Let's get one thing straight: there's nothing wrong with reading YA books as an adult. There's nothing wrong with reading popular YA as an adult, or with reading YA novels that some people consider "trashy." As a former Young Adult who read anything involving aliens, robots, or teens with animal sidekicks, I'm not in any position to judge what anyone else reads. But... I think we can all agree that some YA novels don't get nearly enough love, while others get... maybe just a little too much love. Here are a few overrated books from the YA shelf, and what you should read instead.
It's not that these overrated YA books have no merit at all. It's just that they're not quite living up to the hype. Or they're playing into a lot of gross stereotypes. Or they have plots that have just been done to death. I mean, seriously, we can only read about white hetero teen vampires falling in love so many times.
So if you want to descend into your hidden bunker to reread the Twilight books in secret, away from the judgmental eyes of human society, don't let me stop you. But if you're tired of seeing the same couple of "classic" YA novels everywhere you go, then here are some alternative reads that deserve a lot more love:
1'Twilight' by Stephanie Meyer
Twilight is a pretty easy target for haters, so let me just say that I loved Twilight when I was a tween (I also loved The Phantom of the Opera, though, so I clearly had a thing for books about horrifying relationships). I don't think Twilight lovers should be chased out of the village with torches and pitchforks. But... I do think Twilight is a popular book that romanticizes an abusive relationship. Stalking is not cute in real life. It's a crime. And Twilight does a terrible job of representing the very real Quileute people, who are very much not werewolves.
Instead, try 'Let the Right One In' by John Ajvide Lindqvist
If you're looking for vampires, John Ajvide Lindqvist can give you vampires. The "romance" is admittedly a lot less sexy than in Twilight (assuming you find stalking and abstinence sexy), because the kids are younger. But Lindqvist's take on the young vampire romance is deeply creepy. It's poignant. It complicates gender when it turns out that the "girl" next door might not fit so neatly into one particular box. It's an all-around brilliant novel that happens to be about vampires.
2'Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment' by James Patterson
Oof. Maximum Ride. A genetic experiment has created six kids who are 98% human, 2% bird (lucky that 2% of genetic code gave them wings instead of just a love for bread crumbs). They fly around and get chased by werewolves. They speak like "edgy teens," or at least how an adult man thinks edgy teens might speak. There's... not much in the way of character development or storytelling. Look, if you like to watch video game cut scenes for hours on end, then you'll probably enjoy the Maximum Ride series, and that's fine.
Instead, try 'Who Fears Death?' by Nnedi Okorafor
Who Fears Death? is set in a post-apocalyptic future Sudan, in a region plagued by genocide. Onyesonwu is born out of violence, but she is also gifted with strange abilities. Nnedi Okorafor doesn't shy away from dealing with real life brutality and misogyny, even in a fantasy setting. Her narrative risks pay off, and Onyesonwu's journey is a much more compelling story of a supernatural teen trying to find her place in the world than Max Ride's ever was.
3'Looking for Alaska' by John Green
Wait, WAIT, before you start composing that angry tweet, let me say that I love John Green. I think he's written many brilliant YA novels, a lot of which subvert the whole "manic pixie dream girl saves brooding male" archetype. It's just that... Looking for Alaska doesn't subvert anything. It was Green's first major book, and it plays the whole "girl makes boy appreciate life through WHIMSY" trope pretty straight. Alaska Young is only a character so that she can make our white male lead feel things. It's a very well-written story... it's just one that we've heard one too many times before.
Instead, try 'Juliet Takes a Breath' by Gabby Rivera
Do you want teens struggling to find themselves? Here's a teen struggling to find herself, and she does it without leaning on any overused, sexist tropes. Juliet Takes a Breath is a funny, charming, gorgeous book about Juliet Palante, who's leaving the Bronx to spend the summer interning in Portland. She just came out to her family, and she's going to spend this summer figuring out her entire life... sort of. A great read for anyone looking to find their voice.
4'The Host' by Stephanie Meyer
Not to double down on the Meyer hate... but oh boy, The Host. Yikes. This book was literally marketed as "science fiction for people who don't like science fiction" (read: women), which sent me into a nerd rage back in the day. There's a nugget of an interesting story in here, about bodily autonomy in a world of body-snatching aliens... but it's smothered by bland characters and blander romance.
Instead, try 'Dawn' by Octavia E. Butler
Butler manages to have interesting female characters, elements of romance, and a genuinely engaging plot about Earth being "taken over" by aliens who want to merge with the human race. And she does all that with about half of Meyer's page count. In Dawn, Lilith Iyapo finds herself one of the sole survivors of an atomic war. She must now face the strange Oankali—alien visitors who want to "save" humanity in their own fashion. Lilith is forced to choose between letting the planet Earth die, or becoming mother to an entirely new kind of human.
5'Eragon' by Christopher Paolini
Honestly, I think it was all downhill as soon as I realized that "Eragon" was just the word "Dragon" with an "E." Eragon is a perfectly good book, and Paolini was only 15 when he wrote it... but I think it's time for Eragon to be de-throned when it comes to YA high fantasy. We all know that the plot is just Star Wars, with some shades of Lord of the Rings and a little pinch of all those books about a white boy and his dog.
Instead, try 'Huntress' by Malinda Lo
Huntress is YA high fantasy that gives you all the fairies, magic, and teen heroes you could possibly want, while also feeling like a completely unique piece of writing. The world of Huntress is not your typical faux-medieval Europe. It's not just Lord of the Rings with a new coat of paint. It's a grand fantasy tale, complete with action, adventure, and romance between its two heroines.