The teenage years and high school days—the best time of your life, right? Sometimes. Being a teen comes with a whole host of struggles, especially in trying to flesh out your identity. Luckily, poetry can offer a guiding light in determining just who you are.
With these twenty best poetry books for young adults, there’s the space to explore every facet of who you are, all through powerful language and reassuring words. Dive in to feel seen.
The Best Poetry Books for Young Adults
You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves by Diana Whitney
This anthology is a love letter to young women everywhere. With poems from best-selling authors, Instagram-famous poets, LGBTQ+ poets, and BIPOC poets, Young Don’t Have to Be Everything serves to address a wide range of feminine phenomena. From longing to loneliness, and from fear to exuberant joy, these sixty-eight poets will hold your hand and guide you forward on the path of selfhood.
Find You Don’t Have to Be Everything here.
the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelace
Princes, damsel, queen, and you: Amanda Lovelace’s poetry collection is set across four parts. The first three invite you into the author’s life, and in the collection’s conclusion, there is a note to the reader. With themes of love, empowerment, loss, and inspiration, teens—particularly young women—will find power and the capacity to be a savior within themselves.
Be sure to grab the princess saves herself in this one here.
Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
Joy McCullough delivers a raw, haunting glimpse into the life of seventeenth-century Roman painter Artemisia Gentileschi’s life in this novel-in-verse, Blood Water Paint.
Artemisia lives in a world where men take what they want and she must choose: silence or truth. Her decision is interwoven with portraits of ancient heroines, Judith and Susanna. Artemisia draws upon Judith and Susanna for strength as she paints and confronts terrible violence.
Artemisia’s story, told through deft poetry, enthralls.
Find Blood, Water, Paint here.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo astonishes in another novel-in-verse, The Poet X.
The Poet X follows Xiomara Batista, an Afro-Latina teenager who feels all-too-seen ever since her curves suddenly became ‘inappropriate.’ She’s learned to let her fists speak for themselves, but in her leather notebook, Xiomara writes passionate poetry that voices her frustration. And when she joins her school’s slam poetry team, Xiomara is determined to defy her strict mother and let her voice be heard.
Sharp and energetic, The Poet X empowers young women everywhere.
Find your copy here.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
You’ll also want to check out Elizabeth Acevedo’s other novel-in-verse, Clap When You Land.
Acevedo captures the complicated line between grief and anger in this stunning dual-POV novel about two sisters, Camino and Yahaira, who are separated by distance but bound by unspeakable tragedy. As they grapple with their father’s death, they discover his secrets, including each other.
Check out Clap When You Land here.
Beastgirl and Other Origin Myths by Elizabeth Acevedo
Rounding out Acevedo’s titles in our guide is Beastgirl and Other Origin Myths, a collection of folklore-inspired poems about the experiences of a first-generation American woman. Young readers with the same background will see themselves in the raw historical, gendered, and mythological exploration of immigration to America.
While different from her novels, Beastgirl captivates from start to finish and will have you rushing to read the rest of Acevedo’s work.
Find it here.
Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience by Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond
For those who enjoy (or have already enjoyed!) Acevedo’s poetry, pick up Ink Knows No Borders, a collection of poetry from young first- and second-generation immigrants and refugees.
Blending hope, confusion, and feelings of doubt and discovery, Ink Knows No Border is a dazzling exploration of honoring your roots, all from sixty-four dreamer, immigrant, and refugee poets. Teens in similar situations will appreciate the poems’ empathetic nature, as well as the truths portrayed within these verses.
You’ll be thrilled when you pick up a copy here.
A Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
If you’re looking for an intense, earth-shattering novel A Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds is a must-read. The novel-in-verse occurs in an elevator over the span of sixty seconds—the time it takes fifteen-year-old Will to decide if he’ll kill the guy who murdered his brother.
Short but electrifying, A Long Way Down sets off at a breakneck pace and doesn’t let up until the final page. You’ll appreciate the thrilling story as well as the sharp exploration of teenage gun violence.
Pick up a copy for yourself here.
Apple: (Skin to the Core) by Eric Gansworth
Eric Gansworth shatters a slur in Native communities, Apple, in this moving yet dryly humorous poetry collection.
The winner of the American Indian Youth Literature Award among other awards, Apple: (Skin to Core) tells Gansworth’s story. From horrifying government boarding schools to a man striving to be an artist across different worlds, Gansworth illuminates his family’s experience and supplements it with photos and original art.
Be sure to grab the book here.
IRL by Tommy Pico
Composed like a single long text message, Tommy Pico’s IRL poses the question: what happens to queer indigenous people in modern times after their ancestors were forced away from their language and history?
Pico spins an epic poem ripe with ramblings, entertainment, and heartbreak. The main character, Teebs, undergoes a journey of his own to create a cohesive identity for himself, and teens of all backgrounds fighting to do the same will appreciate the ride.
Be sure to pick up IRL here.
Call Us What We Carry: Poems by Amanda Gorman
Presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman quickly rose to national awareness during her stirring reading at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, and now, you won’t want to miss Call Us What We Carry.
Gorman’s inventive collection isolates a moment of fear, confusion, and heartache in history and explores it in loving, hopeful detail. In the wake of a terrifying global pandemic, Gorman’s words about love and loss will bring comfort and a road forward into a better future.
You can find Call Us What We Carry: Poems here.
The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop by Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and Nate Marshall
The Breakbeat Poets is perfect for teen readers put off by what they think poetry is—those preconceived notions can be tossed away in favor of this 78-poet anthology of poems for and by Hip-Hop fans.
With the intent of challenging and expanding the idea of who a poet can be and what a poem can achieve, The Breakbeat Poets contains the words of poets born between 1961-1999, all participants and creators in the Hip-Hop scene.
Grab a copy for yourself here.
When the Stars Wrote Back: Poems by Trista Mateer
Trista Mateer offers insight into relationships, growing up, and coping in When the Stars Wrote Back: Poems. This short collection packs a powerful punch, encouraging readers to occupy the space they deserve in the world. Readers will walk away from these punchy, empowering poems with new confidence and the desire to take on the world.
Pick up When the Stars Wrote Back: Poems here.
Light Filters In by Caroline Kaufman
Teen Instagram influencer Caroline Kaufman (@poeticpoison across social media) holds up a mirror to readers in this humorous yet heartfelt collection of punchy poems.
You’ll see yourself in a new light with Kaufman’s words about perseverance, selfhood, and the hope of Googling your way to happiness. Light Filters In features fan-favorite content from Kaufman’s account, yet for those familiar with her work, you’ll also find entirely new and exclusive content. Old fans and newcomers, you’re in for a treat.
You can find Light Filters In here.
Dizzy In Your Eyes: Poems About Love by Pat Mora
From acclaimed children’s author and speaker Pat Mora comes this collection of fifty poems, each featuring an original teen narrator. These teenagers share their turbulent thoughts, desires, and sadnesses throughout the verses. Even with a variety of experiences and poetic forms, you’ll be able to find yourself in the universal emotions that are lovingly portrayed.
Plus, as a bonus, Mora includes footnotes to demystify the poetic process, making this the perfect collection for any rising teen poets.
You won’t want to miss Dizzy in Your Eyes, located here.
Please Excuse This Poem by Brett Fletcher Lauer and Lynn Melnick
One hundred young poets from different backgrounds come together in this brilliant collection, compiled by Brett Fletcher Lauer and Lynn Melnick.
With origins everywhere from Twitter to the New Yorker, the poets featured in Please Excuse This Poem refuse to shy away from difficult topics. They tackle war, misogyny, and young love, all with defiant and honest voices that simply tell it as it is.
For those who want to see the future of poetry, this collection is for you.
Pick up your copy here.
Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States by Lori Marie Carlson
Lori Marie Carlson unites a group of Latino poets, including a variety of fresh voices, in this incredible collection that celebrates family, love, and small victories while grappling with culture, language, and identity. The poets share their selfhood, dreams, and desires in these bilingual poems.
You’ll love the honesty of this collection, as well as the joyful use of language.
Grab Red Hot Salsa here.
You Don’t Even Know Me by Sharon Flake
For readers who want to blend short stories with their poetry, you’ll want to check out Sharon Flake’s You Don’t Even Know Me, an insightful look into the minds of young Black men.
From a boy who’s marrying the love of his life at sixteen to a young man infected with HIV, these nine stories and fifteen poems carry an emotional weight that will linger long after you read the final page.
You can find You Don’t Even Know Me here.
Water I Won’t Touch by Kayleb Rae Candrilli
Queer teens, or teens simply exploring their identities, will rejoice in this radical self-portrait that explores trans survival in difficult landscapes. This short collection makes readers who are often not addressed feel seen. Written while Candrilli was healing from gender-affirming surgery, Water I Won’t Touch is a bold and necessary collection of poetry that imagines trans joy beyond the current moment.
Find the collection here.
Lazarus Rises by Berklie Novak-Stolz
Berklie Novak-Stolz, @icaruspendragon on TikTok, has risen to social media fame for her celebration of fandom, fan culture, and CW’s fifteen-season series, Supernatural. Now, their first poetry collection explores love, sacrifice, the devastating grip of grief, and how to search for a way beyond the feeling.
Young people who have found solace in fandom and strength in fictional characters will appreciate Novak-Stolz’s tender yet strong approach to poetry.
You can find Lazarus Rises here.
A Poem for Everyone
Identity is complicated, even more so when you’re a teenager. These poems offer empathetic and hopeful visions of the future: hands clearing a path to the future. Pick one up and pick a path forward.
Where should I begin if I’ve never read poetry before?
Amanda Gorman’s Call Us What We Carry is an accessible and stunning gateway into poetry.
If I’m a more experienced reader, which book should I pick up?
Try one of the novels-in-verse from Elizabeth Acevedo, Joy McCullough, or Jason Reynolds.
Where can I find more resources on poetry for young adults?
For teens who want to read (or write!) more poetry, Poets.org has amazing resources here.
How can I start writing my own poetry?
There’s no one correct way to write poetry, so choose a topic that you’re passionate about, read plenty of examples of poems, and start putting the pen to paper!
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