Crowdsourcing The Essentials: Young Adult

(Previously: noir!)

Okay, this is a big one.

Big category. Not really a genre (though some have debated it is, I’d argue it’s an age range).

Young adult fiction.

No subgenres in particular.

But I want to know: what do you consider to be the most essential reads for anyone looking to pick up a young adult book? And further, what (for you) makes a young adult book? What is YA?

So, drop to the comments, and discuss. Oh, and list your top three essential YA reads, too!

(related: 25 Things You Should Know About Young Adult Fiction)


  • The Trixie Belden books. They were originally published from the 40s to the 80s under the names of Julie Campbell and Kathryn Kenny, but Random House has recently begun reviving them. This is the series that made me fall in love with books, and I still re-read them now, even though I’m in my late 30s. My dog is named after the main character, too. Since they were written do long ago, they are of course a bit more (a lot more) innocent than today’s YA, but the stories themselves are timeless and fun in the same way Scooby Doo (another favorite of mine) is timeless and fun despite it’s relative innocence.

    Ready Player One, by Ernest (Ernie) Cline. I don’t think this is usually shelved as YA, but the protag is a teenager, so…

    Moving on.

    The Hunger Games and Harry Potter. Yeah, I know you said three. But these are both kind of a given, so I figured they could count for a two-fer.

  • October 7, 2013 at 4:27 PM // Reply

    The way I’ve heard it explained: if the protagonist is living through the teen situation, it’s YA. If the protagonist is looking back on his teen years, it’s not.

    My top picks: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
    Feed, by M.T. Anderson
    A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin

  • I think a book is considered YA if the protagonist is going through teenage situations.

    The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
    The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer
    The Beginning of Everything – Robyn Scheider

  • Cate Tiernan is one of my favorite YA authors. Her SWEEP series is just marvelous. Like others have mentioned, I’d also vote for the Abhorsen Series (Sabriel, etc) by Garth Nix, and Harry Potter is of course the quintessential YA series. It shouldn’t be bumped just because it’s uber. 😉

    When I actually WAS a teenager, my favorite was the little-known book called “Winter of Fire” by Sherryl Jordan. Has anybody else read that one? It’s beautiful.

  • I stopped referring to YA as a “genre.” It really is a market segment (ages 12 to 18) I believe. Top YA books on my recommendation list:

    How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
    Looking For Alaska by John Green
    The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
    The Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard

    The list of Printz awardees is a great resource for great YA fiction.

  • I grew in a time when the word “genre” wasn’t used. I believe you mention it in your “25 Things in YA” article, we just read what was out there. Though I sometimes feel many titles today are teen romance pulps, a lot of good YA stories are listed in the comments, with a tip of the hat to greats like Pullman, Green, Dashner, Collins, Tamora Pierce, Nix, Gaiman, to name a few. A few to add.

    Robert Heinlein: Tunnel in the Sky, Podkayne of Mars
    Laini Taylor: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
    Garcia/Stohl: Beautiful Creatures

    Oh, and a little credit for “Under the Empyrean Sky”. I forget who wrote that, but it was a fun read.

  • I just read the most amazing YA (and I’ve read a lot). I have never read anything like this in so many ways. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. I saw it on a YA ‘must read’ list somewhere, and boy is it ever.

  • My favorite genre!

    YA is so hard to define since it’s both a genre and a marketing/organizing category used by publishers, book sellers, and librarians. But I do think it still counts as a genre since every YA book, no matter what sub-genre (fantasy, contemporary, romance, etc.) must have a one essential focus: namely it must be about teenagers going through teenage things. That’s pretty vague, and “teenage things” can change drastically depending on if the novel is a contemporary romance, a high fantasy, or a dystopia.

    My top YA books, the MUST reads in the genre, are:

    1. Tamora Pierce: Everything, but especially the Tortall series. Pierce helped to define the YA fantasy genre.

    2. Laini Taylor: Daughter of Smoke and Bone series – One of the best new YA series and an excellent example of genre bending and epic world building. I’m desperately waiting for the 3rd and final book.

    3. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

    4. Sarah Dessen – Anything, but especially The Truth About Forever and Keeping the Moon. She’s the queen of contemporary YA romance.

    5. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Rowell is new to the YA scene, but oh my god this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Poignant and sweet and heartbreaking. Technically a romance but also just damn good writing and character building.

    There are classics that everyone will want to include – like Perks of Being a Wallflower and Catcher in the Rye – but I’d prefer to focus on those authors/books/series not so universally recognized and possibly overrated.

  • Hands down my favorite book when I was a teen and now was Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster). It does a fantastic job of nurturing imagination and thinking of things differently.

  • An essential read that I must recommend to people who are curious about the YA genre and long-time YA enthusiasts is: “The Riddle of Prague” by author Laura DeBruce ( It is book one of the Quicksilver Legacy Series and will have you hooked immediately. 18 year old Hana Silna travels to Prague to reconnect with family and to reclaim her ancestral home, “The Rockery.” What is supposed to be a simple straightforward visit becomes a dangerous adventure when Hana finds out the Rockery is linked to the elixir of immortality. After her family in Prague is kidnapped it is up to Hana and her new-found friends to find the elixir and save her family. This is a book that appeals to everyone because it has it all (suspense, murder, a little bit of fantasy, travel, romance, adventure, and numerous twists and turns!). I am so excited to read the next book in the series, “The Temple of Paris.” It’s great to have a YA book series that entertains but can also take you around the world (I am a huge fan of travel!) and Laura DeBruce really makes you feel like you’re in the busy streets of Prague with Hana. I highly recommend!

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