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It is during our teenage years that many people discover the joys of reading. Despite living in an age where the internet is bigger than ever, reading has never gone out of style. During my teenage years I read so many books that I still to this day, cannot forget. If you’re scouting for new reading material, or a good book to give as a gift, take a look at the list below.
I’ve decided to divide these books into 4 categories: Fantastical worlds, brain breaks, thought provoking, and the older side of the young adult genre.
I haven’t based this list on reviews or recommendations. They are all books that I have read and enjoyed during my teenage years. I have decided to exclude some of the greater franchises such as the Harry Potter books, Twilight, and the Game of Thrones series, because of their established fame and well deserved place on anyone’s reading list. I have read many books in my time and I’m sure someone will think that I am missing a lot of books that are worth reading, but a list needs to end at some point. Spoiler, many of these books are trilogies or series.
These are books that are set in a fantasy world, unlike our own.
'Northern Lights/The Golden Compass' (1995) – Philip Pullman
Before there was Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent, and even before there was Harry Potter, there was Northern Lights. It is an amazing story about the girl, Lyra, who lives in a world similar to ours, but where people’s souls walked beside them in the shape of animals. The story follows Lyra’s journey as she searches for her friend Roger who has been kidnapped by snatchers. Her journey takes her to the north of the world where she meets the king of the polar bears, witches, and see strange experiments involving the curious substance, Dust.
Set in a brilliantly written world, Philip Pullman draws you into the story about Lyra. The series consist of three books. Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. This series was one for the first major book series that I read when I was young. I began reading the book when I was about 10, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that the book is kid-friendly. Because the main character(s) in the books are teenagers as well it creates a deep level of connection and understanding between the reader and the protagonist. If anyone ever asks me: What book should I read? I always say Northern Lights.
The series was rereleased in 2017 along with the publication of Dust. A book about the origin of the substance that caused so much trouble in the original series. A small warning though, if you’re thinking of reading the books and you decide you might as well watch the film to gain an understanding of the story, don’t. As a big fan of the books, the film is a major disappointment to the beautiful story.
'The Queen of the Tearling' (2014) – Erika Johanson
This trilogy is a story about the young, recently crowned Queen Kealsea and her fight to save her kingdom. A truly thrilling book, perfect for young adults and any adult who likes a little big of magic, mystery, and historical fiction. This book is reviewed as an "unputdownable" and I completely agree. I finished these books in a matter of days and would even consider going back and read them again.
This book isn’t for the smallest of kids since it does involve slavery, fights, depression, and war, but the book reflects a "realistic" fantasy world rather than a romanticized one.
'Matched' (2010) – Allie Condie
I read this book when it was first published in 2010. I was 13 at the time and couldn’t wait for the next book to be released. Running along the same theme as The Hunger Games, the book is set in a totalitarian state, where the people are living strict lives, governed by the heads of state. The reader follows the young Cassie as she grows up and learns about the reality of her country and her life.
This book deals with growing up, discovering who you are, and breaking free from the oppression of others. This is a great book for younger readers, who perhaps have read The Hunger Games and want something similar to that or want to read something that isn’t necessarily The Hunger Games.
Brain Break Books
These are all books that take place in our world and are generally just delightful and fun easy reads.
'Halo' (2010) – Alexandra Adornetto
All teenagers have a phase where everything is about vampires and/or angels. I have had both phases and have read many different books and series about both vampires, angels and what falls out of those categories. Halo is one of the angel stories that have stayed with me throughout my teen years. It is the story of three angels, sent to earth to strengthen belief, but love and other forces are at large.
A wonderful love story, perfect for taking your mind away from every day life.
'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' (1950) – C.S Lewis
This is a classic book that can be read on its own or as part of the larger Narnia series. It’s a great book for parents to read for their kids, but it is also a great book for young adults. I first read this book when I was about 8 years old, then at 16 I decided to go back and reread it with a new perspective. It is a lovely story that draws you into the magical world of Narnia, and I’d recommend it to anyone who loves a little fantasy.
'All I Know Now' (2015) – Carrie Hope Fletcher
This is a book for the younger side of the young adult fanbase. It is a non-fiction book, written by the brilliant Carrie Hope Fletcher about her life, and her experiences up until her early 20s. The book was written by a very whimsical and caring personality and since Fletcher reflects on her own experiences as a teenager in the 21st century, a lot of teenagers will be able to relate to her struggles and will perhaps find some comfort in her stories.
The book was published when I was around 18, and upon reading it, I remember wishing that it had been written when I was younger. I therefore recommend any young girl or boy seeking a little advice on how to deal with this teenage thing to give this book a read.
These are all books that have made me stop and think. They’re not all very pleasant and they all deal with quite heavy subjects, but they are books that have helped shape my thinking and who I am today.
'1984' (1949) – George Orwell
This book is a staple on many school reading lists, and for a good reason. Although written as a sci-fi/futuristic book, the story is incredibly relevant to our world today and quite possibly our future.
The story is set in a dystopian, totalitarian society. The reader follows the life of Winston Smith, a seemingly unimportant man, as he starts to see his world for what it really is. There are many political aspects of this book. It touches on aspects of totalitarianism, censorship, privacy, surveillance, freedom and rebellion. Thinking of when this book was written and with what accuracy is was written (figuratively) it raises many questions about who we are as humans. Questions that in my case have never gone away.
'Nothing' (2000) – Janne Teller
This book was originally written and published in Denmark and is not for the faint of heart. It has since been translated and can now be bought in English.
The book follows a group of 7th graders in a Danish school. One of the boys shows up one day having realized that nothing ever matters. There is no meaning in anything we do or anything we have. To dispute him and to show him that there are things of meaning in the world, his class mates start to form a pile of meaning. It starts with one girl having to put her favorite earrings in the pile, she can then choose who should put something down next, and what that should be. In their quest to find meaning the pile become more and more grim.
This book sparks a lot of thoughts about what life means, how much we matter and how we give things meaning. I read this book when I was in 7th or 8th grade. I will not recommend small children to read this, but for those who likes to be challenged in their thinking, this is a great book for you.
'Looking for Alaska' (2005) – John Green
Despite this book having been around for quite some time, I only discovered it when I was 17. Green is the definition of a YA writer. His protagonists are mainly teenagers, he deals with a lot of issues that many teenagers face themselves. I’m not thinking of cancer or death, but loss in general. How to deal with the world around you, your emotions, and who you are in this world. Looking for Alaska follows the teenager Miles as he starts at a new boarding school, makes new friends, and experiences heartbreak and loss.
It is a beautifully written book. I have not read other books by Green, but I have two sisters (one older, one younger) who both have read some of his other works. They both highly recommend Green for any YA out there that wants to read about life and youth.
For the Older YA Audience
These are the books that are a little on the heavier side. They’re dealing with more brutal subjects or are just more generally directed at an older audience.
'The God of Small Things' (1997) – Arundhati Roy
I had to read this book in school, and it may have been one of the best books I have ever read. This book is so beautifully written it would make me laugh and cry at the strangest of times. This book isn’t an easy read, the writing is almost poetic, but it evokes such strong images and gives such a good image of what life in India was like at that time.
The story follows a set of twins in a touchable family in India. The story revolves around an incident that happened when they were kids, and how them and their family have dealt with that. The story is told in flashbacks to the time of the incident, and in their current time when they are grown up. A word of advice when reading this book, take your time. You need patience to read this book. The story won’t be laid out in front of you, but if you truly put yourself into the story and into the writing it can be one of the greatest reading experiences of your life.
'Room' (2010) – Emma Donoghue
This is a difficult story. The reader follows the young boy Jack, who has grown up in a single room, believing that that is the whole world. His mother, Joy, was kidnapped when she was young and has been kept prisoner and been used and molested by her kidnapper for several years. The reader follows Jack and Joy in their fight to escape.
This is a story about depression, life, kidnapping, abuse, and childhood, all seen from the eyes of a five-year old boy. Despite being a heavy topic, the book is whimsical and at times very funny because of Jack’s perspective. The book has also been made into a film, which became a huge success at the 2016 Academy Awards.
'To Kill a Mockingbird' (1960) – Harper Lee
This may not be a Young Adult book per say, but it is a classic, and with good reason. This book is simply amazing. Like with the God of Small Things, be patient with this book. The story is great, and it gives you not only a history lesson, but a lesson about humans and human nature.
It’s very simple. I love this book, and I think it’s a book everyone should read at least once in their life.
'Me Before You' (2012) – JoJo Moyes
A truly wonderful story about disability, finding yourself, daring to do life and love. The story follows Lou, as she begins a new job as a carer for the quadriplegic Will Trayner. Together, they open the world for each other and see that life is full of possibilities.
Younger audiences could read this book, although it is directed more towards the adult community. This book is one of my favorite modern books, dealing with subjects like respect, life, choices, kindness, possibilities. If you allow it, this book can help you take new steps into the world and be more open towards what the world throws at you. There is a sequel called After You and a recently published third book called Still Me, which is definitely on my wish list.
So here they are. The top 10 young adult books that I simply cannot get out of my mind. I hope you feel inspired, now start reading.