“It’s hard to be what you can’t see,” says middle-grade author Jason Reynolds. He knows. He didn’t start reading until he was nearly an adult. Teachers kept giving him what they considered classics, but those middle school books had nothing to do with who he was and what he saw each day. So, he never touched them.

Middle school students today are coming of age in a time when they have more access to information than ever before! But, just because they have more access doesn’t mean they understand how to build their identity. Giving them the tools to build a reading identity first will give them what they need to grow into whom they really want to be.

We suggest changing things up a little too. Not every book has to be read silently or independently. Read some aloud to your students, give them audiobooks to listen to, or let them read one chapter at a time to each other.

Every one of these books offers a path to identity. But remember: you know each student best. Be sure to read the books first.

(Just a heads up, WeAreTeachers may receive a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. All books are selected by our editorial team and teachers like you!)

1. Wringer by Jerry Spinelli

When boys in Palmer’s town turn 10, they are expected to become “wringers,” ending the lives of pigeons wounded in a town event. At the far edge of age nine, Palmer not only abhors the tradition, but he is also hiding a pigeon in his room, causing a moral dilemma.

2. The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

The Benefits of Being an Octopus book cover--middle school books

Explore the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of seventh-grader Zoey, who lives on the edges of society and tries to find her way forward.

3. Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Monster book cover

The recipient of multiple awards, this novel follows Steve, an amateur filmmaker. As a way of coping with the horrific events that entangle him, he decides to transcribe his trial into a script, just like in the movies.

4. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

Coyote Sunrise book cover

With connections to Common Core standards, this book follows Coyote—a young woman who travels the county with her dad in an old school bus. Over the course of thousands of miles, she will learn that going home can sometimes be the hardest journey of all.

5. Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ghost Boys book cover

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real one. Now a ghost, Jerome watches the devastation unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing. Soon, Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances.

6. Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

Piecing Me Together book cover--middle school books

The recipient of multiple awards and one of our favorite middle school books, this novel is a powerful story about a girl striving for success in a world that too often seems like it’s trying to break her.

7. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Out of My Mind book cover -- middle school books

Another one of our fave middle school books! Follow eleven-year-old Melody, who is not like most people. She can’t walk. She can’t talk. She can’t write. All because she has cerebral palsy. But she also has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school, but NO ONE knows it.

8. Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez

Return to Sender book cover--middle school books

A timely story for middle schoolers. After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure. Tyler isn’t sure what to make of them.

9. The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake

The Skin I'm In book cover

Maleeka suffers every day from the taunts of the other kids in her class—about her homemade clothes, her good grades, or her dark, black skin. A new teacher starts at their school. Her face is blotched with a startling white patch, but she loves her skin. Can Maleeka learn to do the same?

10. The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus book cover

Taken from the national news headlines, this book follows two teenagers and a heinous hate crime that crosses gender and racial lines.

11. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Parker

A Long Walk to Water book cover

A tale of two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan–a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985.

12. Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan

Wanting Mor book cover

Jameela lives with her mother and father in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that there is no school in their poor, war-torn village, and Jameela lives with a birth defect that has left her with a cleft lip, she feels relatively secure, sustained by her faith and the strength of her beloved mother, Mor. And then Mor passes away.

13. When Scars Are Shattered by Victoria Jamieson

When Scars are Shattered book cover

A graphic novel about growing up in a refugee camp, as told by a former Somali refugee.

14. Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

Clean Getaway book cover

Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover that the world hasn’t always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren’t always what they seem–his G’ma included.

15. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Hatchet book cover

Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is traveling by single-engine plane to visit his father, when the plane crashes and kills the pilot. Brian is alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but his clothing, a tattered windbreaker, and the hatchet his mother had given him as a present.

16. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief book cover

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books.

17. George by Alex Gino

George knows she’s a girl, but everyone else sees her as a boy. Gino does a masterful job of taking us into what it feels like to be assigned the wrong gender.

18. Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s book cover

Genius Willow Chance loses both parents in a car crash, but she is able to both change her life and impact those around her.

19. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder book cover

Born with extraordinary physical deformities, Auggie finally braves going to an actual school. He is stared at and tormented, but he also finds friendship. Middle schoolers will cheer for him and cry for him.

20. The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

The Wednesday Wars book cover

Holling Hoodhood is attending seventh grade in the late 1960s. While the Vietnam War consumes his father’s attention, Holling is locked into Wednesday lessons with a teacher who insists he read the plays of Shakespeare.

21. Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Ghost book cover

Castle Crenshaw, known as Ghost, has been running ever since his father threatened him and his mother with a gun. It’s not until he starts running for the middle school track team that he begins to see what running can do for him.

22. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Absolute True Diary book cover

Native American teenager Arnold Spirit leaves the reservation to attend an all-white school, learning about his own strength and resilience in the process.

23. Paperboy by Vince Vawter

Paperboy book cover

Little Man is an amazing ball player, but he can barely say a word—not even his own name—without stuttering. So when he takes over his best friend’s paper route for the month of July, Little Man’s not exactly looking forward to interacting with the customers.

24. The Giver/Quartet by Lois Lowry

The Giver Quartet book cover--middle school books

Jonas lives in a society in which the government controls everything: childbearing, careers, marriages. His utopia has sacrificed emotions and uniqueness in favor of a safe and predictable life. When Jonas learns that life could be different, he can never turn back to the life he’s always known.

25. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders book cover--middle school books

Ponyboy and his brothers, Darry and Sodapop have a tough life. They know they can count on their friends—true friends who will do anything for them. Unfortunately, the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids, make them prove their loyalties after a night of fighting goes too far.

26. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Walk Two Moons book coverv

On a trip to visit her mother’s grave, Sal learns about herself and her family.

27. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Tuck Everlasting book cover--middle school books

Is eternal life really that wonderful? Ten-year-old Winnie Foster discovers that, for the immortal Tuck family, the answer is more complicated than you might expect.

28. Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud Not Buddy book cover

Bud Caldwell, is a 10 year old orphan who has grown up in Flint, Michigan. It’s 1936, four years after Bud’s mother’s death and Bud has just been placed with the Amoses, his third foster family. This book follows Bud’s brave path to find his father.

29. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The Crossover book cover
Basketball-loving twins Josh and Jordan find their way through isolation and conflict in this novel in verse by master poet, Kwame Alexander.

30. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak book cover
Melinda Sordino can’t tell anybody why she called the police to break up a party the summer before ninth grade. In fact, after the trauma she suffered, she can’t speak at all.

31. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games book cover--middle school books
In a dystopian future, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games, in which children fight to the death for the entertainment of the corrupt Capital.

32. The Breadwinner series by Deborah Ellis

The Breadwinner book cover
Parvana is eleven when the Taliban comes to power in Afghanistan. Her father is arrested, and women are not allowed to leave the house without a male escort. Parvana must disguise herself and find work to save her family.

33. Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine

Revolution is Not a Dinner Party book cover--middle school books
Ling Chang must find a way to survive after her father is taken away during China’s Cultural Revolution.

34. Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper

Stella by Starlight book cover
Stella and her brother aren’t supposed to leave the house at night, but run into much bigger problems when they stumble on a Ku Klux Klan rally. She fights racism within her community and learns about compassion in the process.

35. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl Dreaming
Woodson’s verse memoir tells the story of coming of age during the Civil Rights Movement.

36. Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn

Wait Till Helen Comes book cover
Molly has concerns when her family moves into a church with a graveyard next door, but when her already-odd stepsister makes a sinister new friend, things get downright dangerous.

37. Refugee by Alan Gratz

Refugee book cover
Gratz weaves together stories of child refugees in three different eras: Nazi Germany, 1990s Cuba, and present-day Syria.

38. The Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

The Shadow Children book cover
Luke Garner’s existence is illegal. A third child in a world where only two children are allowed per family, he’s been in hiding since he was born. When he finally gains the courage to venture out, he finds himself faced with an impossible choice.

39. Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers

Scorpions book cover
Twelve-year-old Jamal already has to be the man of the house now that his older brother is in jail. Will he also take his brother’s place as leader of a gang?

40. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter book cover--middle school books
Jack Hurd gets a foster brother, Joseph, an eighth grader whose only dream is to be with his daughter.

41. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry book cover--middle school books
Nine-year-old Cassie Logan faces racial discrimination and financial hardship during the Great Depression.

42. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Lighting Thief book cover--middle school books
Sixth grader Percy Jackson finds out he’s actually the son of the Greek god Poseidon. A great introduction to Greek mythology!

43. Uglies by Scott Westerfield

Uglies book cover--middle school books
Tally Youngblood lives in a dystopia in which all sixteen-year-olds have cosmetic surgery to make them pretty.

44. We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist

We Should Hang Out Sometime book cover--middle school books
Youtuber Josh Sundquist tells the true story—with graphs!—of his failures in dating.

45. Feed by M. T. Anderson

Feed book cover
The Feed scrolls constantly through Titus’s brain, providing him with entertainment, advertising, and social networking. On a spring break trip to the Moon, he meets a girl who sees life differently.

46. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

Freak the Mighty book cover
Max is big and dangerous, just like his father. He never had a brain, or so he says, until Freak came along. With a brain that more than makes up for his physical disabilities, Freak teaches Max how to think for himself.

47. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl book cover
Leo’s a normal kid in a normal town. When Stargirl shows up with her rat, her ukelele, and her crazy ideas, nobody knows quite what to make of her.

48. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Esperanza Rising book cover
Spoiled princess Esperanza moves from her family’s ranch in Mexico to a migrant camp during the Great Depression. She learns to rely on her inner strength and the support of her family.

49. Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson

Briidge to Terebithia book cover
Jesse Aarons knows all about hard work, but his new friend Leslie teaches him about the power of his imagination. Keep a box of tissues handy.

50. The Pearl by John Steinbeck

The Pearl book cover--middle school books

Kino is a poor diver, gathering pearls from the gulf beds that once brought great wealth to the Kings of Spain and now provide Kino, Juana, and their infant son with meager subsistence. Then, on a day like any other, Kino emerges from the sea with a pearl as large as a sea gull’s egg, as “perfect as the moon.” Will the pearl bring him the security and wealth as Kino hopes?

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