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Teens today are fortunate that the Young Adult fiction shelves are bursting with fantastic books in all genres. In the list of recommendations below, I’ve included a wide variety of titles – from historical fiction to fantasy to contemporary fiction – so that every reader will find something to tempt her. I encourage readers to read outside their usual genres, too. Reading about a topic or in a style that is new for you is what National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang calls the “Reading Without Walls Challenge.”
Young Adult books are not just for teens!
Some surveys show that adults make up over half the readership of YA literature. So, parents and caregivers, try reading alongside your teen. You never know what insightful conversations might occur when you share a reading experience.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart – Realistic fiction, recommended for grades 7 and up. A smart story about Frankie, a girl who balks at the constraints put upon her by others’ expectations, especially in her private school world. When she decides to do something about them, she realizes that those same constraints give her the freedom to break every rule in the book, simply because
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly – Historical fiction, recommended for grades 8 and up. Main character Mattie Gokey is a girl after my Anne-of-Green-Gables-loving heart. It’s clear to Mattie that she isn’t like other girls in her small town in upstate New York at the turn of the 20th century. With her sharp mind and insightful observations, Mattie realizes that the world isn’t set up for a girl like her – one who wants to pursue matters of the mind rather than find a husband and start a family. Author Donnelly weaves clues about the mysterious death of a young woman at a local resort into Mattie’s story.
Going Over by Beth Kephart – Historical fiction, recommended for grades 8 and up. This book was a huge surprise for me. The story, set in Berlin in the 1980s, does have its share of hardship, but it also has a surprising amount of color and humor. The main character Ada is a graffiti artist by night, and obsesses over stories of people who’ve escaped over the Berlin wall. On the other side of the wall is Stefan, the boy she loves, the boy whose fear traps him on his side of the wall. I absolutely loved the writing, and loved being immersed in this setting and in Ada’s bold perspective.
Serpentine by Cindy Pon – Fantasy, recommended for grades 9 and up. Skybright serves as a handmaid to Zhen Ni, her best friend and the daughter of a wealthy merchant. As the two girls gets older, their lives diverge in profound ways. For Skybright’s side, she discovers an inner darkness that she must reconcile with who she wants to be. A story of friendship based in Chinese mythology.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Fantasy, recommended for grades 9 and up. In Cashore’s fantasy setting, some children – known as gracelings – develop special powers. Katsa has such a grace, and her ability to kill makes her of special value to her King. Yet, when clues surface about a terrible evil in the realm, the warrior Katsa and the mysterious Prince Po embark on a dangerous and exciting quest to find the truth together. And, while discovering the source of this evil, they also reveal truth about themselves, including the true nature of Katsa’s gift.
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson – Realistic fiction, recommended for grades 9 and up. Jade goes to a fancy private school, where she’s one of the only black students, and certainly the only girl from her neighborhood. When she’s asked to participate in a mentorship program, she struggles to balance getting help with taking charity, being valued for who she is with being valued for what she represents. Watson doesn’t shy away from complex issues, including the damage that can be done even by well-meaning adults. Jade is a a well-written character, a girl trying to go places without leaving behind parts of herself.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – Realistic fiction, recommended for grades 10 and up. About the only thing that Eleanor and Park have in common is that they’re both outsiders. But these two seemingly opposite teens are drawn to each other, and soon fall deeply in love. This is a story about first love – what a revelation, what a miracle it is. It’s about those of us who know first love usually doesn’t last, and those of us romantic enough to insist that it can.
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – Realistic fiction, recommended for grades 10 and up. This story is a romance in the same vein as Eleanor and Park. Nastasha’s family is one day from being deported from NYC to Jamaica, when she meets Daniel, a young poet on his way to a college admissions interview. Romance couldn’t be further from Natasha’s mind, yet when coincidence (or fate) conspires to bring the two together, she can’t deny their connection. The story also includes chapters from secondary characters, who each give a different perspective on the nature of love.
Code Name Verity by Eliabeth Wein – Historical fiction, recommended for grades 10 and up. For the first half of this book, you’ll be pulled into the story of two friends – one a pilot, one a spy – whose plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. The second half of the book contains such a genius and surprising twist that you’ll want to read the story all over again from the beginning.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Fantasy, recommended for grades 11 and up. A powerful wizard – who goes by The Dragon – protects the people of the valley from evil forces and, in return, claims one young woman every ten years. Everyone knows that the dragon will take beautiful Kasia this year. But, when he takes Agnieszka – plain, ordinary Agnieszka – no one is more surprised than the girl herself. This is the start of a gorgeous, intricately-crafted, fairytale – one in which true power is something that comes by following one’s instinct, and the reader is never sure who is saving whom.
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