Young Adult fiction has exploded in the last decade, and some of the most innovative and captivating fiction is being sequestered away to that sprawling section at the back of the bookstore.
For a genre that has so many categories, it can be hard to choose the books teenagers must have in their Santa sacks as they make the bumpy transition from adolescence to adulthood.
Booktopia’s young adult enthusiasts have selected 10 of the best that this incredible category has to offer.
Limiting the list to ten was extremely difficult, and the team tried to account for different age ranges, genres and audiences*.
This is one Top Ten that everyone has an opinion on (no Phillip Pulman! No Vampire Academy!), so let us know your thoughts below.
by Marcus Zusak
With The Book Thief Marcus Zusak has achieved something remarkable. Not only does this novel bridge the gap between young adult and adult fiction in a meaningful way, but it does so through the framework of the most inexplicably horrific event in Western history. The Book Thief explores bravery, death and compassion without ever resorting to melodramatic or contrived. The perfect book for anyone coming (or who has come) of age.
Publisher’s blurb: It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
Liesel Meminger and her younger brother are being taken by their mother to live with a foster family outside Munich. Liesel’s father was taken away on the breath of a single, unfamiliar word – Kommunist – and Liesel sees the fear of a similar fate in her mother’s eyes. On the journey, Death visits the young boy, and notices Liesel. It will be the first of many near encounters…
by John Green
John Green is the king of contemporary Young Adult fiction. I absolutely adored his earlier books – Looking for Alaska, and particularly Paper Towns. Green has a narrative voice that isn’t easy to forget, which means that his protagonists – Q, Miles, Hazel – stay with you well after the last page. Similar to The Book Thief, The Fault in Our Stars deals with weighty themes without talking down to its audience, and that is what makes it such a touching book.
Publisher’s blurb: Despite the tumour-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
by J.K. Rowling
Every so often a book comes along which defines a generation, and for those coming of age around the millennium, J.K. Rowling’s enthralling Harry Potter series were exactly that. Millions of teenagers grew up anticipating the release of the next installment in The One Who Lived’s adventures, from Quidditch and Quirrell to Horcruxes and Voldemort’s final showdown. J.K. Rowling was able to completely transport the reader into a fantastical world complete with lovable heroes, archetypal villains and a good dose of British humour.
DO NOT graduate without reading this series. Although Harry Potter is adored by adult fans as well, something about the experience of growing up with Harry, seeing him through the trials and tribulations of adolescence as an adolescent yourself is, well… magical.
by Suzanne Collins
The phenomenally popular Hunger Games trilogy is more gripping than anything I have read in a long time. I wolfed it down in one sitting, as did my friends and family. Although The Hunger Games might not have the emotional gravitas of John Green or Marcus Zusak, it is guaranteed to be impossible to put down.
Publisher’s blurb: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts.
Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.
by Dodie Smith
I Capture the Castle was published over sixty years ago, and yet the ramshackle, eccentric Mortmain family is as loveable as ever. This is one of those novels I have come back to again and again. Although I have never had an American heir propose to me, nor have I had to lock my father in a tower to escape writer’s block, Cassandra’s diary entries are incredibly relateable. Witnessing Cassandra mature as the novel develops is a wonderful experience, and makes for a bittersweet, moving story.
Publisher’s blurb: ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink…’
This is the diary of Cassandra Mortmain, which tells of her extraordinary family and their crumbling castle home. But all their lives will be soon be transformed by the arrival of new neighbours from America, and Cassandra finds herself falling in love…
by John Marsden
It should be illegal to grow up in Australia without reading the Tomorrow series. Not for any nationalist reason, but simply because John Marsden captures the highs and lows of being a teenager with such accuracy. Marsden writes on everything from crushes to fear to suffering like no other Young Adult author, without sugarcoating anything. Despite that, the Tomorrow series has just enough light to keep you hooked.
Publisher’s blurb: Somewhere out there Ellie and her friends are hiding. They’re shocked, they’re frightened, they’re alone. Their world has changed, with the speed of a slamming door. They’ve got no weapons – except courage.
by Khaled Hosseini
Although The Kite Runner isn’t technically a Young Adult novel, it made the list simply because of the number of “young adult” friends I knew who read it. Not a novel for the faint-hearted, The Kite Runner deals with serious issues, but through starkly beautiful prose. The Kite Runner is a challenging read, but one well worth the effort.
Publisher’s blurb: Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives.
by Louis Sachar
Holes is one of my favourite books of all time. Louis Sachar writes with great suspense, great description and just a touch of the absurd. You can see the endless, suffocating plains of the Arizona desert, feel the handle of the shovel digging into Stanley’s callouses and smell the sweat of the inmates digging from morning to night. A classic underdog story with a clever twist and a lot of heart.
Publisher’s blurb: Stanley Yelnats’ family has a history of bad luck, so he isn’t too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to a boys’ juvenile detention centre. At Camp Green Lake the boys must dig a hole a day, five feet deep, five feet across, in the dried up lake bed. The Warden claims the labour is character building, but it is a lie. Stanley must dig up the truth.
by J.R.R. Tolkien
What is there to say about The Lord of the Rings? This series delivers an epic saga, an omnipresent Big Brother-esque villain, a band of misfits and a creepy gremlin, just to name a few. One of the most absorbing trilogies ever written.
Publisher’s blurb: Sauron, the Dark Lord, has gathered to him all the Rings of Power; the means by which he intends to rule Middle-earth. All he lacks in his plans for dominion is the One Ring – the ring that rules them all – which has fallen into the hands of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins…
by Meg Rossoff
How I Live Now was a pretty quiet novel – it was the recipient of its fair share of awards, but had nowhere near the success of Hunger Games. It is pretty rare to find a Young Adult book that is so adventurous. How I Live Now is written with a stream-of-consciousness voice, and similar to Rossoff’s other novels (Just in Case, What I Was) deals with controversial themes. This willingness to push boundaries in an audience that can be characterised very conservatively makes How I Live Now very special indeed.
Publisher’s blurb: Fifteen-year-old Daisy thinks she knows all about love. Her mother died giving birth to her, and now her dad has sent her away for the summer, to live in the English countryside with cousins she’s never even met. There she’ll discover what real love is: something violent, mysterious and wonderful. There her world will be turned upside down and a perfect summer will explode into a million bewildering pieces.
Booktopia News: How I Live Now has just been adapted to film, check out the trailer below:
Obviously this list could not be published without mention of the phenomenally popular vampireotica Twilight. Although it might be tempting to see what the hype is about, you may stumble into an “I don’t know if I’m like Team Edward or Team Jacob?!” rabbit hole from which there is little escape.