The 30 Best Young Adult Books of All Time

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A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (2003)



The first book in Libba Bray's incredible Gemma Doyle trilogy, A Great and Terrible Beauty whisks you away to a Victorian boarding school in the late-1890s. Think Gothic mansions, corsets, etiquette lessons…and now toss in alternate realms and powerful visions. It's in this fantastic setting that Bray crafts a character-driven narrative that spans three huge—and incredibly entertaining—books that you'll devour.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (1987)

When Brian Robertson's plane crashes in the unforgiving wilds of Canada, he finds himself with only the clothes on his back and a single hatchet. Alone with no way to communicate and a stretch of forest ahead, Brian must learn how to hunt and build a shelter to last the winter. Hatchet is a story of survival, chronicling Brian's trials in the unfamiliar landscape and the emotional impact of the family secrets he's keeping.

If you find you can't get enough of Brian's adventures in the wilderness, check out the four other books in Paulsen's Brian's Saga series.

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (2002)



Nancy Farmer's novel is set in a future North America where a new country exists between the United States and Mexico—the land of Opium, literally. It's there that the drug trade is legal and booming, where vast fields of poppies are grown by mindless slaves who live and die in these monstrous fields of poison.

Living in Opium is Matteo, a clone of El Patron, the man who rules over the land with an iron fist of cruelty and greed. El Patron creates clones to harvest their organs and unnaturally extend his own life, continuing his reign of terror.

As the truths surfaces, Matteo finds himself in the middle of a growing war. Other countries are tired of El Patron, other drug cartels want access to Opium and many people want to shut him down… some on the inside. What follows is a story about fighting for your place in the world when you have dreams that are bigger than what people think you deserve.

The House of the Scorpion won numerous awards, including the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. The sequel, The Lord of Opium, came out in 2013. Pick it up, and experience a terrifying world.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1984)



A coming-of-age classic, Sandra Cisneros' novel tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a teen girl dreaming of a better life than the one she has in her impoverished Chicago neighborhood. The narrative style is a bit experimental, dishing out the story in a series of beautiful vignettes. You'll get glimpses of Esperanza's life as she navigates moving from her old apartment to the house on Mango Street, learning that even though you may leave a place… it's always part of you.

If you're looking for a classic novel that's a quick read, this important book is the perfect pick. It's a little over 100 pages, and the vignettes are easily devoured.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)



The dystopian novel that launched a bestselling trilogy and an epic film franchise, The Hunger Games is an action-packed thrill ride that dishes out a glimpse of a brutal, totalitarian future. It also launched a battle of ships, with fans waging a war between Peeta and Gale. It's such a staple of current pop culture that it feels silly explaining it, but here we go!

The Hunger Games brings readers to Panem, a new nation that's been founded amongst the ruined remains of North America boasting a large, capital city (The Capitol). The Capitol is supported by 12 districts that provide various resources… and annually offer one boy and one girl to the Hunger Games.

In this live-broadcast program, teens fight to the death for the entertainment of the Capitol and the horror of the citizens. And when a 16-year-old named Katniss watches her sister get selected for the event, she volunteers to take her place. The result has earth shattering consequences, with Katniss' bravery leading the country towards rebellion.

The series continues with Catching Fire and Mockingjay, with the stakes, action and romance intensifying with each title. I'd recommend binge reading the whole trilogy in a single week, and then treating yourself to a Netflix movie marathon.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley (2014)



It's challenging to pick just one Robin Talley book for this list. Her stunning LGBTQ novels are beautifully written and incredibly raw, from What We Left Behind to As I Descended. It's in her debut novel though, Lies We Tell Ourselves, that readers find themselves transported to 1959 and are introduced to Linda and Sarah, two teen girls on opposite sides of the Civil Rights Movement.

Linda's family believes firmly in segregation, and Linda has been taught this her whole life. Then Sarah is one of the first black students to attend Linda's once all-white high school. Their lives collide when they're forced to work on a school project together… and then must grapple with the feelings they have for one another.

Lies We Tell Ourselves confronts race, sexuality and a complex landscape as the two teens learn more about themselves, each other and the injustice of the world around them.

Looking for Alaska by John Green (2005)



It's hard not to love a main character whose endearing quirk is that he likes to collect famous "last words." And that's Miles. He absorbs them, memorizes them, studies them… but it's when he comes across the words of Francois Rabelais ("I go to seek a Great Perhaps"), that he questions his place in the world.

Looking for Alaska follows miles in this pursuit as he transfers to a new school and finds himself with an eclectic group of new friends—and a new crush on Alaska Young. She's beautiful and rebellious, a free spirit at the prep school.

The misadventures of Miles, Alaska and their mutual group of friends have all the elements of teen friendships: self-discovery, laughter, love and heartbreak. But the safe bubble of the preparatory school can't protect them when everything comes crumbling down in the wake of a tragedy.

Looking for Alaska delivers a contemporary read packed with the humor and heart for which John Green is so famous.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers (1999)



Steve Harmon is like a lot of teenagers. He has big dreams, like of becoming a filmmaker, but suddenly finds that ground to a horrifying halt.

Because now, he's on trial for murder.

A drugstore owner was shot, and the rumor floating around is that Steve had something to do with it. The accusations in court transform from Steve being a lookout to actually pulling the trigger, and as his life is put in the hands of others, he's forced to consider his place in a system that seems built on racism and wrong assumptions.

Steve delivers his story as a movie script, which unravels with flashbacks and multi-camera shots. The resulting narrative is as gripping as it is unique.

Monster went on to win the Printz and was a National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature. There's a reason for all of those medallions on the book cover; go find out why.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (2015)



Paste picked Adam Silvera's debut novel as The Best Young Adult Novel of 2015 for good reason. A Young Adult take on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the novel follows a teen named Aaron, who wrestles with family, friends, love, heartbreak and sexuality. But in the world that Adam Silvera has crafted, there are ways around the things that way heavy on our minds.

There's a company that will erase your memories, for a price. And Aaron wants to forget the feelings he has for one of his friends. Another guy.

The consequences of Aaron's actions make for one of the most heartrending YA reads you'll ever pick up. And despite the slight sci-fi twist, everything in the novel feels so very real. More Happy Than Not will leave you shaken for days, if not weeks.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967)



In Hinton's classic novel, there are two gangs: the Socs and the Greasers. The Socs are teen kids from wealthy families; the Greasers hail from homes with significantly less. They always fight, but one day it goes too far.

And one of the Greasers kills a Soc.

The seemingly black and white world of one gang vs. another becomes grey as they find themselves hiding out in a church with a gun. Violence begets violence, and as the law descends and friends start to fall, a Greaser named Ponyboy learns painful lessons about his place in the world.

The Outsiders is a story of complicated friendships, class struggles and changing world views. There's a reason this violent, heartbreaking book is required reading in schools across the country.