This content contains affiliate links. When you purchase through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
When I was a teenager, it seemed like most YA books focused on young teenage life — your high school freshmen and sophomores, sweet sixteens, and many big teenage firsts. I ate it all up, naturally, because I started reading YA books at 12 and wanted to get an idea of what to expect in my teenage years. I can only remember a few YA books that focused on 17 and 18 year olds, and what late high school was like – 18 seemed incredibly old and mature, so much so that reading a YA book about a teenage girl dating a high school student definitely felt slightly outrageous!
As YA has grown and evolved, especially over the past 15 years, we have seen the protagonists age and so many of them are 17, 18 or even 19! Sixteen looks young now. Fifteen feels childish. And 14? Almost unheard of. And while I love that the age range of YA books has widened to include seniors in high school and those tumultuous and uncertain years after high school (Person to contact in case of emergency by Mary HK Choi being a great example of that!), I feel like it’s been to the detriment of those young YA protagonists, who don’t seem to have their time in the spotlight anymore.
I think the inclusion of young teens in YA is so important for many reasons: First of all, these years are important and just as story-worthy as the drama of the past year. Second, young teens deserve to see their own experiences and challenges reflected in YA, especially if they are different from those that older teens might face. Third, children and teenagers tend to “read,” that is, read above their age and level of experience, and I think it’s important that middle school readers have a bridge between college and college books and books featuring older readers.
Nonetheless, for the last 10 years or so there has been a shortage of 14 year old protagonists in YA fiction – and it’s such a shortage that it took me a while to research this list and find enough books to fill a position. But there is good news! Amazing new and established authors are writing young YA protagonists and many of the books on this list are new to 2022. It gives me hope that there will be more younger YA books on the shelves in the future. , and in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this excellent and diverse selection of YA books featuring 14-year-old protagonists!
Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi
On her first day of high school, Parvin is devastated to find that she has been dumped by her first-ever boyfriend of just a week old who claims she is too much. Wanting to save face, she swears to find the perfect date by Homecoming to show that she’s not too loud or too much. His project ? Act more like the heroines of romantic comedies. Her friends and family aren’t convinced this is the way to go, but Parvin is committed to her plan…but world events are having a big impact on her family and Parvin must reevaluate what really matters.
Azar on fire by Olivia Abtahi (August 23)
Azar Rossi intentionally silenced his freshman year of high school because nodules on his vocal cords gave him a really, really deep voice. But when Azar, who lives for music and is a songwriter, learns of a local band fight, she wants to participate. But first, she must assemble the perfect band, led by a lead singer, to perform her original music. But getting a band together isn’t as easy as she thinks, and she’ll have to use her voice if she wants to achieve her dreams.
I’m getting up by Marie Arnold (August 2)
Ayo, 14, is used to her mother being in the spotlight after she founded one of New York’s biggest social justice movements, protesting police brutality. Ayo knows her mother’s job is important, but she also wants to live a normal teenage life without having to be an activist. But when her mother is shot after a riot breaks out and she is in a coma, Ayo discovers that the militant community wants her to intervene…and Ayo must decide what she is comfortable doing. publicly, even if she mourns in private.
Etiquette and espionage by Gail Carriger
Fourteen-year-old Sophronia doesn’t want to go to graduation school – she’d rather dissect mechanical instruments and climb things than learn to curtsey and pour tea. But her mother sends her back anyway… and Sophronia is surprised to find that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Quality Young Girls is no ordinary finishing school. Sure, they teach their ladies manners… but they also teach them about poisons, fleeting intelligence, and the best way to defend themselves with a hatpin. And it’s not long before Sophronia is caught up in a conspiracy bigger than herself. This first book in the series begins when Sophronia is 14, but the three sequels take readers through her graduating years as she ages.
Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys, Andrew Weiner and Brittney Williams
Lolo thinks she’s just a normal teenager dealing with normal family drama and the anxieties of her father’s business failure, but when a cop mistakes her brother for someone else and pulls a gun on him, Lolo discovers she has supernatural abilities. Now, a dangerous drug dealer in her neighborhood wants Lolo on his crew, knowing her powers could be an asset to him…but Lolo isn’t about to be used by anyone, and she needs to find the strength to stand up for what is right.
Flame by Mike Curato
Aiden Navarro spends the summer between middle school and high school at the camp, where he is overwhelmed with feelings and questions about his identity. As he navigates bullies, friendships, and his growing attraction to another boy named Elias, Aiden will have to find a way to accept who he is while finding the confidence to live his truth.
Brightly Woven: The Graphic Novel by Alexandra Bracken
Before she was known for darkest mindsAlexandra Bracken’s first novel was a stand-alone fantasy called Woven in bright colors, now unfortunately sold out. It featured a 16-year-old protagonist named Sydelle who is a talented weaver and goes on a mission to help a magician save the kingdom. A graphic novel adaptation came out a few years ago and Sydelle was recast as a 14-year-old girl. While I can’t say for sure why the character has aged, I’m sure it has something to do with the massive popularity of mid-level graphic novels, and the publisher was probably hoping the adaptation would be a good bridge. from MG to YA.
Winger by Andrew Smith
It’s the oldest book on this list, and it’s about a super-smart 14-year-old boy named Ryan Dean West who skips two grades and is first at an exclusive prep school. But just because he’s book smart doesn’t mean he necessarily knows how to navigate the complicated social dynamics of his junior class. But coping with bullies, unrequited love and rugby rivalries pales in comparison to the complications and heartbreak that arise when tragedy strikes.
Sometimes in summer by Katrina Leno
Anna believes in luck, as bad luck seems to follow her wherever she goes. As summer approaches, she not only faces the loss of her family’s bookstore and her parents’ divorce, but her best friends have stopped talking to her. And now she’s about to spend two months in New England for the summer. But once she arrives in Rhode Island, she finds that luck has a way of turning and that new and old friends aren’t always what she expects.
undercover latina by Aya de León (October 11)
This book is billed as mid-level, but since it features a 14-year-old character, I say it counts as YA. Andréa Hernández-Baldoquín’s family works for The Factory, a spy agency whose international work is dedicated to protecting communities of color. At 14, she finally gets her first assignment, but it’s not what she expects: she has to pose as a white girl and befriend the son of a white supremacist. But life undercover is tough when you have to deny your culture and the very essence of your being…and even more so when Andrea has a crush on her brand’s Latino best friend.
Want more great recommendations? Check out our list of YA books that are great for intermediate level readers who want to read!