The Best Autobiographies for Teens

By Leigh Bennett
Autobiographies can be educational, inspiring and entertaining.
Autobiographies can be educational, inspiring and entertaining.

Autobiographies can be stories of ordinary people who do extraordinary things, accomplish great feats or overcome adversity. These stories can be incredibly inspiring for teens, who may relate to the authors and become motivated to set -- and reach -- their own goals.

Coming from Adversity

“Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter” by Adeline Yen Mah tells the author's story of her difficult and abusive childhood growing up in China. Mah's father blamed her for the death of her mother, her stepmother abused her and her step-siblings were spoiled when she received nothing. Eventually Yen became a successful doctor and writer after journeying to the United States.

Brent Runyon was only 14 years old when he attempted suicide by setting himself on fire. “The Burn Journals” is his memoirs of that time -- from his time in the burn unit to his time in psychiatric care, to going home and facing the fear of returning to high school.

Lessons from the Past

In “I Have Lived A Thousand Years,” Livia Bitton-Jackson tells her story of how she survived as one of the few adolescent inmates imprisoned by the Nazis in Auchwitz during WWII. It made the Young Adult Library Services Association's list of Best Non-fiction for Teens in 2012.

Howard DeMallie was a B-17 pilot during WWII. When his plane was shot down over Holland, DeMallie was captured and taken as a prisoner of war. “Behind Enemy Lines: A Young Pilot's Story” is his riveting story of survival told in his own words.

Military Life

“When I Was A Soldier” is Valérie Zenatti's memoir of her experience in the Isreali national army. Zenatti gives a detailed account of her time of service from grueling marches and bad food, to spying on Jordanian pilots.

Ryan Smithson was only 19 when he was deployed to Iraq. “Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19 Year Old GI” is the incredible memoir of Smithson's time spent at war and how it changed him.

Teens in their Own Words

“Starting With 'I': Personal Essays By Teenagers” is a collection of first-person true stories written by teens. Subjects range from getting a haircut to losing a family members to AIDS.

“The Struggle to Be Strong: Teens Tell Their Stories About Overcoming Tough Times” is a collection of stories by brave teens who were able to overcome a variety of obstacles. It contains 30 essays, including one boy's account of losing his friends to drugs and a girl who tells her story of facing ridicule from her family for dating a boy of a different race.

About the Author

Leigh Bennett is a youth services librarian in Southeast Louisiana. In addition to managing the library's young adult and teen book collections, she develops and plans educational and recreational library programming for children, teens and adults. She has been writing for online publications for more than 5 years.