The Best YA (For People Who “Don’t Like YA”)


I’ve decided Fridays are good days for book posts. So that is where they shall be from now unto eternity (or at least, until I change my mind again.)

Not too long ago a friend asked me for book recommendations, which is not in and of itself a rare occurrence, given I am the resident bibliophile. So I told her what I’d been reading lately, and she said, “But I can’t read too much Young Adult.”

To which I inquired, why not? She had enjoyed every other YA novel I’d recommended to her.

“Because I’m an adult. You have an excuse to read YA, because you write YA. But I should really be reading adult novels.”

Le sigh.

I am aware that there have been contradictory opinions out there on who should and should not read YA, and even on what actually qualifies as YA. So to clear some of that up…

What qualifies as YA? The main difference between YA and adult novels? YA tends as a whole to be shorter, faster-paced, and features protagonists who are teenagers.

Some misconceptions about YA I’d like to clear up:

  • YA is not more poorly-written than adult novels
  • YA does not have themes only relevant to teenagers
  • YA is not for people of lower mental capacity


We should all read whatever we damn well please.

(One caveat that I, as a writer, feel strongly about: please read well-written stuff. It bugs me as a writer working hard at her craft seeing crappily-written books selling, in the same way it would bug you to see someone at your job with a sub-par performance getting praised for it. But I digress.)

Which brings me to the point of today’s post: in case you are one of those people who believes that adults shouldn’t read books written for young adults, I have some recommendations to get your feet wet, so to speak.

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Is YA because: The protagonist is a young teenage girl.

Why everyone should read it: Besides the gorgeous, lyrical prose, you mean? It’s an old story told in a new way. Among the familiar World War II themes (Nazis, Jews, bombs), it’s the story of friendship and love and I really can’t even explain how amazing this book is (I do a better job of it here.) It’s also a love letter to all book lovers.

2. The Knife of Never Letting Go (and the rest of the Chaos Walking Trilogy) by Patrick Ness

Is YA because: The protagonists are a teenage boy and girl.

Why everyone should read it: This is the story of a town of only men, where everyone can hear one another’s thoughts and as you read you uncover the secrets as to why that is. It’s a blend of science fiction and magical realism and dystopia and is just so well-drawn and fascinating. Ness writes in an incredibly unique voice, and as the series goes on, it touches on deep themes of war and peace and good versus bad and personal responsibility and love. It’s such a great trilogy. Read it.

3. I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Is YA because: The protagonists are thirteen and sixteen.

Why everyone should read it: Again, beautiful prose. But besides that, it’s a lovely rumination on loss and art and belonging and family. I do it justice here.

4. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Is YA because: Teenage protagonists again, and compared with the other books on this list, it’s actually pretty short.

Why everyone should read it: Lyrical writing (noticing a theme here?) as well as a fascinating look at the dynamic of a wealthy family and how it can ultimately destroy the people in it. Prepare to love it. And to sob.

And finally…

5. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Is YA because: I tend to argue that the first two books are technically MG (middle-grade) and everything Prisoner of Azkaban on is YA. There’s the fact that they turn thirteen in Azkaban, but also in my (numerous) rereads, I’ve found the tone of the first two much more MG. (It’s also probably why they’re my least favorite.)

Why everyone should read it: Goes without saying: this series may go down in history as the great literary unifier. I can recall with great clarity a discussion I once had with my forty-year-old cousin, her seven-year-old son, and my ninety-two-year-old grandmother on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, in which all parties were equally engaged in the discussion. How many books out there appeal to that wide of an audience?

(Random fact to add to that discussion: my cousin had been predicting since somewhere mid-series that Snape was in love with Lily and it was that which motivated all of his actions. True story.)

Of course, these are some of the best books ever written (in my humble opinion) which means if you read all of these as your first dip into YA, you’ll have extremely high expectations. There are some other great books out there, though, I swear. Oh and also, if anyone ever tries to shame you for what you like to read? Tell them to go away.

Oh and in case you’re wondering about what I’m Currently reading: it’s The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. Someone described it to me as “Harry Potter for assholes.” The assholes part is quite accurate, but the Harry Potter part is not. It’s about teenagers at a school for magic, yes, but that’s where the similarities end. This book is The Secret History goes to Narnia: group of selfish, bored, dysfunctional people searching for something more end up in a secret world, and while they’ve already done some fairly awful things, I’m betting it’s going to get worse. Not sure if I’ll be reading the sequels; it’s hard for me to get through books with no likable characters. Full review to come once finished.

What are you reading this weekend?

Photo by NegiPho on Unsplash

8 thoughts on “The Best YA (For People Who “Don’t Like YA”)

  1. The Magicians is a deliciously twisted piece of work. When I read it I was like what the malarkkyyy!! Then it simmered in my head and I had to admit – A$$holes and all it was friggin brilliant.

    I don’t want to give anything away but we’ll talk after your done!
    I still have the last book to read; I plan on making my way there before the end of the year.


  2. I LOVE YA fiction and will read YA fiction until the day I die. I think the category contains some of the most well-written novels around!

    P.S. Loving your blog! Check out mine! I’m new to blogging and would love a few friends!


      1. I just read We Were Liars and loved it. Especially for the beautiful prose and the amnesia mystery angle. Find that I am becoming a fan of lyrical YA mysteries. ( See also What I Saw and How I Lied). Can you recommend anything else along these lines?


      2. I have never found anything quite like that book. Even her other books are nothing like We Were Liars (I was actually pretty disappointed with one of them.) If you love lyrical mysteries in general, I’d recommend all of Tana French’s books, though they are definitely not YA; longer, more involved, etc. If anything else comes to me I’ll let you know!


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