It’s hard to believe, but the first book in the fantastical Harry Potter series was published 22 years ago, and a generation of readers grew up in the time that all seven books were released. The Hunger Games and Twilight books have amazed the mainstream since then, fueling our youthful and rebellious fantasies. Long before these mega-popular YA series were published, standalone Young Adult novels like A Wrinkle in Time and The Outsiders earned a permanent place on our shelves despite the many years that passed since we first read them.
It’s no wonder that nearly half of all Young Adult books are read by adults. Besides being incredible works of art, they offer a nostalgia we may not get from other genres. They remind us what it is to be young and insecure, or young and fearless. They’re a touchpoint for reflecting about the past.
With that in mind, here are some of the best Young Adult books capturing the hearts of readers age 12 to 112.
Best YA Standalone Novels
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
In this timely and important debut novel, Starr Carter has a terrible decision to make. A police officer has shot and killed her best friend, and Starr is the only person who knows what really happened that night, the only person who can defend him. But can a 16-year-old girl take on the police, the media, and a community intent on burying the truth?
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
For anyone who experienced the uncertainty of falling for someone you thought you weren’t supposed to, Ari and Dante will remind you of the sweetness of first love. When Dante realizes he’s gay and in love with his best friend, Ari, he fears a backlash from family. Instead, as the two boys grow close, the real surprise is how much acceptance they receive.
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
Willowdean Dixon is the last girl anyone would expect to enter a well-respected local beauty pageant. She’s overweight, doesn’t have a talent, and the idea of wearing makeup is tiring. But she has a point to prove: It’s time for beauty to be redefined, for girls to be rewarded for something other than their pretty face and tiny waist. For Willowdean, if strolling across a stage in a horrible bathing suit is what it takes to drag her small town out of the past, then so be it.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Julia’s older sister, Olga, is the picture-perfect Mexican daughter. But when Olga dies in a horrible accident, the obligation to be faultless lands on Julia’s shoulders – along with her family’s unexamined grief. Now she’s caught between two worlds: finding the truth about Olga’s less-than-perfect life, and creating a realistic relationship with her parents.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The heaviness of life is the star of this book, with 15-year-old Charlie at the center of it all. He’s grieving the deaths of both his best friend Michael and his Aunt Helen when he makes two new friends, Patrick and Sam. High school is an afterthought compared to the situations they’re saddled with: forbidden love, sexual abuse, and simply finding a way to belong.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The first true love of your teenage years is complicated enough, but Hazel and Augustus are falling in love while dealing with cancer treatments. A spontaneous adventure takes them to Amsterdam and back, but these youthful and passionate halcyon days won’t last forever. Readers will feel as if they’ve been given instructions on how to cheat death and pack a lifetime into stolen moments.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Junior lives in poverty on the Spokane Indian Reservation amid families struggling with generations of alcoholism and abuse, including his own. So when he is offered the chance to attend a better high school, Junior accepts. Although it gives him entry to a world of nutritious lunches, new textbooks, and parents who show up to their basketball games, it also forces Junior to face everything he lacks at home. At its heart, Diary is a survival story, based in part on Alexie’s experiences.
Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini
Wouldn’t it be great if you could have a supercomputer feed you all the right things to say and do, transforming your teenage life from loser to ladies’ man in a few short days? Jeremy thought so, until the supercomputer started to get a few things wrong. Like most human-technology relationships, too much of a good thing has the potential to ruin it for everyone until, at last, humanity takes over.
Best Young Adult Series
Divergent by Veronica Roth
In the future, Chicago is a labyrinth of post-apocalyptic wreckage upon which a new society has been built. Citizens are divided into five factions based on personality type, and at age 16, each person is tested and their fate is sealed. In this fast-paced series, the factions form alliances and fight to establish dominance, but a dark government secret threatens to upend everything they all hold true.
Wildwood by Colin Meloy
Prue’s life changes forever when angry crows kidnap her baby brother. She chases them into the Impassable Wilderness, the thick forest on the edge of her neighborhood, where she discovers a hidden world. Throughout the series, animal kingdoms are at war, and Prue and her loyal friend Curtis have an impact they never intended. Meanwhile, life outside of the forest has its own drama, including the search for missing children.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Thomas wakes up surrounded by other kids who, like himself, have no memories. They’re in a walled-off community, surrounded by a concrete and steel maze that changes daily and is home to Grievers – monsters that want nothing more than to hunt children. The series begins here, then expands into the future where escape grows more challenging, and into the past to reveal why the maze was built in the first place.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Within The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, Pullman has created a world where every human carries his or her soul in the body of an animal and can travel across dimensions. Enter Lyra, a young girl with tremendous courage and even greater power. Her mission: outrun her enemies to find and protect Dust, the source of life itself.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Reeling from a family tragedy, 16-year-old Jacob discovers an abandoned orphanage – a home for peculiar children who, it appears, were once dangerous and could still be alive. Through this four-book series, Jacob tracks the former inhabitants and discovers spine-tingling stories about what happened to the orphanage, and why the peculiar children are gathering in the streets of London to fight monsters.
The Legacy of Orïsha trilogy by Tomi Adeyemi
The first two books, Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue and Vengeance (coming December 2019), introduce readers to an unforgettable heroine, Zélie Adebola. After surviving the invasion that kills her mother and steals her ancestors’ magic, she starts her own war to get it back. When the magic she restores is stronger than expected, a new struggle begins: prevent a civil war from destroying her lands. Planned as a trilogy, we can’t wait for the final book in this bestselling debut.