The Best Young Adult Novels
Since Twilight (and the various paranormal romance novels it spawned), many readers seem all too eager to dismiss young adult fiction as silly. Frivolous. Unintelligent. God forbid, embarrassing. As a great lover of YA (and an ex-teenager), I think those snobs people couldn’t be more wrong.
To be specific, young adult fiction refers to novels that are marketed at 12 to 17 year olds. The genre has enticed streams of reluctant readers into the world of books – which is always a wonderful thing. And for those of us who never needed encouragement, young adult stories played a pivotal role as we navigated the terrific angst of teenage-hood.
But teens aren’t the only ones lapping YA up. Did you know that 55% of young adult fiction is purchased by readers over 18 years of age? That’s some cold, hard proof there is no shame in cracking open one of these stories…
NB: This list is by author, in no particular order. It is merely a selection from the world of YA. If I were to write about all the great books I read as a teenager, I would be sitting at my computer until next year.
1. J.K. Rowling – The Harry Potter series
Unless you live under a rock, you know this one.
Although Harry Potter is not strictly young adult, teenagers all over the world enjoy it. It was also the very first novel I read, so it gets on the list. Some people like to wear their non-Harry Potter reader status as a badge of honour, which puzzles me. It’s not too late. You’re not too old. This series is famous for a very good reason.
Sixteen-year-old Kaye lives a nomadic life with her mother, an aspiring musician. When her mother’s boyfriend becomes violent, Kaye returns to her grandmother’s house in New Jersey where she lived as a child. She soon discovers the ‘imaginary friends’ she used to visit at the bottom of the garden are still there.
Tithe is a lovely grungy urban fairy tale. It’s dark and gory and very grown up. Not suitable for younger kids but perfect for the overgrown ones.
This story is told through the Gothic ‘memoirs’ of a group of Year 12 students writing during a fictional English Ext 3 HSC exam. As you read, you slowly begin to question – are the students’ ghost stories fact or fiction?
Jaclyn Moriarty is a great Aussie author who never fails to surprise me. She captures what it’s like to be a teenager without falling into the typical high school story mold. You think she’s heading down a generic plot line – then suddenly she throws in a crazy twist. She’s so very clever.
A very different vampire story. Vampirism is an STD, carried by a parasite that causes insanity and cannibalism in its hosts. As a carrier of the disease, Cal is recruited by the Night Watch to help contain the spread of the parasite and track down out of control parasite-positives (or Peeps) in New York. Starting with his ex-girlfriends.
Scott Westfield writes great sci-fi, so if that’s your thing – give him a go.
Taylor Markham has grown up in a rural boarding school on the Jellicoe Road after being abandoned by her mother as a child. In her final year, as school captain, she juggles the responsibility of coordinating the Jellicoe boarders in the annual territory wars with the Townies and the Cadets and dealing with the disappearance of her mentor, Hannah.
Taylor’s story runs parallel to excerpts from an unfinished manuscript detailing the lives of five kids living in Jellicoe in the 1980s, whose connection to Taylor’s past is gradually revealed.
This is probably one of my all time favorite novels and I have spoken about it publically on several occasions. It’s definitely a difficult read, but incredibly rewarding if you persevere. Actually, it’s heartbreakingly sad. In a good way.
Seventeen-year-old Alton Richards is recruited to be his blind great-uncle’s card turner for bridge tournaments. As Alton’s relationship with his uncle develops, he begins to uncover mysteries within the family’s history.
This book is so delightfully quirky – I never thought I would get so much enjoyment from a novel about bridge.
7. Eoin Colfer – Artemis Fowl series
Artemis Fowl is a teenaged criminal mastermind who discovers the existence of a magic fairy world called the Lower Elements. Like any self-respecting evil genius, he resolves to exploit the fairies for gold – starting with the kidnap and ransom of Captain Holly Short of the Lower Elements Police (LEPrecon).
The Artemis Fowl series is a good old Irish fairy story with a difference. Both boys and girls will love it.
This is one of my ultimate childhood favourites. Set in a fantasy world of Tortall, a feisty young girl called Alanna leaves her family home to train as a knight – disguised a boy.You get so attached to Pierce’s characters and the world they inhabit. Her books have just got everything –humour, drama, adventure and romance.
9. Anthony Horrowtiz – Alex Rider series
After the unexpected death of his uncle, Ian, Alex Riderfinds out there was a lot more to his guardian than he ever suspected. In the space of mere days, he becomes an unwilling recruit of the British secret service, entrusted with the task of finishing what his uncle started.
I always loved Alex as a character. He’s just an average teenager who is pulled into a terrifying world against his will. He’s not flawless or fearless and although he’s a teenaged spy, Horrowitz somehow keeps him unfailingly relatable.
10. Meg Cabot – The Princess Diaries
I’ve always had a major soft spot for Meg Cabot chic lit. Don’t mistake her stories for high school clichés – you’ll always laugh with her, not at her. The Princess Diaries follows the antics of Mia Thermopolis, an awkward New York teenager who discovers she is the Crown Princess of a small European principality.
This series is just a lot of good fun. Mia is hilariously neurotic but with a grandmother like that, I think I would be too.