These books take place in the real world without speculative elements. They are divided into horror, thriller, romance, historical, contemporary, and nonfiction and then organized by the author’s last name. For your reference, the asterisks indicate the number of times I’ve reread the book or series and kept it on my favorites list!
When All the Girls Are Sleeping by Emily Arsenault: This teen mystery horror novel describes a girl’s thorough examination into the uneasy, haunting secrets and quiet traumas of her boarding school’s history.
***Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Brilliant, beautiful, and painful 1847 portrait of the generational abuse cycle, full of violence and manipulation, combined with a very dark romance between two passionate and ferocious individuals.
White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson: A twisted teen horror novel with a main character who struggles with delusional parasitosis as she confronts corporate manipulation, racial tension, and dark town secrets.
I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga: I was seriously stricken by this series starter from the perspective of a serial killer’s teen son–intense, psychological, and full of exhilarating depth.
This Darkness Mine by Mindy McGinnis: A dark and fascinating psychological horror novel set partly in a hospital ward and following a heartless perfectionist.
*The Masked Truth by Kelley Armstrong: This incredible, romantic teen thriller that features two mentally ill main characters just keeps getting more complicated and intense and horrible with every page.
Debutantes by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: A well-woven, twisty teen thriller duology with plenty of personality, featuring a lower-class character thrown into the drama of a much wealthier extended family, and written by one of my favorite authors.
The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: This fun and engaging teen thriller trilogy is KNIVES OUT in a puzzle mansion riddled with mysteries, but with a strong focus on the intricate dramas of family.
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley: This teen thriller provides a detailed and immersive look at the difficulties of life as a modern mixed-race Ojibwe woman.
Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie: Having a gossipy elderly spinster be the detective in this 1930 novel may be the greatest stroke of brilliance from Agatha Christie’s famous mysteries.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie: I appreciate the creative viewpoint wonkiness of this 1926 classic mystery thriller.
*Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley: I am all about this slowly unfolding teen thriller featuring a main character with dissociative identity disorder.
*The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins: This 1868 classic thriller is exciting and forward-thinking for its time, but most of all, it has the beautiful characterization through creative perspectives, unlikable narrators, and the cleverest voice I’ve ever read.
**Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: I love the morals and metaphors and concepts of this 1866 classic–it’s a beautiful religiously-tied thriller that has some wonderful subplots.
***Trifles by Susan Glaspell: An honest and fascinating 1916 drama with a really keen perspective on feminism, domestic violence, and justice.
The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur: An original teen thriller set in 1426 Korea and steeped in complex family dynamics, the push-pull between science and religion, and misogynistic horrors.
The Red Palace by June Hur: A blood-soaked teen historical thriller set in 1758 Korea amidst a time of brutal, power-supported injustice–but with some of love’s beauty still shining through.
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson: This contemporary teen thriller is a strong, chilling depiction of the various influences that enable abusive and predatory men both in and beyond Hollywood.
Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson: A delightful murder mystery series starter that celebrates the oddities at a boarding school for creative teen geniuses, featuring a main character with anxiety.
*We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: A shocking, heartbreaking teen thriller with a mentally ill main character and ideas reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet.
You’ll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus: A clever and relevant teen thriller that uses different perspectives to reveal the deadly interweaving of human drama.
Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass: This teen thriller is the most honest depiction I’ve read of the generational waves of devastation created by queermisia.
Sadie by Courtney Summers: A harrowing, multiformatted teen thriller that addresses child sexual abuse, growing up poor in America, and the girls who slip through the cracks.
The Obsession by Jesse Q. Sutanto: A fascinatingly twisted teen thriller with Gone Girl vibes that delves into manipulation, abuse, and murder.
*Emma by Jane Austen: Just like Pride and Prejudice, this 1815 classic romance is fun and clever!
*Mansfield Park by Jane Austen: While I’m not nearly as tolerant as the main character of this 1814 classic, I’d like to think I have some of her goodness and wisdom, and the slow burn, pining, friends-to-lovers is definitely my type of romance.
***Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: This 1813 classic regency romance is the ultimate, the most famous, the one that’s spawned hundreds of retellings.
A Match Made in Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai: An adorable teen love story with a wonderful main character and plenty of art and matchmaking to enjoy.
Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao: This is both a lovely, honest Taiwanese-American teen romance and a passionate examination of heavy expectations and the different selves we create to face them.
The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun: An emotional achillean adult romance between a relatable TV contestant and a sweetheart TV producer facing up to mental illness and heteronormativity.
10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston: A delightful, lighthearted teen rom-com that delivers on its fun Italian-American Christmas premise.
Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest: A fun, Black-led teen romance novel all about the highs and lows of fame and of human relationships.
*North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: This 1854 classic romance riled up my socialist rage while making some very good points, and of course, the love story is lovely.
Two Like Me and You by Chad Alan Gibbs: A hilarious and heartfelt teen romantic contemporary novel about a quest to find a WWII veteran’s lost French love that’s full of personality and perfect little details.
This Is My Brain in Love by I.W. Gregorio: This gradually blooming romance offers necessary and powerful representation of both race and mental illness through a Taiwanese-American teen girl with depression and a Nigerian-American teen boy with anxiety.
*OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu: This teen romantic contemporary novel is a well-written story with an accurate, dualistic OCD portrayal. It’s been super interesting reconsidering this book at different stages in my own mental illness journey!
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert: This hot adult romance accurately portrays chronic illness without minimizing disabled people’s romantic and sexual potential.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert: This adult romance novel set in the same world as Get a Life, Chloe Brown has fantastic autism representation amidst a sexy hate-to-love relationship at a B&B.
The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me by Olivia Hinebaugh: This is a great teen romantic contemporary novel! I loved all the characters and the important sex education task they were trying to accomplish.
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson: A fun, engaging, and forgiving teen romantic contemporary novel about an queer Black misfit with anxiety breaking free from societal constraints in her quest for prom queen.
I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee: This teen romance novel about K-pop and body positivity and including a difficult mother-daughter relationship is super fun and beautifully unapologetic!
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee: All the characters in this achillean teen historical romance set in the 1700s are fantastic (including one with epilepsy), and it has more of a social justice bent than I was expecting, which I love!
The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas: The #ownvoices author of this teen romantic contemporary novel did a fantastic job depicting what autism can feel like, and the story itself is lovely and well-done.
More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood: A powerful, thoughtful teen romance about a really good Pakistani-American guy figuring out what he values!
One Way or Another by Kara McDowell: A lovely, holiday-centered teen romance with anxiety representation that looks at what does or doesn’t work for certain people in a relationship.
From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon: The main character of this Indian-American teen romance is both adorable and incredibly frustrating. Her Emma-like character arc and general cluelessness are quite entertaining.
There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon: I related so much to the main character of this teen romance, and I just vibed overall with the body-positive storytelling.
All Our Worst Ideas by Vicky Skinner: A very human teen romance that begins awkwardly before gradually growing into familiar affection and then a deeper emotional connection.
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London: A wonderful, vibrant, and body-positive adult romance that realistically contrasts the rough parts of love with its greatest beauty.
Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes: A quietly, perfectly human look at a teen girl struggling with PTSD and related mental health problems, featuring a sweet romance with a chronically ill boy.
The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley: A delightful romantic contemporary novel about the wild vibrancy of the arts, (sapphic) teen love, and superstition.
If I’m Being Honest by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka: A vibrant and empowering teen contemporary The Taming of the Shrew retelling that features a sweet romance and complex family relationships,
Frankly in Love by David Yoon: An interesting and clever teen romantic contemporary novel that addresses race issues with many deep, emotional moments. In other words, I totally cried.
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon: A beautiful, culturally vibrant teen romance told through omniscient narration (a super interesting choice, in my opinion).
*Lola Carlyle’s 12-Step Romance by Danielle Younge-Ullman: This is a heartfelt and enjoyable teen contemporary novel with a wonderful, vibrant main character; mental health topics; and a hot romance.
Pride by Ibi Zoboi: A vibrant, modern, Black-Latine teen contemporary retelling of Pride and Prejudice that’s true to Austen’s heart.
*Medea by Euripedes: A classic heartrending tragedy from ancient Greece with social justice themes and the violence associated with that genre.
Beyond the Mapped Stars by Rosalyn Eves: This teen historical fiction novel about a star-seeking Mormon girl in 1878 finding something more expansive than societal restrictions touched me deeply and uniquely.
This Light Between Us by Andrew Fukuda: This teen historical novel set in World War II does a stunning job at portraying the complex choices made during dark and terrible times.
Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee: The background, setting, and main character of this teen historical novel set in 1902 are all vibrant, fierce, and real, and the plot runs smoothly through.
The Valiant by Lesley Livingston: An energetic teen historical fiction series starter that places a fierce heroine in ancient Rome.
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand: This classic 1897 play is for the Romantic-era drama kings, which I can’t help but love.
The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys: Once again, Sepetys weaves an evocative, well-researched teen narrative about a dark part of history that isn’t as well-known (1957 fascist Spain) and adds a much-needed hopeful, romantic aspect.
The Wicker King by K. Ancrum: This teen contemporary novel is a dark, unstable portrayal of a codependent relationship between two teens struggling with mental illness, internalized heteronormativity, and exhaustive neglect.
**Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson: This starkly poetic teen contemporary novel portrays the haunting brutality of eating disorders and related mental health issues with such stunning accuracy.
*Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews: This hilarious and brutal teen contemporary novel throws your average high school fool into a situation full of grief and pain that he never expected.
*****Frindle by Andrew Clements: I’ve been a fan of Andrew Clements since I was young, with his celebration of the power and ingenuity of children, and this children’s contemporary novel is my undisputed favorite–short but sweet, with a lot of humor and a lovely look at language.
***The Landry News by Andrew Clements: Another lovely Clements children’s contemporary novel that is clever, honest, and engaging in its beginning exploration of journalism.
Girl on the Line by Faith Gardner: This contemporary novel featuring a bipolar teen girl definitely made me cry–a touching and realistic portrait of the slow recovery from suicidality.
Confessions of an Alleged Good Girl by Joya Goffney: This heartfelt and much-needed teen contemporary novel addresses vaginusmus and the (religious) trauma that can result from harmful beliefs about sex/bodies, with great examples of loving relationships!
Let’s Call It a Doomsday by Katie Henry: A thoughtful and engaging teen contemporary novel about a bisexual Mormon girl with anxiety navigating her faith, dealing with family dysfunction, and finding deeper meaning.
Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake: This is a wrenching teen contemporary novel portraying all the complexities that surround sexual assault–very pertinent to the current times.
I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal: This gripping teen contemporary novel about racial violence puts the reader right on the streets along with the main characters. I’m seriously blown away.
*The Truth Commission by Susan Juby: This clever, sweet, dynamic, and realistic teen contemporary novel written in a nontraditional format and focused on an art student struggling with her older sister’s shadow is a surprise favorite of mine.
*Golden by Jessi Kirby: An enjoyable teen contemporary novel with a strong premise and a relatable high school “good girl” main character.
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon: I love the way that this teen contemporary novel about violence against Black people uses all the multiple perspectives to enhance the narrative.
Light It Up by Kekla Magoon: Another unusual and comprehensive examination set in the world of How It Went Down that addresses police brutality towards Black people, this time including disability.
Slay by Brittney Morris: An engrossing, high-tech teen contemporary novel about interacting with others as a member of the Black diaspora.
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika and Maritza Moulite: An awesome, nontraditionally formatted teen contemporary novel full of Haiti’s vibrant culture and complex history.
Puddin’ by Julie Murphy: This body-positive teen contemporary novel set in the same world as Dumplin’ and focusing on female friendship is so fun and sweet!
The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos: A creative contemporary depiction of a neurodivergent, mentally ill Black teen girl struggling to make the best of a horrible situation.
The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed: This angry, diverse teen contemporary novel focuses on rape culture in a meaningful and powerful way. One of the main characters is also autistic!
**Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman: This teen contemporary novel is a riotous mess of disturbing quasi-reality that beautifully gets the reader into the mindset of a schizophrenic patient and addresses social issues like ableism.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone: This entire teen contemporary novel about race-driven police violence hurt my heart… I can’t believe that it managed to be so powerful and so well-written with only 210 pages.
Dear Justyce by Nic Stone: Another strong teen contemporary story set in the same world as Dear Martin–a multiformatted look at how easily things can fall apart when you’re living a hard life already.
*Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone: I’m definitely blown away by this teen contemporary novel about a girl with OCD and related mental health issues. The beginning is so unassuming I had no idea the end would be so powerful.
Little Do We Know by Tamara Ireland Stone: Though it starts out slow, this is a lovely, emotional teen contemporary novel about female friendship and religion that feels deeply personal.
Parachutes by Kelly Yang: This brutally honest teen contemporary novel explores how wealth and power inequalities enable sexual abuse.
I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) by Brene Brown: People struggling with issues like perfectionism and self-hatred may find this nonfiction book with its core concepts to be a great resource.
*The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell: This classic nonfiction book is a necessity for anyone wanting to understand mythology, storytelling, and probably even psychology.
Doing Harm by Maya Dusenbery: Some of what’s in this nonfiction book I already knew, from prior research and personal experience with sexism in medicine, but I still found it to be stunning and educational.
*From Girl to Goddess by Valerie Estelle Frankel: Though a bit disorganized, this nonfiction book is a necessary addition to The Hero With a Thousand Faces–quite useful as a perusal of world mythology from the female perspective.
(Don’t) Call Me Crazy edited by Kelly Jensen: I consider myself well-educated on psychology, but I still learned a lot from these nonficrion essays–personal experiences are incredibly powerful, and mental illness is incredibly diverse and complex!
Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc: This adult nonfiction exploration of fairy tales through a disability rights lens, with the author’s personal experiences living with cerebral palsy interspersed, offers an insightful introduction to both topics.
Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri: This is a stunningly direct piece of experimental writing, a creative teen autobiography by an Iranian refugee that addresses the human complexity of stories and memories.
Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer: Vibrant and creative and thoughtful and wild all at once–my kind of writing guide as a speculative fiction writer.