Robin’s Top Ten Young Adult Novels
#1 Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor & Park is a wonderful, smart example of how really good young adult literature is still being written every year. Set in the 80s, Eleanor and Park begin their awkward relationship in silence, with her reading his comics surreptitiously on the school bus, where they are stuck sharing a seat. But then Park holds his books open a little wider, takes longer to turn the page. Next he leaves her a stack. And then comes…drum roll, please….a mix tape. How authentic and so very 80s can you get? Park and Eleanor are both misfits who end up fitting well together. They soar, they dip, they smile, they cry, and of course, they make out whenever they are alone.
References to both classic literature and classic rock left this reader wanting desperately to meet Rainbow Rowell for coffee. I think we’d have a lot in common. Rowell remembers what it is like to be a teenager, and that’s why she tells it all so well. Looking forward to reading more from this author.
#2 Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
Anne Shirley desperately wants puffed sleeves on her dresses, to be called Cordelia, and to be loved. Get to know this quirky heroine and Prince Edward Island, and make sure you have a box of tissues by your side. Many sequels follow, and the PBS television show is also quite satisfying if you fall in love with her.
#3 Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
This absorbing, compulsively readable, award-winning book is the quintessential young adult story about a teenage girl with real problems. After her Dad is murdered, Davey’s Mom uproots her and her little brother from their home on the Jersey shore to live in New Mexico with relatives. The friendships she develops and the choices she makes ultimately help her deal with the rage and sadness she feels so deeply. Will she ever be able to move on? Davey Wexler, in the flesh. Enjoy her.
#4 The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene
I read this book in 24 hours and fell in love with it “the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” This tender story of two teenagers with cancer who meet at support group and fall in love feels genuine and will break your heart. Tissues required. “Okay? Okay.”
Green’s other young adult novels, such as An Abundance of Katherines, were readable and worthwhile, but ultimately disappointing after Stars. My very well-read niece Jamie, who is entering the 8th grade, refers to Stars as Green’s “magnum opus.” A nice reference on her part to our beloved Charlotte’s Web.
#5 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The first installment of this popular young adult series touches on many themes: independence, activism, and first love. It’s not great literature but it is a great story of survival, and also an important commentary on the modern fascination with reality television. Just how far are we willing to take things to entertain ourselves as a society? This novel will also make teenagers question how independent we really are in the land of the free. Friends of my son were reading this in fourth grade, but I really don’t recommend it for the middle grades, unless as a parent you are really interested in discussing the story with your child. It’s not a challenging book but the themes are mature and it is best left for grades seven and up.
Completing the trilogy is a must; Catching Fire is the second installment and it is good, but the third book is a real disappointment. You can almost feel the editor leaning over Collins’ shoulder telling her to hurry up and finish Mockingjay, as main character Katniss Everdeen continuously passes out and wakes up in hospital after a major time lapse. Kind of lazy storytelling, but you’ve gotta know how it all wraps up!
#6 The Outsiders by SE Hinton
The Outsiders is a must-read for every teenager. It is a bit of a period piece, taking it back to the early 60s division of American Midwestern social hierarchy that cut groups into two sides: preppies and greasers. This moving story is complete with crushes across social boundaries and a very sad tragedy at the end. The characters are engaging and likeable, and the 1983 movie adaptation is decent with a lot of familiar faces from the 80s silver screen.
#7 A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
It all begins on a dark and stormy night.
30+ years ago this Newberry Medal winning novel was a real stand-alone as an early introduction to science fiction for children, and it was also published during a time when there was almost a complete absence of strong young female characters in children’s literature. Aside from time and dimensional travel outside the universe to planets unknown, this book also touches on themes of love on every level: between parent and child, siblings, and friends. Recommended for 6 graders and up, especially if “wild nights are your glory.”
#8 The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
Although ultimately I feel this book is a young adult novel to read on paper, it is really appropriate for all ages and makes a wonderful read-aloud. Our whole family listened to the author (of Glee fame) read this on CD while on a long road trip, and we all loved the story, the creativity, and the characters. The Land of Stories series takes a modern twist on classic fairy tales, giving the heroes and heroines new life and personality. The second installment in the series is equally pleasing.
#9 Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
Although not technically a young adult novelist, the late Maeve Binchy is one of my favorite authors, and her books helped me to bridge the gap between young adult and classic fiction. I first read this book at the end of high school in anticipation of the upcoming movie adaptation starring Minnie Driver and Chris O’Donnell, on whom I had an enormous crush. As you might imagine, eventually I got over the actor, but the experience opened the door to a lifelong love of Maeve Binchy’s lovely stories.
As is the case with many of Binchy’s novels, Circle of Friends takes place in Ireland, which is as much a character in her stories as the people she writes about. This one traces the lives of childhood friends Benny Hogan and Eve Malone all the way up to their placement at University College Dublin, where they become friends with the glamorous Nan Mahon. It’s a lovely tale of friendship, trust, and some heartbreak in mid 20th century Ireland.
#10 The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
Stephen King is another mainstream American author who does not technically write for young adults, but some of his novels helped me to bridge the gap between young adult and classic fiction. I’ve always had a thing for something a little scary, and this story is a great introduction to the horror genre if you or your son or daughter have a leaning in that direction. This is definitely different from his usual stuff; not so much of the supernatural (although there is some) but more focus on a young girl’s psychological will to survive.
Nine-year-old Trisha McFarland gets separated from her Mom and her brother while on a hike, and spends days wandering the deep New England woods all by herself, with only a battery-operated radio and a staticky transmission of the Red Sox game for comfort and company. She’s a big fan of the Sox relief pitcher, Tom Gordon, and she fantasizes that her hero will save her. King is a great storyteller who writes with rich and vivid detail. You might want to put on some bug spray before you read, because you will swat away invisible mosquitoes while you lose yourself in this amazing tale of survival.