Top 10 YA Books That Adults Will Love

Even as a young adult, I never read much Young Adult fiction. But a few years ago my friends started Forever Young Adult, a hilarious site aimed at grown-ups who love YA. Being friends with YA experts means that I always have someone to weed through the dross and recommend (and loan me) the best the genre has to offer. I’m here today to pass on their expertise to you. I’ll leave out the classics (Wrinkle in TimeThe Outsiders, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, etc) because most of us read those back when we were little lit-fiends. Today, I’m going to stick with more recent YA success stories.


'Before I Fall' by Lauren Oliver

The plot is Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls, but while I adore both of those movies, the real cachet behind Before I Fall is Oliver’s open, engaging style. Her writing is frank and unblinking, offering an unnervingly honest glimpse into the life of a teenage girl. Samantha Kingston is a popular, shallow teen with one of those infuriatingly charmed high school existences that remain utterly alien to most of us. On February 12, she dies in a car wreck; she wakes the next morning to discover it’s still February 12 and she has seven chances to relive her final day and finally get it right. It sounds corny, sure, but the book wouldn’t be on this list if it weren’t deeply affecting and absolutely riveting. I flew through Before I Fall in nearly one sitting, and I defy anyone to do otherwise.


The 'Chaos Walking' trilogy by Patrick Ness

Chaos Walking is a dystopian future science fiction trilogy taking place on a planet known simply as New World. The series opens from the viewpoint of Todd, a twelve-year-old boy living in Prentisstown. Prentisstown is inhabited entirely by men because all of the women died of a mysterious illness some years ago. Due to a germ contracted by the planet’s indigenous species, every man’s thoughts can be heard aloud by those surrounding him.

The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking.

Todd is one month shy of the secret ceremony that ushers all boys into manhood when he is sent away by his guardians to hide from the ominous Mayor Prentiss. To say any more of this intricate plot would do the reader a severe disservice, because the trilogy is brutally shocking and absolutely absorbing. Unlike most trilogies (including fellow entry The Hunger Games), the three books in Chaos WalkingThe Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and The Answer and Monsters of Men—are each more fascinating, heart-breaking and brilliant than the last.


'The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks' by E. Lockhart

Along with King Dork (below), Frankie Landau-Banks is one of the first YA books loaned to me by the ladies of FYA, and the bright, irreverent novel changed my perspective on the genre as a whole. The book was nominated for a plethora of awards when it was published in 2008, and deservedly so. E. Lockhart’s protagonist is a challenging, whip-smart, firecracker of a teenage girl who bucks societal norms and will not be underestimated. She’s a smart, pretty boarding school student who also happens to be a fearless feminist rebel with admirable convictions. Frankie’s wickedly fun iconoclasm will engage you, but Lockhart’s bright clarity of writing and delicious word manipulation will keep you enthralled.


'Going Bovine' by Libba Bray

There is ultimately no way to describe this book without sounding nuts. The reason for that is, well, this book is nuts. Going Bovine is a darkly comic surrealistic tale about Cameron, a remarkably chill, remarkably aimless high school junior from Texas who contracts Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease—otherwise known as Mad Cow. Cameron goes on the lam from the hospital with his roommate, a snarky dwarf named Gonzo, and together they battle the mysteries of time travel, a Norse god, a hot angel, a pretentious garden gnome, fire giants and the Wizard of Reckoning. The novel’s bizarre and hilarious, but it hits on several poignant revelations regarding the loss and acceptance we all experience as teenagers.


The 'Harry Potter' series by J.K. Rowling

I don’t need to say too much about this worldwide phenomenon, do I? I’ll only add that if you haven’t read the series before, because you’re not into wizard stories or you’re resistant to wildly popular bandwagons, I still hope that one day you’ll give it a shot. The fact is that beyond the fanfare and the Quidditch and Voldemort and house elves and all the silly magic, what Harry Potter is really about is friendship and growing up. And for my money, the best stories are often about those two very things.


The 'His Dark Materials' trilogy by Philip Pullman

Pullman’s trilogy tells the story of Lyra Belacqua, a tough twelve-year-old given the immense responsibility of saving the world—of saving all worlds, actually. She lives in a parallel universe that interacts with ours and many others through mysterious channels. The series, a fantasy retelling of Paradise Lost, is a grand, stunning, subversive tale that criticizes organized religion and delves into fascinating territories of science, theology, technology and magic. The Golden Compass begins in Lyra’s world, a sort of steampunk Oxford, but we are soon taken to dozens of new settings, each as intricately and beautifully depicted as the last. His Dark Materials, perhaps above all others on this list, is profound and dark and intellectual enough that while most young adults will love it, adults will truly get it. Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series, while less decidedly mature, is also great.


'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins

With the first film in the trilogy coming out this month, you’re certain to have heard of this series, another portrait of a dystopian future that has engrossed the masses. Katniss Everdeen is a hard-edged, fiercely independent teenager who lives in the destitute District 12, one of the colonies making up the future North American country of Panem. Each year, the evil Capitol forces the twelve districts to offer two randomly selected tributes—a boy and a girl—to fight in the Hunger Games, a widely televised fight to the death held in a manufactured wilderness that serves as a nightmare setting. Katniss’ younger sister Prim is the first selected, but Katniss volunteers to fight in her place, and along with the other tribute of District 12, a boy with whom Katniss has a complicated history, she finds herself in a terrifying, violent ordeal that will only end when everyone else is dead. While I can only recommend the first novel unreservedly—its sequels Catching Fire and Mockingjay are disappointing—I seriously doubt anyone could resist reading the entire trilogy after flying through the first taut, brutal novel.


'King Dork' by Frank Portman

Portman’s opera of a teenage boy follows the King Dork himself, Tom Henderson, an impassive slacker just trying to survive his sophomore year. He has a lackadaisical rock band with his best (well, only) friend, and he devotes several pages to his various hilarious attempts to give the band a cool name. Tom is also dealing with the death of his father and the mystery behind it, learning to get along with his goofy new step-dad, suffering constant indignities at the hands of asshole classmates and apathetic teachers, and trying to uncover the enigma that is the beautiful and far too cool for him Fiona. Portman uses Tom’s dry way of speaking to introduce to the reader brand new, impossibly cool slang that will start to affect your own manner of speaking. King Dork is so incredibly funny and smart, a modern take and almost reversal of The Catcher in the Rye—Tom’s least favorite book—that, like its predecessor, gives a candid and engaging voice to the teenage dude. Portman’s second book, Andromeda Klein, is also really fun, although not quite as enduring.


'Jellicoe Road' by Melina Marchetta

Marchetta’s novel is a serious, gorgeous mystery telling the story of Australian teenager Taylor, who was abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was young, and who has grown up as a persnickety loner at Jellicoe School. The teacher who found her, Hannah, has disappeared, and Taylor is caught up in the mystery of Hannah’s whereabouts, an intriguing story about five teenagers who lived eighteen years ago and her own murky past. So it’s inconvenient timing that Taylor’s been chosen to lead the Jellicoe Townies in the annual territory wars against the Cadets led by Jonah Griggs, a boy Taylor never wants to see again. Jellicoe Road is stunning, mysterious and wildly compelling, a book that I had to tell myself to slow down because I wanted to read it all at once and never finish it at the same time.


'Will Grayson, Will Grayson' by John Green and David Levithan

There are two Will Graysons in this wonderfully original yet absolutely real novel. Will Grayson is a disaffected, misanthropic teen with a flamboyantly gay, gigantic football playing best friend named Tiny Cooper. will grayson (no capitalization) is a deeply unhappy, secretly gay teen with no friends at all. They meet one night and everything changes for both of them in ways they (and the reader) could never expect. A book that is both terribly sad and terrifically funny, Will Grayson, Will Grayson is unlike anything you’ve ever read, but that’s only part of what makes it so important. Despite the unusual structure (each Will Grayson gets an alternating chapter in his voice, written by the alternating authors), Will Grayson, Will Grayson is most of all simply honest.

What every title on this list has in common is that they aren’t simply great YA books; these are great books. Teenagers are often condescended to or ignored, but by writing intelligent, engaging, honest stories for kids, these authors inadvertently created books that any adult can enjoy.
Any titles I missed that should be on the list? Speak up in the comments!


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Mike Goldstein's picture
Mike Goldstein March 2, 2012 - 10:43am

No pissing and moaning here. The only one I disagree with is The Hunger Games. The writing is so juvenile and crappy that I I don't know how anyone over the age of 17 can stand to read it. But I'm going to check out some of the ones I haven't read on this list, because I love a good YA novel. Thanks!

Meredith's picture
Meredith from Houston, Texas is reading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman March 2, 2012 - 10:46am

Come back and let me know what you think after you read some!

Daniel Donche's picture
Daniel Donche from Seattle is reading Transubstantiate, by Richard Thomas March 2, 2012 - 11:32am

Yeah, I agree with Mike in that the Hunger Games was terrible unless you're really young. I have gotten yelled at by quite a few people, though, for chiding it on Facebook. "But at least it gets people to read" or "sometimes I just need a mindless vacation from the heavier stuff." etc. Basically, there were many adults that loved it and few could tell me why.

NotMarilyn's picture
NotMarilyn from Twin Cities, MN is reading Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn March 2, 2012 - 11:36am

I disagree, Mike. I think that The Hunger Games (the first installment) was very well written. The POV was spot-on, the characters engaging and rounded, and the plot kept you wanting more. I'm partial to dystopian fiction so I might be a bit biased, but compared to other YA series out there, THG stands out. I do agree, however, that the final two installments were slightly disappointing.   

juicing_pixie's picture
juicing_pixie March 2, 2012 - 11:34am

Okay, where is A Series of Unfortunate Events?? Lemony Snicket's writing is quirky, dry, sometimes sarcastic, and highly underrated. I picked up the first 2 books not knowing anything about them but just looking for something to pass time and when I read the back covers, I was intrigued. I read them over the span of a few days and went back to buy the rest of the series that was out. This was in my early 20's. I still reread them every year because they're that good. I don't know why they wouldn't make the list. :(

Dale Thomas's picture
Dale Thomas from Swansea is reading The Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko March 2, 2012 - 11:36am

Yeah the Potter novels and Pullman's Dark Materials are great. The Hunger Games is beyond awful. Although somewhat dated these days I'd recommend the first two Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend, they're very British but extremely funny.

Anthony Pittore III's picture
Anthony Pittore III March 2, 2012 - 11:44am

NotMarilyn is the only one with a grasp on The Hunger Games.  The first one was actually very well written. 

Typewriter Demigod's picture
Typewriter Demigod from London is reading "White Noise" by DeLilo, "Moby-Dick" by Hermann Mellivile and "Uylsses" by Joyce March 2, 2012 - 11:49am

I read the first fifty pages of "before i fall" and I felt as if the protagonist was an evil bitch who got what she deserved. His dark materials is awesome. Hunger games is a watered-down, less shocking, less interesting, poorly written battle royale, with more dumb "reasons" and "romantic development". It fails to serve what it is about: a brutally violent TV show where children kill each other. And...I'll give the rest a go.


PandaMask's picture
PandaMask from Los Angeles is reading More Than Human March 2, 2012 - 11:51am

But if it's a Young Adult book shouldn't the writing be somewhat juvenile?

Chris Davis's picture
Chris Davis from Indiana is reading A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews March 2, 2012 - 12:16pm

What, no Goosebumps?

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs March 2, 2012 - 12:34pm

Daniel Pinkwater's books are super awesome. I recommend 5 Novels.

kenetic's picture
kenetic March 2, 2012 - 12:39pm

Well, I really liked Little Brother and For The Win by Cory Doctorow, and they're aimed at young adults.

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club March 2, 2012 - 1:43pm

I haven't come across too many people who know this book, but Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli is one of my favorite YA books. The last time I read it I think I was in 9th grade, so I'm not sure how adult-appealing it would be. 

likepenguins's picture
likepenguins March 2, 2012 - 1:57pm

juicing_pixie, if you like Lemony Snicket, give Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket)'s new novel a try.  It's called Why We Broke Up; it's gorgeously illustrated and painfully lovely.


Typrwriter Demigod, I urge you to pick up Before I Fall again.  The lead character is absolutely awful for the first 100 pages, and I, like you, was kind of glad she died.  Her transition into a person worth rooting for is the heart of the novel.


This is a great list, Meredith!!  I feel like a very proud mother right now!  (I'm not meredith's mom.  Just one of the FYA people.)

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. March 2, 2012 - 5:14pm

I'm totally sold on 'Going Bovine' by Libba Bray.  That sounds fantastic.

gae polisner's picture
gae polisner March 2, 2012 - 7:03pm

I would have The Book Thief on any such list. And, Marcelo in the Real World.

SallySparrow's picture
SallySparrow March 2, 2012 - 9:27pm

I am honestly suprised The Mortal Instruments series and The Infernal Devices trilogy is not on this list. Cassandra Clare writes riviting fantasy that is both beautiful and dark. While her writing has romantic development it is so much more than that and is not like Twilight whatsoever thankfully.

Biak911's picture
Biak911 March 3, 2012 - 1:39am

Try reading the Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. It's amazing a history with a twist... 

Beth Hinton's picture
Beth Hinton from North Carolina is reading Libba Bray's Beauty Queens; Lauren Oliver's Delirium March 3, 2012 - 5:07pm

Gae,  I loved Marcelo in the Real World--it's some of the best writing about Asperger's I've come across.  My son is a high-functioning Aspie like Marcelo, and I think Stork got it just right.  I'm a high school libriarian, and often recommend this to my students.  Along with anything by John Green. His new one, the Fault in Our Stars, is brilliant!


Mara C.'s picture
Mara C. from Philippines is reading Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa March 3, 2012 - 8:30am

Check out The Alchemyst by Michael Scott. It's the 1st book of a six-book series. The 2nd book is The Magician. Basically,it's mythology (of different cultures) with a twist. More like "mythological fiction". I also suggest Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke. The story's about of a book within a book. 

Meredith's picture
Meredith from Houston, Texas is reading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman March 3, 2012 - 9:38am

To everyone who suggested THE BOOK THIEF--I honestly cannot believe that I forgot to include it. I love that book so much and it's brilliant, mature and moving. Definitely belongs on this list.

SGJ's picture
SGJ from Midland, Texas (but in Boulder, Colorado, now) is reading weird fiction and horror fiction and science fiction and literary fiction and innovative fiction, or maybe a romance or a western or a magazine on bowhunting or show trucks or anthropology March 3, 2012 - 1:25pm

good list. think I've read and completely dug most of them. the Pullman trilogy, as far I'm concerned, is the literary feat of the 20th c. Forget Joyce, forget Woolf, and all the rest. Pullman's imagination and precision leaves them all behind. and, I've been told and told to read The Book Thief, even have two copies of it now, but somehow haven't hit it. only adds I'd make here would be Holes and Anderson's Feed. I liked Living Dead Girl as well, but it's hard to keep it YA. and, Speak is usually on these type lists too, yeah? dug it enough as well, but liked Wintergirls more.

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz March 3, 2012 - 10:00pm

Great list Meredith,

I agree, The Book Thief is exquisite and appealing to adults to the extent that you'll find yourself wondering why the hell it was ever labeled YA in the first place. The figurative prose and rich characters that fill the World War II era novel enrapture.

And I strongly echo  SGJ's suggestion of M.T. Anderson's Feed, an increasingly prescient Sci-fi work that is destined to become a classic.

 Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy has its moments.

Emma Clayton's The Roar is a very well-written post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi novel that isn't very well-known.

Clive Barker's Abarat (s).

Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin. Trust me on this one. Though not technically YA because of some of the content, it is very much a YA story. The prose is spare, verging on Hemingway and the story, heartbreaking.

John Green's The Fault in our Stars in addition to your list's Will Grayson, Will Grayson.


Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks March 4, 2012 - 10:57am

Feed definitely should have been included; if not it, then Anderson's Thirsty would have sufficed. It pre-dated the vampire craze and stands as an analogy for teenage desperation. I loved it when I read it at thirteen and loved it even more when I read it at eighteen.

I loved the Will Grayson, Will Grayson mention -- David Levithan and John Green both have better novels, but after you've read one, you've read them all. Levithan discusses homosexuality as a teen. Green discusses Michael Cera-esque characters. I think Looking for Alaska was Green's best, but all of his novels are, frankly, brilliantly written YA novels. He also does a YouTube vlog with his brother; it's juvenile, but they open a lot of teen's minds to current events in a really effective way.

What about novels written for adults that tend to succeed in the YA category, like John Dies At the End? It's a hilarious horror novel that wouldn't win any prizes for adults but definitely hit hard with the YA readers.

As for the Hunger Games mention... I agree with NotMarilyn when it comes to the writing, but I disliked the ideology. Something about watching twelve and thirteen year olds read a novel in which the hero is a murderer turned me off. I understood the point and get why she had to kill, but I think Collins expected too much out of her writing; it had more success with the middle-schoolers in my area and they can't be expected to understand the difference between reality and fantasy quite yet.

JamieMarriage's picture
JamieMarriage from Sydney, Australia is reading Spider, Spin Me a Web - Lawrence Block March 4, 2012 - 3:23pm

I was lucky enough to get to review Going Bovine when I was doing reviews at BurnBright


Really well written and the subject matter is quite adult; in fact I would rather give it to adults to read than a YA crowd.


Can't say anything about the rest unfortunately. My reading list is a little too long to dedicate time to more YA books.

fermata125's picture
fermata125 April 2, 2012 - 11:40am

Typewriter Demigod has it all wrong about The Hunger Games. It really shows how ignorant somebody is when they make comments like that; the purpose of the book is not to enjoy the spectacle of kids killing each other. It's to explore the horror of that very situation from a very deep, character-driven perspective and it's the story of a character who risks everything for her family's well-being. Having a moral (or a "reason") does not make a series bad; in fact, it probably makes it better. If you're looking to read The Hunger Games series for violence, stay away. It's not that kind of story; (SPOILERS) it focuses on an unjust society and its eventual overthrow by a classic antihero. (END SPOILERS)

I found some extremely deep messages in that series, and I'm in my late 20s. Feel free to dislike it if you wish, but if you're disussing how it fails to focus on violence then I'm afraid you've missed the point. Do some research, and open your mind before you judge! Just because a book has "reasons" does not make it cheesy.

But all that aside, this truly is a good list of books. I highly recommend them all--ESPECIALLY the Hunger Games.

Zackery Olson's picture
Zackery Olson from Rockford, IL is reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on September 24, 2012 - 11:19am

@Courtney: Completely agree with you about M.T. Anderson's 'Feed.' It is one of the best young adult novels I've ever read. In the tradition of all well-written literature, id is not didactic. Instead it asks important moral and philosophical questions and let's the reader ponder out the answers, without oversimplifying the questions or ideas being presented.

Unfortunately I cannot agree with your assessment of the Hunger Games. I also disagree with the statement that middle schoolers can't tell fantasy from reality. I think that as a society, we grossly underestimate children and young adults. They are extremely perceptive and capable of much deeper thought than we give them credit for. Yet it seems like many of them are not reaching their potential, maybe because we underestimate and coddle them.

@Fermata125: I agree with your take on 'The Hunger Games.' I also think it's pretty remarkable--as far as YA novels go--that it does not shy away from the ugly realities of progress through revolution. Also, unlike a lot of other YA novels (and novels in general), the ending seems to fit extremely well. The characters don't ride off into the sunset and live happily ever-after. They have to earn the measure of happiness that the recieve.