13 Young Adult Books that Teach Teens About Grit

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco believe that grit is the key to the next generation's success and fulfillment.

They call this quality “the essential element that allows young people to persist in the face of obstacles.” They go on to explain that, as they see it, grit comprises “passion, perseverance, and stamina,” all of which can be developed through “education, character development, citizenship, good health, and a strong connection to the environment." They have even created a mentorship series to instill this crucial characteristic in the "Grit Generation."

Reading books in which characters model grit and determination in the face of adversity and failure can be a crucial tool to help young adults cultivate these characteristics. The following books bring to the forefront such issues and allow readers to identify with and learn from the protagonists.

1. Fast Talk on a Slow Track by Rita Williams-Garcia

Denzel is a star student, but when he arrives at Princeton, he faces failure and does not know how to communicate it to his family. His journey to find his footing, complicated by racial inequality, makes Denzel the perfect protagonist for modeling grit.

2–4. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Katniss, the series’ protagonist, is a true embodiment of tenacity! This popular series speaks to so many social issues — as I mention when talking about gender — including what it means to stand up against oppression and dig deep into oneself to find the determination required to save one's family and community.

5. A Very Young Dancer by Jill Krementz

This book is part of Krementz's series of "A Very Young...", which is appropriate for younger adolescents. This book and its companions are noteworthy in that they show the work it takes to become a master of one’s craft. Readers get to see what it takes to be a ballerina, ice skater, gardener, and equestrian — along with a dozen other challenging pursuits.

6. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made Stephan Pastis

This is the first book in a series that falls on the younger end of the young adult spectrum and offers a funny take on the failures children may endure. Timmy Failure is the CEO of the best detective agency in town, along with his business partner, Total the polar bear. Together they tackle mysteries and obstacles that pop up around their neighborhood. This is a great choice for kids who enjoyed “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

7. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

My reluctant readers always loved this book! After surviving a plane crash, Brian is left alone in the wilderness. With true determination, he finds a way to survive on his own. Readers can continue to follow Brian’s story in Brian's Winter and The River.

8. A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park

This story alternates between two 11-year-old protagonists who live in Sudan — Salva’s story takes place in 1985 and Nya’s in 2008. Both of them face insurmountable obstacles, from harsh climates to fierce animals to rebel forces. They must find a way to survive, which leads their stories to intertwine in a poignant and unexpected way.

9. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Coretta Scott King Award–winner Draper creates a beautiful protagonist, Melody, who, because of cerebral palsy, can neither speak nor walk. Melody is determined to have her voice heard and can teach readers of all ages about how to face hardship with grace.

10–11. Toby Alone and Toby and the Secrets of the Tree by Timothee de Fombelle

Toby is forced to live as a fugitive and must learn to survive when his parents are imprisoned and sentenced to death for not sharing the secrets of the great oak tree’s energy. This book is full of twists and turns, and leaves readers with important lessons about the value of the natural world.

12. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

A book appropriate for more mature teens, this memoir is about Beah's life as a 12-year-old child soldier. It is a riveting account about the effects of war and surviving trauma. Beah writes of the perseverance required to break free from a life of exploitation and terror.

13. Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative (Native Voices) by Ignatia Broker

At a time when her community is being uprooted and forced to relinquish their way of living, Night Flying Woman, the author’s great-grandmother, resists and shows her grit in the face of such oppression. In 1984, Broker received recognition from the Wonder Woman Foundation for her fight for equality, which is underscored in this title.

Reading about characters who demonstrate grit can help young readers develop the traits they will need in adulthood. Edutopia offers more suggestions about how to teach grit and give teens the support they need as they deal with frustrating situations.

Happy reading!

Learn more about how grit plays a key role in academic success: The Importance of Grit in the Classroom.