Favorite well-written young adult novels?
January 9, 2013 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Help me find more young adult novels that I'll enjoy. Snowflakey details inside.

I've seen similar questions on the green, but none that really hook me up with what I'm looking for. I've got a stressful semester ahead, and love to chill before bed by reading young adult fiction. I prefer substance to fluff, like long books, and enjoy historical fiction, dystopias, and alternate worlds, among other things. I prefer a literary prose style or at least a very literate one, and like characters with some depth. I love Robin McKinley's novels and reread them fairly often. But I really need some new things to read. I'm not big on vampires (even though I loved McKinley's Sunshine). I also read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and loved it. I'm thinking of reading Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity, as it's been recommended. Past and current fiction would both be fine.

If you know some adult fiction that fits the bill, feel free to recommend it, too. Thanks!
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy to Media & Arts (47 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series.
posted by mr vino at 10:50 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Try Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip and if that gets your gears turning she's fairly prolific.
posted by Mizu at 10:51 AM on January 9, 2013

Pullman's Sally Lockhart trilogy may be up your street - it's a mystery/historical fiction series set in Victorian England, but is rich with conspiracies, opium dens etc. The Ruby in the Smoke is the first one.

For fantasy - I've in the past enjoyed the Sabriel series, Artemis Fowl and anything by Diana Wynne Jones (Chestomanci, Howl's Moving Castle etc).
posted by pikeandshield at 10:54 AM on January 9, 2013

2nding Artemis Fowl. Just read the first one over the holidays and couldn't get over how good it was. I really enjoyed the writing style. I can't wait to read the next 7!
posted by CdnMathTeacher at 10:57 AM on January 9, 2013

Are you tied to things like "historical fiction, dystopias, and alternate worlds," or are you open to really good YA novels written in a realistic style (i.e. nominally set in the real world) as well?
posted by ocherdraco at 10:58 AM on January 9, 2013

The Giver by Lois Lowry (just found out that there are sequels but I haven't read them).

I'm honestly never quite sure what age level it's "meant" for because I've read it about a dozen times (starting when it was read to me before I could read myself), but I highly recommend The Phantom Tollbooth.
posted by radioamy at 11:00 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I strongly recommend Kathleen Duey's Resurrection of Magic trilogy, starting with Sacred Scars, though the third book hasn't come out yet (and the covers are, to my mind, ugly).
posted by cider at 11:01 AM on January 9, 2013

You might like Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty. It takes place in 1895 and includes journeys to what might be described as an alternate world.

Seconding The Giver and its sequels (though I didn't really like the last one, Son, as much as the others).
posted by gubenuj at 11:05 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Everyone I've recommended the unique Monster Blood Tattoo series to has liked it quite a bit. The second book in particular is nice and meaty.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:06 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea Quartet.

(On Edit: I note that it's now grown to a sextet.)
posted by pont at 11:07 AM on January 9, 2013

I just read all of Lois Lowry's Giver quartet recommended above in November. I have nostalgic fondness for The Giver and have read it many, many times, so I was set up to enjoy the whole series (and I did!). I don't know that I'd describe it as too terribly literary, but the dystopian slant to the story/stories was really compelling for me.
posted by hungrybruno at 11:11 AM on January 9, 2013

Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy.
posted by zinon at 11:12 AM on January 9, 2013

Do you know about Forever Young Adult? That blog is my lifeline for YA recommendations. I've requested from the library everything I hadn't read from their Best of 2012 list, and so far I have not been disappointed.
posted by something something at 11:14 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for the suggestions so far! Also I'm open to realistic YA fiction if anyone wants to suggest some titles.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 11:16 AM on January 9, 2013

Oh! Oh! My favorite genre is YA dystopian and Robin McKinley is one of my all-time favorite authors. Here are some of my favorites, most of which I consider very well written:

- The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (obvious, but for the sake of completeness) - also, have you read her Underland Chronicles series? Aimed at a younger audience, probably 11-ish, but really quite good
- The Divergence trilogy by Veronica Roth - only book 1 and 2 are out so far, but really, really good!
- The Matched trilogy by Allie Condie
- The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness (first book is Knife of Never Letting Go)
- The Birthmarked trilogy by Caragh O'Brien
- The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner - OK, to be fair, the first book is by far the best; rest are kind of meh
- The Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb (first book is Assassin's Apprentice) - I did not like the 'sequels', the Liveship trilogy at all, but YMMV
- The Hollows series by Kim Harrison (first book is Dead Witch Walking): not quite dystopian, not as well written and maybe a bit more out there, but enjoyable bubble gum reading
- Ella Enchanted by Gail Levine - not dystopian at all, but Robin McKinley-esque

I'll probably think of more, but these should get you started...
posted by widdershins at 11:20 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Joan Aiken!
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:21 AM on January 9, 2013

Code Name Verity is GREAT and reads like the best historical fiction. One of my favorites of 2012 and I'm about to read it for a third time.

All of the things widdershins suggested are fun reads, but I'd argue a lot of them aren't at all literary. YMMV.
posted by leesh at 11:23 AM on January 9, 2013

the divergence books (divergent and insurgent) are the reason i have started rabidly reading YA fantasy in the last few months.

i just read beautiful creatures by kami garcia and margaret stohl. the four-part series is complete and the movie for the first one comes out this year. that said, i didn't think the book was very good.

the delirium series by lauren oliver is very popular. i'm halfway through the first book, and i'm not sure how i feel about it yet.
posted by anthropomorphic at 11:24 AM on January 9, 2013

growing up, i read a bunch of robin mckinley. my favorite series at the time was the wren to the rescue books by sherwood smith. the series is more middle grade but she has other books set in the same world that are for a little older audience.
posted by anthropomorphic at 11:26 AM on January 9, 2013

I read David Almond's Skellig a couple of days ago and had tears of various types streaming down my face over the course of the couple of hours it took to read it.

I can still scarcely believe how good it is-- and how powerful.

Too short (~186 pp) to keep you occupied as long as you'd like, I gather, but at least it won't cost you as much sleep that way, because I doubt you'll be able to put it down.

And he has written quite a few others, I'm delighted to be able to report.
posted by jamjam at 11:29 AM on January 9, 2013

Oh, speaking of Lauren Oliver, she has a GREAT stand-alone YA novel called Before I Fall, really beautifully written, about a bitchy teenager reliving the last day of her life over and over again (Groundhog's Day-style).
posted by leesh at 11:29 AM on January 9, 2013

Seconding Diana Wynne Jones, specially Howl's Moving Castle, the Chrestomanci series, and Fire and Hemlock.

I'm not sure if they fit your requirements, but Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books are very fun.

Adult fiction: I recently read Kushiel's Dart, by Jacqueline Carey (stole it from this question) and really liked it, however, the erotic scenes are very much into S&M.
posted by clearlydemon at 11:29 AM on January 9, 2013

How historical do you want your historical fiction? I'm currently reading everything I can find by Rosemary Sutcliff (technically a children's author, but she wrote before YA was a category, and in any case I am not sure she would fit well into modern YA either), who wrote entirely historical fiction, most famously a series of novels (beginning with The Eagle of the Ninth) about Roman Britain, with later entries in the series spanning all the way into Britain in the Dark Ages, including a take on King Arthur. There's a lot of adventure in the series (the first few books at least are basically Boys' Own Adventure Stories), and she has a lot of very lush description, especially nature description, of the sort that doesn't usually get used in children's/YA lit these days. YMMV, but I think it's great.
posted by sineala at 11:44 AM on January 9, 2013

I think that you would like Margo Lanagan. She writes creepy stories in very lush, literary prose, often based on fairy tales. The Brides of Rollrock Island is a selkie story and one of my favorite YA books this year (Code Name Verity is the other); Tender Morsels is excellent as well, but darker; and she has a number of short story collections that are really good.

Something made me think of Geraldine McCaughrean's The White Darkness. It's the story of a hearing-impaired teen who goes on a trip with her uncle to Antarctica, and it's a bit of a literary thriller, but it's one of the best examples I can recall of an unintentionally unreliable narrator.

Frances Hardinge is a British fantasy YA writer and criminally underrated, I think -- Fly by Night and Fly Trap are about a girl named Mosca (named for Palpitattle, who keeps flies out of jams and butter churns!) in a sort of alternate version of England in the time of Cromwell -- the books are kind of classic rollicking adventures that also go off into delightful segues about atheism and justice. The language is wonderfully inventive and free-wheeling. Also there is a goose named Saracen.
posted by Jeanne at 11:46 AM on January 9, 2013

Feed, by MT Anderson, fits a lot of your criteria. It is excellent - very thoughtful and well-developed.
posted by luciernaga at 11:46 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend The Pox Party (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation #1) by MT Anderson, and anything by Markus Zusak.
posted by LizardOfDoom at 11:46 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Kristen Cashore! I would link but I'm at work (and posting from a phone)

Also, M. T. Anderson. Every one of his books is fantastic.
posted by bibliogrrl at 11:48 AM on January 9, 2013

I am fond of Margaret Haddix's Shadow Children series.
posted by BibiRose at 11:48 AM on January 9, 2013

Absolutely LOVED Gail Carriger's "Parasol Protectorate" series and she has just written the first book of a new series of YA novels!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 12:17 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thirding Diana Wynne Jones. I love Robin McKinley and Philip Pullman, and DWJ is one of my very favorite authors. Happily she has written many wonderful books, so you have many hours of literary delight awaiting you. I'd suggest starting with the Chronicles of Chrestomanci.

Another author whose work really shines is Nancy Farmer. One of her best is The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm. It's a story set in Zimbabwe in 2194, and Farmer's blend of African mythology, language, and futurism is not to be missed. Another book of hers that you'd probably enjoy is the Newberry and Printz-winning The House of the Scorpion, a book from the POV of the clone of a drug lord.
posted by Devika at 12:20 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

You shouldn't just think of reading Code Name Verity, you should actually read it because it's amazing.

Kristin Cashore is great and recommended above, I was very fond of Tom Pollock's The City's Son which reminds me of a sort of slanted Neverwhere, Laini Taylor is great but maybe not so very YA and a bit dark (but truly, truly wonderful), Sarah Beth Durst's Vessel was very good, I have rather enjoyed Gabrielle Zevin's Birthright books because they're about rumrunners-in-the-future/mob, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Karen Healey, Sangu Mandanna's first book was very fun, Cat Valente's Fairyland books are a bit more middle grade than YA but also good, Rae Carson has interesting worldbuilding going on, Tammara Webber has a few self-published books out that have been picked up by a standard publisher, Jasper Fforde's YA/Middlegrade Dragonslayer books are also fun.

The Book Smugglers review mostly YA and are worth checking out for suggestions.
posted by jeather at 12:55 PM on January 9, 2013

Try A Drowned Maiden's Hair and Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz.

I also recommend actually reading The Princess Bride book.

Speak is absolutely amazing, but is a bit heavy.

Tuck Everlasting is classic.

The Tiffany Aching set of Terry Pratchett's Discworld (and for that matter, anything by Terry Pratchett)
posted by zizzle at 12:56 PM on January 9, 2013

Terry Pratchett's "Dodger" (non-Discworld) is YA set in 19th-century England. Lots of historical figures and period details.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:58 PM on January 9, 2013

Thirding Kristin Cashore - Graceling is a good place to start.

I think Sarah Rees Brennan is vastly under-appreciated in the US - you go along being impressed with how clever and fun it all is and then she makes you want to cry, and then you have to go start the next book. I'd recommend starting with The Demon's Lexicon (her new Unspoken is also great, but I might wait until the sequel is out unless you're willing to be left hanging).

If you're at all interested in a world with zombies, Carrie Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth has lovely writing.

Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone has wonderful world building and pretty language, though I found the romance plot-line a tad cloying.

Jo Walton's Among Others is wonderful, especially if you've been a teenager addicted to sci fi.

In a more historical vein, as a teen I loved Anya Seton's Katherine, though I haven't reread it recently.
posted by unsub at 1:16 PM on January 9, 2013

Love a lot of the books already mentioned, but you might also want to give Seraphina by Rachel Hartman a try! One of my faves of 2012 and I don't usually like fantasy books.
posted by wsquared at 1:53 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh man read Chime, by Franny Billingsley. So literary! So great. Ignore the hideous covers (the paperback is somehow EVEN WORSE than the hardcover, aggh).

n-thing Daughter of Smoke and Bone - the sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight, was FAR AND AWAY the best book I read this year.

Libba Bray wrote a historical fantasy trilogy that I enjoyed a lot. The first one is A Great and Terrible Beauty.

For dystopias, Blood Red Road and The Knife of Never Letting Go are my favorites.

Also, if you like historical fiction, Philippa Gregory is a lot of fun. Gilt by Katherine Longshore is actually marketed as YA, and is very Gregory-esque.

posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:49 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dystopian/otherworlds: Maurice Gee's The Halfmen of O trilogy - set in NZ, cousins Susan and Nick get pulled into the wars of a parallel world accessible through an old mining shaft.

Time travel: Ruth Park's Playing Beatie Bow - set in the Red Rocks area of Sydney - protagonist Abigail is hurtled back to the 1800s (I think?) and has to solve the mystery of how to get home to her own time.

Realistic YA: Cynthia Voigt's books about the Tillerman family - Homecoming is the one where the teen girl protagonist hikes across country with her younger siblings after they're abandoned by their crazy mother and it's excellent.
posted by pink_gorilla at 3:01 PM on January 9, 2013

The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak. Fantastic.
posted by flying_trapeze at 3:08 PM on January 9, 2013

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead has time travel and shoutouts to some classic children's books. Won the Newbery Award.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff is short, but packs a punch. A 15-year-old girl goes to stay with her cousins in England. War breaks out and things get complicated.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is wonderful and heartbreaking.

Legend by Marie Lu is a dystopia set in Los Angeles. I didn't love it, but at the same time I couldn't stop reading it.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is the first book of a trilogy (book 2 is Leviathan, book 3 is Goliath). It's an alternate history WWI, with sentient airships and manufactured creatures, and a plucky young girl who wants to join the airship corps.
posted by mogget at 3:54 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your time and your suggestions. I'm happily downloading samples, plotting a library visit, and looking forward to some happy reading hours.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 6:46 PM on January 9, 2013

I've only read her adult romances (recommended, BTW), but based on them I plan to read Mary Jo Putney's Dark Mirror YA series.
posted by Lexica at 8:59 PM on January 9, 2013

If you liked His Dark Materials, there is a similar series called The Dark Reflection by Kai Meyer. First book is called (in English anyway; I believe the series was originally German) The Water Mirror. Only instead of Lyra's England and frozen North, it's Merle's Venice and Egypt.
posted by cuculine at 9:12 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tanith Lee, probably starting with The Claidi Journals.
posted by anaelith at 3:21 AM on January 10, 2013

Neil Gaiman has some great YA stuff. Try "The Graveyard Book" or "Coraline."

His non-YA stuff might also be up your alley too. "Good Omens" is pretty much the best book ever.
posted by Mayor West at 5:41 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a little surprised to get this far and not see Uglies by Scott Westerfield mentioned! I went through a period of really wanting YA books (set off by The Hunger Games, unsurprisingly), and this was one of my favorite finds. Fits your dystopian qualification.

Most of the other books that I would suggest have been mentioned already, but if you aren't averse to fantasy, I recommend pretty much everything by Tamora Pierce. I'm especially fond of the Beka Cooper trilogy, which had a grittier sort of feel to it (the main character is basically a cop).

On the non-YA end of the spectrum, it sounds to me like Guy Gavriel Kay would be perfect for you. He writes historical fantasy, which mostly means that there might be very minor magical elements and the countries have different names but are pretty similar to their real world counterparts (he talks about why he does that in this essay on his blog). My absolute favorite of his books, if you only read one, is The Lions of Al-Rassan, which is set in a place a lot like early medieval Spain during the time of El Cid. It is beautiful and bittersweet, and I can't recommend it enough.
posted by ashirys at 7:45 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

All of Heinlein's juveniles are pretty good; Citizen of the Galaxy is my favorite.
posted by roystgnr at 9:04 AM on January 10, 2013

2nding Guy Gavriel Kay, though I would skip his Fionavar Tapestry series for the much more satisfying Sarantine Mosaic duology.

A book that's pitched to a younger readership and popular in public schools that I love for both the bespectacled middle school protagonist and the incredibly textured portrait of a Florida community in flux (The Wire for pre-teens?) is Edward Bloor's Tangerine.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:46 PM on January 11, 2013

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