Twins—especially identical twins—have a certain mystique about them. In her book Two, or the Book of Twins & Doubles, children’s author Penelope Farmer, a twin herself, argues that our society’s fascination with twins reflects deeply rooted yet conflicting desires. On the one hand, we yearn to be unique and special, and the existence of identical twins threatens our notion of human individuality. On the other hand, we dream of the perfect companion, a kindred spirit to spare us from the curse of loneliness. Who could fit that role more perfectly than a twin?
My school has an unusual number of twins in attendance right now, but twins are even more over-represented in literature. Twin stories often center around themes of self-discovery and identity. Because these are such important themes in the lives of older children and young adults, it is not surprising that there are many books featuring twins for these age groups. The standard twin-story tropes of switching places and the good twin/bad dynamic are definitely alive and well, but the best twin stories go further and deeper.
Of course, being a “real” twin is both more complex and more mundane than being a literary twin. It’s important to remember that real lives can’t be reduced to symbols and tropes, and real twins are often more concerned with homework and where they are going to sit at lunch than with existential issues regarding identity.
Below are ten books about twins for teens and tweens, in no particular order. Some are quite recent, other are classics.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)
Josh and Jordan are identical twins who are easy to tell apart because Josh wears his hair in dreads, whereas Jordan keeps his head shaved. When Jordan, who is more outgoing, starts dating, Josh feels deserted and lashes out at his twin. This 2015 Newbery winning novel-in-verse is a near-universal hit among middle schoolers.
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson. (Thomas Crowell, 1980)
This 1981 Newbery Medal winning novel is not only on my list of top ten twin books; it’s on my list of top ten books for children and young adults, period. Louise and Caroline are fraternal twins living on a small island off of the Chesapeake Bay in the 1940s. Caroline is beautiful and musically gifted; Louise is bitter and jealous, always measuring her own identity against her sister’s. Paterson’s genius is making both sisters equally sympathetic, although the story is told entirely through Louise’s eyes. A truly classic coming-of-age story.
The Other Half of My Heart by Sundee Frazier (Delacorte, 2010)
Sundee Frazier’s middle grade novel provides an unusual perspective on race and identity. Fraternal twins Keira and Minni don’t even look like sisters, as Keira resembles their black mother, while Minni looks like their white father. When the twins go to North Carolina to visit black relatives, Minni learns for the first time what it feels like to be an outsider, and begins to understand that their life in Seattle has always been a different experience for Keira than it has for her.
Lost and Found by Andrew Clements (Atheneum, 2008)
12-year-old identical twins Ray and Jay Grayson are tired of being two halves of a pair, so when a clerical error at their new school gives them the opportunity to be one person instead of two, they jump on it. Hilarity ensues in this fast-paced middle-grade novel, but so do opportunities to reflect on what it means to be an individual. Interestingly, Andrew Clements is the real-life father of identical twin boys.
Stranger with My Face by Lois Duncan, (Random House, 1981; Revised Edition: Little, Brown, 2011)
Lois Duncan’s classic good twin/bad twin horror story is truly terrifying. Laurie Stratton is adopted . . . but her parents refused to adopt her twin, who even as a baby just somehow didn’t seem loveable. It doesn’t get much worse than finding out the twin you didn’t even know you had wants to destroy your life, and has evil supernatural powers to boot.
Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux 1986)
Sandy and Dennys, Meg Murry’s identical twin brothers, finally get their own book more than 20 years after the Newbery award-winning A Wrinkle in Time’spublication. Here, the twins go back in time to the days just before the flood—just as Noah is building his ark to prepare to save the world’s creatures two by two. While this is not the brilliant L’Engle’s finest work, it is a highly atmospheric and enjoyable read.
Identical by Ellen Hopkins (Margaret K. McElderry, 2008)
Wildly popular novel-in-verse author Hopkins employs many tried-and-true twin tropes in her page-turner about identical twins Raeanne and Kaeleigh, who belong to a “perfect” family that’s hiding more than one terrible secret. The story is told from alternating points of view, and readers will be unable to put the book down until the final twist at the end is revealed.
Singularity by William Sleator (Puffin, 1985)
In this fascinating sci-fi novel, 16-year-old identical twins Harry and Barry, who have never gotten along well, are spending the summer at their uncle’s farm. They discover a mysterious shed in the backyard, and soon figure out that time and space work differently inside it. When one of the twins decides to spend a few nights in the shed, the balance of their relationship changes forever.
Gemini by Sonya Mukherjee (Simon and Schuster, 2016)
Hailey and Clara are literally inseparable: they are conjoined twins attached at the hip and spinal cord. As they near adulthood, outgoing, artistic Hailey and introverted, scientific Clara struggle with decisions about where to go to college and whether or not to consider separation surgery. A beautifully written novel that offers an unusual perspective on twinship and identity.
Untwine by Edwidge Danticat (Scholastic, 2015)
Identical twins and best friends Giselle and Isabelle are in a car accident, and only Giselle survives—but for the first few days, Giselle’s aunt and the doctors think she is Isabelle, and because she is nearly comatose, she cannot tell them any different. A heartbreaking but beautifully written story for young adults by Haitian-born author Edwidge Danticat.