The low-down on YA books
The world of books for teenagers and young adults is hugely rich and varied. It’s one of my favourite genres. YA authors are bold, creative and innovative and their writing is some of the most relevant and edifying around. If you’re new to YA books, though, it can be difficult to know where to start. And if you have a young teen at home who is ready to move on from middle grade fiction, where do you point them first? Here we give you the low-down on the YA books and authors that we think represent the best of this exciting genre.
Carnegie Medal-winner Patrick Ness is a stalwart of the YA genre and our first go-to author. His classic book A Monster Calls is an extraordinary, moving account of one teen’s grief and healing. His latest book, Burn, is a mind-blowing tale of revenge, redemption and dragons.
Malorie Blackman is another bestselling and arguably the most high-profile YA author in the UK. She recently concluded her Noughts & Crosses series 20 years after the first book was published. Stormzy has described the series as his ‘favourite books of all time.’ And if you liked Noughts & Crosses, you will also like the work of Patrice Lawrence. Her multiple award-winning debut Orangeboy is a moving account of life as a Black British teenager in London. Also look out for Eight Pieces of Silva, which I loved.
From across the Atlantic, Angie Thomas has emerged as one to watch. Her best-selling The Hate U Give and two follow up books are stunning portrayals of teenagers facing up to systemic racism. Also look out for Jason Reynolds. I recently read All American Boys, co-authored with Brendan Kiely, which was excellent, as is Long Way Down. I haven’t read Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam yet, but it’s high up my tbr pile, as is Dear Martin by Nic Stone.
One of my all-time favourite authors in any genre is Elizabeth Acevedo. Her novels in verse, including Clap When You Land and The Poet X are powerful, moving and exceptionally clever. For a slightly different take on teenage life in America, try Everyone Does Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, which is set across the rural American west.
For books with LGBTQ+ themes, try Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, which is stunning and original. The Heartstopper series of graphic novels by Alice Oseman is also excellent. Autoboyography by Christina Lauren is a coming-of-age novel set in Utah about two boys from different backgrounds who fall in love against the backdrop of a conservative religious community. And don’t miss Juno Dawson, one of the UK’s bestselling (and best) YA authors. Wonderland is a gripping queer retelling of Lewis Carroll’s classic. I also loved Meat Market and Clean. Her writing is fearless, timely and speaks directly to teens.
The Girl Who Became a Tree by Joseph Coehlo is a beautiful tale in verse that deals with themes of grief, loss and isolation, and also celebrates the power of stories and reading. The Gilded Ones by Namina Forn offers a magical feminist fantasy set in a West African-inspired Ancient Kingdom. Also look out for Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s YA debut, The Deathless Girls, a darkly gothic feminist romance.
If you’re looking for a little romance, John Green’s The Fault in our Stars is a modern classic. If you liked that, you will also enjoy Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End. For something with an historical twist, try Laura Wood – A Sky Painted Gold is irresistibly and unashamedly romantic. Also look out for The Silent Stars Go By by Sally Nicholls.
For high octane action-lovers, try the Robin Hood or CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore. Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series explores 007’s life before he became a super spy. The books are action-packed, clever and highly entertaining.
Michael Grant’s bestselling Gone series builds a gripping and in places alarming dystopian world where everyone over the age of 15 has disappeared and the surviving kids face a battle for survival. If dystopian fantasy is your thing, you will also enjoy Wranglestone by Darren Charlton and Bearmouth by Liz Hyder.
One area of the YA genre that is not so well served is funny books. But William Sutcliffe’s The Gifted, the Talented and Me is a laugh-out-loud coming of age story which I’d highly recommend. I’m also excited to read Empress and Aniya by Candice Carty-Williams about two friends in a South London school who accidentally cast a spell and end up switching bodies.
There are so many more YA books I could recommend, but hopefully this gives you a good place to start. It’s an exceptionally exciting genre, and not just for young adults but for the rest of us too!
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