Young Adult (YA) fiction is the most exciting book category right now, with booming sales leading to a proliferation of genres and topics. The YA fan-base is also broadening, with a significant and growing proportion of adult readers (who are loud and proud, and fast destroying any stigma about preferring YA over “grown up” books. With strong narratives, intense feelings and the poignancy of coming-of-age, what’s not to love? Here are some of the best YA, past and present:
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Outsiders is iconic YA, being one of the first stories written by, for and about teenagers. (The Catcher in the Rye may be better known, but was written as adult fiction.) The Outsiders follows the conflict between the Socs and the Greasers, rival teen groups distinguished by their socioeconomic status. Its gritty realism and depictions of violence and delinquency revolutionised the genre by creating a demand for authentic, un-moralistic stories, although it continues to be controversial to this day. The Outsiders is also one of the best YA books turned into movies, with director Francis Ford Coppola, and a cast of emerging superstars including Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Another YA bestseller with an acclaimed movie adaptation is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Named as Time Magazine’s #1 fiction book in 2012, The Fault in Our Stars cemented John Green’s reputation as a top YA author. The Fault in Our Stars is about Gus and Hazel, teens who meet and fall in love through a cancer patients’ support group. John Green has achieved a skilful balance of tragedy, comedy, romance and sentimentality, and the cancer setting makes this classic doomed-romance fresh and bold. The Fault in Our Stars is moving and romantic without being saccharine; Gus, Hazel and their friends, worldly-wise beyond their years, are witty and irreverent without sounding annoying. A contender for best YA of all time, The Fault in Our Stars can make grown men (and women) laugh and cry – sometimes all at once.
Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden
The recent popularity of dystopian YA might make you think it’s a new trend – but not so! A generation before The Hunger Games readers were gripped by Tomorrow, When the War Began. This 7-novel series starts with Ellie and her friends going bush camping. When they return several days later, their town is eerily quiet – their families captured by foreign military in a “peaceful invasion”. Ellie and her friends must use all their wits and strength to adapt, survive and to fight against the invaders. Classic coming-of-age themes are given urgency by the war scenario. A live-action film and a new 6-part TV drama offer to bring new fans to this hugely beloved and acclaimed series.
My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier
My Sister Rosa is shaping up to be one of the best YA in 2016. It is a deeply unsettling story about 17-year-old Che and his younger sister Rosa. Che realises that, behind her charming facade, Rosa is a psychopath – manipulative and devoid of empathy. Their parents are oblivious to Rosa’s true nature, so Che becomes her self-appointed minder – monitoring her behaviour and preventing her from hurting others. Following the success of Liar and Razorhurst, Justine Larbalestier shows her prowess in psychological thrillers once more. My Sister Rosa is a tense and absorbing read, supported by brilliant characterisation.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Carry On is the latest hit by Rainbow Rowell, whose popularity and critical acclaim have been snowballing since her YA debut in Eleanor & Park. Carry On is about Simon Snow, a magical Chosen One in his final year of wizarding school, as he comes to terms with his destiny, juggles relationships, solves mysteries and fights evil. It is a story-within-a-story, with Simon and his friends first appearing as the book-obsession of the titular Fangirl of Rainbow Rowell’s previous novel. Carry On is one of the best YA of 2015, richly-layered with magic, ghosts, vampires, friendships, romance, humour and teen angst; it is also a loving tribute to fandom and the Harry Potter universe (which shares similarities with Simon Snow’s world).