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13 best young adult books, recommended by librarians

From fantasy to coming-of-age stories, the young adult category is for everyone.
Three Young Adult books
Although YA reads reflect the commonalities that many teens experience, these books are loved by many.Amazon

Young adult books may be marketed toward people ages 12 to 18, but that doesn’t mean these reads are limited only to teens. Of those who buy YA books, 55% are over 18 years old, according to a WordsRated survey.

LEARN MORE What is the young adult category? | Why are YA books so appealing to all age groups?

According to Grace Dwyer, a youth material selector at The New York Public Library, YA books are just like any other books in terms of genre, format and writing style, but the difference is that they reflect issues teens face.

“Teens are busy exploring and defining their identities, interests and place in the world, so YA books tend to deal with topics like coming of age, sexuality, religion, race, family, friendships, love, death — the same domain as all literature, as long as it’s written with this age group in mind,” Dwyer says.

How we picked the best YA books

To introduce you to some of the best YA reads available today, we spoke to librarians who specialize in this category and interact with teenagers and their reading habits on a daily basis. These librarians picked a variety of different genres — from fiction to graphic novels — that young adults, and others, can relate to. We also listed a few staff favorites from some of the avid readers on our team.

The best YA books, recommended by librarians

Below are books from various genres that are highly rated and loved by teens — and adults — across the nation.

You Should See Me in a Crown’ by Leah Johnson

Liz Lighty has always felt out of place in her small, midwestern town of Campbell, Indiana — too black and too poor to shine. After her plan to get out falls through, she’s forced to take matters into her own hands and do something she's loath to do: campaign for prom queen to win a scholarship from the school. This book is a perfect mix of queer joy and the realistic challenges facing high school seniors, according to children’s librarian Allison Hahn and collections librarian Laura Berestecki, both of the Boston Public Library.

The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins

As I’ve gotten older, this series stands the test of time. The first in a trilogy, “The Hunger Games” paints themes of revolution and survival against a dystopian backdrop. Thrilling, heartbreaking and inspiring, this entire series is an essential read. I still haven’t found anything quite like it.

All My Rage’ by Sabaa Tahir

A National Book Award Winner, “All My Rage” is a story about two Pakistani teenagers living in a tiny California town who experience loss and trauma together. “There are times when teens want a book that builds to give you a punch in the gut, emotionally, and ‘All My Rage’ is both gorgeously written and almost guaranteed to make you cry,” says Robin Brenner, teen librarian at Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts.

The Firekeeper’s Daughter’ by Angeline Boulley

A favorite of Hahn, Berestecki and Brenner, “The Firekeeper’s Daughter” is a must-read for mystery lovers. Set in a Native American community, this YA thriller tells the story of 18-year-old Daunis Fontaine, the child of a white French Canadian mother and an Ojibwe father. When she witnesses a tragic murder, she reluctantly goes undercover for the FBI to help solve the case using her knowledge of both cultures. Her findings, however, end up unraveling long-held secrets that threaten her loved ones. “Setting the story in the author's own Ojibwe community in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is beautifully rendered,” Brenner says.

The Sunbearer Trials’ by Aiden Thomas

This book takes you through a fantastical world filled with gods, competition and glory. In “The Sunbearer Trials,” semidioses are selected to compete in a series of challenges. The catch? This year’s chosen ones are weaker and less trained than their more powerful opponents. Hahn and Berestecki recommend this series as an “excellent option for those looking to recapture the feeling of reading ‘The Hunger Games’ for the first time.”

Heartstopper’ series by Alice Oseman

Originally a webcomic and now a graphic novel series and popular TV show on Netflix, the “Heartstopper” books celebrate queer love, friendship and heartbreak via two students at an all-boys grammar school in Great Britain. “It's adored by the younger range especially, and for its smart and sensitive look at mental health and disordered eating,” Brenner says.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club’ by Malinda Lo

Set in San Francisco in 1954, this story follows two teenage girls in Chinatown who fall in love during the Red Scare. “[This novel] knits together shared identities and the importance of community,” Hahn and Berestecki says.

Legendborn’ by Tracy Deonn

The first book in a planned trilogy, “Legendborn” is filled with mystery and magic, and is a top pick of Hahn, Berestecki and Brenner. It is set on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill and draws on the history of slavery in Confederate times while incorporating touches of Black Girl Magic, Black spiritual traditions and Arthurian legend.

Turtles All the Way Down’ by John Green

A favorite of assistant updates editor Zoe Malin, “Turtles All the Way Down” follows 16-year-old Aza Holmes, as she investigates the disappearance of her friend’s billionaire father. “The main character has obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety, and Green writes her inner thoughts and emotional turmoil in such a deep, empathetic way,” Malin says.

Me (Moth)’ by Amber McBride

McBride wrote “Me (Moth)” in a poignant lyrical verse, which Brenner says is popular among YA readers. It's told from the perspective of Moth, a Black teen whose family is killed in a car crash. When Moth meets Sani, a young Navajo boy, they embark on a road trip to discover more about themselves and their roots.

Like a Love Story’ by Abdi Nazemian

Set amid the AIDS crisis in New York City, this moving story follows three teens as they grapple with their identities, their relationships with each other and the social climate around them in 1989. Hahn and Berestecki say this emotionally touching read “shines a light on the young queer experience.”

Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately’ by Alicia Cook

This collection of poems is organized into two “sides” akin to mixtape. Side A has illustrated poems that cover love, heartbreak, grief and growth. Side B then takes the poems from Side A and creates new poetry from it. Each poem also has a song attached to it. I received this as a gift during the pandemic, and was touched by it.

The Weight of Blood’ by Tiffany D. Jackson

A fresh take on the horror classic “Carrie,” Hahn and Berestecki say this book is impossible to put down and may even be better than its original. For this updated version, Jackson brings race to the conversation and sets the book at a Georgia high school on the night of its first integrated prom.

What is the Young Adult category?

Both Dwyer and Brenner label YA as a category, not necessarily a separate genre. YA books focus primarily on topics that teens most relate to and usually have a main character who falls between 13 and 18.

Why are YA books so appealing to all age groups?

YA books are appealing to audiences for many reasons. One is their general length and brevity, making them quick, easy reads. There is also a wide range of genres explored within the YA category — such as fantasy, romance and coming-of-age stories.

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Grace Dwyer is a youth material selector at The New York Public Library.
  • Allison Hahn is a children’s librarian at the Brighton Branch of the Boston Public Library.
  • Laura Berestecki is a collections librarian at the Boston Public Library.
  • Robin Brenner is a Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts.

Why trust Select?

Katrina Liu has been covering books for Select since she started as an intern in September 2022. An avid reader in her youth, she spent her summers at her local library volunteering and breezing through books. For this piece, Liu interviewed four librarians that specialize in YA reads to gain their insight into this category.

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