Be careful what you wish for: The smart mom's guide to gifting teen books

At the bookstore we can easily find gifts for our teenaged reader on the shelves in the teen or young adult section. We skim through a book looking for obvious red flags: profanity, steamy scenes, character voice, themes. If we want a targeted recommendation, we ask the helpful staff.

But many of our teens want to read ebooks on their Kindles, iPads or phones. We want to give them the ebooks they want to read where they want to read them.

For those of us that don’t want to only give the gift card to their favorite online store or for the parents who want to keep an eye on what their teens are reading, online gift book selection proves much harder. Reviews often contradict each other, the "Look Inside" shares only a glimpse, and categories confound.

The “So Yesterday” Online Search

When searching online, avoid using your browser’s search, often powered by Google or Bing. Results from searching through the metadata of the entire internet will often provide inappropriate popular titles. Even on the online bookstore, using the search window will provide confusing results. For example, a “young adult romance” search resulted in erotica results

Where to Start: Search by Category

All the online stores are going to the click-search method which will provide a more targeted search for teen books. It is a search-by-category, found on most sites on the left hand side of the page. On Amazon, for example, click Amazon Kindle>Kindle eBooks on the left column. Within that left column, scroll down the ebook categories to Teen & Young Adult.

You have one more step here. Click the type of book you want to buy, for example, click Social Issues or Romance. Now you are closer to finding a book.

Understanding Genres within the Teen & Young Adult Category

You will notice that the book covers shown on the Teen & Young Adult section contain images ranging from cartoon characters to sexy men. This reflects the content available within the genre.

Unfortunately, the genre encompasses all teenaged groups. Confused yet? Understanding age groups is essential in choosing the right book.

  • Middle grade (ages 10-14): Usually found in the shelves within the cute children’s section at your local bookstore, middle grade targets tweens and teens. Online sellers usually put middle grade books into the children’s category. Titles in the PG-13 range with violence, social issues, and romance often appear in the teen and young adult section, with Scholastic’s Hunger Games a prime example of a typical middle grade dystopia.
  • Young adult (ages 13-18):  Usually located outside of the Children’s book section at your local book store, romance often plays a role in young adult books, with a mild sex scene somewhere within the pages. Topics can vary from the popular dystopia and horror to coming-of-age. With the exception of books labeled “clean romances” a typical movie rating would be PG-13, as in Divergent (violence) or The Fault in Our Stars (sex scene).
  • New adult (ages 18-25): Usually mixed in with young adult, more than half of the new adult books would have an R-rating for sexual content, violence, and crime. With a protagonist who just got out of college, The Fifty Shades of Grey series fits into both the erotica and new adult genres. But not all new adult books are erotic.

Getting Results

Once you have narrowed your search through categories, use the search tool to enter the keywords of the type of books your teen shows interest. From the search results, read the comments and get a feel for the book from the “Look Inside.” Buy the ebook as a gift, email the code, and give the teen in your life the joy of reading.

Carla J. Hanna lived in Santa Monica, CA where her children played with the children of celebrities. She mingled with plenty of nannies and a few good celebrity moms. Her award winning books, The Starlet Series, are available through, and wherever books are sold. For more information please visit: