7 Contemporary Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs for Teens

A teenage girl reading in bed

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For some teens, reading the life stories of others, whether they are famous authors or victims of a civil war, can be an inspiring experience. Here is a list of highly recommended contemporary biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs written for teens that include life lessons about making choices, overcoming monumental challenges and having the courage to be a voice for change.

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Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos

Award-winning children’s and young adult author Jack Gantos shares this compelling story about one decision that changed his life in his book Hole in My Life. As a young man of twenty struggling to find direction, Gantos seized the opportunity for quick cash and adventure when he decided to smuggle hashish along the coast of Florida up to New York Harbor. What he hadn’t anticipated was getting caught. Winner of the Printz Honor Award, this memoir holds nothing back about prison life, drugs, and the consequences of one bad decision. Due to the mature themes of prison and drugs, this book is recommended for teens age 14 and up. Gantos won the John Newbery Medal in 2012 for his middle-grade novel Dead End in Norvelt. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004. ISBN: 9780374430894)

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Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton

Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board is Bethany Hamilton's story. Fourteen-year-old competitive surfer Bethany Hamilton thought her life was over when she lost her arm in a shark attack. Yet, despite this obstacle, she found the determination to continue surfing in her own creative style and proved to herself that the World Surfing Championships were still within reach. In this true account, Bethany tells the story of her life before and after the accident while inspiring readers to overcome obstacles by finding an inner passion and determination. This book is a wonderful story of faith, family, and courage recommended for teens age 12-18. A movie version of ​​Soul Surfer was released in 2011. (MTV Books, 2006.ISBN: 9781416503460)

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The Bite of the Mango by Miratu Kamara

Brutally attacked by rebel soldiers who cut off both her hands, 12-year-old Miratu Kamara from Sierra Leone miraculously survived and found her way to a refugee camp. When journalists arrived in her country to document the atrocities of war, Miratu was rescued. Her tale of survival as a victim of civil war to becoming a UNICEF Special Representative is an inspiring story of courage and triumph. Due to the mature themes of war and violence, this book is recommended for teens age 14 and up. (Annick Press, 2008. ISBN: 9781554511587)

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No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin

In their own words, four young men who were sent to death row as teenagers speak candidly with author Susan Kuklin in her nonfiction book for teens No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row about choices, mistakes, and life in prison. Written as personal narratives, Kuklin includes commentary from lawyers, insights into legal issues, and the back stories leading up to each young man’s crime. This disturbing read will help teens think about crime, punishment, and the prison system. Due to the mature content of this book, it is recommended for ages 14 and up. (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2008. ISBN: 9780805079500)

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I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-word Memoirs From Teens Famous and Obscure

“He said goodbye with YouTube links.” In just six words, teens famous and obscure make statements about life, family, and their view of the world. Editors of Smith Magazine challenged teens across the nation to write a six-word memoir and submit it for publication. The result? I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-word Memoirs From Teens Famous and Obscure is a book containing 800 six-word statements ranging in emotion from comical to profound. These fast-paced, intuitive poems written by and for teens will appeal to all types of readers, and inspire teens to think of their own six-word memoirs. We recommend this insightful book for readers who are 12 and up. (HarperTeen, 2009. ISBN: 9780061726842)

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Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

Reminiscent of heart-tugging characters like Gilly Hopkins (The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson) and Dicey Tillerman (The Tillermans Series by Cynthia Voigt), the life of Ashley Rhodes-Courter becomes all too painful as she chronicles in her memoir, Three little Words, her 10 years in the foster care system. This is a beautiful story that gives voice to children who are trapped in the foster care system, recommended for readers age 12 and up. (Atheneum, 2008. ISBN: 9781416948063)

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

In the early 1990s, 12-year-old Ishmael Beah was swept up into Sierra Leone’s civil war and was turned into a boy soldier. Although a gentle and kind boy at heart, Beah discovered he was capable of horrific acts of brutality. The first part of Beah’s memoir, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, depicts the frighteningly easy transformation of a typical boy changing into an angry teen with the ability to hate, kill, and wield an AK-47; but the last part of the story reveals Beah’s rehabilitation and travel to the United States, where he graduated from college. This powerful story of children caught up in civil war is riveting and is recommended for ages 14 and up. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008. ISBN: 9780374531263)