Abebook’s 50 Essential YA Novels

At the risk of stating the obvious, Young Adult fiction is hot right now. And I mean really hot. Suzanne Collins’ bestselling Hunger Games Trilogy has captured the imaginations of readers of all ages, male and female, and has been turned into a series of films that has ‘tweens and teens (and their parents) lining up for hours, just as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga before it and just as Veronica Roth’s Divergent series after.

And we can’t talk about blockbuster YA series without mentioning the masterpiece that started the current trend – Harry Potter. While the first book of J.K. Rowling’s series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, appealed to younger readers, as the series progressed, the characters and their audience grew up together. Part of Rowling’s genius was in having Harry’s, Hermione’s, and Ron’s experiences through puberty and adolescence mirror those of readers who were around the same age when it all began.

Young Adult is fiction written for and⁄or marketed to adolescents and young adults. The American Library Association defines YA as literature intended for audiences between the ages of 12 and 18 but in 2012, a US study revealed that 55% of YA books were purchased by people older than 18 – sometimes by a considerable margin. Many authors also say they didn’t write their book specifically for a YA audience – either it was a marketing strategy decided upon by the publisher or the YA audience found the book on its own.

But regardless of who a book is intended for, when those of us who aren’t familiar with Harry, Katniss, Bella, and Edward think of Young Adult, we often have less–than–pleasant flash–backs to those dusty, difficult, and sometimes dated tomes we were forced to read in high school. Books like Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. While each is a classic in its own right – and for good reason – few of us can honestly say we loved them as teens. (Personally, I distrust anyone who waxes poetic over Animal Farmat any age. And To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was intentionally left out – it’s a must-read for everyone, whether you’re 12 or 112.)

Modern YA fiction can inspire devotion to rival that of the biggest pop stars. Spanning genres from fantasy to sci-fi, historical fiction, crime fiction, and romantic comedy, and covering topics as far ranging as World War II adventure, fallen angels, young love, adolescent alienation, sibling rivalry, drug abuse, sexuality, and even mad cow disease, this selection of novels both old and new will challenge and delight avid and reluctant readers alike, regardless of age.

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Kit's Wilderness by David Almond

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Tiger Lilly by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Tuck Everlasting
by Natalie Babbitt

The Last Unicorn
by Peter S. Beagle

by Judy Blume

Going Bovine
by Libba Bray

by Melvin Burgess

Postcards from No Man's Land
by Aidan Chambers

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky

The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros


The Chocolate War
by Robert Cormier

Catherine, Called Birdy
by Karen Cushman

Stranger With My Face
by Lois Duncan

The Road of Bones
by Anne Fine

If I Stay
by Gayle Forman

The Difference Between You and Me
by Madeleine George

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden
by Helen Grant

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon

by A.M. Jenkins

A Certain October
by Angela Johnson

13 Little Blue Envelopes
by Maureen Johnson

Howl's Moving Castle
by Diana Wynne Jones

Two Boys Kissing
by David Levithan

On the Jellicoe Road
by Melina Marchetta

by Perry Moore

Jacob Have I Loved
by Katherine Paterson

by Terry Pratchett

33 Snowfish
by Adam Rapp

The Westing Game
by Ellen Raskin

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

How I Live Now
by Meg Rosoff

Eleanor & Park
by Rainbow Rowell

by Louis Sachar

The Beginning of Everything
by Robyn Schneider

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

by Marcus Sedgwick

Between Shades of Gray
by Ruta Sepetys

I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith

The Witch of Blackbird Pond
by Elizabeth George Speare

by Jerry Spinelli

Freak Show
by James St. James

Mermaid in Chelsea Creek
by Michelle Tea

It's Kind of a Funny Story
by Ned Vizzini

American Born Chinese
by Gene Luen Yang

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak