The Young Adult Reading Guide
Some of the most timeless, iconic literature ever written was written for young adults. And in recent years, thanks to unputdownable series like The Hunger Games and brilliant, big-name authors like John Green, teen fiction has grown increasingly popular with teens and adults alike—it’s no longer novel (unintentional book pun) to see an adult reading a YA book on the subway, or pulling one out of her beach bag. This summer, team goop decided to do a bit of YA marathon reading ourselves. Below, our picks from newly published reads, plus long-time and in-the-making classics.
A quietly brilliant novel-in-stories, The Smell of Other People’s Houses is told through the voices of four very different teens living in Alaska in the 1970’s. Part of Hitchcock’s talent lies in how she entangles the stories of characters whose paths seem to be heading in opposite directions—the connections feel both surprising and seamless. And there is no mistaking that Hitchcock is Alaskan born and bred: She paints an incredibly vivid, nuanced portrait that encompasses some of the state’s grittiest communities.
YA, crossover, literary, women’s fiction…distinctions aside, this is one of the most affecting novels we have read in a while: a raw, at times incredibly sad—and yet ultimately hopeful—story of a teenage girl who cuts herself in an attempt to escape the darkness in her life. It comes out August 30—preorder a copy for yourself for Labor Day weekend.
You can’t really make a better debut than Jesse Andrews’ Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl (the film adaptation won the Jury Prize at Sundance), and Andrews’ second book is poised to continue his upward trajectory. The story of two best friends trying to start a band is relatable but phenomenally creative, addressing dark and difficult topics while maintaining Andrews’ witty, sometimes hilarious tone. (Full disclosure: Grownups at #goophq liked this just as much as the kids did).
Victoria Schwab’s latest is set in a dystopian future, where acts of violence have given birth to actual monsters. The two main characters, human Kate Harker and non-human August Flynn, come from opposite sides of the divided Capitol-esque city, and everyone’s safety depends on what happens after the pair meets. (Of course, you’ll have to wait for the second book in the series to really find out.)
Harper Anderson, who lives in a boring California suburb (and who can quote Gossip Girl with the best of them), lands a coveted internship at a teen magazine in NYC, where she’s out of her league in more ways than one, but determined to make it. Stampler’s debut novel delivers the guilty pleasure read you’d want it to.
Definitely geared at the older teens, this incredibly engrossing, well-written story touches on intense, complex, sometimes tragic real-life issues. The protagonist, who happens to be gay, is dealing with it all while trying to decide whether he should take up the aliens—who’ve been periodically abducting him for years—on their offer to end the world. If it sounds out there, well, it is—in the best possible way.
Agoraphobic Solomon hasn’t left the house in three years. Lisa wants to escape their small town, and believes that “fixing” Solomon will be her ticket to a college scholarship, an endeavor she takes on with her boyfriend Clark. What transpires between this wonderfully flawed trio in Whaley’s latest novel is equal parts entertaining and heartwarming.
California-born and -bred Wren Verlaine doesn’t know what to expect when her mother, Hannah, picks up a reporting assignment in Greenland, and sends Wren to Hannah’s alma matter, East Coast Hardwick Hall, for the duration. But part of Wren, at least, is curious to learn more about her mom’s unspoken past—namely, who Wren’s father is. Beyond the plot, though, it’s Wren’s genuine voice that will hook you into Suzanne Myer’s sophomore novel.
An allegorical novel set in Poland during WWII, Anna and the Swallow Man centers around the relationship between a young, orphaned girl (whose linguist father was taken by the Gestapo) and a mysterious character, known only as the Swallow Man, who leads her on an adventure into the wilderness. Savit’s first novel—we’re eager to see what he does next—has earned comparisons to classics like The Book Thief.
You don’t have to love angsty Holden Caulfield, but every teen and adult should know him. Originally published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye remains the cornerstone of required high school reading.
Winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal, this widely beloved story is about the adventure through time and space that three children take to find a missing father-scientist who was doing secret work for the government. A Wrinkle in Time skews young, making it a good book for middle schoolers and up.
In many ways, it’s hard to believe that S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was still in high school. And yet, it is in part the novel’s authentic teenage voice (“Stay gold, Ponyboy”) that has made it a mainstay.
Rainbow Rowell has become one of the most popular authors of contemporary young adult fiction. Eleanor and Park, her first YA novel (she also writes for adults), is about an unlikely first romance between two outcasts. As John Green himself said in his NYT review of the novel, there isn’t another story quite like it.
Published in 2014, technically as middle grade fiction (a bit younger than YA), Brown Girl Dreaming is one of the finest books for young readers to come out in recent years. (It’s won essentially every award possible, including a Coretta Scott King.) Told in verse, it’s the story of Woodson’s childhood, of growing up as an African American in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and the story of a young girl finding her voice.
When Christopher Boon, a fifteen-year-old boy with autism, is wrongly accused of killing his neighbor’s dog, he makes his mind up to find out who the real culprit is. It’s a journey that leads him to unravel a series of secrets, including the one behind his mom’s disappearance.
Before the movie, there was Ann Brashares’ endearing story about four best friends: Lena, Tibby, Bridget, and Carmen. When the girls find a pair of jeans that happens to fit each one perfectly (despite varied heights and shapes), they make a pact to share the jeans over the course of a momentous summer that sends them off to different corners of the globe.
Tuck Everlasting asks some of the big questions on life and death that (adult) literature will never stop grappling with. After drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family is destined to live forever (which makes them lucky or cursed, depending on perspective). But things really go awry for the Tucks when a man discovers their secret and sees dollar signs in the magic spring.
Originally published in 1998, Holes won both the Newbery and National Book Award. Although there’s an edge to the story—cursed Stanley Yelnats has been sentenced to dig holes at a not-quite-right boys’ detention center called Camp Green Lake (there’s no lake, for starters)—Holes has commonly been read, and enjoyed, by pre-teens, too.
One of many on this list that has been adapted for the big screen, The Book Thief is a WWII novel that will continue to stand the test of time. It’s set in Munich, where Liesel Meminger befriends a young Jewish man named Max Vandenburg who her foster family takes in, but it’s also notable for its narrator: Death.
Scout Finch is one of the most cherished characters in American literature, and it’s a rite of passage for each new generation to meet her.
Structured as a series of vignettes and set in Chicago, The House on Mango Street is the remarkable coming-of-age tale of Esperanza Cordero. We know more than a few people who have this 1984 novel at the top of their top-ten-of-all-time-list.
The world that David Levithan writes about in Boy Meets Boy is an awesomely idealized version of our own. At Paul’s high school, the students feel free to fully express themselves and are incredibly accepting (and supportive) of one another’s differences. It isn’t strange, for instance, that Daryl is now Darlene, and both the star QB and homecoming queen. Which isn’t to say that Paul’s life is without complication (every love story has complications). But in this one, you don’t have to be afraid to be yourself.
It’s really a toss-up between Number the Stars and The Giver—both are classics, and teens should read them both (and adults, too, if you haven’t already). Lowry wrote Number the Stars first, which tells part of the story of the Danish resistance, through the lens of the book’s ten-year-old protagonist, Annemarie, whose best friend needs to be smuggled out of the country.
The Color Purple is, in many way, the book that defined Alice Walker as a writer. An epistolary novel, it’s about the devastatingly harsh life of a woman named Celie in Georgia, and her sister, named Nettie, who becomes a missionary in Africa.
For fans of dystopian worlds and lovers of series like The Hunger Games and Divergent, Rick Yancey’s set of 5th Wave books provides an alien-invaded world to get lost in. This is the first of five; the final novel, The Last Star, came out a few months ago, which means an end-of-summer binge read is on the table.
The popularity of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has not waned since it debuted in 1943. As much as it’s the story of a young, imaginative girl (Francie Nolan), it’s also a snapshot of a time and a place—Williamsburg at the turn of the century, and the impoverished immigrant community who called it home.
Lockhart’s spin on old money and privilege is alluring for all its clever twists and turns. It’s easy to get swept up in the Sinclair family’s world—their dysfunction, their drama, and, of course, their many lies.
As a teenager, reading the diary of Anne Frank (who was just a teenager herself) can be a truly transformative experience. What makes it so striking, so impactful, is that Anne Frank’s writing reflects not only the horrific time she lived in, but also the universal thoughts, worries, and hopes of all teenagers.
Louise Rennison’s first novel follows the antics of teenage Georgia as she crushes on older boys, fights with her friends, and continually gets embarrassed by her parents, all in Rennison’s sharp, hilarious tone. It’s the kind of book that’s difficult to read in public, as there are laugh-out-loud moments every few pages. For addicts, there’s an entire series to follow.
Melinda Sordino has largely lost her voice—raped by an upperclassman at a party and isolated by her classmates at Merryweather High, she rarely speaks. But she begins to find a way to speak up for herself through a year-long art project that she undertakes with the guidance of the empathetic Mr. Freeman.
The first book in The Dark Materials trilogy by bestselling British author Phillip Pullman, The Golden Compass is suspenseful, escapist fiction with smartly done myth-like elements: Humans have animal familiars, there’s a race to discover the trick to moving across parallel universes, and eleven-year-old Lyra is on a witch-filled quest to the far North to find a lost friend and uncle.
Katherine Paterson’s sensitively written novel about the friendship between two fifth graders and the imaginary world they create together often appears on lists of banned or challenged books due to the tragic accident in the book’s plot. But while the book does deal with the difficult subject matter of loss, it’s actually intended for a young (preteen and up) audience. And it’s in good company, of course, with other frequently challenged books in this roundup.
The premise of Asher’s novel is admittedly dark: Before high schooler Hannah Baker commits suicide, she makes cassette tapes for thirteen people, explaining the thirteen reasons why she committed suicide. It serves as a reminder of the incredible impact we have on the lives of others without even realizing it—and what good we could do if we did.
Written in the ’80s, this seven-book series revolves around the lives of the Tillerman kids, led by oldest sister Dicey after their mother abandons them, and other peripheral characters. What’s great is that the books don’t have to be read in any particular order, though we do suggest starting with Homecoming.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a contemporary classic from screenwriter/director Stephen Chbosky, who helmed the movie adaption of his own book. His tale of shy wallflower Charlie and the two more outgoing (but still outcast) friends he makes tends to have readers laughing, crying, or a little of both.
Not as commonly found on required reading lists today as it was once, A Separate Peace— which is loosely based on Knowles’s school years at Phillips Exeter, and set in the early 1940s—is nonetheless a timeless examination of boyhood, the loss of innocence, and the passage into adolescence.