Before YA had the massive crossover appeal that it does now, many of us likely missed out on a ton of great classic reads—from obsession-worthy contemporary to must-read fantasy—either because we were too young when they were released or "too old" to believe that books about teenagers would appeal to us. Plus, YA wasn't even considered a category until recently, so books could so easily slip by unnoticed.
But there are countless incredible YA novels out there, both those that make their ways on to every list of must-read books and more modern picks that are destined to become classics.
These books all speak to some part of the experience of transitioning into young adulthood and, especially for women, there are some truly heartfelt, heartwarming, harrowing and relatable reads out there that can still bring something to your life, even if you're far past the marketing age.
The 25 books below only begin to skim the surface of young adult reads about coming of age and being a woman. Some are sweet romances, some of cultural phenomenons; still others are heart-wrenching books of loss and courage, while some are classics that you probably only skimmed through in school. Each one has become a major player in the genre, or at least a pop culture icon you'll want to quote for years to come.
'Anne Of Green Gables' by L.M. Montgomery
What It's About: Anne Shirley, an 11-year-old orphan, is sent by mistake to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her.
Why You Should Read It: Anne's plucky spirit and optimistic attitude somehow mean even more as an adult. If she can pick herself up by her bootstraps every time she makes a mistake, from a mouse in the pudding to plying her best friend with red currant wine, then you can definitely overcome that "reply all" email situation.
'Alanna: The First Adventure' by Tamora Pierce
What It's About: Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So they decide to switch places: Thom heads for the convent to learn magic; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page. But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies.
Why You Should Read It: This gender-bent tale is the leader of its genre, a classic girl-power story that paved the way for so much of the girl-power fantasy we've come to take for granted in young adult.
'The Princess Diaries' by Meg Cabot
What It's About: Mia Thermopolis is pretty sure there's nothing worse than being a five-foot-nine, flat-chested freshman, who also happens to be flunking algebra. Is she ever in for a surprise. First Mom announces that she's dating Mia's algebra teacher. Then Dad has to go and reveal that he is the crown prince of Genovia... and she is a princess. And guess who still doesn't have a date for the Cultural Diversity Dance?
Why You Should Read It: Mia's witty diary entries made this series a massive success, producing 10 books in the series and a couple of movies to boot. This series came to define YA in the early 2000s and helped lead to its modern popularization.
'Speak' by Laurie Halse Anderson
What It's About: Melinda is friendless because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work that she is finally able to face what really happened at that party: She was raped by an upperclassman who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time, Melinda refuses to be silent.
Why You Should Read It: In 1999 when it was first published, Speak was considered revolutionary, a gritty and real story that did not shy away from the harsh realities of teen life. It helped pave the way for modern reads like 13 Reasons Why (and the currently pop culture phenom Netflix adaptation) and encouraged teens to speak out, and parents and education professionals to take notice.
'Angus, Thongs And Full-Frontal Snogging' by Louise Rennison
What It's About: This tale follows 14-year-old Georgia Nicholson as she attempts to woo Robbie, one half of a pair of fraternal twins. Prone to getting herself into embarrassing situations and worried about her parent's marriage, Georgia discovers that being a teen can be a pain in the neck.
Why You Should Read It: Louise Rennison perfectly captured the soaring joys and bottomless angst of being a teenager. In the spirit of Bridget Jones's Diary, this irreverent and hilarious book brought British humor to an American teen audience, and spoke to their more brash, and honest, sides.
'Sold' by Patricia McCormick
What It's About: Lakshmi is a 13-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. When the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family’s crops, Lakshmi’s stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family. He introduces her to a glamorous stranger who tells her she will find her a job as a maid in the city. Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House” full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: She has been sold into prostitution.
Why You Should Read It: Written in evocative vignettes, this book introduced teen readers to the cruel realities of life for girls like Lakshmi, rendering a world that is as unimagineable as it is real. Heartbreaking, yet hopeful, it demands to be read.
'The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants' by Ann Brashares
What It's About: Carmen got the jeans at a thrift shop. They didn’t look all that great: they were worn, dirty, and speckled with bleach. On the night before she and her friends part for the summer, Lena decides that they should all try them on. Whoever they fit best will get them. Nobody knows why, but the pants fit everyone perfectly. They decide to form a sisterhood and take the vow of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. The next morning, Carmen, Lena, Tibby and Bridget say goodbye, and then the journey of the pants — and the most memorable summer of their lives — begins.
Why You Should Read It: Another classic early-2000s contemporary series, these novels not only became must-reads for an entire generation of teens, they delved into deeper topics like family dynamics, young romance, body image issues, illness, and much more. If current fan outcry over a third movie is any indication, these stories have stood the test of time.
'Twilight' by Stephenie Meyer
What It's About: Bella Swan has just moved to Forks, Washington, where she meets Edward Cullen, a vampire who both thirsts for her blood and is obsessively in love with her. The pair of star-crossed lovers carry on a forbidden relationship against the backdrop of small town suspicion and a seriously dangerous coven of vampires who are out to get them. Oh, there are also werewolves.
Why You Should Read It: Twilight brought on a modern wave of YA fantasy books rivaled only by the influence of Harry Potter—and that's saying something. Though the pop culture references have died down since the hugely successful film series ended, you still can't call yourself a true reader of young adult until you've read this book (and, if you can manage it, the series.)
'To Kill A Mockingbird' by Harper Lee
What It's About: This story follows Scout Finch and her older brother Jem, whose father Atticus is a well-loved lawyer currently defending Tom Robinson, a black man who has been accused of raping a white woman. Meanwhile, Jem and Scout are intrigued by their neighbours, the Radleys, and the mysterious, seldom-seen Boo Radley in particular. It's about growing up and seeing a sleepy Southern town rocked by a crisis of conscience.
Why You Should Read It: To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic. It is considered one of the masterpieces of American literature, making it a must-read for any bibliophile.
'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins
What It's About: The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. When 16-year-old Katniss's sister, Prim, is selected, Katniss volunteers to take her place.
Why You Should Read It: This cultural phenomenon was the first of a huge modern wave in dystopian YA, that led to a massive box office hit as well as crucial discussions about our culture: violence in media, the lengths we go to for entertainment, our obsession with fashion, technology and social media, and much more.
'A Tree Grows In Brooklyn' by Betty Smith
What It's About: The story focuses on an impoverished but aspirational, second-generation Irish-American, adolescent girl and her family in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, during the first two decades of the 20th century.
Why You Should Read It: Considered a classic of American literature, the story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. It brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience
'Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone' by J.K. Rowling
What It's About: Harry Potter's life is miserable. His parents are dead and he's stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he's a wizard. Though Harry's first year at Hogwarts is the best of his life, not everything is perfect and soon Harry will come into contact with forces more terrifying than he ever could have imagined.
Why You Should Read It: J.K. Rowling not only wrote one of the most beloved series of all time, she also wrote some of the most iconic and badass heroines: Hermione Granger, Molly Weasley, Luna Lovegood, Minerva McGonagall and more. These books are cultural landmarks and a huge piece of the backbone of modern YA.
'The House On Mango Street' by Sandra Cisneros
What It's About: Told in a series of vignettes—sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous—it is the story of a young Latina girl named Esperanza Cordero growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become.
Why You Should Read It: This acclaimed book is a milestone for Latinx American literature, taught everywhere from grade schools to universities. It brought the modern young Latina experience to a wider audience, opening up questions about growing up, belonging, and the harsh realities of the American dream.
'The Diary Of A Young Girl' by Anne Frank
What It's About: In 1942, a 13-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the "Secret Annexe" of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period.
Why You Should Read It: This thoughtful, moving, and even sometimes amusing diary-turned-memoir is one of the most fascinating and heartbreaking accounts we have of the Holocaust. This history is not only required reading, but Anne Frank's self-portrait is a sensitive and spirited portrayal of teen life even at its most tragic.
'Annie On My Mind' by Nancy Garden
What It's About: The story of two teenage girls whose friendship blossoms into love and who, despite pressures from family and school that threaten their relationship, promise to be true to each other and their feelings.
Why You Should Read It: This book was grounbreaking when it was first released in 1982 (not to mention so controversial it was not only banned from libraries, but publicly burned in Kansas City). It is considered one of the first, and one of the most influential LGBT books ever written for teens, opening the door for hugely popular modern authors like Nina LaCour and David Levithan.
'This Lullaby' by Sarah Dessen
What It's About: When it comes to relationships, Remy doesn't mess around. After all, she's learned all there is to know from her mother, who's currently working on husband No. 5. But there's something about Dexter that seems to defy all of Remy's rules. He certainly doesn't seem like Mr. Right. For some reason, however, Remy just can't seem to shake him. Could it be that Remy's starting to understand what those love songs are all about?
Why You Should Read It: Sarah Dessen is one of the leading names in modern YA romance, helping shape the game for authors like Gayle Forman, John Green and more. This Lullaby is one of her most beloved and most influential picks.
'The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks' by E. Lockhart
What It's About: Frankie Laundau-Banks is no longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer. Especially when “no” means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society. Not when her ex-boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places. Not when she knows she’s smarter than any of them. When she knows Matthew’s lying to her. And when there are so many, many pranks to be done. Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16: Possibly a criminal mastermind. This is the story of how she got that way.
Why You Should Read It: This tale combines fun YA elements like romance and boarding school hijinks with more modern questions of women's equality, the case for feminism, and dismantling the old boy's clubs we've come to accept as permanent. Frankie Landau-Banks became a leader in the wave of books tackling these issues for a millennial audience almost 10 years ago, and continues to be one people turn to for a great girl-power read.
'Sabriel' by Garth Nix
What It's About: Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him.
Why You Should Read It: With Sabriel, the first installment in the Abhorsen series, Garth Nix exploded onto the fantasy scene as a rising star. Another early case of female led fantasy, this series has come to be a defining factor in the genre as we know it today.
'The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas
What It's About: Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug. Protesters are taking to the streets. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
Why You Should Read It: This YA book takes on crucial aspects of modern life that many teens can relate to: the Black Lives Matter movement making headlines throughout the U.S. and the world; police brutality and injustice; and growing up black in world that sees blackness as a danger, something to fear. Thomas paints a full picture of the realities of life for black families in black neighborhoods, giving readers a heartfelt, heartbreaking look at our current reality.
'Fangirl' by Rainbow Rowell
What It's About: Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. Now that they’re going to college, Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words. And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who's never really been alone. For Cath, the question is: Can she make it without Wren holding her hand?
Why You Should Read It: This modern coming of age story combines current ideas (fandom and social media) with classic contemporary tropes (a guy with a heart of gold, well-meaning teachers, complicated family dynamics) for a book that is at once timely and timeless. Rainbow Rowell has become one of the biggest names in today's YA, and Fangirl one of the most beloved books.
'Anna And The French Kiss' by Stephanie Perkins
What It's About: Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris...until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all, including a serious girlfriend. But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss?
Why You Should Read It: Firmly on the path paved by Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins became the epitome of millennial YA with her Anna, Lola, and Isla three-book series. Anna and the French Kiss has come to be one of the most beloved and celebrated books in the genre, with many of today's contemporary YA romance being compared to her work.
'Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi
What It's About: Persepolis is the story of Satrapi's unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming—both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland.
Why You Should Read It: This chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence is at once outrageous and familiar, delving into a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up. It is one of the most celebrated graphic novels of all time, threading heartbreak and humor with history.
'Brown Girl Dreaming' by Jacqueline Woodson
What It's About: Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child.
Why You Should Read It: Jacqueline Woodson is one of the most celebrated authors of the modern age, and her poetic memoir sheds light not only on her own experience but keeps the realities of the cruel Jim Crow south in our collective conscience when we need it more than ever. A great introduction to this history for teen readers, and a moving reminder for adults.
'The Fault In Our Stars' by John Green
What It's About: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.
Why You Should Read It: John Green, and in particular TFIOS, helped usher in the new wave of YA as we know it today: full of crossover appeal, with authors who have the potential to become media celebrities, all part of a massive industry that influences not only literature but movies, television shows, and other teen-based businesses.