That’s right, this list goes to 11. Why, you ask? Because I said so. (The mom in me obviously comes out to play every now and then…) Here’s my eleven all-time favorite YA books–each of them is a reread for me. In the case of some, multiple rereads. You should read them…because I said so.
1. Rats Saw God, Rob Thomas (the one who writes Veronica Mars, not the singer)–This book is what would happen if you took My So-Called Life, set it in suburban Texas and made Angela a dude who does a lot of drugs. Good for those of us with 90s nostalgia and a love of grunge music (there’s even a reference to the death of Kurt Cobain–something I remember SO clearly from HS).
2. Looking for Alaska, John Green–An obvious pick, I know…but I really, really love this book. I always recommend that people start here instead of The Fault in Our Stars when they want to “see what all the John Green hype” is about. He won a Printz Award from YALSA for this one, and I think it was well-deserved. Miles “Pudge” Halter leaves his public school for a private boarding school in rural Alabama where he meets Alaska Young. All hell breaks loose in Miles’ world. Prepare yourself for laughter and tears…lots and lots of tears. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
3. The Song of the Lioness Quartet, Tamora Pierce–The first truly YA books I ever read as a kid. I still re-read them on a regular basis. Alanna wants to be a knight but, bummer, she’s a girl. So she switches places with her twin Thom, dresses like a boy, and heads to the palace. Magic, fighting, swords, and thievery ensue. Plus, in book 2, she gets the most awesome pet cat EVER. I just recommend Pierce in general. I’ve loved each of her series–no one writes better female fantasy protagonists.
4. Dreamland, Sarah Dessen–This is definitely much “darker” than Dessen’s usual YA romances, but it’s hands down my favorite. Caitlin is such an authentic, flawed teenager, and you just can’t help but root for her, even when you’re screaming “He’s not just a ‘bad boy’! He’s abusive! And controlling! And getting you involved in drugs!” at her.
5. The Jessica Darling series, Meg McCafferty–Some people say the last 3 books of this series are “new adult” but since I don’t believe that’s actually a thing, I’m gonna say all 5 are YA. I mean, Anne Shirley gets to grow up, go to college, get a job, have babies, raise them, and send two of them off to war, and we STILL call that series “children’s lit”–can’t Jessica Darling and Marcus Flutie have a happy ending and it still be YA?
6. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, E. Lockhart–Feminism, boys, secret societies, basset hounds, Bentham’s panopticon, boarding school. All these things factor into this awesome, brilliant book.
7. Beauty Queens, Libba Bray–What if the plane on the TV show “Lost” was filled with teenage beauty pageant contestants? What if there was a giant conspiracy to kill them all? What if Miss Texas went native and started running around naked and talking to snakes? Best satire I’ve ever read. Hilarious, thought-provoking, and innovative.
8. Stotan!, Chris Crutcher–Another golden oldie from my younger years. It’s about a boys on swim team. In Washington State. Who do some sort of crazy training program named after the Stoic philosophers and the Spartan warriors. There is absolutely no reason I should like this book (usually I prefer to ogle swimmers, rather than read about them), but I adore this book. Crutcher’s writing is so accessible and to the point. Love all his other books too.
9. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card–The only truly science fiction title I love…I just wish OSC’s political and social beliefs weren’t so abhorrent to me.
10. Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson–Melinda doesn’t talk. Anderson takes you inside her brain to find out why. (the seasonal structure of this book is wicked awesome…just thought I’d add that)
11. Anything by Meg Cabot. That’s right–I’ve read ’em all. Cabot’s never going to win a Printz award, but damn. She writes some compulsively readable books. Great humor, fun romance, smart girls. What’s not to love?
So that’s my eleven. I could think of more, and I’ve certainly read a lot of newer titles that have the potential to make this list, but these are tops today. Check them out if you haven’t…I think there’s a YA book for just about anybody on this list.