Young adult fiction is having a major moment. Though the genre is intended for readers aged 12-18, adults and teens alike have recently been swept away by YA powerhouses like the Divergent and Hunger Games series, John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” and, of course, Harry Potter. It’s easy to see why—YA captures all of the magic, drama and beauty of contemporary fiction while remaining markedly readable. In fact, the genre serves as an introduction to many of the realities its readers will encounter during their formative teen years, from the diverse experiences of others to the drama of a first love and the development of an understanding of self.
Ready to dive in? The 10 novels below are widely considered required reading, both for fans of YA and newcomers to the genre.
“Esperanza Rising” by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Stunning imagery and soaring prose lead the titular Esperanza from her well-to-do life in Mexico to her backbreaking days as a migrant worker in California during the Great Depression in this critically-acclaimed tale.
“Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson
At times darkly funny and at others profoundly sad, “Speak” is a seriously powerful read about trauma. Though the subject matter is difficult, Anderson’s poetic handling of protagonist Melinda’s high school experience remains riveting until the novel’s dramatic conclusion.
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” by Judy Blume
There’s a reason moms have been gifting their daughters with this classic since its publication in 1970. Sure, the occasional reference might seem a little dated, but the essentials—boys, friend drama, your first period—still ring oh-so-true.
“The Giver” by Lois Lowry
A favorite in high school curricula, “The Giver” set the stage for the dystopian universes dominating YA today. Join Jonas as he discovers his unexpected talents…and finds that things aren’t always as they seem.
“Holes” by Louis Sachar
You may have seen the Shia LaBeouf film, but, as always, the book is way better. Magic, history and harsh reality weave together as seamlessly as the lives of Stanley Yelnats and Hector Zeroni in this charming and captivating read.
“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie
When 14-year-old Junior transfers out of his local school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to the all-white, off-reservation school 22 miles away, he struggles not only with adjusting to a new school and making friends, but with issues of identity, class and family.
“Monster” by Walter Dean Myers
As he awaits his trial for murder, 16-year-old Steve recounts his experiences as if they’re taking place on film. His script takes the reader through his trial, raising questions about truth, justice and racism in America.
“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak
A favorite in the YA community, “The Book Thief” follows the coming of age of book-loving Liesel in Holocaust-era Germany. Narrated by Death, the novel is no light read, but the stunning language and moving character development make it well worth the inevitable tears.
“Looking for Alaska” by John Green
Most people have read Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars,” but his lesser-known debut novel is perhaps even more stunningly written than the 2012 blockbuster. Featuring free spirit Alaska and the boy who comes to love her, Green’s intoxicating tale lingers far after the last page.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky
High school is hard for everyone—but especially for Charlie, a socially awkward freshman who finds himself swept up in a whirlwind friendship with a boy named Patrick and his stepsister, Sam…a girl that, to Charlie, seems impossibly perfect.