Young adult literature is particularly interesting because it is often difficult to label. Other than the age of the protagonist, some young adult literature could easily be mistaken for “adult” literature. There are so many excellent books in this genre that adults would really enjoy if they gave them a chance. Just as with graphic novels, young adult novels should not be viewed as something for “kids.” I am sure that you will be able to find your next favorite book, or several favorites that you have already read, on this list. Let us begin!
10. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: The first Hunger Games novel is unique and does a decent job of world-building. It also manages to be a dystopian novel that does not involve zombies and instead uses government as the real threat to humanity. Hopefully, this series can act as a gateway to dystopian masterpieces like 1984 and Brave New World. Although, I must point out that I still question whether The Hunger Games actually needed to be a trilogy. The first novel is gripping, but Catching Fire reads like a sequel that ran out of new ideas fairly quickly and Mockingjay features a forced and unsatisfying conclusion. The original novel is the one that is really worth reading.
9. Looking for Alaska by John Green: Although I enjoy watching John Green on YouTube, I generally am not a huge fan of his novels. Looking for Alaska, however, is a book that I think can be recommended to any lover of young adult literature. The entire story is heartbreaking, but I suppose that is the point. This is a story that examines the darker side of life and teaches readers to consider how costly out actions might be, especially when it comes to making potentially harmful decisions.
8. Lord of the Flies by William Golding: What is there to say about this one? You know that the first time you read Lord of the Flies was when you were assigned to read it in school, so it might not have been your first choice. I think that most people, especially as we age, realize how brilliant William Golding is when it comes to bringing the horrors of adolescence to life. Uncertainly, conformity, cruelty are major themes that characterize the boys’ efforts to survive and mirror the true struggle of growing up.
Also: “Sucks to your ass-mar!”
7. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson: I first encountered Twisted as a college student and loved it immediately. Some people might find it to be a tad inappropriate, but the novel is extremely honest in the way that teenagers view the world. The plot is relatively normal in the sense that there is no magic, zombie apocalypse, or anything outside of the realm of possibility. It is a simple story about a fairly average teenage boy pursing the attention of a popular teenage girl and dealing with the common struggles of everyday life. Laurie Halse Anderson also brings an incredible sense of humor and loads of nerdy references along for the ride.
6. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon: It is not very often that an entertaining book is written about children with disabilities with teenagers in mind. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a fascinating look at a teenage boy who suffers from autism spectrum disorder, specifically Asperger’s Syndrome, and his mission to solve the mystery of a dog’s unusual death. Since the novel is written in the first person perspective, it really emphasizes the mindset of a person with autism and invites the reader to engage with and understand the disorder on a personal level.
5. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs: I recently wrote an entire book review about this one, so simply follow the link here to read it. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children features a wonderful mix of fantasy, horror, and historical fiction that will appeal to many different readers. The characters, including the titular Miss Peregrine, are fascinating and it is a truly creepy read.
4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Once again, I wrote an entire book review about this one, so simply follow the link here to read it. The Book Thief is set during the Allied bombing of Germany in WWII and shows the war from the German perspective. The perspective switch is fascinating in and of itself, but using Death him/herself as narrator of the story is what really sets it apart. The tale is dark, depressing, and a true work of art.
3. The Giver by Lois Lowry: The Giver was probably everyone’s first introduction to the concept of dystopian fiction. Lois Lowry’s story about a boy named Jonas who must become the new “Receiver of Memory” for his community is a classic that I hardly feel qualified to review or judge in any way. It is an excellent book to use in order to teach difficult themes about emotional pain, loss, sacrifice, and what it means to be truly human. Lowry’s writing is simultaneously simple, beautiful, and powerful.
2. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: For this entry, I am generally considering the entire Harry Potter series. I will point out that the books transition from children’s literature to “young adult” at one very specific place. The surprise death at the end of The Goblet of Fire essentially shatters the innocence of the previous novels. From this point on, the world of Harry Potter is much darker and adult in tone. The true brilliance of this series is that it grew up with those who were reading it.
1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: Anyone who knows me will not be surprised with this selection. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are the grandfathers of all fantasy stories, although The Lord of the Rings is generally considered to cross that elusive line that classifies it as adult rather than young adult literature. Regardless, The Hobbit encapsulates the fantasy genre all by itself. This is the book that awakened me to the wonderful world of fantasy literature and taught me about the written world’s power to move the reader. The Hobbit
is the ultimate classic of young adult literature.