As much as I kind of hate to admit it, this list was kind of difficult to make. I’ve been reading for most of my life, and for most of the time I spent reading, I have devoured books of the Young Adult persuasion. It’s not really a secret—I don’t really think it’s something to be ashamed of—but with the rising popularity of YA authors these days also come the hordes of haters. I don’t blame the onslaught of critique; there have been a number of books published that I never thought would see the light of day.
But I’m not going to name any names. Instead, I’ve put together a list of my 10 favorite YA books and series. I haven’t read a lot of the popular series (or haven’t been impressed with the ones I have read), so I don’t have a lot of those. This is also by no means a “best of” list—just a list of my 10 favorite books about (for?) young adults.
The Jessica Darling Series by Megan McCafferty
Favorite book from the series: Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings
This series was totally my jam back in high school. I don’t even think this was shelved with YA. I found it in the fiction section in PowerBooks Megamall (remember that place?) and was hooked. This is a great series with a great protagonist—Jessica Darling—whose best friend moved away resulting in her figuring out her weird adolescence and romance-ish with the one and only Marcus Flutie.
Seriously, if you haven’t read this series, feast your eyes on the original Augustus Waters minus all the metaphors. Reading it now feels a little strange, kind of how like Clueless feels pretty dated because of the overusage of slang, but it’s still amazing. Popular opinion seems to be that it should have ended with the second book, Second Helpings, and while I do agree and hate Charmed Thirds, I am at least at peace with how it ended with Perfect Fifths.
Harry Potter by JK Rowling
Favorite book from the series: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Ah, of course this has a place on this list. I have a long and tumultuous relationship with Harry Potter, going back to when I was in the fifth grade, just before The Prisoner of Azkaban was released. Let that fact marinade for a little bit. I was about 11 years old then. I am now about to turn 26. That’s 15 years of my life that I spent entwined with Harry Potter. I can’t even bring myself to elaborate more on Harry Potter for several reasons: a) you all know what/who Harry Potter is, b) if I start, I might not be able to stop, and c) I’m not in the mood to emotionally cry today.
Who’d have thought a book about a boy wizard would have this kind of effect over me and the rest of the world? Certainly not I! But, man, am I absolutely glad that it did.
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Looking for Alaska is kind of notorious for being overhyped. It is about this guy in high school who goes off to boarding school in Alabama—to seek a Great Perhaps—and falls in love with a girl (of course) who is the antithesis to his shy, quiet self, and who seems to be the key to finding this elusive Great Perhaps.
This was my first John Green book that I was obsessed with looking for because of a ~romantic~ quote that went around on Tumblr at the time (yes, the one about the people and the rain), and I eventually got it via Eli Epstein, my Tumblr friend. But, this started it all for me in terms of John Greenish devotion and my interest to get back into making videos like a true weirdo.
I read it again recently, and though I found it still beautiful, it didn’t hold the same kind of magic for me as it did when I first read it. I think it’s a great book for teens especially, because it actually raises questions about life, people, and purpose. I find it strange how there are some books for teens that seem to try very hard to be shallow, but this one is great because (I feel like) it forces young minds to think about things they may be thinking about but can’t open up about. I don’t know, I really liked it is all.
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
Favorite book from the series: they have all blurred into one for me
OK, so I didn’t exactly finish this series, but I’m still putting it here anyway because this was a really pivotal book for me and my writing and journal-keeping. I started reading it when the third book came out in 2002 and for some reason, I kept most of my journals back then in the same format as Mia did. Later in 2002, I started to blog (in an unspecified location, ha) inspired by both my best friend’s first blog and Michael Moscovitz’s web zine, Crackhead—yep!—and I guess the rest is history. I also have a soft spot for the original movie, but I think I have to thank this little series because I think it nudged me in the direction of story-telling and influenced how I write today.
It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that one of my earliest writing influences is Mia Thermopolis (aka Meg Cabot), but I can’t hide the truth forever. I had a lot of fun with these books growing up, and I think it made my writing voice easy and casual, so I’m very thankful that I saw these book on display in Borders on Powell Street.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I’ve always been inexplicably drawn to stories about the Holocaust and about Jewish history. It’s not really intentional, but I’m glad I picked this book up for reasons that I don’t even remember. The Book Thief is written from the point-of-view of Death, as an all-seeing narrator, and is set during the second World War. It’s focused on the story of Liesel, a German girl sent off to live with foster parents who would eventually harbor a Jew in their basement, and how life was at the height of the war. It is very beautiful, quite sad, but rich in a way that it examines life and prejudice, and the importance and power of words and stories.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
I first encountered Ned Vizzini during a serious case of “Nothing to Read Anymore and found his book of essays, Teen Angst? Naaah… after which I clung to his every word (on LiveJournal and his website), and even wrote emails to him. He usually wrote back, and I desperately wish I still had that email address but I don’t.
I’ve always found him to be a funny guy and it wasn’t until It’s Kind of a Funny Story, which was written after he checked himself into a mental facility, that I understood what he has been going through… and how being funny doesn’t mean that you don’t feel all these bad things inside. Reading this put a voice to the kind of sadnesses I had, and I wasn’t really expecting it to move me, because as much as I enjoyed his other books, I wasn’t moved by them. This one sealed the deal of the importance of his voice. Ned took his own life late last year. I loved him a lot.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I read this in one go, after lunch in a high school chemistry class, and finished it later in the day. It’s written as letters from a boy named Charlie, addressed to a stranger he calls Friend, and kind of chronicles his life as he tries to make sense of growing up and coming to terms with some dark things from his past that he has repressed. It’s a really beautiful coming of age story (my favorite!) that I believe uniquely tackles some questions adolescents and even old farts like me still have. I never did catch up with my Chem lessons after that reading sprint, but I did learn more things from this book that mattered in life, so I think it all turned out OK.
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
This is a book that I wish I had read earlier in life. I read it a few years ago, I think the year after I graduated from college. It is basically the story of Bilbo Baggins’ adventure with some dwarves who were on a quest. During this particular adventure, we also find out how Bilbo got ahold of the One Ring, but that wasn’t even the most exciting part of this book. This is way easier to read than The Lord of the Rings, but I think that this moved me even more, just because of Bilbo’s character and what eventually becomes of him as well as his relationships with these friends he wouldn’t otherwise have met if he chose to stay home and said ‘no’ to this adventure.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Now, I’m torn between this and Fangirl, which I also quite liked because the subject is dear to my heart (long story), but I think I might like this one a wee bit more just because the story seems more whole and less drawn out. I love how Rowell wrote this book and basically says, young love feels like this and gets it right. Eleanor & Park is about two titular characters who are both misfits in their own way, an overweight social outcast and a fairly well-liked half-Korean Morrissey lover, who bond over comic books and music, and help each other with their own demons and insecurities. I love the way it feels quite “all or nothing,” because you’re forced to remember what that felt like, but how it’s not dismissive of the feelings either. Anyway, this is a great read.
The Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart
I mentioned this series in my last book post, and it starts with a book called The Boyfriend List. Before you react—hear me out! This is a hilarious series that’s more about the protagonist, Ruby, than about her boyfriendy exploits. Because of recent traumatic experiences, she goes to a therapist who asks her to examine her life and relationships by making a “boyfriend” list. These names aren’t necessarily boyfriends, just boys in her life tied to pivotal personal moments. I promise this is a fun, light read that’s kind of hard to put down. At least it was, for me.
And that’s a wrap! I didn’t include a lot of coming-of-age stories I liked but didn’t consider to be YA (e.g. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Blankets by Craig Thompson, Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, etc.). Making this list, I realized that while I read a lot of YA, a lot of them don’t really leave a profound impression on me. I also realized that I haven’t read a lot of classic YA like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Some of my other notables are:
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. For more recommendations, check out Forever Young Adult
If you can’t find these books in your book stores, check out Book Depository (affiliate link), as they ship worldwide!