Best Books That 8th Graders Should Read

By Editorial Staff •  Updated: 11/25/23 •  Classroom Resources

We will unravel the top book picks for 8th graders. From contemporary realism to historical fiction, sci-fi to poetry, we have something for everyone. These books have been widely recommended for middle school students due to both their language and vocabulary as well as the introduction of more mature themes students should start thinking about.

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By no means is this a definitive list, it’s just a high level overview to help you get started. We suggest checking multiple “best book” lists because each one always seems to have a few gems in them that students love.

Anyways, let’s get started:

‘Mary Underwater’ by Shannon Doleski

‘Mary Underwater’ by Shannon Doleski is a heartwarming coming-of-age story that follows a young girl navigating family issues and discovering herself. Set in a small town in Maryland, the book transports readers to the picturesque setting of the Chesapeake Bay through vivid descriptions. With relatable themes of friendship, family, and self-discovery, this book is perfect for middle schoolers.

Shannon Doleski’s engaging and immersive writing style keeps readers hooked from start to finish. ‘Mary Underwater’ offers excellent entertainment and depth, making it an ideal choice for summer reading.

‘The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora’ by Pablo Cartaya

‘The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora’ by Pablo Cartaya is a heartwarming tale that revolves around the themes of family, community, and food. Set in Florida, the story follows the journey of Arturo Zamora, a 13-year-old boy, as he navigates life’s challenges.

With its exploration of gentrification, cultural identity, and friendship, this book offers young adult readers a captivating narrative perfect for summer reading.

‘The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora’ has received praise from readers for its relatable characters and engaging storyline. It is a great choice for 8th graders looking for an impactful and enjoyable read.

‘Taking Up Space’ by Alyson Gerber

‘Taking Up Space’ by Alyson Gerber is a thought-provoking novel that delves into the struggles of a girl with dyslexia. Through the story of protagonist Sarah, readers are taken on a journey of self-acceptance and discovering one’s voice. As Sarah navigates the challenges of middle school, her learning differences become integral to her experience.

This honest and heartfelt portrayal offers a fresh perspective on academic and life success. ‘Taking Up Space’ is a must-read for anyone seeking insight into the hurdles faced by those with dyslexia, making it a valuable addition to any reading list.

‘Beverly, Right Here’ by Kate DiCamillo

‘Beverly, Right Here’ by Kate DiCamillo is a heartwarming coming-of-age story set in Florida. The novel follows Beverly, a brave and resilient young girl who runs away from home to find herself.

Along her journey, Beverly encounters an intriguing cast of characters, including an elderly woman and a friendly dog. Kate DiCamillo, a Newbery Medal-winning author, showcases her talent for poignant and relatable storytelling in this book.

‘Beverly, Right Here’ is perfect for readers who enjoy self-discovery, friendship, and adventure stories. It offers a captivating narrative that will resonate with middle school readers and leave a lasting impact.

‘Nikki on the Line’ by Barbara Carroll Roberts

“Nikki on the Line” by Barbara Carroll Roberts is a relatable and inspiring story of teamwork, friendship, and perseverance. This middle-grade novel takes readers on the journey of an eighth-grade girl as she navigates through her school’s basketball team tryouts.

With themes of self-discovery, family dynamics, and overcoming challenges, the book beautifully captures the emotions and experiences of adolescence. It is a must-read for sports enthusiasts, fans of realistic fiction, and those looking for diverse characters.

Get ready to be inspired by Nikki’s determination and resilience as she tackles on-court challenges and personal growth.

‘Refugee’ by Alan Gratz

‘Refugee’ by Alan Gratz follows the lives of three refugee families from different periods, exploring themes of survival, hope, and resilience in the face of adversity. Gratz’s storytelling style is accessible and engaging for readers of all ages, while the historical context provides an educational component to the book’s entertainment value.

‘Refugee’ has received critical acclaim and is a New York Times bestseller. This powerful and captivating novel is an excellent addition to any 8th-grade summer reading list, offering a unique perspective on the experiences of refugees throughout history.

‘Good Enough’ by Jen Petro-Roy

‘Good Enough’ by Jen Petro-Roy delves into the story of a young girl grappling with an eating disorder, highlighting the significance of self-acceptance and mental health. The book provides valuable insights into the complexities of eating disorders, making it an essential read for those seeking understanding and empathy.

Additionally, ‘Good Enough’ is an excellent starting point for parents and educators to engage in conversations about mental health with young adults. Petro-Roy’s engaging writing style ensures the book is informative and accessible, offering an insightful exploration of this challenging topic.

‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell

‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell is a political allegory that cleverly uses animals to represent different aspects of the Russian Revolution. The novel is a critique of totalitarianism and the abuse of power. Orwell’s engaging and accessible writing style makes it an excellent choice for middle schoolers.

The book’s themes remain relevant today, sparking discussions about current events. ‘Animal Farm’ is considered a classic and should be read at least once by every student in their academic career. Its thought-provoking narrative and timeless lessons make it a must-read for young readers and adults alike.

‘The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo

Beverley Naidoo’s ‘The Other Side of Truth’ delves into profound family, truth, and justice themes. This captivating novel takes readers on a gripping journey across Nigeria and London as two siblings escape political persecution. Naidoo fearlessly explores challenging topics such as corruption and violence, making this book poignant and enlightening for mature readers.

With her engaging and thought-provoking writing style, Naidoo prompts readers to reflect on their beliefs and values. ‘The Other Side of Truth’ is a powerful and impactful read that lingers in readers’ minds long after they turn the final page.

‘Nimona’ by Noelle Stevenson

‘Nimona’ by Noelle Stevenson is a captivating graphic novel that follows the adventures of a shape-shifting teenage girl. This award-winning book, recognized with the National Book Award and Eisner Award, explores themes of friendship, identity, and morality in a fun and engaging way.

With its stunning illustrations and captivating storytelling style, ‘Nimona’ appeals to readers of all ages. It is especially recommended for those who enjoy fantasy and graphic novels. So, if you’re looking for a high-quality book to add to your 8th-grade summer reading list, ‘Nimona’ is worth checking out.

‘The 5th Wave’ by Rick Yancey

“The 5th Wave” by Rick Yancey is a gripping science fiction novel about an alien invasion. The story follows Cassie, a survivor on a desperate mission to find her younger brother amidst the chaos and destruction caused by the extraterrestrial beings.

It explores themes of survival, trust, and humanity in the face of dire circumstances. Yancey’s writing style captivates readers, making it difficult to put the book down. With its action-packed plot and a touch of romance, “The 5th Wave” is an excellent choice for young adults looking for an exciting summer read.

‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ is a timeless classic that delves into the themes of creation and responsibility. The novel follows the ambitious Victor Frankenstein as he attempts to bring life to his own design, only to face the devastating consequences of his actions.

With its Gothic elements and supernatural occurrences, Shelley creates an eerie ambiance that intrigues the story. The multiple perspectives and complex characters make ‘Frankenstein’ an excellent choice for critical analysis.

This thought-provoking novel remains relevant today, as it explores the ethical implications of playing God and the effects of technological advancements on humanity.

‘Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

“Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkien is a beloved and timeless classic that has captivated readers for generations. This epic fantasy novel takes readers on a thrilling journey alongside hobbit Frodo Baggins as he embarks on a quest to destroy the One Ring and save Middle-earth. With its masterful world-building and richly developed characters, this book is a must-read for any fan of the fantasy genre.

The themes of friendship, sacrifice, and the eternal battle between good and evil resonate with readers of all ages. Even today, Lord of the Rings inspires and influences popular culture in various mediums, from movies to video games.

‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas

‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas is a classic tale set in 19th century France, filled with revenge, love, and betrayal themes. The story follows Edmond Dantès, who is wrongfully imprisoned and seeks vengeance against those who betrayed him. With its complex characters, intricate plots, and unexpected twists, this novel is thought-provoking and engaging for 8th graders.

Though challenging in length and vocabulary, the timeless themes make it a must-read for young readers. ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ offers a captivating journey through justice, morality, and redemption.

‘Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card is a popular science fiction novel set in a futuristic world. The story revolves around Ender Wiggin, a young genius recruited to attend a military school in space. There, Ender undergoes intense training in combat and strategy, with the ultimate goal of defeating an alien race that threatens Earth.

This thought-provoking book delves into themes of leadership, morality, and the consequences of war. It has garnered numerous awards and has even been adapted into a film and video game. ‘Ender’s Game’ is a thrilling read that will captivate young readers who enjoy sci-fi and action-packed stories.

‘Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly

‘Deep Blue’ by Jennifer Donnelly is a captivating fantasy adventure book that follows the journey of six mermaids as they embark on a quest to save their underwater kingdoms. Written by Jennifer Donnelly, a bestselling author known for her historical fiction novels, ‘Deep Blue’ combines action, suspense, and magical creatures to keep readers engaged.

This book is perfect for middle schoolers who enjoy fantasy and adventure stories, and it also explores important themes such as friendship, courage, and perseverance. Dive into the enchanting world of ‘Deep Blue’ and join these brave mermaids on their thrilling adventure.

Why should 8th graders read ‘The Hate You Give’ by Angie Thomas?

‘The Hate You Give’ by Angie Thomas tackles pressing social issues such as police brutality and racial injustice. It offers a unique perspective that helps young readers understand the struggles faced by marginalized communities. 8th graders can develop critical thinking skills and empathy towards others by reading this book. The acclaimed novel has received numerous awards, making it a must-read for young adults.

Engaging with Poetry

Poetry is a powerful medium that fosters critical thinking and language skills in 8th graders. By introducing them to diverse voices and styles of poetry, their perspectives can be broadened. Two highly recommended titles for middle schoolers are “The Crossover” by Kwame Alexander and “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson.

Encouraging students to write their own poetry develops their creativity and self-expression and nurtures a deeper appreciation for the art form. Engaging with poetry during the summer can be a fun and rewarding activity for young readers.

Exploring Poetry for 8th Graders

Poetry offers a powerful means of self-expression and emotional exploration, making it an excellent addition to an 8th-grade reading list. Students can enhance their critical thinking and language skills by reading and analyzing poems. Introducing students to diverse poets and styles is crucial to broaden their literary horizons. Incorporating poetry into class discussions and assignments can make learning more interactive and engaging for 8th graders.

Additionally, encouraging students to write their own poetry fosters creativity and boosts confidence in their writing abilities.

Exploring Various Genres

During the summer, students must continue reading and exploring various genres. Fiction lovers can delve into classic literature, young adult novels, and captivating mystery stories. Non-fiction enthusiasts can be captivated by biographies, memoirs, and informative history books. Poetry enthusiasts can indulge in diverse collections by contemporary poets, immersing themselves in beautiful language and thought-provoking themes. For those who prefer visual storytelling, graphic novels provide entertaining and visually stimulating narratives.

Whether escaping into a world of imagination or delving into real-life stories, exploring different genres is a great way for 8th graders to expand their horizons and enhance their literacy skills.

Contemporary Realism for 8th Graders

Contemporary realism is a genre that focuses on realistic depictions of modern-day life, addressing relevant social issues and promoting empathy and understanding. Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give” explores police brutality and racism, while Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak” tackles sexual assault. Other recommended titles include “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio and “Refugee” by Alan Gratz.

These books offer compelling narratives that resonate with 8th graders, encouraging critical thinking and a deeper understanding of the world around them. By immersing themselves in contemporary realism, young readers can gain valuable insights into society and cultivate empathy for others.

Diving into Fantasy and Sci-Fi

Fantasy and sci-fi genres transport readers to imaginative realms and alternate realities. Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” is a gripping sci-fi novel that delves into themes of survival and rebellion. Christopher Paolini’s “Eragon” takes readers on an epic fantasy adventure alongside a young dragon rider. Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” challenges the concept of a perfect society in a dystopian setting. Frank Herbert’s “Dune” delves into political intrigue and the consequences of ecological disaster. These books offer 8th graders a thrilling escape and broaden their literary horizons.

Reliving the Past with Historical Fiction

Historical fiction books can transport readers to different periods and cultures, providing a unique perspective on the past. These novels often incorporate historical events into their storylines, offering insights into how we got to where we are today.

For 8th graders, popular historical fiction books like “Code Name Verity” and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” can be educational and engaging. By reading historical fiction, students can also improve their critical thinking skills by evaluating sources and considering different perspectives. It’s an excellent way for young readers to relive the past and gain a deeper understanding of history.

Impact of Reading on Young Minds

Reading has a profound impact on young minds, offering numerous benefits. It is crucial in improving vocabulary and language skills, helping students expand their knowledge and communication abilities. Additionally, reading stimulates imagination and creativity, allowing young readers to explore different worlds and ideas.

Moreover, it fosters empathy and understanding by exposing readers to diverse perspectives and experiences. Alongside these cognitive benefits, reading also promotes mental health and relaxation, providing a welcome escape from the stresses of daily life. Summer reading lists further enhance these advantages, enabling students to discover new genres and authors, and broadening their literary horizons.

The Power and Influence of Books

Reading has a profound impact on the development of young people, fostering cognitive and emotional growth. Books can mold young minds and shape their perspectives on the world. Summer reading lists are an excellent way to introduce middle school students to new genres, authors, and ideas.

Engaging in reading can enhance vocabulary, comprehension, and critical thinking skills. Encouraging tweens to read can ignite a lifelong passion for learning and curiosity. Books can transport readers to different periods, cultures, and even supernatural realms, providing a gateway to explore new worlds and broaden horizons.


In conclusion, reading can transport us to different worlds, evoke emotions, and expand our horizons. It is an essential tool for young minds to develop empathy, critical thinking, and imagination.

The recommended books on this 8th-grade summer reading list offer diverse genres and themes, allowing students to explore new perspectives and ideas. Whether it’s a contemporary realistic fiction, a fantasy adventure, or a historical novel, each book can potentially leave a lasting impact on young readers.

Encouraging 8th graders to read ‘The Hate You Give’ by Angie Thomas can spark meaningful conversations about social issues and promote empathy and understanding. So grab a book, dive into its pages, and embark on a journey of discovery and growth through reading.

Editorial Staff

I'm David Unwin and I head the editorial staff here at Teach and GO. I've taught as an ESL teacher in Thailand for 5+ years at all levels of education, from elementary to University. I was also one of the first 1000 VIPKID teachers. I and my team now share my extensive experience as a teacher here at Teach and GO. Learn more.

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