Best Young Adult Novels: Top 5 Books Most Recommended By Experts

The Young Adult genre came to the forefront of the national zeitgeist during the late 1990s and through the 2000s. Mega-hits like “The Hunger Games” series had readers lining up for midnight releases in full costume sporting prop bows. But that’s just scratching the surface! Our list of the top five best young adult novels examines some of the most influential titles of the genre.

Young adult fiction has its roots in adventure books aimed at young boys like “Treasure Island” (1882) or “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1870). Illustrated editions of books like these would influence comic books and graphic novels. Published in 1942, “Seventeenth Summer” by Maureen Daly is considered by many to be one of the earliest examples of the emergent genre. It was written by Daly when she was 17 and covers topics that are relevant to teenagers like underage drinking and relationships.

All of this changed in 1997 with the publication of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” which would thrust YA fiction into the spotlight. Imagine a line of folks dressed in colorful robes, bright hats, and brandishing magic wands for the release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Now imagine this same group in a line that stretches down the block at midnight. This level of super fan hype also happened with the release of the “Twilight” books by Stephenie Meyer. Clearly, YA fiction has inspired dedicated fandoms.

The best young adult novels tackle social themes, offer new ideas, and are typically free from overly verbose prose. Our trusted sources were instrumental in helping us rank the top five books from this genre. Let us know your favorite YA classics in the comments below!

woman in red shirt reading book photo by Matias North on Unsplash
Woman reading a book (Photo by Matias North on Unsplash)

The List: Best Young Adult Novels, According to Experts

1. “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins (2008)

“The Hunger Games” kicked off a renaissance of YA dystopian novels, with each successive copycat title trying to recapture the phenomenon that this book series created. The mega-hit film series also launched the career of Jennifer Lawrence, making her and her character Katniss Everdeen household names. Pan Macmillan raves, “In the remains of what was North America lies the nation of Panem, with its twelve outlying districts. Each district must send one boy and one girl each year to compete in ‘The Hunger Games,’ a live televised fight to the death.”

“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins (2008)
“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins (2008)

NBC Select praises, “As I’ve gotten older, this series stands the test of time. The first in a trilogy, ‘The Hunger Games’ paints themes of revolution and survival against a dystopian backdrop. Thrilling, heartbreaking and inspiring, this entire series is an essential read. I still haven’t found anything quite like it.”

Elle exclaims, “What kind of list would this be without the series that redefined dystopian YA as we know it? In case you need a refresher, ‘The Hunger Games’ is the first book in the series of the same name… When teen hunter Katniss Everdeen becomes a participant in the Games, her defiance sparks a nationwide resistance movement that ultimately swells into a revolution.”

2. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (1997 – 2007)

The “Harry Potter” series ignited a love of reading for an entire generation of young readers. Some of these young fans who were children of the ‘90s are now parents that are sharing these beloved stories with a new generation. Become A Writer Today says, “readers can grow right alongside Harry and his best friends Ron and Hermione as they fight dark forces and discovers his true self. While the first few Harry Potter books may appeal to a younger audience, the final books in the series are definitely aimed at young adults. They are appealing to any reader because of Rowling’s expert storytelling abilities.”

[By J.K. Rowling ] Harry Potter Complete Book Series Special Edition Boxed Set (Paperback)【2018】by J.K. Rowling (Author) (Paperback)
Harry Potter Complete Book Series Special Edition Boxed Set

“Let’s be honest, no list of YA books would be complete without the ‘Harry Potter’ series. This worldwide phenomenon not only kick-started many people’s love of reading, it reshaped the face of YA literature forever,” elaborates discovery.

“Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 25 years, you’ve heard of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling’s series of fantasy novels chronicle the lives of Harry, Hermione, Ron, and a coterie of other witches and wizards at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The themes of the series mature as the characters grow and face new challenges, with the first several books occurring while Harry + co. are pre-teens and the latter half of the series taking place as they near adulthood,” describes Pro Writing Aid.

3. “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart (2014)

“We Were Liars” is about the sins of the wealthy, and the lies that families can tell. This suspenseful family drama explores the mystery surrounding an injured young woman. Entertainment Weekly comments, “Stories dealing with memory loss are pretty much guaranteed to feature surprises, but the mystery of what happened to Cadence and her cousins/best friends — ‘The Liars’ — still packs a powerful punch. The story finds a delicate balance between summer romance and serious drama.”

“We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart (2014)
“We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart (2014)

“15-year-old Cadence experiences an accident that leaves her physically weak — and amnesiac. Now she must find out exactly what happened to her. The New York Times called ‘We Were Liars’ a ‘ticking time bomb of a novel.’ If that doesn’t convince you this is a book of suspense and intrigue that you probably want to read, what will,” asks discovery.

“In ‘We Were Liars,’ main character Cadence Sinclair Easton tells the story of herself and her three good friends, the four ‘liars.’ The group spends summers together on a private island, only this year Cadence suffers a mysterious accident that leaves her with amnesia. The story tells about family drama, romance and a bit of mystery as readers must unravel what happened to Cadence,” details Become A Writer Today.

4. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky (1999)

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” lacks magical explosions and post-apocalyptic landscapes, but instead features richly detailed character explorations. The teen protagonists of this novel face a realistic look at teen life that acts as a time capsule for 1999. Pro Writing Aid offers, “Another coming-of-age drama, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is an epistolary novel following the adventures of Charlie, an introverted teenager, as he navigates becoming an adult. The novel addresses many young adult themes like drugs, sexuality, and mental health.”

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky (1999)
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky (1999)

Reader’s Digest explains, “This coming-of-age story became a cult classic because of its honest look at the lives of everyday teenagers. Through the eyes of 15-year-old Charlie, the novel details the daily trials and tribulations that many teenagers face, but it also tackles hefty and controversial topics, like drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and suicide. It also focuses on the roles that friendship, family, and love play in helping us through difficult times.”

“Charlie tries to blend in with the wallpaper at parties, he hasn’t kissed anyone that he really likes yet, and he writes to himself in a diary because he feels like it’s the only place he can really be himself. All of this starts to change when he meets two seniors at school, Patrick and Sam… but the earthshaking revelations that surface as a result might only serve to remind Charlie why he had created a safety net for himself in the first place,” states discovery.

5. “Legend” by Marie Lu (2011)

“Legend” has rather aptly been called Cyberpunk Les Misérables. Borrowing the classic archetypes of accused criminal and the lawman, the main characters of “Legend” chase after each other with deadly consequences. “After all, how many cyberpunk adventures can claim inspiration from Les Misérables? Lu’s audacious Victor Hugo rewrite swaps out post-revolutionary France for a police state centered in L.A. — and replaces Javert and Valjean with two brilliant, troubled teens,” reviews discovery.

“Legend” by Marie Lu (2011)
“Legend” by Marie Lu (2011)

Rolling Stone claims, “Lu presents a dystopian version of the United States in which everything is turned up to 11. June and Day come from completely different backgrounds: she’s wealthy and privileged, he’s a criminal. When June’s brother is murdered, Day becomes the prime suspect. But as the story unfolds, neither one is quite who they were first thought to be.”

Book Riot relates, “In a nation that is always at war, Jude is a military prodigy from one of the Republic’s most respected families. Day was born into poverty and is a wanted criminal… Their relationship will make each of them stronger. But it will also tear their lives apart.”

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

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