Young Adult
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Young adult literature: top 100 YA books of all time

Young Adult Literature: The Best of the Best

Hey fellow book nerds, if you’re looking for the best of the best in young adult literature, then you’ve come to the right place! Whether you prefer fantasy, historical fiction, coming-of-age stories, or something else entirely – I’ve got the perfect YA book for you.

From classics like J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye to contemporary hits like The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, YA literature has something for everyone. So grab some popcorn, your favorite comfy chair, and get ready to take a deep dive into the world of YA.

PS. We’ve broken this up into genres, so you can find what you need quickly, and there’s also a bigger list of books at the end that will have some you missed, even if you’re a voracious reader. How many of these have you read? Which were your favorites?

The Best YA Books of All Time

It’s impossible to narrow down the best YA books of all time, but here’s my top 10 list of must-read young adult books.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a classic coming-of-age story set in the Deep South. It follows the story of Scout Finch and her brother Jem as they navigate the racial tensions of their small town.

2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
This coming-of-age novel follows Holden Caulfield, a teen struggling to make sense of the world around him. His rebellious attitude and hatred of phony people has made this one of the most memorable books in literature.

3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
This heartbreaking novel follows Hazel and Augustus, two teens with terminal illnesses who fall in love. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that tugs at your heartstrings and is one of the most popular YA books of all time.

4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Set in a dystopian future, this thrilling trilogy follows Katniss Everdeen as she fights to survive in the oppressive regime of Panem. This action-packed series has spawned countless movie adaptations and a passionate fanbase.

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
This coming-of-age story follows Charlie, an introspective teen trying to make sense of the world around him. It’s a stunningly honest look at the highs and lows of teenage life and has been embraced by teens everywhere.

6. The Giver by Lois Lowry
This dystopian novel follows Jonas, a young boy living in a seemingly perfect world. But as he discovers the truth about his society, he must decide what he’s willing to risk to make a difference.

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
The beloved first book in the Harry Potter series follows the young wizard as he discovers his magical destiny. It’s a classic example of fantasy literature that has captured the hearts of millions of readers around the world.

8. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
This romantic fantasy series follows Bella Swan, a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire named Edward Cullen. It’s an addictive story with a passionate fanbase that continues to grow to this day.

9. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
This coming-of-age novel follows a gang of teens in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s a beloved classic that’s been adapted into a movie, a Broadway musical, and countless school curriculums.

10. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
This love story follows two misfit teens in Omaha, Nebraska who fall in love. It’s a touching story about first love and the power of friendship that has been embraced by readers around the world.

The Best YA Fantasy Books

Fantasy books are some of the most beloved young adult novels, and for good reason. Here are some of the best YA fantasy books to add to your reading list.

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings is a classic fantasy series that follows the quest of Frodo Baggins to destroy the One Ring. This beloved series has been inspiring readers for generations.

2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
This thrilling series follows Feyre, a mortal who is drawn into a magical realm of Fae. It’s a captivating mix of fantasy and romance that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
This classic fantasy series follows the adventures of four siblings who discover a magical world called Narnia. It’s a beloved series that’s been adapted into movies, plays, and musicals.

4. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
This series follows Celaena Sardothien, a teenage assassin who is chosen to compete in a tournament to become the King’s Champion. It’s a thrilling story full of action and romance that will keep you hooked until the very end.

5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
As mentioned above, Harry Potter is one of the most beloved fantasy series of all time. It follows the young wizard as he discovers his magical destiny and fights against the forces of evil.

The Best YA Romance Books

Romance books are some of the most popular YA novels, and for good reason. Here are some of the best YA romance books to add to your reading list.

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
As mentioned above, The Fault in Our Stars is a heartbreaking story about two teens with terminal illnesses who fall in love. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that will leave you gripping your seat until the very end.

2. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
This classic YA romance series follows Bella Swan, a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire named Edward Cullen. It’s an addictive story with a passionate fanbase that continues to grow to this day.

3. The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
This coming-of-age story follows Belly, a teenage girl who falls in love with two brothers during a summer of self-discovery. It’s a heartwarming story about first love and the power of friendship.

4. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
As mentioned above, this is a touching story about first love and the power of friendship. It’s an emotionally charged story that will leave you breathless.

5. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
This romantic comedy follows Lara Jean, a teenage girl who is dealing with her first love. It’s a funny and charming story about young love that will leave you smiling.

The Best YA Dystopian Books

If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic worlds and oppressive regimes, then dystopian YA books are the perfect choice for you. Here are some of the best YA dystopian books to add to your reading list.

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
As mentioned above, The Hunger Games is a thrilling trilogy set in a dystopian future. It follows Katniss Everdeen as she fights to survive in the oppressive regime of Panem.

2. Divergent by Veronica Roth
This thrilling series follows Tris, a teenage girl who discovers she doesn’t fit into the strict boundaries of her society. It’s an action-packed story that will keep you hooked until the very end.

3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
As mentioned above, The Giver is a dystopian novel about a seemingly perfect world. But as the protagonist discovers the truth about his society, he must decide what he’s willing to risk to make a difference.

4. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
This dystopian series follows Thomas, a teenage boy who wakes up in a deadly maze with no memory of his past. It’s an action-packed story full of suspense and mystery that will keep you hooked until the very end.

5. Matched by Ally Condie
This dystopian novel follows Cassia, a teenage girl who must make a difficult choice between love and duty. It’s a thought-provoking story that will make you question the world around you.

The Best YA Historical Fiction Books

If you’re looking for a young adult book that takes you back in time, then historical fiction YA books are the perfect choice for you. Here are some of the best YA historical fiction books to add to your reading list.

1. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
This captivating novel follows Josie, a teenage girl in 1950s New Orleans who dreams of escaping the seedy criminal world of her mother. It’s a stunningly written story that will keep you hooked until the very end.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This heartbreaking novel follows a young girl in Nazi Germany who steals books to escape from the horrors of war. It’s an emotionally charged story that will leave you breathless.

3. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This captivating story follows two female spies during World War II who must rely on each other to survive. It’s an action-packed story full of suspense and mystery that will keep you hooked until the very end.

4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
This beloved classic follows Francie, a young girl in Brooklyn who dreams of a better life. It’s a stunningly written story that will make you laugh, cry, and feel inspired.

5. The Gold Cadillac by Mildred D. Taylor
This coming-of-age story follows two African American siblings who take a road trip from Mississippi to Detroit. It’s a powerful story about family, friendship, and courage in the face of racism.

Those are just the highlights, but there are so many more great examples! The best thing about YA literature is that it’s not just one genre; it’s a particular set of themes and concepts (though as a rule of thumb, generally when the protagonist is a teenager, it qualifies.)

YA literature has something for everyone, from fantasy books to historical fiction novels. From Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, there are countless must-read young adult books. So grab a snack, your favorite comfy chair, and get ready to explore the wonderful world of YA literature… here’s a deep dive (some of these may repeat from up above, but we worked hard on this list. It’s basically everybody’s dream TBR pile, but you may need years to get through them all!

Classic YA books from English Class

1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
4. 1984 by George Orwell
5. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
6. Animal Farm by George Orwell
7. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
8. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
9. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
10. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
11. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
12. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
13. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
14. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
15. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
16. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
17. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
18. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
19. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
20. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

44 best YA books of all time

Whether you’re looking for a classic coming-of-age story or a thrilling fantasy series, YA literature has something for everyone. From Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, there are countless must-read young adult books. So grab a snack and your favorite comfy chair, and get ready to explore the wonderful world of YA literature.

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
5. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
6. The Giver by Lois Lowry
7. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
8. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
9. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
10. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
11. 1984 by George Orwell
12. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
13. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
14. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
15. The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
16. Looking for Alaska by John Green
17. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
18. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
19. The Outsiders Series by S.E. Hinton
20. Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
21. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
22. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
23. The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld
24. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
25. The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare
26. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
27. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
28. The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry
29. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
30. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
31. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
32. The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
33. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
34. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
35. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
36. The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
37. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
38. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
39. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
40. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
41. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
43. The Shadow Children Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix
44. The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series by Maggie Stiefvater

Check out this post of the most popular young adult books of the last decade.

Characteristics of young adults literature

Young Adult (YA) literature, while primarily targeted towards readers aged 12 to 18, has a broad appeal that extends to adults as well. Here are some key characteristics of YA literature:

  1. Age of Protagonists: The protagonists of YA novels are usually teenagers themselves. This allows the target audience to identify with the characters and their experiences.
  2. Themes and Issues: YA literature often tackles themes and issues relevant to young adults. These can include identity, sexuality, mental health, peer pressure, first love, independence, and the transition from childhood to adulthood.
  3. Coming-of-Age Stories: Many YA novels are coming-of-age stories, where the protagonist undergoes significant growth and development. They often face challenges or experiences that lead to a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them.
  4. Realistic Dialogue: YA literature tends to use dialogue that reflects how teenagers speak in real life. This can include current slang and colloquial language.
  5. Fast-Paced Plot: YA novels often have fast-paced, engaging plots to keep the readers’ attention. They frequently involve some form of conflict, whether it’s internal, interpersonal, or against larger societal issues.
  6. Hope and Optimism: Despite often dealing with serious and sometimes dark themes, YA literature generally maintains an undercurrent of hope and optimism. The endings, while not always “happily ever after,” often suggest the possibility of a better future.
  7. Diversity: Modern YA literature strives to be inclusive and diverse, featuring characters of different races, ethnicities, religions, genders, and sexual orientations.
  8. Genre-Blending: YA literature can encompass a wide range of genres, including fantasy, science fiction, romance, historical fiction, mystery, and more. It’s not uncommon for YA novels to blend elements from multiple genres.

Remember, these are general characteristics and not all YA books will include all of these elements. The YA genre is diverse and continually evolving, reflecting the experiences and interests of its young adult audience.

Themes of young adults literature

Young adult literature is a rich tapestry of themes that both captivate and enlighten readers. Here are some prevalent themes that often surface in young adult literature, each offering unique insights and lessons:

  1. The Power of Friendship: The significance of camaraderie is a recurring theme in young adult literature. While friendships may be fraught with challenges, the enduring bonds formed are invaluable, offering support and companionship.
  2. Quest for Identity: A central theme in young adult literature is the exploration of self-identity. Characters often grapple with understanding their individuality, their place in society, and their role in the world.
  3. Struggle for Acceptance: The desire to belong and be accepted is a universal human experience, particularly during adolescence. Young adult literature frequently delves into this theme, portraying characters who strive to find their niche in their community or social circles.
  4. Transition to Adulthood: Coming-of-age narratives are a staple in young adult literature. These stories chronicle the protagonist’s journey towards maturity, self-discovery, and a deeper comprehension of the world around them.
  5. The Intricacies of Love: Romance is a common thread in young adult literature. Characters experience the exhilaration of first love, the anguish of heartbreak, and the complexities of romantic relationships.

These themes are merely the tip of the iceberg in the vast ocean of young adult literature. Young readers are encouraged to delve into these narratives and discover stories that echo their experiences and emotions. Literature serves as a potent medium to foster self-understanding and a broader perception of the world.

Techniques of young adults literature


Young adult literature employs a variety of techniques to engage readers and effectively convey its themes. Here are some of the most common techniques used:

  1. First-Person Narration: Many YA novels use first-person narration to provide a direct insight into the protagonist’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This technique helps readers to connect more deeply with the character and their journey.
  2. Realistic Dialogue: YA authors often use dialogue that reflects the way teenagers speak, including current slang and colloquial language. This technique enhances the authenticity of the characters and their interactions.
  3. Flashbacks and Non-Linear Storytelling: To provide background information or to reveal a character’s past, YA authors may use flashbacks or non-linear storytelling. This technique can add depth to the characters and increase the intrigue of the plot.
  4. Symbolism and Metaphor: Symbolism and metaphor are often used in YA literature to convey deeper meanings and themes. These techniques can add a layer of complexity and richness to the story.
  5. Conflict and Tension: Conflict, both internal and external, is a key technique in YA literature. It drives the plot, shapes the characters, and keeps readers engaged. Tension is often maintained throughout the story to keep readers invested in the outcome.
  6. Character Development: In YA literature, characters often undergo significant development or change. This technique is particularly common in coming-of-age stories, where characters learn and grow through their experiences.
  7. Relatable Themes: YA authors often focus on themes that are relevant to the experiences and challenges of young adults, such as identity, friendship, love, and coming-of-age. This technique helps to engage the target audience and make the story more relatable.
  8. Diverse Representation: Modern YA literature strives to represent diverse characters and experiences. This includes characters of different races, ethnicities, religions, genders, and sexual orientations.

Remember, these are general techniques and not all YA books will use all of these. The techniques used can vary greatly depending on the author’s style and the specific story being told.

History of young adults literature

Young Adult (YA) literature has been around for centuries, but it’s only been in recent decades that it has become an established and thriving genre. As a university professor, I find this evolution of YA literature fascinating, and I’m excited to take a look at its history.

The concept of YA literature dates back to the 16th century, when books were written specifically for young adults. The emergence of the novel in the 18th century saw the rise of the “coming of age” novel, which focused on themes and characters that were relatable to young adults.

In the early 20th century, YA literature was largely considered to be a subset of children’s literature, with books focusing on moral lessons and religious themes. However, in the 1950s and 60s, YA literature started to become more sophisticated and meaningful, with books exploring social issues and the complexities of growing up.

By the 1970s, YA literature was becoming increasingly popular and diverse, with authors like Judy Blume and S. E. Hinton paving the way for more contemporary YA novels. In the 1980s and 90s, YA literature expanded even further, with authors such as J. K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer creating characters and worlds that captivated readers of all ages.

Today, YA literature is one of the most popular genres of literature, with books exploring a variety of topics and genres. From dystopian science fiction to coming of age romances, YA literature has something for everyone. It’s an ever-evolving genre that continues to captivate young readers with stories that are both relatable and inspiring.

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