Looking for a distraction from the real world? Desperate to dive into an intriguing story with romance, action, and diverse characters? I’ve been obsessed with young adult literature for as long as I can remember, and I’m excited to share with you all my top-ten picks! Every book on this list differs in plotline and genre but all have changed my personality and thoughts about the world around me.
10. The Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins
You’ve probably heard of the wildly popular Hunger Games movie franchise starring Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. However, I’m here to argue that the books are always better—and in this case, definitely worth reading. The Hunger Games trilogy is incredibly relevant today considering the state and leaders of our current American government. The story follows the life of Katniss Everdeen, a seventeen-year-old living in the dystopian country of Panem. In Panem, 24 children are selected every year to participate in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death from which only one child survives. When I first read the book, it unsettled me but was so far from reality that I didn’t really associate myself with Katniss. However, with the amount of teenagers being killed in school shootings today and the lack of interference from government leaders, The Hunger Games almost directly mirrors America’s current reality. This book is a great example of the power of rebellion, young voices, and determination to make a positive change.
9. It’s Kind of a Funny Story - Ned Vizzini
It’s Kind of a Funny Story follows the life of Craig Gilner, a fifteen-year-old boy dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. He ends up voluntarily admitting himself to a psychiatric facility to receive help for his mental health issues. This book provides hundreds of reasons why life is worth living. As opposed to books/shows like Thirteen Reasons Why, It’s Kind of a Funny Story shines light on suicide and depression in a way that doesn’t glamorize it. Through his interactions with other characters in the psychiatric facility, Craig learns more about himself and the power of human connection. This book is humorous, entertaining, and a great read for anybody looking to connect with a protagonist who deals with mental health issues.
8. Beautiful Creatures - Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
I grew up in a small, Southern town, so I was instantly intrigued by the setting of Beautiful Creatures. The story takes place in the fictional town of Gatlin, South Carolina where “everyone knows everyone” and not a single Starbucks can be found. Ethan Wate, the story’s narrator, feels like an outcast in his conservative, highly religious community. However, when a strange girl moves in nearby (and the town begins accusing her of witchcraft), Ethan quickly forms a friendship with her. This book is a great read for anyone interested in a mixture between historical fiction and fantasy. I also highly recommend it for anyone like myself who knows what it’s like to live in a very small town.
7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower- Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a book that I think every teenager should be required to read. Chbosky effortlessly writes from the mind of awkward high school freshman Charlie, who is dealing with the recent deaths of his best friend and aunt by writing letters to an unknown recipient. The story tackles sexual assault, LGBTQ+ themes, bullying, domestic violence, anxiety, and more in a truthful, well-researched and non-glorifying way. This book made me laugh, cry, and discover parts of myself that I didn’t even know existed. After reading, make sure to watch the 2012 film adaptation (it’s one of my all-time favorites!)
6. Percy Jackson and the Olympians - Rick Riordan
I’m a little biased when it comes to this series, because I directed a fan-made web series adaptation (spoiler alert: the Hollywood film adaptation sucked). However, the Percy Jackson books are worth a read for anyone interested in learning about world mythology. Riordan has recently hired authors of all different religious and cultural backgrounds to write mythological stories similar to Percy Jackson that his brand officially endorses. His original children's books also feature LGBTQ+ characters and characters from various ethnic backgrounds. These books are an easy read for anyone in the mood for a bit of adventure, romance, and history.
5. The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas
Speaking of film adaptations, a movie adaptation of The Hate U Give starring Amandla Stenberg and Sabrina Carpenter is currently in post-production. The Hate U Give follows the life of Starr, who, after witnessing the murder of her unarmed childhood friend by a police officer, becomes involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. I haven’t personally read this book yet, but I have heard from other readers that it is incredibly socially accurate and moving. This book is next on my to-be-read list, and it should be on yours as well!
4. The Mortal Instruments Series - Cassandra Clare
If you’re looking for a young adult book similar to Percy Jackson but written for a slightly older audience, The Mortal Instruments series is a great pick. The story is rooted in religious mythology, as the protagonist characters are “Shadowhunters”—half-angel, half-human warriors who fight demons. Despite my interest in fantasy, the character storylines in this series are what really drew me in. The book features a romance between two male characters (one is openly bisexual), a well-written Jewish character, a strong female lead, and a male lead with unique flaws. There are six books in the series, allowing you plenty of time to learn more about the world of the Shadowhunters and become invested in the intriguing friendships and romantic relationships between characters.
3. Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell
A romantic young adult book, Eleanor and Park focuses on the budding romance between two high school misfits. This book is highly recognized for its character diversity—Eleanor is overweight, a rarity in young adult novels that often emphasize how skinny and awkward their female protagonists are. Park is Korean and doesn’t conform to the stereotypes often presented in media about Asian males. This representation is refreshing. Rowell does a wonderful job of highlighting their unique flaws and diversity, recognizing that body weight and cultural identity aren’t a person’s defining features. This book had me on the edge of my seat wondering if they would end up together—you’ll have to read to find out!
2. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli
You’ve probably heard of the movie Love, Simon. But did you know that it was based on a book? Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a hilarious yet heart-wrenching young adult book featuring a gay male protagonist. This book is a perfect example of the importance of writing characters that identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Love, Simon practically shut down international box offices, and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is simply a more detailed version of the same story. Fall in love all over again with Simon and Blue, two penpals who grow feelings for each other after months of email conversations. Both keep their true identities hidden from each other, but what happens when the secrecy becomes a little too much?
Ah, my all-time favorite young adult book! Mara Dyer is the perfect mix of fantasy and reality. When Mara wakes up in a hospital and learns that her friends and boyfriend died in a tragic accident, her family decides that moving to a new state is a good way to relieve some of her pain. However, the accident begins haunting her in strange visions and dreams. Death and suffering seem to follow her. But when she meets Noah, a boy whose presence alone seems to heal some of her pain, her flashbacks to the accident begin to grow more clear—and nothing is as the doctors told her. Mara Dyer has some wonderful horror elements, a beautiful romance, and cultural diversity. This book is not for all audiences, as it does feature some strong mature themes such as sexual assault.