"Young Adult." It's one of those terms that evokes all kinds of passionate responses — depending on the social circle in which its uttered. In college writing workshops, fellow aspiring-authors would leave notes on the margins of my stories that read: "This is great! But does it need to be young adult?" Once, after I announced my first book deal, a friend told me, "Congratulations — now when are you going to write a real book?"
For some in the high-brow literary crowd, young adult is a dirty word and will always be a dirty word. In 2014, a Slate contributor wrote a seething article called "Against YA" in which they argued that "YA endings are uniformly satisfying." But those of us who get YA also get the satisfaction of seeing characters earn their Ever Afters — be they happy or otherwise. Studies say 70% of people buying Young Adult books are over the age of 18. Think of all the readers that YA is bringing to the table. Clearly, this isn't just a trend. Young adult is tackling important topics with nuance and grace and honesty, and readers of all ages are buying it to experience that.
Why? Because life is a series of coming-of-ages. You come-of-age during puberty, but also when you move out of your parents house, when your parents divorce, when you get married, when you get your heart broken (and broken again), when you have your own children, when you decide children aren't for you, when you come out in your 40s, when life is inexplicably unlivable. One of the constants of existence is that we are never done growing up.
Here is a list of YA books everyone needs to read at least once in their lifetime. This list could be 1000 books long, but it's a start, with a little something for everyone:
1'Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe' by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Two boys with seemingly nothing in common explore family, loyalty, identity, and love. Bonus: Lin-Manuel Miranda narrates the audiobook.
2'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' by Sherman Alexie
For those who haven't read this book (who are you?), it is time. The novel follows Junior, who takes his future into his own hands when he decides to attend school outside of his reservation.
3'Empress of a Thousand Skies' by Rhoda Belleza
A space opera about a princess on the run and a boy accused of accused of her murder. Think Arya Stark but in space.
4'The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas's debut is about Starr Carter, the only witness in the shooting of an unarmed Black teen by a White cop.
5'Feathers' by Jacqueline Woodson
This book — a subtle exploration of a girl's hope — will crush you in its 118 pages.
6'Love is the Drug' by Alaya Dawn Johnson
As a deadly flu virus sweeps the nation, two teens uncover what could be the biggest scandal in U.S. history.
7'Done Dirt Cheap' by Sarah Nicole Lemon
Two girls rage against the world in this powerful debut novel by Sarah Nicole Lemon.
8'Out of Darkness' by Ashley Hope Pérez
A 2016 Michael L. Printz Honoree, Out of Darkness, tells the story of two teens in love in 1937 Texas during a time of segregation.
9'The Coldest Girl in Coldtown' by Holly Black
This is the vampire novel you didn't know you needed in your life.
10'Lair of Dreams' by Libba Bray
The second installment of The Diviners trilogy follows Evie, "America's Sweetheart Seer," as she wields her power to save Roaring 20s-era New York City from a mysterious, malevolent force.
11'Iron Cast' by Destiny Soria
Set in 1919 Boston, Iron Cast follows two girls who are caught in the crossfires of a battle between gangsters and the law.
12'The Sun is Also a Star' by Nicola Yoon
She is about to be deported back to Jamaica. He is trying to get into college to live up to the expectations of his Korean parents. Over the course of 24 hours, they fall in love.
13'Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass' by Meg Medina
A heartbreaking novel about bullying set in Queens, New York. Bonus: Gina Rodriguez is set to produce the Hulu adaptation.
14'Witch Eyes' by Scott Tracey
This paranormal romance follows a powerful witch caught between warring families. What happens when he falls in love with the boy he's also destined to kill?
15'Pointe' by Brandy Colbert
Speak meets Black Swan in this acclaimed 2015 debut novel by Brandy Colbert.
16'American Street' by Ibi Zoboi
A novel that blends an immigrant story with magical realism and asks readers to contemplate a tough question: "What is the cost of freedom?"