Ever since Harry Potter arrived on the scene, fiction written for teenagers and young adults has been increasing in popularity among the grown-up set. Why? A good read is a good read, regardless of the intended audience. (If you cried reading Charlotte’s Web aloud to your children like I did, then you know what I mean.) Here to tell us more about this phenomenon and share a slew of great “young adult books” that should be on everyone’s reading list is Lloyd Hannon, SB friend and middle school librarian.
A few years ago, I admitted to myself that although I was an English major, I was tired of “serious,” mind-bending (often depressing) literature. I missed romance, adventure, mystery, magic … the kinds of stories that, as a teenager, I couldn’t put down, that made getting caught reading under my desk in school totally worth it. Though I can find some enjoyable fantasy, mystery and romance fiction written for adults, often adult novels in these genres are tainted by life that is too real and dark … and not nearly enough of an escape. My savior arrived on bookshelves about 15 years ago, as it did for so many other children and adults, in the form of Harry Potter.
At last, a story that I could get lost in again that was smart, original and kept me entranced for hours and yet, was not written “down” to children. The Harry Potter series that sparked the the Young Adult (YA) lit phenomena is also what led me to go back to school for my master’s degree and make a living out of reading YA books and sharing my excitement for them with young people as a school librarian. (In case you’re curious, YA usually refers to books intended for readers between the age of 12-22, but sometimes is broken up into younger and older teens based on content.)
In this post, I’ll share some of my favorite YA books from recent years in three main genre categories. You’ll see that I’ve either put 12+ or 15+ next to the titles. The ones for older teens usually have a sexual relationship included at some point, though they are all tasteful. (This is YA, not Fifty Shades! You know your kids — guide them accordingly.)
If you haven’t already tapped into this treasure trove of great titles, I hope this list will be a good gateway to get you started reading YA — with or without your teens.
Graceling (15+), by Kristen Cashore
In this high fantasy world, Gracelings are born with a special ability or Grace. Katsa discovered she was graced with the ability to kill when she was just eight years old and has been forced to work for the King as his thug and assassin ever since. She feels trapped and cursed until she meets Prince Po, whose grace is fighting, and both of their worlds change as they learn to use their skills for good.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone (15+), by Laini Taylor
This is modern, urban fantasy where our world crosses that of angels and demons, a war has been brewing for centuries and the central question is who is really good and who is really bad. By day, seventeen-year old Karou lives in Prague as a normal art student; by night she is an underworld dealer in magic for her foster father. Her world comes crashing down as her hidden past is revealed and a relationship with an enemy angel threatens everything she thought she knew.
The Scorpio Races (12+) by Maggie Stiefvater
This title may be a bit much for some as it falls more into the horror genre, though it pulls a good deal from Nordic and Celtic myth too. Puck is a young girl who lives on a small island where every year, man-eating water horses come out of the sea and only the bravest men capture them and train them to run in the annual Scorpio Race. The prize is a lot of money, which Puck’s family really needs. Even though her parents were both killed by water horses, Puck must decide if she’s brave enough and a skilled enough rider to be the first girl to race, much less win.
Shiver (15+), also by Maggie Stiefvater
This novel is about a group of teenagers who turn in to wolves when the weather gets cold and the hatred of the town after a young boy is killed by one of the wolves. Grace has loved Sam since he saved her from a pack of wolves while he was in wolf form. The story is told back and forth between Sam and Grace’s point of view.
The Forrest of Hands and Teeth (12+) by Carrie Ryan
This is a zombie story with a twist: Mary and her family have only ever known their village in the forrest surrounded by fences that separate the living from the walking dead. When an attack happens, she must choose between staying in her village and leaving to see if there are others who live outside the forrest.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns (12+) by Rae Carson
Here, Rae Carson tells an unusual fantasy story of sixteen-year old Elena, a younger princess who is timid and afraid of her own shadow, but is nonetheless chosen by God for greatness … at least according to the legends of her people. When she is secretly wed to a weak king in a foreign land, her resolve will be tested. Will she find her strength and bravery?
The Maze Runner (12+) by James Dashner
About to be a movie, this book is the first in a series about Thomas, who suddenly wakes to find himself in a strange village surrounded by metal walls and inhabited only by teenage boys. He remembers nothing of his past, but eventually finds himself recruited to be a “maze runner,” one of a few of the bravest who must go beyond the walls during the day and run the mazes to try to find a way out — and not get caught by the strange, metal monsters that lurk there.
Legend (12+) by Marie Lu
The first book in a post apocalyptic trilogy, this narrative is told back and forth from the points of view of June, a girl from the privileged world and a prodigy in the military police, and Day, the Republic’s most wanted outlaw who June hopes to bring to justice. Set in a futuristic, flooded coast of Los Angeles in a world at war, June and Day must find common ground to discover the truth and save their country.
Ship Breaker (12+) by Paolo Bacigalupi
This story takes place in a futuristic gulf coast region where Nailor, a young boy, works with other young people scavenging wire and other materials from beached oil tankers. This is a world in which most of the coastal regions have been flooded and only the super rich have access to energy. When a luxury catamaran washes ashore during a hurricane, Nailor rescues the wealthy girl on board and must decide whether to take her to her family, a very dangerous journey, or strip her ship for all it’s worth and make his fortune.
The Selection (12+) by Kiera Cass
Also the first book in a trilogy, this a story about America Singer, one of 35 girls chosen to participate in a bachelor-esque competition for the hand of Prince Maxon. This story takes place in a futuristic America that has been divided into a caste system based on vocation and income and is ruled by a royal family. The girls of the Selection are from all castes and a chance to marry the prince would make all the difference for them and their families. Is it worth it?
The Fault in Our Stars (15+) by John Green
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last year, you probably have heard about John Green and his latest blockbuster novel, now made into a tear-jerker of blockbuster summer film. The first novel published by this “teen-whisperer” has been taught in as many schools as those from which it’s been banned. In my opinion, that means he’s doing something right. Here’s his rant about that on the video blog he does with his brother Hank: “I am not a Pornographer”. A very different, but equally great novel of his is Papertowns (13+) about an angsty, witty teenage boy obsessing over a much cooler, but possibly unstable neighbor girl.
I’ll Be There (12+) by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Holly Goldberg Sloan’s realistic stories have a slightly mystical flavor that remind me of Alice Hoffman. I’ll Be There is a story of love and compassion with some adventure and suspense thrown in, and the writing makes it impossible to put down. She also wrote my current favorite of the year, Counting By 7’s (12+), a very different story but with a similar flavor about a young girl with an extremely quirky personality who loses her parents and the unlikely group of people she surrounds her self with in the aftermath.
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (13+) by Sherman Alexie
Another novel that has been on many lists for the last several years, it has also been banned from quite a few, as well. It is a funny, sad, sometimes harsh memoir of a young Native American boy who nobody on the reservation can relate to. When he leaves his res school to go the white school, he finds some new friends and acceptance but still feels like an outsider in both places. This is one of my favorites of all time.
This list above is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg of great stories — it only includes my favorite, more recent books and doe not include any classics of my childhood, like Outsiders, A Wrinkle in Time, The Giver, or the blockbusters everybody knows about like The Hunger Games, Divergent and good ole Harry (though if you haven’t read these, you should). I actually have a two-foot stack to read next to my bed. Those will have to be in the next post. Until then, happy reading … and just a few more titles to consider:
Life as We Knew It (12+) by Susan Beth Pfeffer
The Knife of Never Letting Go (12+) by Patrick Ness
Eleanor and Park (15+) by Rainbow Rowell
The Throne of Glass (12+) by Sarah J. Maas
Lloyd Hannon, originally a Mississippi girl before coming to Vanderbilt in 1989, is the librarian at Wright Middle School in Nashville, TN, and has been an avid reader of young adult literature for her entire life (well at least since she could read). She is the mother of Murray (15) and Ivey (13) and wife to Bob (who is much less mature than she is). She and her family try to travel often with intention. They are attempting to spend time on every continent before the kids graduate high school (3 down, 4 to go)…and retire in Jamaica….or Portland, OR.