The Reading Life: Young Adult Books for Everyone

“The Reading Life” is another new feature on I’m going to compile themed lists of books and provide a bit of commentary about each one.

This list was originally published on Wisconsin Public Radio’s website as part of my Do Nothing But Read Day program on the Joy Cardin Show. I’ve added a few titles to the list. I am currently in school to become a librarian, and my focus is on young adult services. I love young adult literature; I think it is some of the best work being published today. The best YA lit is accessible to everyone because it contains timeless themes of friendship, growing up, and developing a sense of individuality. That inner conflict is what drives many of these plots.

I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak is a fantastic author from Australia. This novel is about an underage cab driver in Melbourne whose life is not what he wanted it to be. One day, he gets a playing card in the mail and a list of addresses. It is up to him to figure out what he is supposed to do and who is sending him the playing cards. (You will never guess.)

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman

This amazing novel won the Newbery Medal in 2009. It’s about a young boy named Bod who is raised in a graveyard and attempts to avenge the murders of his parents and sister. A great introduction to Neil Gaiman, who is the author of American Gods and Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett).

Paper Towns by John Green

John Green is also the author of An Abundance of Katherines and Looking for Alaska, both excellent books. Paper Towns was selected as a 2009 American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults. Green’s novel is a nuanced look at mental health, friendship, and adolescence. There’s a car scene in there that made me snort liquid out my nose, and another scene that left me bawling.

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen

This is the first in The Luxe series. (The others are Rumors, Envy, and Splendor.) I’ve been describing it to people (and the listeners of WPR) as “Gossip Girl in 1899.” The Luxe is about Elizabeth Holland, a Manhattan socialite who is in love with the stable boy. Every chapter begins with an excerpt of a newspaper gossip column, etiquette manual, or letter. These books are incredibly addictive.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

It is sometime in the future, and civilization has been taken over by zombies. The village is surrounded by a fence; it is the only village left in the world. How can Mary survive once she’s out of the fence? A compelling, fascinating novel that goes beyond horror into social commentary.

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo is the author of The Tale of Despereaux, which won the Newbery Medal in 2004. The Magician’s Elephant recounts the tale of a young boy whose dream is to find his sister. A fortuneteller predicts that an elephant will bring them together. Magic ensues. This book reminded me that I am not the only person who affects what happens in my life; it takes a group of people to make change.

Feed by M.T. Anderson

M.T. Anderson is also the author of the Octavian Nothing books that have gotten a lot of praise lately. Feed takes place in the future, where most people have an electronic feed implanted in their brains at a young age. The feed notices patterns in what a person thinks about, what they buy, what shows they watch (like Oh? Wow! Thing!), and what they feel. It’s a bleak view of a potentially bleak future.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Frankie Landau-Banks wants to join the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds at Alabaster Prep, but she’s not allowed to because she’s a girl. How far will Frankie go to prove her point? This tongue-in-cheek novel seems to be told by an older Frankie looking back at her high school days.

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

I can’t really tell you anything about the plot of this book without giving anything away. However, I can say that Micah, the main character, lies about everything. Everything. She’s manipulative, unlikable, and selfish, but her story is compulsively readable.

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

This novel won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2008. Evie is a teenager living in New York City just after World War II. Her stepfather, Joe, is a wonderful man who takes care of Evie and her mom. One day, after a mysterious phone call, the family takes an impromptu trip to Florida, where Joe runs into an old friend. The family is torn apart by the things Evie sees and by the lies everyone tells.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Marcus lives in San Francisco in a not-so-distant future. His school is equipped with gait recognizing technology to catch truant students (so Marcus puts pebbles in his shoes); the Internet isn’t safe from prying eyes (so Marcus accesses the Web in other ways); and the government is locking up innocent people who just want to be free in the ways they communicate with each other (so Marcus starts an underground movement). This is a timely book that made me want to start a revolution.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This is another novel about dystopia. The United States has been dissolved into a country called Panem. It is further divided into twelve districts. Katniss is from District 12, the poorest region of the country. She volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death among twelve young people, one from each district. This novel is full of adventure, strategy, and mystery.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

This book is based on a Chinese folktale. It didn’t seem like the kind of book I would like, but I was instantly transported to another time and place. Lin weaves together traditional folktales with an effective message about female power.

Have an idea for the next installment of “The Reading Life”? Send me an email and I’ll see what I can do!


About Amanda K

Amanda K holds a master's degree in Library and Information Studies. She's a housewife, a Planned Parenthood volunteer, a sewist, and an aspiring gourmet home cook. View all posts by Amanda K

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