YA for MG readers

Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.

Normally I write about middle grade fiction. For this post, I wanted to shine a light on 8 important young adult books for older middle school readers. If you’ve read my other blog posts, you know I prefer MG books under 250 pages. Could I find YA books that were also on the slim slide? Yes!

The main difference between YA (young adult) and MG (middle grade) books comes down to age: YA is for a teen audience and MG is for 8–12-year-olds.

Kids generally like to read about protagonists who are older than themselves. Tweens (too old to be children and too young to be teenagers) who gravitate to realistic YA fiction will find characters immersed in teenage problems. I refer to these conflicts as the 6 D’s: drama, driving, drinking (alcohol), drug use, dating, & daring/dangerous behavior.

Middle schoolers on the cusp of puberty are trying to figure out their identities and where their place is in the world. High schoolers are those same middle schoolers just a few years later, still trying to figure things out, often creating big problems and making bigger mistakes.

I wonder, can a middle school reader—a 5th grader—really be able to relate to a character in a YA book who steals a car and goes on a driving spree? Probably not. However, that same 5th grader might be able to relate to the desperation, anger, or fill-in-the-blank emotion of that YA character for other reasons.

That’s why I’ve selected these YA books. They offer fresh perspectives on common problems and relevant issues that teens face today. And they are all under 300 pages.


  • The main conflicts touch on those 6 D’s.
  • Some of the language is for mature audiences only.
  • Parents & guardians should review/read the books before passing them on to their middle school readers.


SPOKEN (2019) by Melanie Weiss
New high school, new town, new set of problems until a Spoken Word Club comes into the mix.

CROSSING LINES (2020) by Melanie Weiss
Midwestern teens find themselves on opposite sides of gun control legislation after a school shooting in Florida.

RED KAYAK (2004) by Priscilla Cummings
It will take the utmost courage to admit the truth after a prank turns deadly.

CODE TALKER (2005) by Joseph Bruchac
A novel about the Navajo Marines of World War II.

THE PRINCE OF VENICE BEACH (2014) by Blake Nelson
Teen runaway revaluates the very bumpy path he has chosen for himself.

Straddling the gap between life on the reservation and attending an all-white school.

ALL BOYS AREN’T BLUE (2020) by George M. Johnson
YA memoir of LGBTQIA+ activist growing up Black and queer in America.

LOVE, HATE, & OTHER FILTERS (2018) by Samira Ahmed
Muslim American girl dreams of attending NYU.