appreciate the book the most. We’ll also discuss some general characterizations of young readers that would possibly not enjoy reading that particular book due to various reasons.

Every review is capped off with a brief pros and cons section that summarizes the information in the more detailed reviews and puts everything into bite-sized pieces of information for quick comparisons.

Now that you know how to navigate our reviews, let’s get to the list!

Top 17 Best Books for 12-Year Olds 2020

1. Best Overall Book for 12-Year-Olds:Harry Potter

Harry Potter

Why we like it: Harry Potter is one of the most beloved children’s book series of all time, and it continues to grip young readers to this day.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Series: Yes
  • Author: J.K. Rowling

What Sets It Apart

This is a story about three young friends and their heroic attempts to put a halt to the evil deeds of Lord Voldemort and his lackeys, all while keeping their grades up at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The series is full of magical spells and creatures that come bursting off the pages.

A lot of the magic in the Harry Potter world is thanks to the fascinating details that help the world come to life in the reader’s imagination. While the story follows a fairly standard “hero’s journey” plot arc, the way J.K Rowling builds the world has captivated readers of all ages.

Things to Consider

You can’t really write a list of best books for 12-year-olds without talking about Harry Potter, so why not get it out of the way first? Harry Potter has garnered itself a rabid fanbase while also spawning Hollywood films and numerous video game spinoffs. As such, there’s a good chance the 12-year-olds in your life have already read this series or decided it’s not for them.

Who It’s Best For

Harry Potter has a great track record of getting young readers hooked on the idea of reading books. For anyone who is hesitant to get into reading, this book is a perfect gateway into other worlds. It’s also phenomenal for kids who already love fantasy, epic sagas, and adventure.

Pros

  • A truly magical setting
  • Excellently fleshed out world with fantastical details
  • A tale about the ultimate power of love

Cons

  • Most avid readers will have already read this series

2. Best Supernatural Book for 12-Year-Olds:Percy Jackson

Percy Jackson

Why we like it: The Percy Jackson series brings Greek mythology into the setting of the modern United States to create a fantastical world that lies just barely out of our reach.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Series: Yes
  • Author: Rick Riordan

What Sets It Apart

The combination of Greek mythology with a modern United States setting makes for a unique read unlike most typical fantasy novels that are set in distant, fantastical locales. Riordan puts a new spin on the very old Greek mythological characters that is viewed through the lens of the often comical and snarky narration of Percy, the main character who suffers from ADHD and dyslexia.

Things to Consider

The Percy Jackson series has garnered a fandom large enough that it has begun to be mentioned in the same conversations as Harry Potter. Unlike in the case of Harry Potter, however, the Percy Jackson series has not had much success when it comes to film and video game adaptations, though a Disney+ series is in the works that Riordan says “will fix” the film’s mistakes.

Who It’s Best For

Percy Jackson is 12 at the beginning of this series, making this an excellent book for curious 12-year-olds that love a sense of danger and mystery. The series is set in the United States in the early 2000s, making it perfect for young readers that enjoy books grounded in familiar settings.

Pros

  • Main character begins the series at 12
  • Combines Greek mythology with a modern setting
  • Story is set in the United States

Cons

  • Readers will likely be disappointed by the movies

3. Best Self-Acceptance Book for 12-Year-Olds:Genesis Begins Again

Genesis Begins Again

Why we like it: Tackling the tough and topical issues of modern-day colorism and bullying, Genesis Begins Again treats the topic with care while ending on an ultimately hopeful note.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Family Life
  • Series: No
  • Author: Alicia D. Williams

What Sets It Apart

Unlike some of the books on our list, Genesis Begins Again addresses modern-day real-world issues. Published in 2019, this book provides a very modern take on the issues of bullying and how those issues relate to race. In the book, Genesis, the main character, is suffering from bullying at school and at home at the young age of 13. Thanks to a change of schools, Genesis learns to love herself instead of focusing on the list she made of 96 things wrong with her.

Things to Consider

Bullying can be a difficult topic for young children to deal with, but 12 is a good age for introspection. The issue of colorism is a popular topic in modern society that young preteens are likely to encounter during their time at school, whether they’re aware of it or not. These issues are important to address, but sometimes it’s nice for books to be an escape from reality as opposed to a harsh reminder of it.

Who It’s Best For

Genesis Begins Again is perfect for young readers who are sympathetic towards the difficulties of others, but this may not be the best book for those who are overly sensitive. Some readers could have a hard time enjoying a book that hits so close to home. It’s still a great educational book that teaches a lot of good lessons on both bullying and race.

Pros

  • Winner of numerous awards
  • Deals with current issues and topics
  • Tackles issues of self-esteem

Cons

  • May be too heavy for some young readers

4. Best Animal Lover’s Book for 12-Year-Olds:Pax

Pax

Why we like it: Pax is a heartbreaking adventure story that challenges readers with emotional highs and lows.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Series: No
  • Author: Sara Pennypacker

What Sets It Apart

A twist on the boy and his dog story, Pax demonstrates the bond that can form between humans and animals and the lengths that loyalty can be stretched to. A story about a fox and his 12-year-old boy as they become separated and strike out on separate journeys to find each other once again.

Things to Consider

Pax is not for the faint of heart, but it is an excellent book for teaching young adults about the beauty and pain of life. This book is emotionally taxing with a sad ending that may be too much for more sensitive readers.

Who It’s Best For

This book is great for animal lovers that can forge bonds with non-human characters. Pax is definitely not a lighthearted read and young readers may need some help dealing with their emotions after finishing it. This book is great for starting deeper conversations with the young reader in your life.

Pros

  • Touches on deep connections
  • Story about loyalty and loss
  • Can open up the reader to the idea that not everything ends happily

Cons

  • Pax is quite dark

5. Best Classic Book for 12-Year-Olds:The Hobbit

The Hobbit

Why we like it: The Hobbit is a classic masterpiece from the author known as the father of the modern epic fantasy genre, its pages packed with excitement, terror, and wonder.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Series: No
  • Author: J.R.R. Tolkien

What Sets It Apart

The Hobbit is a beautiful tale of courage and friendship that includes fantastical beasts and wondrous magic. Tolkien’s work is particularly unique thanks not only to his incredibly detailed world but also due to his use of Bilbo Baggins as a likable but bumbling protagonist. Unlike many other fantasy epics, the main character is a rather weak and unprepared individual who must quickly learn to take on tasks and foes much larger than himself.

Things to Consider

The Hobbit is a classic story that has seen numerous adaptations in movie and video game forms. It is also the prequel story to the even more famous Lord of the Rings series. This positions The Hobbit as a perfect introduction to the wider Tolkien world.

Who It’s Best For

Tolkien is known for being a bit long-winded at times in his descriptions. As such, this book isn’t ideal for young readers that prefer jumping straight into the action. It’s also not great for kids who don’t have a high reading ability. However, the world that Tolkien has created in The Hobbit is more than worth making it through the slower sections to discover.

*While The Hobbit is technically a stand-alone story that can be consumed on its own, it is the prequel to the Lord of the Rings series and is considered as a part of the series by some.

Pros

  • A tale of friendship and courage
  • Teaches about learning to overcome fear
  • The movies are a great way to encourage young ones to read the books

Cons

  • The book’s pacing can drag at times

6. The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Why we like it: The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a wonderful tale about the power of love and the bonds we forge with our loved ones.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Series: No
  • Author: Kelly Barnhill

What Sets It Apart

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is an instant classic that has won numerous awards. The story focuses on Luna, a young girl who is taken in by a witch and raised with a cast of enchanting characters. Full of magic and wonder, this book takes a nonviolent path towards seeking resolution and disposes of the idea that fantasy tales must resolve with bloody battles.

Things to Consider

The premise of this book has Luna’s parents abandoning her to be sacrificed to an evil witch. Despite the fact that Luna is actually being given up to a good witch whom Luna learns to call “Grandmama,” the parents believe they are giving up their baby to be killed. This may be a hard pill to swallow for children who were adopted or placed in the foster care system.

Who It’s Best For

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a great story about the power of love that can be appreciated by many kinds of young readers. There is a sprinkling of sophisticated language that makes this a great book for expanding vocabulary.

Pros

  • Winner of numerous awards including the Newbery Medal
  • A story about love and peace
  • Full of magic and excitement

Cons

  • May be hard to read for those who were adopted

7. The Night Diary

The Night Diary

Why we like it: The Night Diary offers a glance into a turbulent time in history that is made more bearable thanks to kindness and a loving family.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Series: No
  • Author: Veera Hiranandani

What Sets It Apart

Unlike many of the books on our list, The Night Diary is a piece of historical fiction that uses the tumultuous time surrounding India’s shift toward independence. The tale centers around Nisha, a 12-year-old who suddenly finds herself fleeing to safety with her family as they struggle with religion-fueled hatred surrounding the 1947 Indian Independence Act.

Things to Consider

This story is based on historical events that involved horrible acts of murder and hatred. The Night Diary is based on a fairly recent event in history that is relatively unknown by Westerners. Ultimately, it’s a tale that espouses the power of love, kindness, and tolerance that transcends its setting and remains relevant today.

Who It’s Best For

This is a wonderful tale about family and love that is sure to captivate all kinds of young readers. The historical reality of the story will interest history fans, but its basis in reality may prove to be too scary or real for some. The Night Diary is a great book for teaching about acceptance and respecting others around you.

Pros

  • Emphasizes love and kindness
  • Uses a real moment in history as the setting for the story
  • Exposes Westerners to new cultures and ideas

Cons

  • Can be violent and terrifying at times

8. As Brave As You

As Brave As You

Why we like it: As Brave As You is a funny and poignant tale that won numerous awards thanks to its handling of deep, complex issues in an approachable way.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Adventure
  • Series: No
  • Author: Jason Reynolds

What Sets It Apart

As Brave As You is a tale of two brothers (aged 10 and 13) who spend the summer with their grandparents whom they had previously only ever spoken with briefly over the phone. They spend their time in rural Virginia far outside of their comfort zone while they learn to deal with all kinds of life issues such as mental illness and death. This book tackles heavy issues in a way that can help young readers can come to grips with them.

Things to Consider

This book covers a lot of sensitive topics such as divorce, post-traumatic stress disorder, and grief. There is a death of a family member as well as gun use, so young readers are likely to have a lot of questions. It can be a great learning experience when managed properly by parents.

Who It’s Best For

This is a great book for young adults that are mature enough to start having deeper talks regarding heavy topics. As Brave As You is a great book to read with your 12-year-old so you can discuss the topics within.

Pros

  • Teaches about family and love
  • Approaches difficult topics
  • Winner of multiple awards

Cons

  • Heavy topics may be too much for less mature readers

9. The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book

Why we like it: The Graveyard Book is a witty and eerie tale that is the only book to ever win both the Newbery and Carnegie medals.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Fantasy/Horror
  • Series: No
  • Author: Neil Gaiman

What Sets It Apart

The Graveyard Book is a sometimes creepy but always fun tale that centers around Nobody “Bod” Owens who is adopted and raised by ghosts in a graveyard after his family is murdered. This book is structured as eight short stories that are each set two years apart as Bod grows up, raised by the denizens of the graveyard where he resides.

Things to Consider

The Graveyard Book has some obviously dark overtones, but it is made considerably lighter thanks to the story’s delivery and warmhearted nature. While the plot is rather dark, the bulk of the tale is not nearly so macabre, and can even be quite funny.

Who It’s Best For

The Graveyard Book is perfect for young adults who enjoy equal helpings of humor and horror. This is a creative and wonderfully fun tale that is perfectly paced for reading one chapter at a time before bed. The darker aspects of this book may make it a no go for more timid children.

Pros

  • Winner of multiple awards
  • Extremely unique and creative setting
  • Great balance of horror and humor

Cons

  • Dark overtones might be too much for timid young adults

10. The City of Ember

The City of Ember

Why we like it: The City of Ember is a wonderful tale of adventure and mystery that manages to keep things light even when the lights go out.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Series: Yes
  • Author: Jeanne DuPrau

What Sets It Apart

The City of Ember is full of intrigue and mystery about the last bastion of humanity who have been holed up for over two hundred years in an underground, post-apocalyptic city. The city of Ember was built as a 200-year emergency bunker, but no one seems to remember they were ever supposed to leave: and then things start falling apart. The City of Ember includes cryptic messages that the reader can decipher to piece together the mysteries within.

Things to Consider

There are four total books in this series, with each one a fairly light and quick read. The setting is a post-apocalyptic world within the dystopian city of Ember where rolling power outages are causing everything to be cast into darkness. While the premise of an apocalypse is a bit mature, the books are fairly light overall.

Who It’s Best For

This is a great book for mystery lovers as they can try to decipher the coded messages at the same time as the young protagonists. The dystopian underground city is a really fun setting and the advanced topics covered in this book are handled delicately.

Pros

  • Excellent setting
  • Packed full of mystery and intrigue
  • A light, fun read

Cons

  • Doesn’t inspire much deep conversation

11. Best Graphic Novel for 12-Year-Olds:Guts

Guts

Why we like it: Guts is an award-winning graphic novel about bathroom anxiety that is thoughtful, endearing, and very funny.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Graphic Novel
  • Series: No
  • Author: Raina Telgemeier

What Sets It Apart

Guts is a funny yet delicate story about dealing with anxiety that is based on a true story of Telgemeier’s own experiences in middle school. Guts is sure to bring up a few conversations from young readers. As a graphic novel, Guts can be a great way to introduce young adults who aren’t the biggest book fans to the hobby of reading.

Things to Consider

The Guts graphic novel includes frequent mentions of vomit and feces, as well as some illustrations of people using the restroom. Guts also talks about puberty from a female perspective.

Who It’s Best For

This book is more tailored towards young girls, but boys can still absolutely find laughs and teachings in the pages of Guts. This is a comedic yet serious graphic novel that addresses real-world issues.

Pros

  • Deals with anxiety and puberty
  • Funny and engrossing
  • Can be a great way to transition book-haters into readers

Cons

  • It’s a graphic novel as opposed to a true “book”

12. Best Dark Book for 12-Year-Olds:Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game

Why we like it: Ender’s Game is an exciting and dark tale that keeps readers engrossed from beginning to end.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Series: Yes
  • Author: Orson Scott Card

What Sets It Apart

Ender’s Game is a classic sci-fi novel about a young boy genius who is being trained in a ruthless school for geniuses designed to create a general that can lead humans through their war with an alien race. With the fate of the human race in his hands, Ender must rise to the challenges placed before him that are meant to test his ingenuity and morality.

Things to Consider

Ender’s Game is a riveting tale filled with excitement and action, but it’s also quite heavy throughout. This is a dark book that involves children bullying, tormenting, and even killing each other.

Who It’s Best For

Ender’s Game is a great book for sci-fi fans, but its dark content may be deemed too much for some twelve-year-olds. This is another book on our list that is best suited for more mature children that are ready to tackle big issues. It’s also a book that stays with the reader and inspires many interesting conversations.

Pros

  • Incredibly exciting, a true “page-turner”
  • The story has an epic, cosmic scale
  • Encourages heavy conversations about morality and the greater good

Cons

  • Features lots of dark scenes, including children killing each other

13. Hoot

Hoot

Why we like it: Hoot is a fun, award-winning tale about cutting school and saving endangered animals that keeps young readers strapped in for the ride.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Series: No
  • Author: Carl Hiaasen

What Sets It Apart

Hoot is Carl Hiaasen’s first young adult novel and he touches on topics like growing up, homelessness, abuse, and environmental awareness all in an interesting book meant for preteen readers.

Things to Consider

Hoot is a lot of fun for kids often using adults as the butts of its jokes. Adults are often portrayed as stupid and troublesome which makes for lots of fans in young adult readers but also leaves the story lacking in strong adult role models.

Who It’s Best For

Hoot is a great book for young adventurers that enjoy comedy in heaping helpings. This book is tons of fun despite its themes of bullying and environmental endangerment. Hoot teaches readers about finding excitement in the world around them.

Pros

  • Full of fun characters
  • Exciting and funny
  • Winner of multiple awards including the Newbery medal
  • Teaches about human environmental impacts

Cons

  • Adult characters are most often portrayed as stupid

14. Steelheart

Steelheart

Why we like it: Brandon Sanderson is a prolific author of some of the greatest modern fantasy stories and Steelheart is another excellent book in his impressive body of work.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Series: Yes
  • Author: Brandon Sanderson

What Sets It Apart

Steelheart mashes together superhero powers with a dystopian setting to create a unique and fascinating backdrop to a novel that will keep young adult readers gripped throughout. Steelheart is an exciting, action-packed tale of vengeance where the main character uses his wits and his allies to overcome the superpower-infused villains that have taken over the world. This is the first book in ‘The Reckoners Series’ and is a great way to get young readers excited to read more.

Things to Consider

Full of action, Steelheart can be a bit mature at times but it mostly tame, with nothing outside the realm of what’s common in YA fiction. There is quite a bit of death but it is handled fairly lightly.

Who It’s Best For

Steelheart is perfect for fans of things like X-Men and the Marvel films. This book caters a bit more towards young male readers, but it certainly can be enjoyed by all.

Pros

  • Exciting and full of action
  • Part of a longer series for continued reading
  • The superpower aspect is a great way to convince kids to give Steelheart a try

Cons

  • Some may find the content overly violent

15. The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass

Why we like it: The Golden Compass is a fantasy epic full of mystery and magic that has engrossed young readers for over 30 years.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Series: Yes
  • Author: Philip Pullman

What Sets It Apart

The Golden Compass is set in an alternate reality version of Earth where magic is real and so is danger. The main character, Lyra, discovers that children (including her best friend) are being kidnapped and experimented upon by the evil Gobblers. Lyra’s journey to discover the fate of her friends and rescue them takes her on an exciting and dangerous adventure that keeps the story moving at a fast clip.

Things to Consider

The Golden Compass can get quite dark at times and it includes experimentation on children that involves their deaths and separation from their souls. This series is currently being adapted by HBO in a TV series called His Dark Materials.

Who It’s Best For

The Golden Compass is an excellent book for young fantasy fans that are keen to start taking on more adult books while also having enough action to keep reluctant readers turning the pages. The strong female protagonist is scrappy, intelligent, and fiercely loyal.

Pros

  • Great for getting kids interested in reading
  • Lots of action and excitement
  • Magic and adventure throughout

Cons

  • Involves gruesome child experimentation that may be too dark for some

16. The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner

Why we like it: The Maze Runner is a dark and exciting thriller with a unique setting that keeps readers guessing.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Series: Yes
  • Author: James Dashner

What Sets It Apart

The Maze Runner has a unique premise and setting where young teens wake up to find themselves locked inside a giant maze with no memory of who they are or why they’re there. The plot is exciting and full of twists and turns that leave the reader eager for more details.

Things to Consider

The Maze Runner is quite dark and features violence and death throughout. This is not a book for the faint of heart. The mysterious world the reader finds themself in is equal parts exciting and terrifying. The Maze Runner was also adapted into films which makes this series an excellent choice for getting kids who liked the films to start reading.

Who It’s Best For

The Maze Runner is excellent for young readers that enjoy mystery, intrigue, and action. The events in this book can be quite dark and the plot is intense. This is not a good book for kids who aren’t equipped to deal with violence and death.

Pros

  • Tons of excitement and action
  • Unique and intriguing setting
  • Great pacing that keeps readers engaged

Cons

  • Quite a lot of violence and death

17. The Rise of Kyoshi

The Rise of Kyoshi

Why we like it: Based on the popular anime series Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Rise of Kyoshi is an exciting fantasy epic young readers won’t want to put down.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Series: Yes
  • Author: F.C. Yee

What Sets It Apart

Avatar, The Last Airbender has garnered tons of fans around the world with a freshly renewed interest in the series thanks to it being added to Netflix. The Rise of Kyoshi centers on the backstory of Kyoshi, a supporting character from the anime series. Her teen years are filled with conflict as she struggles to master her mystical powers.

Things to Consider

An unfamiliarity with the Avatar, The Last Airbender series may be a detriment to readers as they catch up on the details of its supernatural world and the powers that are wielded by the people within the story.

Who It’s Best For

Thanks to the massive success of the anime series this story is based on, The Rise of Kyoshi has a lot of mass appeal for fans of Avatar, The Last Airbender. However, this book is strong enough to stand on its own from the rest of the Avatar universe. For fans of Avatar, The Rise of Kyoshi is a great way to get reluctant readers started as they transition from watching the show to reading the books.

Pros

  • Full of excitement and adventure
  • Based on a popular anime series on Netflix
  • Features fun characters and action

Cons

  • Has a lot of violence
  • People who aren’t fans of the show may have a hard time getting into the story

Bottom Line

Getting young adults to put down their phones, tablets, and video games to pick up a book can be a difficult task, but the reward is well worth the effort. Encouraging young kids to pick up a book and discover the uncountable worlds that await them is the gift that keeps giving.

Books have so much to teach us while offering up endless excitement and intrigue. Often, young people are hesitant to read because they associate reading with school or tedium, but a great book can show them just how wrong they are. The hard part is finding the right book.

While it may take some time to get your young one hooked, the right book will make all the difference and all of these are an excellent place to start.