Top Ten YA Books I’d Recommend to the “I Don’t Read ‘Teen’ Fiction” Reader

In today’s Top Ten Tuesday, I’m taking on the eye rollers of YA fiction.


Because I’m working so hard outside of my 9-5 to carve out a path to a career as a literary agent and a published author, I often find myself being asked, “What do you like to read? or “What do you write” Since I come with degrees in English literature and secondary education, I’m assuming people expect me to wax on and on about Infinite Jest or any of the “worthy” novels appearing on the prestigious awards circuit. I assume this because whenever I answer “mainly young adult, although I’m drawn to women’s fiction and middle grade as well,” I’m met with “Oh.” You know, “Oh“, as in “I don’t know what to say, I thought you meant real fiction, not books for teenagers.”

It’s not all Twilight out there, folks. There are so many truly amazing works of fiction out the in the young adult realm that adults need to realize aren’t just wishy-washy romances and whinings of rebellious teens. So here are the 10 I wish I could pound over the head of these YA nay-sayers.

Top Ten YA for no readers

1. The Fault in Our Stars: I know, you’re probably sick of me (and everyone else) writing about this book. But the thing is, this is one of those quintessential books everyone should read, regardless of their age. If Joni Mitchell taught Emma Thompson how to feel, then John Green taught me how to cry.

2. If I Stay: For 17, Gayle Forman’s Mia is very grown-up, but you’re never grown-up enough to face what she must. Losing your entire family is an ageless fear, and Forman digs deep into the heart while still harking back memories of first love the flashback scenes with Adam.

3. The Fifth Wave: For all you SciFi lovers out there, this is the book for you. A big complaint of YA seems to be the return to high school mentality, but that isn’t the case with The Fifth Wave. Yancey’s series opener if fast-paced and full of suspense and, in my opinion, is much scarier than the popular alien movies out there (I’m looking at you, Tom Cruise) because of the fact that so much is in your mind.

4. Eleanor & Park: One of the great things about Eleanor & Park that I think would suck non-teen readers in is the setting. Rowell has so perfectly captured the 1980s that older readers are transported not to modern high schools but to their own teen years. Mixed with this smart setting is a story that is so hard-hitting and unfair that you can’t help but read on in hopes of a happy ending for Eleanor.

5. Speak: Laurie Halse Anderson is, in my mind, one of the top-tier YA authors that will last the generations along with Judy Blume. Speak is her best-known novel, and there’s no question of why. I remember reading Speak for the first time in high school and liking it, but I didn’t grow to love it until college. Her writing is very literary and unique to the voice of Melinda, and her story is universal… a modern take on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, wrapped up in a perfectly non-7th Heaven message to both teens and adults.

6. The Future of Us: Like Eleanor & ParkThe Future of Us is set in the near and dear past; this time, it’s the mid-nineties during the rise of A.O.L. in homes. I originally picked up the book because of the authors (the great Jay Asher and Caroline Mackler), but I kept reading for the romance, the butterfly effect, the constant “Oh, I forgot about that” moments, and the great outside view commentary of Facebook: “I don’t know exactly what it is, but it looks like interconnected websites where people show their photos and write about everything going on in their lives, like whether they found a parking spot or what they ate for breakfast… But why?”   ….   “Why does it say she has three hundred and twenty friends”… Who has that many friends?”

7. Code Name Verity: I’m not going to lie, I’m not entirely sure how Code Name Verity ended up on YA shelves other than the fact that most bookstores don’t have NA shelves… and if they do, they are almost entirely steamy romances. Code Name Verity is a wonderful addition to WWII fiction, and it offers a side to women’s participation in the war that I had never heard of before.

8. Looking for Alaska: I’ve often heard John Green’s books referred to as “not really YA”, which I think in meant to be a compliment to Green, but really, this is more of an insult to both John Green and to all the other authors/editors/agents/publicists/etc. of YA literature. Yes, Green is known for his deep notions rivaling David Foster Wallace, but regardless, Green is very active in the YA field, impeccably able to capture the teen experience of confusion and longing, and is proud to be a YA author who just so happens to have a huge adult following. So please don’t tell me John Green is “too literary for YA”.

9. Tiger Lily: I know I use this term a lot, but if there is one universal book on this list, it’s Tiger Lily. Jodi Lynn Anderson’s version of the story is practically a retelling Peter Pan through the waking eyes of an adult, even if that adult is really a fairy who still lives in Neverland. If I had read this story as a teen, I would have loved it if only because it was based on Peter Pan, but a lot of what I connected to in Tiger Lily’s journey wouldn’t have had as strong an impact on me at 15 as it did at 25.

10. You Look Different in Real Life: This book is about self discovery, looking at how you view yourself, how others view you, and how you view others. Yes, the protagonist is a snarky teenage girl, but I loved her. Jennifer Castle’s story really made me think about how I come across and how I need to stop worrying about living up to the expectations of others and to just become who I believe I am and am meant to be. Not to mention, it’s so well written and multi-faceted that any reader could find something to enjoy in this book.

Whew, I had such a hard time narrowing my list down (I started with over 20 and the list kept growing when I’d try to shrink it). What books would you recommend to the stubborn, “no teens allowed” reader?

2 thoughts on “Top Ten YA Books I’d Recommend to the “I Don’t Read ‘Teen’ Fiction” Reader

  1. chubbymadness says:

    I am reading Looking For Alaska right now (it was a birthday gift, on my 29th birthday!) and I am loving it. I am normally not one to venture to the YA realm but you have definitely peeked my interest with your list! I must get my hands on a copy of Tiger Lily, it sounds amazing.

  2. sarahappifanie says:

    I gave my mom – an avid reader who is 72 – a copy of John Green & David Levithan’s “Will Grayson Will Grayson” and she hasn’t read it yet! She has cancer so I’m not giving her TFIOS.

    Generally I tell everyone to read anything by Rainbow Rowell, and I love Jandy Nelson’s “The Sky is Everywhere” as well.

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