Best young adult novels?

So NPR just released the results of a poll it conducted asking people to nominate and then vote on finalists in the category of teen novels. I did see the poll soon enough to vote on the finalists. I found that I was a little surprised at some of the books that were nominated enough to make it to a finalists list of 235 titles. There were some fun books on there, but quite a few weren’t ones I would consider truly excellent or memorable. I do think that this final 100 is fairly good and mostly reflects books that will stand the test of time.

Some of my favorites on the top 100 are these:

  • Harry Potter. No question. These books were popular for a very good reason. Not only was the whole series complex, detailed and full of wonderful twists and turns, but it had great characters, an unforgettable world to visit and revisit, and cleverness and wit galore.
  • The Book Thief. Yes, it got a lot of attention and word-of-mouth when it was published a few years back, and rightly so. Many books have been written about the Holocaust, but this was one that was relatable for teen readers as well as adults and was beautifully rendered, powerfully affecting and vividly evocative.
  • The Giver series. I suppose that this was almost an early entry in the now-burgeoning sub-category of dystopian novels. But each of the novels in the series got my attention and made me think about the cost of “equality” and “perfection.”
  • His Dark Materials series. When I finished the first book in this series, I was kind of scratching my head and not sure if I wanted to continue. But I’m so glad I forged on. The series was just so imaginative and deeply thought-provoking I wished I could just continue to experience it. And that is the hallmark of a great book: it creates a land you simply don’t want to leave.
  • The Dark Is Rising sequence. A never-to-be-forgotten school librarian introduced me to these books when I was only nine years old. I will forever be grateful. Even on multiple readings as an adult, I am still in awe at how well-written these books are and how complex. This is one of the best epics of good versus evil, light versus dark, EVER. Magic, Arthur and Merlin, the old hills in Wales … it’s all steeped in British legend.
  • Flowers for Algernon. Love, love, love this book. It can make me cry every time, too. What a lovely story about intelligence and humanity and gaining new skills and a new life and then losing them.
  • The Mortal Instruments and the Infernal Devices series. I absolutely adore these books by Cassandra Clare. When I found the first set a few years ago, I devoured them in no time flat. The story is good, but the characters and their dialogue and interactions are the best part. I loved how Clare could make me laugh out loud, and the romance between the two main characters is truly sizzling.
  • Anna and the French Kiss. I don’t know how much this completely compares to the others on my list here for utter staying power and memorability in, say, 20 years from now, but it absolutely delighted me. It’s a very fun teen romance.
  • If I Stay. Wow, what a great book. I loved the absolute real-ness of the whole story and its ability to make me root for the characters. The main character has such a beautiful relationship with her family members. I loved that the family unit was intact and that the parents and children loved each other so much. But at the same time, the main character has to decide if she should go with them or stay with her life and her boyfriend, who is a fine young man.
  • Feed. I really didn’t like the HUGE amount of strong language in this book. For me, it was really distracting. But the story is a really fine tale to get teens thinking, no question, about the amount of electronic interaction they have in their worlds. How far will we go as we allow electronics to become literally embedded in our lives?
  • The Hunger Games series. Yes, these are almost so ridiculously popular right now it seems silly to comment on them. But they are good books, and no doubt will become new classics.
  • A Ring of Endless Light. I read all of the Madeleine L’Engle books I could get my hands on when I was a teen. I will have to write about L’Engle in another post sometime. I just feel bad she didn’t get better represented on this list. She was amazing.
  • The Goose Girl. OK, I haven’t read this one. I must change that. I have read about five other Shannon Hale books, and I think she is an amazingly talented writer. She writes with a beautiful, lyrical style in the “serious” books, and she’s just got a great sense of humor in her lighter ones.

A few I thought were good but I don’t think will necessarily stand out from the crowd given a few years:

  • Divergent series. I did enjoy the first book, but I haven’t even felt compelled to read the second one yet. I may or may not get around to it.
  • Vampire Academy? Bloodlines? Wha? I don’t think so. I only think it’s on here because it and a bunch of other similar books are riding the popularity coattails of Twilight. If I’m wrong, please tell me I must read these and why. Same goes for House of Night series. Coattails.
  • Sarah Dessen books Just Listen, Along for the Ride, and The Truth About Forever AND This Lullaby. Wow. Four whole books. Eh. I enjoyed reading Along for the Ride, and I wrote that it was good, but apparently it wasn’t great enough for me to want to rush out and read more, and now I barely remember it.

And then there are a few others that are kind of in the middle for me. I did enjoy the Shiver series by Maggie Stiefvater, but I don’t know if I’d call it among the 100 best. Hm. Same goes for Delirium. I admit I eagerly await the third book after finishing the second installment, but we’ll have to wait and see if it should also be among the top 100. I would probably put Uglies as a single book in the top 100 for sure, but as much as I really liked that book, I liked the series less and less as it went along. I just didn’t like the direction it ended up taking. I also read Before I Fall and Unwind, which were thought-provoking in their own ways, but I don’t know if they’d get top billing. At the same time, though, I haven’t read any other Neal Shusterman, but I hear he is quite good, so he does probably merit a spot in the top list. As for the Gemma Doyle trilogy, I read the first book and was only mildly interested. Never read the rest.

I may very well need to make this into a series of reflections and think about some books I’d add onto the list if it were mine. But that is going to be for another post and another day.

Reading life

lifeandlims View All →

I'm a book reviewer, editor, and writer with four daughters and tons of projects always keeping me hopping. I blog at Life and Lims and run the book review site Rated Reads.

8 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Wow, I’m going to go check out that list right now. I haven’t read all of the books you commented on here, but I pretty much agree with what you’ve said about the ones I’m familiar with.

    And! You should definitely read the Goose Girl series. It’s fantastic.

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