Recommended Reading: WV Books for Middle School and Young Adult Readers

As the kids settle into the new school year, check out these books to keep their minds active and explore the mountain state through reading. All of the books featured are either written by West Virginia authors or take place in West Virginia. For younger readers, check out our reading list for elementary school kids.

Middle School Picks

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor


An enduring story of the bond between a boy and his dog, Shiloh has been a staple of children’s literature for nearly three decades. Naylor’s novel centers around Marty Preston, an eleven-year old boy from Friendly, West Virginia, and Shiloh, a beagle that Marty becomes committed to saving from an abusive owner. Marty’s coming-of-age includes the realization that right and wrong is not always cut-and-dry as he is torn between obeying his parents and grappling with his own sense of morality. With realistic dialogue and easy readability, this story introduces readers to concepts like integrity, compassion, and the importance of human-animal relationships. Shiloh was awarded the John Newbery Medal in 1992.

Recommended reading level: 9-12 years old

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The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars

Summer of the Swans

Sara is fourteen years old and nothing in her life seems to make sense. She doesn’t understand her feelings about her older sister Wanda, her mentally handicapped little brother Charlie, her would-be nemesis Joe Melby—or herself. Sara both loves and resents her siblings in a way she never has before and finds herself upset at Wanda for being so pretty and Charlie for needing so much help. But when Charlie goes missing, Sara’s seesawing emotions take a backseat as she and the town of Cass race to find Charlie.

Published in 1970, The Summer of the Swans offers a timeless glimpse into the adolescent psyche. Byars realistically and compassionately presents youth as a time fraught with confusion, realization, and growth. The book received the Newbery Medal in 1971.

Recommended reading level: 10-13 years old

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The Star Fisher by Laurence Yep

The Star Fisher

Based on the real experiences of Yep’s mother, The Star Fisher tells the story of 15-year-old Joanie Lee and her family in West Virginia in the 1920s. The novel opens with the family traveling from Ohio to West Virginia; Joanie is happy to be out of the worn-down industrial town they called home and into the lush greenery of West Virginia. However, Joanie’s enthusiasm fades when she and her family receive a reception that is anything but warm.

The Lees are the first Chinese-American family the town has seen and many are distrustful or outright hostile toward them. Joanie can’t understand it: she and her siblings are American-born and have been educated in American schools all their lives, so why do their classmates think they’re so different? Like the mythological star fisher, a celestial bound to earth, Joanie feels like she doesn’t belong: not to her traditional Chinese family and not to the American town she calls home. A poignant picture of the immigrant experience in America, The Star Fisher is the story of being caught between two worlds and trying to find a balance between the two.

Recommended reading level: 10-13 years old

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Missing May by Cynthia Rylant

Missing May

After losing her mother at a young age, main character Summer had been bounced from house to house of her Ohio kin before finding a permanent home with her West Virginian Aunt May and Uncle Ob. Despite being viewed as a “welfare case” by classmates due to her aunt and uncle’s rundown trailer and poverty, Summer is happy and deeply doted on by her elderly caregivers. But when Summer is 12 years old, Aunt May passes away, leaving Summer and her Uncle Ob to cope. Without May, Summer and Ob are set adrift. Help comes in the unlikely form of a classmate of Summer’s named Cletus Underwood. Together the trio set out to visit a medium that they hope will contact May, but it is their own strength that keeps Ob and Summer going.

In Missing May, Rylant explores the loss of a loved one with beautiful, touching prose and shows the deep love that can bind together an unconventional family. This book is a must-read (but have some tissues handy!). Missing May received the John Newbery Medal and was given the status of Scholastic Gold which “celebrates bestselling, award-winning, and critically acclaimed middle-grade paperback novels”.

Recommended reading level: 11-13 years old

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McKendree by Sandra Belton


It’s the summer of 1948 and Tilara Haynes is excited by the prospect of spending her vacation in West Virginia with her Aunt Cloelle. Tilara isn’t even daunted by the idea of spending several days a week going to work with her aunt at McKendree, the old folks’ home. March Jackson, on the other hand, isn’t so sure; he’s one of the most popular boys in Warren Springs and there’s a lot of things he’d rather do than spend time with old folks. Even after roping in a few friends to join him it doesn’t sound so great—until he meets Tilara.

Told in alternating perspectives from Tilara and March, McKendree is a breath of fresh air in the genre by offering an entirely African-American cast of characters. Ultimately a coming of age novel, author Benton also touches on themes like aging, race, and societal norms. Though the story is set in 1948 many aspects of it will still ring true for readers by providing a well-rounded cast, each with their own flaws, insecurities, and hopes.

Recommended reading level: 10-14 years old

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Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

close to famous

When 12-year-old Foster McFee and her mom have to get out of Memphis fast, they hit the road with no destination in mind. Their only goal is to put as many miles as they can between themselves and Memphis and, more specifically, her mom’s no-good ex-boyfriend. After driving for days they find themselves in the small town of Culpepper, WV, which despite its size is full of people with dreams as big as the McFees’. The McFees immediately find themselves welcomed by the town, from Lester and Kitty who give them a place to stay to Miss Charleena who helps Foster face one of her biggest hurdles: her reading disability. In typical Joan Bauer fashion, Close to Famous is a story with a lot of heart and a strong female protagonist.  It also shines a positive light on West Virginia and shows its citizens as welcoming and eager to help a neighbor in need.

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Recommended reading level: 11-14 years old

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Betsy Zane: The Rose of Fort Henry by Lynda Durrant

Betsy Zane

After her great-aunt and caretaker passes away, thirteen-year-old Betsy Zane is determined to make the journey from Philadelphia back to her birthplace in Virginia. Taking buffalo roads and a flatboat along the Ohio, Betsy returns to the Zane homestead in what is now Wheeling, WV to be reunited with her brothers. Hardships are far from over, however, due to the ever-present dangers of the Virginia wilderness and the ongoing Revolutionary War. Betsy is portrayed as a headstrong and fearless young woman and a dedicated Virginian, but her mettle is tested when Fort Henry is under siege. Can Betsy prove herself as a true frontierswoman and a Zane?

Based on the real life heroism of Betty Zane, author Lynda Durrant offers a glimpse of a young Betty as she might have been in her youth and during her involvement in Fort Henry. Durrant also covers the Zane family’s interactions with local Native American tribes, frontiersman Lewis Wetzel, and other prominent historical figures. Betsy Zane: The rose of Fort Henry is a great pick for any middle schooler interested in American history, the Ohio Valley, or one of Wheeling’s most celebrated heroines.

Recommended reading level: 11-14 years old

Young Adult (YA) Picks

Mine Eyes Have Seen by Ann Rinaldi

Mine Eyes Have Seen

In her carefully-researched work of historical fiction, author Ann Rinaldi brings life to Annie, daughter of abolitionist John Brown. While planning his raid on Harpers Ferry, John Brown was accompanied by several sons and his sixteen-year-old daughter. As the men gathered supplies and drew up plans for the attack, Annie was tasked with acting as “watchdog”. Annie alerted her father of any visitors and contradicted any suspicions held by neighbors that her father was involved in slave liberation.

But Annie is more than her father’s watchdog. Intelligent and tender-hearted, Annie struggles with her love-hate relationship with her father, whose single-minded commitment to abolition often makes him neglectful toward his own family. John Brown is presented as an often contradictory character: he abhors lying but expects Annie to lie to keep his secret, and has endless compassion for those in bondage but little for his wife and children. Annie sees him as he is—a flawed human—yet yearns for his attention and approval. But can she ever truly prove herself to a man so embroiled in his cause?

Rinaldi plucks a character from the history books ripe for the resurrecting and reanimates her with an engaging narrative. Featuring an often unsung heroine of the Harpers Ferry raid, Mine Eyes Have Seen will leave readers with a new appreciation for and knowledge of Annie Brown.

Recommended reading level: 12 and up

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The Miner’s Daughter by Gretchen Moran Laskas

The Miners Daughter

Life in the coal camps is never easy and the Great Depression brings even more challenges for sixteen-year-old Willa Lowell and her family. Willa’s older brother Ves believes that their new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, will be able to pull the country out of the depression, but in the meantime the residents of Riley have to make tough decisions to stay afloat. With the frequent closures of the Riley Mine and little other work to be found, Willa’s father and brother Ves decide to travel downstate to find work at Hawks Nest.

With no menfolk at home it is up to Willa to tend to her mother and three younger siblings. Hardworking and headstrong, Willa keeps her head up through her own inner strength and the help of Miss Grace, a missionary woman new to Riley. Impressed by the Lowells’ work ethic, Miss Grace suggests the family as candidates for Arthurdale, the nation’s first New Deal homestead. Arthurdale seems like a God-sent opportunity to the Lowells, but Willa is disheartened to learn that not everyone from Riley would be welcomed into the homestead. Willa is forced to make a choice: does she accompany her family to Arthurdale, or stay in Riley with the immigrant families Arthurdale won’t admit?

Author Laskas has taken a truly interesting piece of West Virginia history and brought it to life with likeable and well-rounded characters like Willa and the Lowells. In addition to discussing Arthurdale, Laskas also shines a light on Hawks Nest, the site of one of the worst industrial disasters in American history. The Miner’s Daughter is an exemplary representation of historical fiction that can be enjoyed by teens and adults alike.

 Recommended reading level: 12 and up

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Project Princess by Meg Cabot

Project Princess

A novella in the Princess Diaries series, Project Princess features Genova’s own Princess Mia in West Virginia! Soon-to-be-fifteen-year-old Mia has a lot on her plate between princess lessons with Grandmere, preparing for the arrival of her new baby sibling, and surviving high school. Now to do something meaningful with her spring break (and, okay, spend some time with her dreamy boyfriend Michael), Mia and her classmates are heading to West Virginia for a service project. But can born-and-bred New Yorker Mia survive the West Virginia “wilderness” for five days?

Project Princess shares some pretty hilarious ideas that city-girl Mia has about wild and wonderful West Virginia, but she ultimately realizes that its citizens are pretty normal—and it has Dairy Queen. A quick read good for a few laughs, Project Princess is a mere blip in the overall series, but an entertaining diversion nevertheless. The novella can be read as a stand-alone but is more fun if one has read at least the first book in the series (or seen the movie version starring Anne Hathaway).

Recommended reading level: 12 and up


Raised in Wellsburg, West Virginia, Anna Cipoletti is a proud alumna of Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy, West Liberty University and Kent State University. She received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from West Liberty in 2014 and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from Kent State in 2017. Anna has made a career out of a lifelong love of books and works full-time at Bethany College as a librarian and parttime as a bookseller and book reviewer. She resides in Beech Bottom with her sister and two Siamese cats. A nature enthusiast, Anna often spends her free time visiting one of West Virginia’s many beautiful parks or kayaking along Buffalo Creek.