Columns > Published on March 2nd, 2012

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.

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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.

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'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.

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'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.

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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.

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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.

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'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.

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'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.

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'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.

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'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.

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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!

 

About the author

Meredith is a writer, editor and brewpub owner living in Houston, Texas. Her four most commonly used words are, "The book was better."

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