There's nothing harder for a true book lover than to choose the "best" YA books of the year. No matter what you do, there's going to be a real, heartbreaking "kill your darlings" moment, to cite Allen Ginsberg. In the course of making this best-of list, I had approximately 2,763 of them. But what that means is so exciting for YA fans: The young adult books of 2015 were so memorable, creative, page-turning, romantic, thrilling, scary, powerful, and so on, that creating a list of the top 25 is a near impossible venture. So i'm just bowing down to YA lit authors this year for giving us this abundance of riches.
Still, there were some YA books that were positively undeniable. There were the books that everyone was talking about — from preteens to your grandmothers. There were the books that you recommended to everyone who was listening (and sometimes when you think they weren't actually listening because you've been saying it over and over again). And there were the books that we're going to keep on our bookshelves or our nightstands for years to come.
These 25 YA books are those books. The following list is numbered so you can find titles more easily, but they are in no particular order. (Because if I had to rank them, my heart would hurt.) Except, the final book on this list is my pick for the best YA book of 2015. Here we go!
1. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (HarperTeen)
How could you talk about 2015 YA and not talk about Red Queen? It positively dominated the cultural conversation for all young adult lit lovers, who wanted to talk voraciously about Mare Barrow, the Reds versus the Silvers, Cal and Maven, and Farley and Kilorn and all the rest. Thankfully, we all have the sequel, Glass Sword, to discuss all through 2016.
2. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte Books For Young Readers)
There was huge buzz circling around Nicola Yoon's debut YA novel Everything Everything, and it certainly delivered. (Dare I say it was everything?) The love story between "bubble baby" Maddie Whittier and her new next-door neighbor Olly broke open into a love story about living life and busting free from what society says you can do, risking everything to feel the bright sun on your face and breathing in the wild air.
3. The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle (Kathy Dawson Books)
For me, The Accident Season is all about the atmosphere — Fowley-Doyle creates this eerie, muddied setting that had me envisioning her whole world clouded by an inescapable mist. Toward the end of October begins Cara's family's titular "Accident Season." For some reason, this time everyone seems particularly vulnerable to falling down the stairs, cutting themselves on kitchen knives, or other accidents. But is it in their heads, or what exactly is haunting this seemingly cursed family?
4. I Was Here by Gayle Forman (Viking Books for Young Readers)
Look, I certainly don't have to sell you on Gayle Forman. She's already done that herself by writing the incredible If I Stay, Just One Day, and the rest, and she has for sure done it again with I Was Here. Her latest novel takes place in the aftermath of Cody's BFF's Meg's suicide, which Cody didn't anticipate even in the slightest. Forman carefully and beautifully talks about the pain that suicide leaves behind.
5. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
You don't get much more prestige than being nominated for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, and it's just a touch of what Laura Ruby's totally unique Bone Gap deserves. Every character is someone you're thrilled to bring into your life, and you'll feel like you could hear the stories of the town of Bone Gap for years. Plus, there's the added elements of magic and mystery, which are really only cherries on top of this killer story about a town where people fall through those gaps.
6. What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler (HarperTeen)
I get it: A fictionalization of the Steubenville rape crimes and aftermath is a totally brutal read. But when it's done as thoughtfully, carefully, and powerfully as Aaron Hartzer does in What We Saw, then you also know that it's an absolute must read. Hartzler's story holds everyone, all of us, accountable for building the kind of rape culture that allows this to happen, as we are all complicit in our silence upon hearing of these horrific crimes.
7. Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (Arthur A. Levine)
Daniel José Older's Shadowshaper is a game-changer — a "chosen one"-esque narrative that isn't about having super-human strength or bravery (though Sierra is certainly brave) but rather an artistic passion and cultural tradition. And it stars a Puerto Rican heroine in a story based in Caribbean legend in an era when we still need a campaign like We Need Diverse Books to state what should be the obvious. The story feels not only innovative but vibrant and alive, and it will put Older at the top of your must-read authors list.
8. Dumplin' by Julie Murphy (Balzer + Bray)
A body-positive, self-proclaimed "fat girl" who is obsessed with Dolly Parton and works crappy low-wage jobs in high school like the rest of us? Oh, and the book isn't about losing weight? Um, yeah, sign us ALL up for this novel. Julie Murphy's Dumplin' captured our hearts, and made us all want to cheer out loud for Willowdean Dickinson, who feels as real and three-dimensional as any protagonist this year.
9. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (Bloomsbury Children's)
How does Sarah J. Maas do it, amiright? After bowling us all over with her Thrones of Glass series, she comes back and hits us with the one-two punch of her new series starting with A Court of Thorns and Roses, which not only has the epic fantasy adventure that we know and love her for, but it's based on the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast. We're not worthy. (But please do keep them coming.)
10. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (HarperCollins)
Hooray to the National Book Award for being right on and choosing Challenger Deep to honor this year for young people's literature. Neal Shusterman's story is intensely personal, based on his own son's struggle with schizophrenia (it even has some of Brendan's artwork in its pages), and it's a deeply affecting dive into what it's like to live in the mind of an mental illness. You can feel its beating heart through the cover.
11. I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios (Henry Holt and Co.)
I'll Meet You There gets incredibly real about poverty, PTSD, and war — but because of Heather Demetrios' incredible storytelling it never once feels preachy or like an "issues" book. You'll feel locked in by Skylar and Josh, and how they experience living in their small, poor town, when Skylar's mother can't hold down a job and everyone treats Josh differently since he came back from serving in Afghanistan missing a leg.
12. Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen (Viking Books for Young Readers)
Sarah Dessen, how do you do the things you do? Any year with a new Sarah Dessen book is a good year, and Saint Anything only made it a great one. The story of Sydney, who is looking for a soft place to land amid her disruptive family life, and the Chatham family she bonds with is chock full of memorable characters, romance that will make you gasp, and a friendship that shows how sometimes we have to make our own family.
13. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
I would give Illuminae a spot on this best list for its pure, wild innovation alone, but the story arc is more compelling than it even needs to be for me to want to snap it up. The story, told in a dossier-style of classified documents, centers on an intergalactic battle but, even more so, the pushes and pulls of a relationship between two exes who are caught in the middle of the battle.
14. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen)
Any book that gains comparisons to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is going to capture my attention, but Adam Silvera's More Happy Than Not takes a unique angle and brings a memory-wiping story to another level entirely. Aaron struggles with painful memories — of his father's suicide, of his own attempt, and of his newfound attraction to a boy named Thomas that puts him in a difficult position with his friends trying to "make him straight" — and Silvera meditates on the ethical issues of the scientific procedure to remove memories, no matter how painful they are. Plus, watch out for the big twist.
15. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers)
Renee Ahdieh kicked off what would become a year devoted to One Thousand and One Nights' collection of tales, and IMHO she did it with such creativity and innovation, without sacrificing the spirit of those ancient stories. Our storytelling heroine becomes Shahrzad, and we get much more of her back story and what happens in those in-between moments when she's not spinning tales for her murderous spouse.
16. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Henry Holt and Co.)
All the thanks to Leigh Bardugo for taking us readers back to her epic Grisha universe — and this time, giving us even more super compelling "heroes." And I say "heroes" with air quotes because these six misfits definitely lean to the criminal, anti-hero side. All I'm going to say is: fantastical, gritty Ocean's 11 (with ladies, too!) that does not disappoint. Now tell me you're not 100+ percent in.
17. Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (Nancy Paulsen Books)
For me, Written in the Stars is so riveting because the setting comes alive in Aisha Saeed's capable hands. Centered on an American teenage girl Naila, Saeed's story follows as Naila is forced into an arranged marriage in her parents' home of Pakistan. It's an all-too-common story, as Saeed notes in her book, and one that's not about the Pakistani culture, but a perversion of it. As Saeed is living happily in an arranged marriage herself, it's such a compelling story about a place and the people that inhabit it written by someone who knows.
18. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez (Carolrhoda Lab)
Out of Darkness is what I dream all historical fiction can be: it's brings you to a particular place in time in the past that feels visceral and necessary, when you juxtapose it with today. Set in the segregated East Texas, 1937, just before the explosion of the New London School, Ashley Hope Perez weaves a story of two teenagers, Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller, trapped on opposite sides of the town's invisible lines and how their love breaks through.
19. Mosquitoland by David Arnold (Viking Books for Young Readers)
When you get past the incredible book cover (which I desperately need framed on my wall), you get to read a modern odyssey of one girl's adventure travelling from Mississippi to Ohio to journey back to see her sick mother. Along the way she meets a collection of oddballs and misfits (as we all should know from travelling by Greyhound), and the end result is this old-school nostalgic American road-trip story that makes you miss a time you never even had. (Unless you Jack Kerouac-ed before, and I'm jealous.)
20. Winter by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel and Friends)
There's a bittersweet feel to reading Winter: it's absolutely glorious to return to your favorite fairy tale-inspired characters, but you know that it's the end of your favorite YA series the Lunar Chronicles. Marissa Meyer does it again; Winter is just as epic, heartfelt, and girl power as you knew it would be. And though it taps out at a massive 824 pages, you'll finish wishing there was another 800 pages.
21. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
After Jennifer Niven released her debut (yes, debut) YA novel All the Bright Places, her young characters Violent Markey and Theodore Finch quickly joined the likes of Augustus and Hazel Grace, Eleanor and Park, and other iconic contemporary YA couples. And it's not all romance (though you will swoon). Niven's debut is also one of those rare stories that gets mental illness so, so right, which is super important today when depression is still stigmatized.
22. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray)
Things get complicated for Simon when he's blackmailed into helping the class clown win over his friend Abby, or else he, and his crush Blue, will be outed as gay. Just try not to fall for Simon and he tumbles through the trials and tribulations of coming of age, with the added pressure of coming (or not coming) out. It's both heartfelt and hilarious, and it feels so authentic to the high school experience. I just wish my high school was populated with some of the electric personalities on display here.
23. All the Rage by Courtney Summers (St. Martin's Griffin)
It's rare to come across a book that feels so absolutely vital and yet not at all preachy. Courtney Summers' All the Rage is a wrenching, difficult story about how rape and reporting your rape can ostracize you and put you in a harsh spotlight you never asked for, which can send you spiraling into despair. It's something we know all too well from real life, not to mention news headlines, and yet Summers addresses it carefully, thoughtfully, and rip-your-heart-out painfully all at once. I hate with ever fiber of my being that we need books that tackle this all-too-common subject, but I'm equally glad that if we do, Summers wrote this one.
24. Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill (Quercus)
Irish writer Louise O'Neill's book made major waves in its journey overseas to the U.S., and rightfully so. The story reminds me of a mix between Margaret Atwood's iconic The Handmaid's Tale and Kazuo Ishiguro's dystopian Never Let Me Go. Women exist in Only Ever Yours only for the service of men — whether they're chosen as a wife, a concubine, or as a teacher for the next generation of girls to learn how to live a life dedicated to pleasing men. Clearly it's essential modern feminist literature, and a thrilling read to boot.
And now, *drum roll*, the best YA book of 2015 is:
25. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (Razorbill)
Sabaa Tahir's debut novel An Ember in the Ashes burst out of the gate with fire. I remember exactly how I felt reading the opening chapters and thinking, "Well, I won't be sleeping tonight." And I meant that because there was no way I was putting it down and because Tahir's depiction of the Masks surrounding her family's house positively haunted me and I wouldn't sleep without nightmares. Nobody warned me I was going to be reading a fantasy, spy story, romance, military training story, traditional Arabic tale, and super-scary horror book. Needless to say, my eyes were drooping as I tore through to the end, and I absolutely can't wait for more Elias and Laia in the sequel A Torch Against the Night. Not to be needy, but gimmie gimmie.