The 30 Best Young Adult Books of All Time

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  • best-ya-all-time absolutely300 The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)

    A novel that’s both heartbreaking and hilarious, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian introduces readers to Junior, a young cartoonist who leaves his reservation school behind… and transfers to an all-white school. He goes from being bullied at home to experiencing the same thing in a new environment, where he has to grapple with racism and stereotyping from his peers.

    Written like a diary spanning Junior’s school year, the novel invites us to view his family’s struggles on the reservation and the alcoholism plaguing those closest to him as he wrestles to find his place in the outside world. It’s a story exploring what it means to live the life you want, despite what everyone seems to be telling you, and tackles sexuality, racism, disability and loss. Alexie’s prose is accompanied by drawings from Eisner-nominated cartoonist Ellen Forney, which add to the book’s humor and emotional impact.
  • best-ya-all-time all300 All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2015)

    When a young black teen named Rashad is violently beaten by a police officer in a local convenience store—to the point where he is hospitalized and missing day after day of school—the media scoops up the story. The brutal incident is caught on camera, yet everyone from Rashad’s peers to citizens across the entire U.S. are divided on what actually happened.

    And it’s there that Quinn, Rashad’s classmate, finds himself determining where his place will be in this story. As a witness to what happened, he’s stayed quiet. And the police officer? He’s Quinn’s best friend’s older brother.

    Shifting back and forth between Rashad and Quinn’s perspectives, All American Boys is a relevant read for today’s teens witnessing similar, horrifying events in the news and on social media. It’s important to face the world’s realities, even when those realities are frightening. Especially when those realities are frightening. Because it shows that these stories—your stories—matter.
  • best-ya-all-time aristotle300 Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2012)

    In Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s award-winning novel, two teenagers wrestle with broken families and a complex friendship. There’s Ari, quiet and reserved, dealing with the aftermath of his older brother’s incarceration and his family’s unwillingness to talk about it. And then there’s Ari’s best friend, Dante, who is loud and open.

    The book tells the story of their friendship and blossoming feelings, while also dealing with their families. Why is Ari’s brother in jail, and why does his family hide it from him? What happened to Ari’s father in the war, and why is he so silent? What’s it like for Dante, who is sure of his feelings, while Ari can’t quite understand them?

    Written in lyrical prose, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a narrative of love, friendship, race and sexuality that’s impossible to put down.
  • best-ya-all-time ash300 Ash by Malinda Lo (2009)

    From Cinder to Beastly, Young Adult retellings of fairy tales are always popular. But Malinda Lo’s Cinderella retelling, Ash, is the best of the best.

    In this fresh take on the tale, Ash is a teen girl dealing with a cruel stepmother after her father dies. But when a fairy appears, it seems like she just might get whisked away to a better life, as promises are made for a better future. Sound familiar? Hold on.

    Then Ash meets Kaisa, the king’s Huntress. As a new friendship blooms between them and feelings begin to surface, Ash finds herself torn between two potential worlds: the magical one the fairy offers, and the real one with Kaisa.

    This beautifully written LGBTQ+ novel retells a classic, and becomes a classic in its own right.
  • best-ya-all-time bookthief300 The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)

    “I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

    Markus Zusak’s modern classic is set during World War II and introduces readers to Liesel Meminger, a young girl trying to survive in war-torn Germany. She steals books whenever she can, from Nazi book burning to libraries, saving them and finding fictional places in which to escape. Narrated by Death, the novel discusses love, loss and history in one incredibly powerful tome. Inhale the book, and after you’ve had a solid cry, maybe watch the movie.
  • best-ya-all-time born300 Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier (2002)

    Tanuja Desai Hidier’s debut YA novel weaves a story about culture and wrestling with what you want vs. what your family wants for you. In Born Confused, we meet Dimple, a teen who has followed her family’s rules throughout her whole life. But as the end of high school looms and Dimple’s dealing with a breakup, her family decides to arrange a meeting with a boy they’ve deemed “suitable.”

    She’s not thrilled with this decision. But surprise! Dimple finds the guy working as a DJ at a party, spinning music and living his life the way he wants. Humor and swoons are quick to follow.

    “They say in the east you love the person you marry and in the west you marry the person you love. But maybe it's a lot simpler than that. Maybe you just love the person you love.”

    And 10 years after this entertaining book was released, Hidier published a sequel titled Bombay Blues to continue Dimple’s adventures.
  • best-ya-all-time boxers300 Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang (2013)

    I’m going to count Gene Luen Yang’s brilliant, two-volume graphic novel as one title. Volume one, Boxers, tells the story of Little Bao, who is forced to watch his people being taken advantage of by missionaries. Set during the Boxer Rebellion, the book follows Bao as he joins the rebellion against the Westerners. Volume two, Saints, reveals the other side of the conflict from the perspective of Vibiana, a girl who was forced out of her village and has finally found a home with the missionaries.

    The heartbreaking narrative is gorgeously illustrated, promising a multifaceted exploration of a painful time in Chinese history.
  • best-ya-all-time brown300 Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014)

    Jacqueline Woodson’s striking memoir-in-verse highlights what it was like to grow up during the Civil Rights Movement. The book shifts from South Carolina to New York, offering a portrait-in-poetry of those respective places in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

    Brown Girl Dreaming won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Newberry Honor and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Young Adult Fiction. In other words, this mixture of history and personal narrative told in stunning free verse is essential reading.
  • best-ya-all-time giver300 The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)

    Chances are, you read (or are currently reading) The Giver in high school. Lois Lowry’s Newbery Award-winning novel frequently makes its way into classrooms, and with good reason. Set in what appears like a utopia, the novel introduces a young boy named Jonas who lives in a pain-free society. The world runs on conformity and contentment—at the price of emotion. So when Jonas is selected to be the next Receiver of Memory and is introduced to past secrets, he finds himself questioning the world around him.

    The Giver asks big questions about what people are willing to sacrifice in order to feel safe. Would you give up all feeling and color for a life without crime or sickness? And how important is your individuality?
  • best-ya-all-time golden300 The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (1995)

    The first book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy introduces readers to teen orphan Lyra Belacqua. She has free reign living as a ward of Jordan College, exploring the grounds with her daemon, Pantalaimon. In her world, the souls of children are embodied within these magical beasts and serve as guides for their respective humans.

    When Lyra’s friend goes missing, taken by an organization that has been attempting to separate children from their daemons, she goes on a mission to save him…and potentially the world. A fantasy novel that touches on religion, belief and family, The Golden Compass proves as imaginative as it is heavy hitting.
  • best-ya-all-time great300 A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (2003)

    The first book in Libba Bray’s incredible Gemma Doyle trilogy, A Great and Terrible Beauty whisks you away to a Victorian boarding school in the late-1890s. Think Gothic mansions, corsets, etiquette lessons…and now toss in alternate realms and powerful visions. It’s in this fantastic setting that Bray crafts a character-driven narrative that spans three huge—and incredibly entertaining—books that you’ll devour.
  • best-ya-all-time hatchet300 Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (1987) When Brian Robertson’s plane crashes in the unforgiving wilds of Canada, he finds himself with only the clothes on his back and a single hatchet. Alone with no way to communicate and a stretch of forest ahead, Brian must learn how to hunt and build a shelter to last the winter. Hatchet is a story of survival, chronicling Brian’s trials in the unfamiliar landscape and the emotional impact of the family secrets he’s keeping.

    If you find you can’t get enough of Brian’s adventures in the wilderness, check out the four other books in Paulsen’s Brian’s Saga series.
  • best-ya-all-time houseof300 The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (2002)

    Nancy Farmer’s novel is set in a future North America where a new country exists between the United States and Mexico—the land of Opium, literally. It’s there that the drug trade is legal and booming, where vast fields of poppies are grown by mindless slaves who live and die in these monstrous fields of poison.

    Living in Opium is Matteo, a clone of El Patron, the man who rules over the land with an iron fist of cruelty and greed. El Patron creates clones to harvest their organs and unnaturally extend his own life, continuing his reign of terror.

    As the truths surfaces, Matteo finds himself in the middle of a growing war. Other countries are tired of El Patron, other drug cartels want access to Opium and many people want to shut him down… some on the inside. What follows is a story about fighting for your place in the world when you have dreams that are bigger than what people think you deserve.

    The House of the Scorpion won numerous awards, including the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The sequel, The Lord of Opium, came out in 2013. Pick it up, and experience a terrifying world.
  • best-ya-all-time house300 The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1984)

    A coming-of-age classic, Sandra Cisneros’ novel tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a teen girl dreaming of a better life than the one she has in her impoverished Chicago neighborhood. The narrative style is a bit experimental, dishing out the story in a series of beautiful vignettes. You’ll get glimpses of Esperanza’s life as she navigates moving from her old apartment to the house on Mango Street, learning that even though you may leave a place… it’s always part of you.

    If you’re looking for a classic novel that’s a quick read, this important book is the perfect pick. It’s a little over 100 pages, and the vignettes are easily devoured.
  • best-ya-all-time hunger300 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)

    The dystopian novel that launched a bestselling trilogy and an epic film franchise, The Hunger Games is an action-packed thrill ride that dishes out a glimpse of a brutal, totalitarian future. It also launched a battle of ships, with fans waging a war between Peeta and Gale. It’s such a staple of current pop culture that it feels silly explaining it, but here we go!

    The Hunger Games brings readers to Panem, a new nation that’s been founded amongst the ruined remains of North America boasting a large, capital city (The Capitol). The Capitol is supported by 12 districts that provide various resources… and annually offer one boy and one girl to the Hunger Games.

    In this live-broadcast program, teens fight to the death for the entertainment of the Capitol and the horror of the citizens. And when a 16-year-old named Katniss watches her sister get selected for the event, she volunteers to take her place. The result has earth shattering consequences, with Katniss’ bravery leading the country towards rebellion.

    The series continues with Catching Fire and Mockingjay, with the stakes, action and romance intensifying with each title. I’d recommend binge reading the whole trilogy in a single week, and then treating yourself to a Netflix movie marathon.
  • best-ya-all-time lies300 Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley (2014)

    It’s challenging to pick just one Robin Talley book for this list. Her stunning LGBTQ novels are beautifully written and incredibly raw, from What We Left Behind to As I Descended. It’s in her debut novel though, Lies We Tell Ourselves, that readers find themselves transported to 1959 and are introduced to Linda and Sarah, two teen girls on opposite sides of the Civil Rights Movement.

    Linda’s family believes firmly in segregation, and Linda has been taught this her whole life. Then Sarah is one of the first black students to attend Linda’s once all-white high school. Their lives collide when they’re forced to work on a school project together… and then must grapple with the feelings they have for one another.

    Lies We Tell Ourselves confronts race, sexuality and a complex landscape as the two teens learn more about themselves, each other and the injustice of the world around them.
  • best-ya-all-time looking300 Looking for Alaska by John Green (2005)

    It’s hard not to love a main character whose endearing quirk is that he likes to collect famous “last words.” And that’s Miles. He absorbs them, memorizes them, studies them… but it’s when he comes across the words of Francois Rabelais (“I go to seek a Great Perhaps”), that he questions his place in the world.

    Looking for Alaska follows miles in this pursuit as he transfers to a new school and finds himself with an eclectic group of new friends—and a new crush on Alaska Young. She’s beautiful and rebellious, a free spirit at the prep school.

    The misadventures of Miles, Alaska and their mutual group of friends have all the elements of teen friendships: self-discovery, laughter, love and heartbreak. But the safe bubble of the preparatory school can’t protect them when everything comes crumbling down in the wake of a tragedy.

    Looking for Alaska delivers a contemporary read packed with the humor and heart for which John Green is so famous.
  • best-ya-all-time monster300 Monster by Walter Dean Myers (1999)

    Steve Harmon is like a lot of teenagers. He has big dreams, like of becoming a filmmaker, but suddenly finds that ground to a horrifying halt.

    Because now, he’s on trial for murder.

    A drugstore owner was shot, and the rumor floating around is that Steve had something to do with it. The accusations in court transform from Steve being a lookout to actually pulling the trigger, and as his life is put in the hands of others, he’s forced to consider his place in a system that seems built on racism and wrong assumptions.

    Steve delivers his story as a movie script, which unravels with flashbacks and multi-camera shots. The resulting narrative is as gripping as it is unique.

    Monster went on to win the Printz and was a National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature. There’s a reason for all of those medallions on the book cover; go find out why.
  • best-ya-all-time more300 More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (2015)

    Paste picked Adam Silvera’s debut novel as The Best Young Adult Novel of 2015 for good reason. A Young Adult take on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the novel follows a teen named Aaron, who wrestles with family, friends, love, heartbreak and sexuality. But in the world that Adam Silvera has crafted, there are ways around the things that way heavy on our minds.

    There’s a company that will erase your memories, for a price. And Aaron wants to forget the feelings he has for one of his friends. Another guy.

    The consequences of Aaron’s actions make for one of the most heartrending YA reads you’ll ever pick up. And despite the slight sci-fi twist, everything in the novel feels so very real. More Happy Than Not will leave you shaken for days, if not weeks.
  • best-ya-all-time outsiders300 The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967)

    In Hinton’s classic novel, there are two gangs: the Socs and the Greasers. The Socs are teen kids from wealthy families; the Greasers hail from homes with significantly less. They always fight, but one day it goes too far.

    And one of the Greasers kills a Soc.

    The seemingly black and white world of one gang vs. another becomes grey as they find themselves hiding out in a church with a gun. Violence begets violence, and as the law descends and friends start to fall, a Greaser named Ponyboy learns painful lessons about his place in the world.

    The Outsiders is a story of complicated friendships, class struggles and changing world views. There’s a reason this violent, heartbreaking book is required reading in schools across the country.
  • best-ya-all-time perks300 The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)

    There was definitely a point in my life as a teen when everyone I knew was reading Chobosky’s debut novel, and it’s easy to see why it resonated with so many readers. The epistolary novel highlights the struggles that come with being introverted and unpopular, while also discussing friendship, sexuality and abuse, both physical and emotional.

    In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie is a shy freshman who loves books and finds himself taken under the wing of an English teacher. Meanwhile, he becomes friends with some high school seniors, forming a quirky clique that leads him through a complicated period of self-discovery.

    As Charlie navigates the ups and downs of high school, toxic relationships and some deep secrets, he must decide if he’s living the life that he ultimately wants. Give it a read, and keep the tissues handy.
  • best-ya-all-time pointe300 Pointe by Brandy Colbert (2014)

    Theo is a teen ballet dancer who has been through it all: an eating disorder, trauma from sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse. And she struggles with the fact that her best friend, Donovan, has been missing for years and is constantly on her mind. But Donovan was kidnapped. Donovan is gone.

    Until Donovan suddenly isn’t.

    Donovan returns after years with his kidnapper, and repressed memories rush back to Theo.

    It’s impossible to dig into this book without revealing serious spoilers. Just trust me that Pointe offers a dark story of mystery and heartbreak. If I’d been writing for Paste back in 2014, I would have chosen it as the best Young Adult novel of the year.
  • best-ya-all-time rest300 The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (2015)

    We’ve all watched those movies and TV shows where the teen hero saves the small town from zombies, vampires, whatever supernatural threat might be looming. But after the character saves the day, what happens next?

    Enter Patrick Ness’ The Rest of Us Just Live Here.

    In this geeky blend of contemporary YA and fantasy, we meet Mikey, a teen who just wants to go through the motions of high school and maybe, just maybe ask out his best friend, Henna. He’s got a great pack of friends, including a best friend who has super-powered family members and is weirdly treated like a God by the cats around town.

    The novel explores interesting questions: What happens when you feel so average around extraordinary people? Can you find a way to stand out? Do you even want to? And hidden within all the geekery, Ness tackles mental illness, sexuality and friendship for a serious emotional punch.
  • best-ya-all-time ship300 Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (2010)

    Set in a dystopian future that doesn’t sound far away (making the whole book infinitely scarier), Ship Breaker highlights the Gulf Coast where people scrap massive oil tankers and other ships for spare parts and precious fuel. Because in this future, mankind has exhausted the world’s resources and stripping ships is how people survive.

    Amongst all this we meet Nailer, a teen boy dealing with the pressures of this brutal life. Poverty is everywhere, people are dying and not meeting your quota on scrap means starvation. Throw Nailer’s abusive father into the mix, and it makes for a short and miserable existence.

    Until a glimmer of hope presents itself on the shores of the beach after a hurricane—a clipper ship. It’s loaded with technology and the sort of riches only the wealthy can afford in this dark future. The only problem? There’s a survivor on board, and Nailer will have to choose between taking apart this ship to provide for himself and his people… or saving the girl.

    Ship Breaker promises a vivid portrait of a brutal world and the kids who must fight to live in it.
  • best-ya-all-time simon300 Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2015)

    (It’s important to note that while reading this book, you’re going to want some Oreos. It’s in your best interest to pick up a pack of cookies before diving in. Just giving you fair warning.)

    Meet Simon Spier, a theater-loving teenager who isn’t open about his sexuality just yet… save for with Blue, a boy he’s been emailing. Blue’s a mystery, but a mystery he’s falling in love with.

    But all of that threatens to come crashing down when Martin, a classmate and overall jerk, claims he’ll out Simon unless Simon does what he says.

    Becky Albertalli’s debut novel won numerous awards, including the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, and was nominated for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It’s a diverse, contemporary story that I hope will be added to school curriculums in the coming years.
  • best-ya-all-time speak300 Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)

    Melinda Sorindo is a teen girl starting high school at Merryweather High, and what should be a time of new friends and broadened horizons is anything but. She finds herself a social outcast after calling the cops on a party at the end of the summer, and now no one wants to talk or to listen to her.

    What happened at that party that made her call the police?

    Melinda begins to explore the events of the party through her art class, finding both her voice through the art she’s creating and the strength to stand up for herself in the face of what happened.

    Speak tackles assault, trauma and PTSD through a uniquely written narrative that appears disjointed and scattered on the page, mirroring Melinda’s thoughts. A National Book Award Finalist and a nominee for the Printz and Edgar award, this novel is essential reading for any teen.
  • best-ya-all-time tequila300 The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales (2005)

    In her debut novel (which won the Pura Belpré Award), Viola Canales’ introduces readers to Sofia, a girl growing up in Texas. Sofia faces racism and stereotyping in school, so she seeks out her revenge by doing well in school and proving others wrong. And when the opportunity to attend a prestigious private school surfaces, she has the opportunity to leave the barrio and explore the world beyond. But this means leaving behind her family—and the traditions she holds so dear.

    The Tequila Worm is ultimately a crucial story of family and learning about the importance of one’s own history.
  • best-ya-all-time wrinkle300 A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963)

    With memorable characters and a story that rips through space and time, there’s a reason Madeleine L’Engle’s classic has been a mainstay in Young Adult literature for over three decades. The story takes readers on an incredible adventure as the Murray children quest with three immortal women on a mission to save their father.

    Telepathic aliens, centaur creatures and a dark cloud that is the embodiment of evil… there’s so much going on in A Wrinkle in Time, and it only continues in the three books that follow. There’s also an outstanding graphic novel adaptation written and illustrated by the fantastic Hope Larson. If you read and loved this classic, Larson’s gorgeous interpretation is a great way to revisit it.
  • best-ya-all-time written300 Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (2015)

    “My mother always says when you fight destiny, destiny fights back. Some things, they're just written in the stars. You can try but you can never escape what's meant to be.”

    A stunning debut that’s as beautiful as it is devastating, Written in the Stars introduces readers to Naila, a young Pakistani girl in love with a boy name Saif. Unfortunately for Naila, her conservative parents absolutely forbid her to be friends with boys, never mind actually date one.

    When her relationship is discovered, her parents whisk her away to Pakistan under the guise of a vacation to learn about her culture. But her parents have actually arranged a marriage for her, and the wedding is to immediately take place.

    This is a haunting story about choosing between what you want and what’s expected of you.
  • best-ya-all-time yaqui300 Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (2013)

    Bullying is at the center of Meg Medina’s realistic YA novel, which follows Piddy Sanchez as she learns that Yaqui Delgado wants to beat her up. Piddy is new to the school and just wants to fit in… not get picked on and harassed. But Yaqui isn’t eager to make Piddy’s life easier. Yaqui and her gang make life miserable for Piddy, and she’ll have to find a way to survive each day.

    While it’s certainly a story about bullying, Medina’s book touches on complicated friendships and broken families as well. And the tension created for Piddy and her situation feels very, very real.

    What about that title? You need this book on your shelf.
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