Young Adult fiction, or “YA”, is fiction specifically aimed at the 13-18 year old audience. It’s read by a lot of older people (and sometimes younger), but when writers sit down and think “what people am I writing for” that’s the population segment that comes to mind. Despite my advanced age, I read a lot of YA. (Also Middle Grade, but that’s another blog post.)
Because my primary conversation topic is books, I get a fair number of requests to recommend some good YA. Hence this blog post!
Batten down the hatches, guys. So many book recommendations incoming.
[Standard disclaimer: These are all books I have personally read. Mostly SF and Fantasy, and not a huge lot from the last year (I was busy fighting with my brain for control of my emotions). There are obvious gaps, and it’s slanted towards my tastes in books. But my tastes are flawless, so this blog post is obviously going to become indispensable in your reading life. ]
So. You want to read YA. Let’s get started!
If you like Downton Abbey, perhaps try At Somerton
Written by Leila Rasheed, the series has drama! Mysterious death! Forbidden romance! Class issues! The politics of the day! Suffrage! War! Love! Heartbreak!
It’s strangely addictive.
If you like laughing and crying, sometimes at the same time, try Unspoken.
It’s written by Sarah Rees Brennan, past master of the hilarious heartbreak. It’s about a girl in a small english town who realizes that her imaginary friend is real, he’s a jerk face, and he just moved to her town. Also someone is killing things in the woods in increasingly distressing ways.
If you heard YA described as “lots of jokes and love triangles” and you thought that sounded AMAZING, may I point you in the direction of The Infernal Devices?
It’s written by Cassandra Clare, it’s set in victorian times, and it’s about a girl who finds herself suddenly part of a secret society bent on saving the world from demons. Romance! Snark! More romance! More snark! Sword canes! Did I mention the snark and romance?
If you like Russia and magic, Shadow and Bone may be something you should pick up.
Written by Leigh Bardugo, the Main character starts out a cartographer in the Czar’s army, and then bad things happens. Soon many bad things. *rubs hands, giggling*
This series will make you want to drink tea and flee corrupt governments. And then overthrow them. So, y’know, a normal Tuesday.
Do you like Dragons? Do you like court intrigue? May I point you in the direction of Seraphina? Yes? Good.
The title character is a court musician, and she would love to hide from the tensions raised by the previous king’s death, but her career chose THIS time to take a turn for the better. All this publicity is very inconvenient, because the king was killed in such a way that the lead subjects are shape-shifting dragons, and Seraphina’s most closely-guarded secret is the fact that her mother was one of those same shape shifters. Written by Rachel Hartman, (Canadian!), this book delves into the nature of humanity, family, emotions, music and math, and how to stay alive in court. (It’s a very, very hard game.) The sequel comes out next year and I am SO EXCITED.
Do you watch Leverage? Does competence make you sit up and pay attention? Have Also Known As.
So Robin Benway wrote a spy/heist book in which everyone is good at their jobs, and I love her for it. Also I just love it because it’s incredibly quippy and that is 100% my thing. Cool new friends! People who’ve made bad decisions and are now making good! Quips! Safecracking! Quips!
So you like Thoughtful Contemporary Fiction a la John Green, but you want more than John Green (because let’s face it, you can only re-read his stuff so many times before you’re memorizing, not reading). You may want to try Flash Burnout.
I have a really hard time describing contemporary books, because I can’t describe the world-building and call it done. This guy lives in the normal world— how boring. But somehow, not boring. He’s taking a photography class, dealing with his life and the tragedy bruises other people are wearing, and what it means to grow up. Oh, and it’s by L.K. Madigan
Do you like mobsters? Do most books just not have a high enough body count for you? *points at White Cat* Go there.
First of all, this is written by Holly Black, who collects awards at aproximately the rate I break shoes. (I’m on my ninth pair this year. Not even joking.) Holly Black is AMAZING. Second of all, the WORLDBUILDING. In this world, magic is real, and dangerous. It was banned in the 1920s, and prohibition-style, is now managed by five big crime families. Cartel’s family is magical, therefore criminal. He’s trying to go straight (and running a betting ring out of his dorm room, that’s what normal people do, right?), but someone is invading his dreams and trying to kill him. It looks like the family business isn’t going to let him go yet.
Do you like watching Criminal Minds? Do you enjoy stories about people with quasi-magical special abilities they use to FIGHT CRIME? I give you… The Naturals!
The main character is a natural profiler. By taking stock of your body language, or the words you chose, or the residue of your actions, she can predict what food you’re going to order, or what your past was like, or— and the FBI is really interested in this— what sort of person you are who committed a certain crime. She gets recruited to solve cold cases, but one of the cases is determined to not stay cold. There’s a killer out there who’s coming for her. DUN DUN DUNNNNNNN. (Written by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. And there’s a sequel!)
Do you like books? You should read Plain Kate.
Admittedly that isn’t a fair recommendation, but Plain Kate is one of my favourite books of all time, and I struggle not to push it into the hands of random passerbys. It’s set in a fantasy-style Eastern Europe, with witches (and witch burnings) and talking cats (and blood sacrifice) and grief (and hope). The author, Erin Bow, is also a poet and physicist, and her prose is delicious.
This was the first book I remember reading where I realized a story can be sad, and still healing. I love Taggle (the cat) so much.
Do the previous stories about Victorian finishing schools you’ve read suffer from a sad lack of spies and mad geniuses? Etiquette and Espionage can fix that!
It’s a school for young ladies training to be spies and assassins. They have classes in eyelash fluttering and how to signal with flower arrangements how many of your guests you’re going to poison. The school is on an airship. It’s written by Gail Carriger, of endless hilarity, but in this series with significantly less smexytimes. (Written for teens, dontcha know.) One of the side characters is given an exploding wicker chicken by her beau. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.
You sometimes think it would be cool if the princess trend would move on to dealing with what it would be like to be QUEEN? I give you Girl of Fire and Thorns. And I rest on my laurels, for I have done a good thing.
Elisa goes from being the younger, maybe forgotten, definitely not that politically important princess, to the secret queen of a neighbouring kingdom (for some reason the king doesn’t want anyone told about their marriage), in a matter of days. This is further complicated by the fact that she bears the physical mark of being chosen by god for a great act— a jewel in her belly button— and everyone seems to be much more sure than she is about what that act will be. Everyone, in fact, seems to be very sure how her life will go, including the people who just kidnapped her. Is she going to go along with everyone’s plans, or is she going to take control of her own life? And even if she CAN take control, what should she DOOOOOOO?
This is the series that made me love Rae Carson. And man do I love Rae Carson.
Latin! Californa! Mayan Gods! Demon Butlers! Mysterious Parents with mysteries pasts! Pirates! All this and more in the pages of Flora Segunda!
I deeply love this series. It’s not for everyone— the world building pulls no punches and I had to keep running language notes to figure out what was going on— but if you love fantasy it is absolutely worth the work. I think I would recommend it just for the world, as Ysabeau S. Wilce does a fantastic job mashing together myths and histories and technologies, but it is also worth it for the twisty plots and themes (growing up, discovering family history, discovering who you are, discovering the potential wars, universal stuff).
So you like fairy Tales (Romantic ones, not the ones that end with everybody missing a limb and/or sold to the devil)? You will totally probably like the Woodcutter Sisters.
Written by Alethea Kontis, the series follows a series of seven sisters, the children of a woodcutter, born one on each day of the week. They’ve been blessed (or cursed?) to follow the descriptions in the poem.
Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonnie and blythe and good and gay.
But the way this shows up in their stories isn’t always predictable. Monday is married to a prince, but she may or may not be happy as his arm candy. Thursday ran away from home and became a pirate queen (seriously). Wednesday appears to just be emo. (Wooooooooe.) Sunday, the heroine of Enchanted, is cheerful and happy and not super great at remembering to do chores. She’d rather be writing down stories or exploring the woods, where she finds a frog. Who she kisses. And then a whole bunch of fairy tales ambush her family.
Do you like the idea of ghost hunting? Are you interested in historical murders? The Name Of The Star has all that AND ALSO hilariousness.
The main character nearly dies because she’s imitating the shocked behaviour of a great-aunt, chokes, and no one realizes what’s going on until she passes out. When Rory wakes up, she can see ghosts. Fortunately, everyone in her English boarding school already thinks of her as “that eccentric american”, so talking to thin air is just regarded as inscrutable colonial behaviour.
When people start being killed outside, though, and Rory realizes that the most logical explanation is that a ghost is doing it, not being branded as insane becomes more difficult. And that’s before she really gets going trying to stop the ghost. (That Maureen Johnson, guys. Such an imagination. So many crazy stories.)
Do you like France? Also, Kissing? Anna and the French Kiss is for you!
by Stephanie Perkins has written a romance about a girl who goes abroad for a year, to PARIS, and meets an adorable French/English/American boy. But of course this is a romance, so there are impediments to their love…
The romance here has been describe as “swoony”, but I really focused in on the setting. It’s set in Paris, as previously mentioned, and the city is an enormous part of Anna’s experience. While romance has never been a part of my experience abroad, Perkins really nails what it’s like to move for a year. The way travel is super amazing and then terrible, and how a place that had been so new a few months ago becomes home, even while you’re still celebrating its uniqueness. I didn’t even like Paris and this book makes me want go back. And yeah. Romance. If that’s your thing.
Do you like espionage, and deconstruction of tropes? Fire has those in spades!
In this book, by Kristin Cashore points out that it is really inconvenient to be the most beautiful woman in the land. Especially if you’re trying to spy on enemies of the land. People keep noticing you. And that’s not even counting the kidnappings, the murders, the monsters trying to eat people— getting around town is becoming complicated. Though people assuming that if you’re that pretty you must be stupid does have its advantages…
“Yes general, tell me more about the coup yore planning, it’s all so interesting!”
Let’s be honest. With a title like I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You, I barely have to write the “this is why you should read the book” section.
But I’m going to do to anyways, because I like list symmetry. In this book, by Ally Carter writes the story of a group of girls attending a super secret spy school. They speak eight languages. They can disable an assailant with a magazine and lipgloss. They can build a bomb with the contents of an average lost and found.
They have no idea what to do about the cute boy who just asked Cammie to a dance.
Romans. Magic. Spies. Betrayal. Tactics. Technological achievements. Fall Of A Kingdom
This was the series that introduced me to by Hilari Bell, and I love it for it. I also love this series because it’s flipping AWESOME. It’s loosely based on the Roman invasion of Persia, with magic, through the eyes of a princess, a soldier, and a traitor. And I love them all so much…
You have never cared so much about sword making as you will in this series.
Whew. That was a lot of books. If you made it all the way down here, I salute you.
Go forth and read!