Books for Teens
All I Ever Wanted...Stories of Children of the Incarcerated – Erika Duncan
“What is so important about maintaining ties with a parent behind bars? Isn't it better to keep a child away from prison or jail? These are the questions that come up far too often among those who are caring for the children who are left behind, be they kin, care providers, social service workers, or teachers. . . . This volume allows ten of the 2.7 million children with incarcerated parents living in the United States to answer these questions through stories that the reader will never forget. In an era of broken families, silence, stigma, and shame around incarceration affecting one generation after another, the voices of these young people give a resounding YES to the need for connection, breaking out of the stigma and silence, while proudly and hopefully speaking each young person's truth. They are a testimony to the human spirit, which cannot be broken, and an invitation to all of us to truly listen to the voices of this too often invisible population. This volume is published by Herstory Writers Workshop in partnership with Prison Families Anonymous.“
After Tupac & D Foster - Jacqueline Woodson
The day D Foster enters Neeka and her best friend’s lives, the world opens up for them. Suddenly they’re keenly aware of things beyond their block in Queens, things that are happening in the world—like the shooting of Tupac Shakur—and in search of their Big Purpose in life. When—all too soon—D’s mom swoops in to reclaim her, and Tupac dies, they are left with a sense of how quickly things can change and how even all-too-brief connections can touch deeply.
Before There Were Bars; Ghetto By The Sea; Runaway Thoughts – P.O.P.S. the Club
Three anthologies produced by the students of P.O.P.S. the Club, a club for those whose lives have been touched by prison. In short memoirs, poems, photographs and drawings, the students tell the stories of their lives--sometimes stories about how their lives have been touched by prison, often by the ways in which all kinds of losses change us, forever.
Bronxwood - Coe Booth
The acclaimed author of Tyrell and Kendra returns to Push to continue Tyrell’s astonishing story. Tyrell’s father is just out of jail, and Tyrell doesn’t know how to deal with that. It’s bad enough that his brother Troy is in foster care and that his mother is no help whatsoever. Now there’s another thing up in his face, just when he’s trying to settle down. Tyrell’s father has plans of his own, and doesn’t seem to care whether or not Tyrell wants to go along with them. Tyrell can see the crash that’s coming - with his dad, with the rest of his family, with the girls he’s seeing - but he’s not sure he can stop it. Or if he even wants to.
The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary - NoNieqa Ramos
Macy's school officially classifies her as "disturbed," but Macy isn't interested in how others define her. She's got more pressing problems: her mom can't move off the couch, her dad's in prison, her brother's been kidnapped by Child Protective Services, and now her best friend isn't speaking to her. Writing in a dictionary format, Macy explains the world in her own terms—complete with gritty characters and outrageous endeavors. With an honesty that's both hilarious and fearsome, slowly Macy reveals why she acts out, why she can't tell her incarcerated father that her mom's cheating on him, and why her best friend needs protection . . . the kind of protection that involves Macy's machete.
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas
"Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life."
Hey, Kiddo- Jarrett J. Krosoczka
The powerful, unforgettable graphic memoir from Jarrett Krosoczka, about growing up with a drug-addicted mother, a missing father, and two unforgettably opinionated grandparents.
In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka's teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett's family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett's life. His father is a mystery -- Jarrett doesn't know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents -- two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along. Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what's going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father. Hey, Kiddo is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family grappling with addiction, and finding the art that helps you survive.
Mexican White Boy – Matt de la Peña
Danny’s tall and skinny. Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. Ninety-five mile an hour fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.
But at his private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. But it works the other way too. And Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico.
That’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he may just have to face the demons he refuses to see--the demons that are right in front of his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming.
My Father’s Son - Terri Fields
WHAT IF YOUR FATHER ISN’T WHO YOU THOUGHT HE WAS?
“I turn up the volume as a woman at a news desk announces, ‘This just in . . . the alleged DB25 monster has been arrested.’ Good. The camera switches from the anchor to a mug shot…and it is my face—or at least my face as it will look thirty years from now . . . A new image replaces the full-screen mug shot as I see two cops hustling my handcuffed father into the back of a police car.” Kevin has to face the worst imaginable possibility: that his father may be the man responsible for a series of vicious killings. How much does he really know about his father?
One Thing for Sure - David Gifaldi
"This impressive first novel thoughtfully describes the summer a 12-year-old boy comes to grips with his father's imprisonment. Dylan has seen his father taken away for illegal lumber harvesting, a major crime in his small Oregon town. His friends turn against him under the leadership of archrival Max. Meanwhile, he meets Amy, who is vacationing. She has a tough, humorous outlook on life. They become friends, coming up with a funny money-making scheme that features her dog, Jaws, in a comic post card as a local tourist attraction. At the same time, Dylan is fighting two battles: with Max; and with himself to come to terms with his father's crime. His friendship with Amy gives him answers--some funny, some painfully honest. This fast-paced story has an involving plot, rounded characters and a clear sense of place. Children will pull for Dylan, even if they don't always agree with him, as Gifaldi shows Dylan's tension between love for his father and disgust at what he's done; his story will give them much to think about."
Pool Boy - Michael Simmons
Fifteen-year-old Brett Gerson is a real-life S.R.K. (spoiled rich kid)–the guy you love to hate. Yep, Brett’s pretty much got life in the bag–until his dad is jailed for insider trading, and the family money swirls down the drain. Brett wishes things could go back to the way they were–until some dirty swimming pools change everything.
Queenie Peavey - Robert Burch
"Queenie Peavy is a puzzle to everyone but herself. SHE knows why she fires stones at anything and everything - isn't she the best shot in Georgia? SHE knows why she is defiant with her teachers and deliberately mean to her schoolmates - aren't they all against her? And Queenie doesn't care - not Queenie Peavy! The fact is that Queenie has a chip on her shoulder too big for a lonely 13-year-old to carry. Times have ""turned off hard"" for everybody in the early 1930s, and they are especially hard for a girl whose idolized father has been in jail and whose mother works long hours. But in spite of all that, Queenie can be happy, for Queenie has character."
Romar Jones Takes A Hike: Runaway or Missing Person…- Jan Walker
Meet Romar Jones, 15 ½, basketball player with months to go before the next season and no one who cares about him since Granny died. His dad’s been dead for two years.
When his 9th grade language arts teacher says pay attention to the poetry unit or take a hike, Romar opts for the hike, leaves Roseburg, Oregon, and embarks on a journey to find his mother. He knows she’s in prison in Washington. He shrugs on his dad’s trail-guide backpack, and sets out, heading first to the coast to leave some of Granny’s ashes.
Within minutes of first chasing waves on the ocean beach, he encounters a derelict man he dubs Meth Mouth. Five days after leaving school he stops at Vesta’s by the Sea near Yachats. Could have been good luck. Could have been Granny steered him there and had a hand in all that happened after.
Sing, Unburied, Sing - Jesmyn Ward
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.
His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.
When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
Somewhere in the Darkness - Walter Dean Myers
Jimmy hasn’t seen his father in nine years. But one day he comes back -- on the run from the law. Together, the two of them travel across the country -- where Jimmy’s dad will find the man who can exonerate him of the crime for which he was convicted. Along the way, Jimmy discovers a lot about his father and himself -- and that while things can’t always be fixed, sometimes they can be understood and forgiven.
Surviving the Chaos: Dontae's Story – S. Bell
This book explores some of the issues and feelings children may have toward parents who are incarcerated. Many of these feelings undoubtedly cause fear, frustration and uncertainty.
Teen Guide to Living with Incarcerated Parents - Anye Young
"At 16 years of age and as a rising senior in high school, Anyé Young offers a glimpse into her life as a teenager coping with life while her father is serving a 12-year prison sentence. She shares personal stories along with tips and tricks she's learned while coping with the challenges of life away from her father and in a single-parent home. With this book, Anyé aims to motivate and inspire children who have parents in prison. She wants them to know that they can overcome the shame and embarrassment they may feel. She also aims to help the single parents and extended family members, who are raising other children with incarcerated parents, gain a better understanding of the challenges their children face. Anyé offers her book as a guide for teenagers, like her, who are determined to succeed in life no matter the circumstances."
Tyrell - Coe Booth
Tyrell is a young African-American teen who can’t get a break. He’s living (for now) with his spaced-out mother and little brother in a homeless shelter. His father’s in jail. His girlfriend supports him, but he doesn’t feel good enough for her -- and seems to be always on the verge of doing the wrong thing around her. There’s another girl at the homeless shelter who is also after him, although the desires there are complicated. Tyrell feels he needs to score some money to make things better. Will he end up following in his father’s footsteps?
An Uninterrupted View of the Sky - Melanie Crowder
"It's 1999 in Bolivia and Francisco's life consists of school, soccer, and trying to find space for himself in his family's cramped yet boisterous home. But when his father is arrested on false charges and sent to prison by a corrupt system that targets the uneducated, the poor, and the indigenous majority, Francisco and his sister are left with no choice: They must move into prison with their father. There, they find a world unlike anything they've ever known, where everything—a door, a mattress, protection from other inmates—has its price.
Prison life is dirty, dire, and dehumanizing. With their lives upended, Francisco faces an impossible decision: Break up the family and take his sister to their grandparents in the Andean highlands, fleeing the city and the future within his grasp, or remain together in the increasingly dangerous prison. Pulled between two undesirable options, Francisco must confront everything he once believed about the world and his place within it.
In this heart-wrenching novel, Melanie Crowder sheds light on a little-known era of modern South American history—where injustice still looms large—and proves that hope can be found, even in the most desperate places."
Where the Dead Sit Talking – Brandon Hobson
Set in rural Oklahoma during the late 1980s, Where the Dead Sit Talking is a stunning and lyrical Native American coming-of-age story.
With his single mother in jail, Sequoyah, a fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy, is placed in foster care with the Troutt family. Literally and figuratively scarred by his mother’s years of substance abuse, Sequoyah keeps mostly to himself, living with his emotions pressed deep below the surface. At least until he meets seventeen-year-old Rosemary, a troubled artist who also lives with the family.
Sequoyah and Rosemary bond over their shared Native American background and tumultuous paths through the foster care system, but as Sequoyah’s feelings toward Rosemary deepen, the precariousness of their lives and the scars of their pasts threaten to undo them both.
Wild & Crooked - Leah Thomas
In Samsboro, Kentucky, Kalyn Spence’s name is inseparable from the brutal murder her father committed when he was a teenager. Forced to return to town, Kalyn must attend school under a pseudonym . . . or face the lingering anger of Samsboro’s citizens, who refuse to forget the crime.
Gus Peake has never had the luxury of redefining himself. A Samsboro native, he’s either known as the ‘disabled kid’ because of his cerebral palsy, or as the kid whose dad was murdered. Gus just wants to be known as himself.
When Gus meets Kalyn, her frankness is refreshing, and they form a deep friendship. Until their families’ pasts emerge. And when the accepted version of the truth is questioned, Kalyn and Gus are caught in the center of a national uproar. Can they break free from a legacy of inherited lies and chart their own paths forward?
Wish You Were Here: Teens Write About Parents In Prison - Pat Brisson
This timely book features true stories written by teens and parents coping with the complicated feelings of guilt, shame, fear, anger, sadness and longing that have arisen when the parent is incarcerated. The short entries are eloquent with the pain of separation, the struggle to remain involved in each other’s lives while discovering and meeting individual and family needs.
You Say Killer, I Say Daddy – Dominique Davis
"Your daddy killed Chris!" When Nikki heard her little cousin utter these four words, she had no idea they would change the course of her young life forever. Had no idea that her beloved father would be ripped away from her, drawn into a protracted legal battle. Had no idea that she would be forced to flee her home and go into hiding with her mother and siblings. Had no idea of the agony her whole family would face as the result of her father's actions. This coming- of- age story follows Nikki as she grows from a child into a young woman. Through her journey, Nikki must learn to become independent, think for herself, and come to terms with the moral implications of what her father has done. But Nikki knows the truth about why her father did it. She knows that the murder is not quite as cut and dry as it may seem.
We’re always looking for books about children with incarcerated parents. If you come across any, let us know!
We do not condone or promote the books on this page. The list was compiled as we became aware of them.