Perfect reads for the tween years

Too old for middle grade, but too young for YA? If you know a reader aged 10 - 13 years who wants to engage with more mature issues, here are some books that cater perfectly to the tween years.

Tiger Daughter by Rebecca Lim

Thirteen-year-old Wen is the first-generation daughter of Chinese immigrants, and lives in a house governed by rage and fear. Wen and her friend, Henry - whose mum and dad are also poor immigrants - form a plan to sit an entrance exam to a selective high school, and escape their unhappy home lives. But when tragedy strikes two weeks before the exam, it will take all of Wen’s resilience and resourcefulness to get herself and Henry through the storm that follows. Tiger Daughter deals compassionately with mental health, parental pressure, racism and bullying, showing how courage and compassion can make a difference.

Girl. Boy. Sea. by Chris Vick

British teenager Bill narrowly survives the sinking of his yacht in a huge storm off the coast of Morocco. After many days alone at sea in a small boat he rescues another survivor, Aya, a Berber girl whose migrant ship was destroyed by the same storm. While they drift, Aya recounts tales from Arabian Nights, and her stories of magic, brave heroes, wily thieves, greedy kings and cruel sultans, inspire them both to find the strength they need to stay alive. This lyrical and mysterious adventure story highlights the modern-day plight of refugees in Europe, and shows two young people who form a deep connection across cultures.

Sister Heart by Sally Morgan

A young Aboriginal girl is taken from her family, home and country in the north of Australia, and forced south, to live in a harsh institution where she is called Annie. Denied her culture and her language, Annie finds solace in her new friend Jane and Jane’s little brother Tim, and small moments of connection with the natural world. This deeply affecting verse novel won the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, and is an important record of the Stolen Generation that speaks perfectly to a tween reader. There are powerful emotions and painful history in this book, as well as resilience, hope and humour.

The Lost Soul Atlas by Zana Fraillon

Twig is all alone after his dad goes missing. But when he meets Flea, a cheerful pickpocket, the pair become fast friends. Together, Twig and Flea raise themselves on the crime-ridden streets. But then Twig wakes up in the Afterlife. With just a handful of vague memories, a key, a wise-cracking guardian raven, and a mysterious atlas, Twig journeys through the Afterlife, in search of the truth. The reality of survival on the streets, stark divisions between rich and poor and corruption mingle with a sense of wonder and quirkiness. Tween readers who enjoy magical and lyrical stories, and thinking deeply about how society could function better, will love this one.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. by David Levithan

When twelve-year-old Aidan disappears everyone is worried, including his brother Lucas. Then, when Aidan suddenly reappears in the attic after six agonising days, he tells an impossible Narnia-like story of where he’s been. Lucas wants to believe his brother, but their parents, the kids at school, everyone, thinks that Aidan is making things up to hide the fact that he ran away. As Aidan becomes more of an outcast, Lucas becomes more and more concerned. This sweet and slightly magical mystery highlights family tensions and brotherly support in an intriguing blend of realism and fantasy.

The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst by Jaclyn Moriarty

Esther Mettlestone-Staranise is looking forward to another year at boarding school. But the new school year is riddled with unsettling changes: a teacher who may be an Ogre, mysterious new students, and Shadow Mages in the mountains surrounding the school. Esther must find the answers to several puzzles; there might be a connection with the Stolen Prince of Cloudburst. Can Esther save her family, her school and possibly her entire world? This is the third of Moriarty’s stand-alone Kingdoms and Empires books, all of which are perfect for voracious fantasy readers who want something funny, smart and very chunky (we’re talking 600 pages chunky).

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

When fourteen-year-old Alex Rider is woken up in the middle of the night and told that his uncle, who is also his sole guardian, has been killed in a car crash, he is forcibly recruited into MI6. Armed with an impressive set of secret gadgets, Alex is sent to investigate Herod Sayle, a man who is offering state-of-the-art Stormbreaker computers to every school in the country. But, of course, the teenage spy soon finds himself in a series and perilous and life-threatening situations. It’s hard to believe that Stormbreaker is twenty years old! If you know a tween who is desperate to read about danger, action and espionage, Alex Rider is an excellent series to introduce them to.

Leanne Hall is the children’s specialist for Readings online. She also writes books for children and young adults.

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Cover image for Tiger Daughter

Tiger Daughter

Rebecca Lim

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