Even though my own books (so far) are more middle grade, I read a ton of YA novels for “research.” Here I give you some of my favorites on the YA fantasy/sci-fi side of things, and, because I couldn’t resist, a few warnings. Everything on the top part of this list is a book/series I can’t wait for my kids to read. They’re also all books I’m not giving them yet because, in my opinion, there’s some reason (usually the emphasis on the romance) to make it more appropriate for the 13 and up crowd. I was a huge fan of The Hunger Games (even the ending), and this list presupposes that you’ve already read that series. If you haven’t, by all means start there. That’s certainly the first one I’m handing my daughter when she’s just a couple of years older. No one else does character development and plot movement all at the same time quite like Suzanne Collins.
If You Liked The Hunger Games (even if you hated the ending)
Divergent by Veronica Roth – You’re probably already onto this one, what with the new movie and all. Book 1 struck me as the best of the Hunger Games inspired novels. Loved the character of Tris, was fascinated by the world created. Then Book 2 annoyed me a bit, but delivered just enough. Then I hated Book 3. I’ll do a review sometime to explain. Suffice it to say, I was mad enough that I haven’t watched the movie. So read Divergent! But maybe don’t finish the series. You’ll be happier that way.
The Giver by Lois Lowry – These books are curious. Each in the series is apparently unrelated and yet obviously in the same universe. They involve kids making discoveries about their world and breaking away to make life richer and fuller. They are more cerebral than most in the genre and move a bit too slowly. I enjoyed them without being moved by them.
Matched by Ally Condie – More dystopian romance. There isn’t a ton of depth here, though it likes to pretend there is, but if you are a fan of the genre, you’ll enjoy the series. It isn’t annoying like some. Not much more to say about it.
The 100 by Kass Morgan – 100 juvenile delinquents are sent down from their space station home to see if the post-nuclear-war earth is livable again. Complete with a truly smart, pragmatic, kick-a** heroine. I highly recommend this one. The new CW series is pretty darn good, but the book is better. I can’t wait for the next in the series.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – The rest of the series is probably more for adults than teens, but this book is amazing. Amazing. If you want to know what it’s like to be an exceptional child, this is the book to read. I’m not worried about content on this one. I’m only waiting for my kids to be old enough to really appreciate it because this one is going to make them feel understood, hopefully right when they’re at the age where they need that.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson – It’s really hard to do the super-hero thing in a way that doesn’t feel recycled, but he pulls it off. Solid world, interesting characters, fast-paced action. Here’s one your sons will like as much as your daughters.
Legend by Marie Lu – More dystopian romance, but this is my new favorite (after the Hunger Games). Mostly that’s because of the awesome combination of Thinker Female Lead and Feeler Male Lead (a la X-Files). This is one of my favorite things. I love the rational girls and their intuitive men (probably because it’s my own life dynamic). I can highly recommend all three books, and the ending was slightly unexpected and perfect. How often can you say that?
Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer – Sci-fi novel about a girl and her family trying to survive in a world where the moon has gotten too close and it destroying everything. I LOVE survival novels and this one gets all the family dynamics just right. It’s a gripping read.
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker – Another survival novel, but this time the world’s rotation is slowing. Not quite as strong as Life as We Knew It, but I still really enjoyed it.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore – This one is fantasy, about a girl with supernatural fighting skills. It does get a little steamy in places, and takes a moral posture at the end that left me dissatisfied, so maybe save this for older teens? But. The main character’s thoughts and motivations throughout most of the book were so resonant for me that on balance I’m calling it a keeper. For the record, I have read some of the sequels, and the author continued to impress me with her unconventional intelligence while making me a bit uncomfortable with her worldview. Bottom line – approach the series with your critical thinking turned on.
I’d Skip Them
The Maze Runner by James Dashner – More dystopian sci-fi, this time with lots of boys. Here’s the thing: I really liked the world he created, and the plot isn’t bad. BUT. The writing is terrible. Like painfully bad. I kept forcing my way through and managed to finish two books in the series, but I just couldn’t do any more. It’s too bad. It’s an interesting concept. Maybe the movie will be better than the books.
Delirium by Lauren Oliver – Yet another dystopian romance, this time about a society where love (and any feeling really) is outlawed. Yes, that’s just as cheesy as it sounds. And just by telling you the premise, you can already tell me everything about the book. Let’s just say it involves the discovery of poetry by teenagers. The writing is decent, but the content is so trite and cloyed that I can’t recommend it.
Don’t Do It!
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi – Okay, I started this thinking it was another series inspired by The Hunger Games only to realize that it must have actually been inspired by Twilight (which for the record, I didn’t read and never will). The first book was bearable because, though the plot was totally unoriginal, it focused on an exploration of a deeply damaged girl who was mostly trapped inside her mind. Then it completely jumps the shark in the next book and just keeps getting worse and worse as it drags you through endless teenage drama, abruptly redefines characters, and shamelessly rips off the X-Men. Igh.
If you’re looking for a list for younger kids, check it out here, or click the Book Recommedations Tab above.