Every person who reads young adult lit has that one book that kicked off her dazzling YA love affair. Mine was the Fearless series by Francine Pascal (you might remember her from the Sweet Valley High books, too). I started this series in middle school and quickly became OBSESSED with Gaia, the kickass heroine who was born without “the fear gene.” I even wore super-unflattering cargo pants and tanks for the duration of my freshman year because I wished I could be as badass as her, so I literally tried.
I think people fall in love with YA because these books portray universal emotions we've all felt before. Reading YA as a teen made me realize that I wasn’t alone in these feelings. Even if we can’t relate to every single situation within the pages, they have the ability to immerse us in a world of exciting firsts — of love, friendship, identity, heartbreak, and so much more.
So if you’ve never read YA, and even if you’ve read a zillion YA novels, this list of books is sure to make you fall in love with the genre over and over again.
'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak
Historical fiction fans will enjoy this moving YA novel. Liesel Meminger lives just outside of Munich with her poor foster family during 1939. In a time of great peril, Liesel makes the best of things, including befriending the neighbor boy, Rudy, and Max, the Jewish refugee hiding in her basement. Told through the narration of Death, The Book Thief is an unforgettable novel.
'Jellicoe Road' by Melina Marchetta
When I first picked up Jellicoe Road, I was frustrated and lost and wondered where this story was going. But oh! It really does come together in a beautiful way. 17-year-old Taylor Markham, who was abandoned by her mother at age 11, is now the leader of her boarding school dorm. But when Hannah, her only close mother figure, disappears, and Jonah — a boy from Taylor’s past — emerges, Taylor begins to slowly put together the missing pieces of her life.
'The Truth About Forever' by Sarah Dessen
Sarah Dessen is definitely an iconic name in YA, but if you’re not sure which one of her 12 books to pick up first, The Truth About Forever is always an excellent starting point.16-year-old Macy is dealing with the death of her father by staying on top of things she can control, like her grades. But when she joins Wish Catering and discovers a more chaotic, loving group of people — including gorgeous Wes — she finds what love, friendship, and healing truly mean.
'Mosquitoland' by David Arnold
After moving from Cleveland to Mississippi with her father and step-mom, Mim Malone learns her real mother is sick and, because of this, steals cash to catch a Greyhound bus back to Cleveland. Through her journey she experiences unexpected twists and meets some interesting, memorable characters. The writing is stunningly poignant, and each character is so cleverly written that you’ll be wanting to reread immediately once it’s over.
'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins
Although nearly all the movies are already released, The Hunger Games series is definitely worth reading. Set in a dystopian future where two children from each district must compete to win glory and rations, The Hunger Games is a brutal process of elimination. And when 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen voluntarily takes the place of her younger sister, she and her teammate, Peeta, must work together for survival.
'Pointe' by Brandy Colbert
Although this is a darker, heavier story, it’s nothing short of stunning. This novel follows Theo, who’s overcoming an eating disorder and training hard to become a professional ballet dancer. After her abducted childhood friend, Donovan, is returned home after being missing, Theo slowly reveals what she knows about his abductor and the guilt of her secrets.
'Anna and the French Kiss' by Stephanie Perkins
Those who crave swoony romances will enjoy this adorably witty novel. After being forced to attend a prestigious boarding school in Paris during her senior year, Anna ends up befriending a lively group of friends — as well as the gorgeous Étienne St. Clair. The clever voice and well-known struggles of first crushes and falling in love are sure to capture the hearts of readers.
'Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe' by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
This beautifully compelling novel is about Aristotle and Dante, two Latino teen boys who form an unlikely friendship. In this coming-of-age tale, the two friends confide in each other about nearly everything, including friendship and family troubles, while experiencing a number of firsts: sexual identity, cultural identity, and self-identity. It’s an elegant story that hits home on all the confusing, exciting feelings of growing up.
'The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer' by Michelle Hodkin
If you like darker, more intense novels, then you’ll love this psychological thriller. Mara Dyer can’t remember anything that happened the night of the accident that killed her best friends. Even after starting a new school and befriending the sexy, confident Noah Shaw, Mara’s sinister experiences, nightmares, and dark hallucinations continue to unfold in a breath of chilling twists. It’s an enticing read that’s sure to have you up all night.
'Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky
Over the years, Perks has evolved into a YA classic. A coming-of-age story set in the ’90s, 15-year-old Charlie expresses his thoughts and feelings through letters to an unidentified friend. But as the letters get more erratic, we realize there’s something Charlie’s keeping from us. This unforgettable novel will easily worm its way into your heart.
'Everything Leads To You' by Nina LaCour
When recent high school grad, Emi, goes to intern as a production assistant in Los Angeles for the summer, she doesn’t expect to become obsessed with a mysterious letter she found at an estate sale, and she definitely doesn’t expect to slowly fall in love with the beautiful, charming Ava. This is a spectacularly written novel with a focus that isn’t solely on Ava and Emi’s lesbian relationship, but about the real, raw feelings of falling in love with someone you care about.
'The Scorpio Races' by Maggie Stiefvater
The Scorpio Races is an enriching, unique story about Sean, returning champion to racing these deadly water horses each year, and Puck, the first girl ever to ride in these races in order to save her home. This beautifully written novel will have you addicted to Stiefvater’s writing.
'Wintergirls' by Laurie Halse Anderson
Written by the emotionally powerful author who authored Speak, Wintergirls realistically portrays the terrible, raw nature of Lia and Cassie —two girls competing against each other in an anorexia competition. But after Cassie’s death, Lia must face the heart wrenching aftermath while struggling to discover who she wants to be.
'Written in the Stars' by Aisha Saeed
Naila’s Pakistani parents have given her freedom on few things with the request that she follows tradition of an arranged marriage they’ve planned. But when her parents discover she’s fallen in love with Saif, they leave America for Pakistan, where Naila learns her parents have already found her a husband. This complex, eye-opening story brights light to this cultural reality with themes of love, heartbreak, and family.
'Across the Universe' by Beth Revis
Sci-fi fans should enjoy this timeless adventure. Amy agrees to be cryogenically frozen for 300 years alongside her parents in order to travel to new planet, Centauri-Earth. But things go wrong, and Amy is awoken early by someone’s attempt to murder her. With the help of Elder, soon-to-be commander of the spaceship, they race to solve a mystery that takes even more twists and turns.
'The Summer I Turned Pretty' by Jenny Han
Isabel aka “Belly” has always enjoyed spending time at Cousins Beach with her family, her mother’s good friend and her two sons, Conrad and Jeremiah. Told in an nonlinear narration between summers, this is a dreamy, beautiful story about growing up and the hardships of family, friendships, and falling in love.
'An Ember in the Ashes' by Sabaa Tahir
This addicting YA fantasy and now New York Times bestseller has been talked about quite often recently, but it’s sure to quickly win you over. Told in dual points of view from Elias, a solider in the Martial Empire, and Laia, who would do anything to save her brother from treason, their two worlds collide in a gripping, haunting, and captivating way.
'Two Boys Kissing' by David Levithan
A novel inspired by true events, Two Boys Kissing is about Harry and Craig, two boys who set out to break the 32 hour kissing record held in the Guinness Book of World Records. The unique voices of this story are all told by gay men who’ve died of AIDS, tackling subjects like identity, love, anger, and heartbreak. This is a soulful novel that will have you intrigued until the very end.
'Looking for Alaska' by John Green
Although John Green is widely known for his most recent book, The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska is his debut, and a beautifully written novel. 16-year-old Miles, searching for a way out of his boring old life, decides to attend Culver Creek Boarding School in Alabama, where he meets a fun group of friends and the ever-mysterious, intelligent Alaska Young. But after tragedy hits, Miles and his friends are left to deal with the unthinkable aftermath.
'My Heart and Other Black Holes' by Jasmine Warga
This beautifully written novel gives readers a gritty, realistic portrayal of living with depression. 16-year-old Aysel plots her suicide by reaching out to Suicide Partners, a website where two people can plan their death together. There she discovers Roman, a boy who wants a way out of a past tragedy. But as the two bond, Aysel begins to realize the finality of her decisions. Although this story deals with heavy themes, Warga is able to perfectly balance humor and empathy in all the right places.
'The DUFF' by Kody Keplinger
When popular jock Wesley tells Bianca that out of all her friends, she’s the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend), Bianca begins to question everything. But with her family life crumbling around her, she uses Wesley as strictly a friends-with-benefits distraction. It’s all going well — until she begins to have feelings for him. The Duff is an inspirational, love yourself novel that reminds us it’s what’s on the inside that counts.