10 Young Adult Books for Grown Ups
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I remember being in elementary and thinking that 18 was “old.” Well, 18 has come and gone and now nothing seems “old” anymore because I have realized how quickly time flies. If I think about it too long, I will slip into another existential crisis. If I look at my daughter too long and think too deeply while doing so… well, cue the dread of mortality and reflections on the depressing brevity time. As a certified adult, I spend a lot of time reading in hopes of expanding my knowledge even as the hands of time slowly move in on me, crushing me under their weight… might have gotten a little melodramatic on that one. Two years ago, I spent half of a year reading thick, heavy (physically and literally) Russian novels one after another. Last year, I fell under the spell of a five-books-in-a-row Murakami kick.
I truly enjoy a deep, thoughtful read. However, I have a not-so-secret love for Young Adult novels. There is something wonderful about the movement and tone of most YA books that allows the reader to escape their daily life and enter into a new world. YA novels don’t take themselves too seriously and are usually creative, expressive, and exciting. Sure, The Fault in our Stars is not as notable as Romeo and Juliet. The Phantom Tollbooth may not be on the 100 Classic Novels You Need to Read Before You Die list next to The Phantom of the Opera. But reading is not all about checking off a list OR finding the biggest, heaviest volume to use as a door stop when you are finished OR finding a book that looks the nicest/smartest sitting on your bookshelf. Reading is about enjoyment! Maybe these are some of the reasons the Young Adult genre is generally overlooked by “serious” adults and readers… but it shouldn’t be.
Here are my ten suggestions for young adult novels that grown-ups should read:
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
If you haven’t heard of Hunger Games, where do you live and what do you do for a living? Seriously, I would love to know — I am intrigued. The Hunger Games trilogy is a book series that has also been developed into some pretty great films. The story is set in a dystopian universe where, every year, children are selected to participate in an annual televised death match.
Though my Conservative parents read the general description and were immediately disgusted, the story is nowhere near as “dreadful” as they imagined it to be. The books themselves are very well written — with a pace and style I admired and enjoyed. I was pleasantly surprised by the entire series and insist that these books are a must-read.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
At my school this book was required middle school reading and, while many kids may dread “required reading” — I loved it. I still check summer reading lists as an adult just to see what is popular and meaningful for students today. This book did not disappoint. In fact, it was the first book that made me cry, and that is not a bad thing. If you can make a middle schooler empathize that deeply with a group of fictional characters, you have done something right. This book has also been made into a movie but, trust me; you need to read it. Hinton has a simple, vivid writing style that makes these teens come to life in a meaningful way and creates a story whose themes are still relevant today.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
What do you say about a series of books that has changed so many young readers’ lives? This list could not be complete without mention of this series. Though the first book could be considered a Children’s Book, the novels evolve and grow with the characters and audience, taking a dark and more sinister tone as the overall story progresses. In many ways, these books helped to redefine the YA genre, drawing interest and attention. Even if you have no interest in the movies — or books — you have to give kudos to Rowling for impacting so many lives, encouraging readers, and inspiring the love of a good story. My husband and I look forward to the day we can read Harry Potter to our children and share the experience together.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Let’s take it to a more recent book — The Graveyard Book by the genius, prolific, ever-lovable Neil Gaiman. He has written some of my favorite works of fiction and is a stand-out modern author. In this book, Nobody Owens (Bod) is a normal boy… besides the fact that he lives in a graveyard and is being raised by ghosts. It’s The Jungle Book of the macabre. There is danger, adventure, and everything wonderful because, hello, Neil Gaiman. If you love this book you may also find yourself falling through the rabbit hole and reading more wonderful Gaiman YA books such as Coraline or Ocean at the End of the Lane.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
“As you wish”… I watched this movie countless times as a child, and it was one of my favorites. It was not until I was an adult that my friend asked if I had ever read it.
“Read it?” I asked. “I didn’t even know it was a book, honestly.”
“Yeah, it’s a great book, and it’s a totally true story,” she said, seriously.
“Umm… true story? … with the huge rodents and the Pit of Despair?”
“Yes,” she said, still convinced.
She lent me her copy, and I laughed for about 100 pages at the beginning of the book, at the hilarious satirical writing. To me, Goldman’s tongue-in-cheek humor was evident (and comical), but my friend had truly been convinced of his legitimacy. At the end of the day, we both loved the book even though we had completely different reading experiences. What is the story about? Love. Fighting. Fencing. Revenge. Giants. Good guys. Bad guys. ALL THE THINGS. It’s amusing, entertaining, and action-packed.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Another piece of middle school required reading that I do not regret. With the simple enough premise — a group of ordinary small boys are marooned on a coral island — this book is anything but simple. What begins as a fun adventure takes a dark twist as the reader looks into the dark depths of the human heart. This is a YA novel with real depth which has made it a literary classic. I loved it as a young student, and it holds up to the test of time because, as an adult, I now enjoy it even more. How can I define it? A parable? A parody? A political statement? Whatever this book is, it is great, and I highly recommend it.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
This book changed my life. It a nuanced and meaningful coming-of-age novel that lives up to all the hype. For me, Salinger’s simple prose has always been poetic. The narrator of this book, Holden Caulfield, leaves his prep school and goes to New York City for three days and grapples with his frustration at finding his place in the world. At times irrational and, at other times, eloquent with clarity, you may not always like Holden as he weaves a tangible, realistic narrative of his disillusioned youth. This book was a defining read for me. Let me put it this way: my dog is named Salinger, my daughter Riley, and my son, Holden.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
I have never read the three companion novels to The Giver and, honestly, I did not know they even existed until I searched for the book jacket cover online. To me, this book always stood alone in my mind, but I am now curious to read the other books. The Giver centers on Jonas, a 12-year-old who lives in the “perfect” world where suffering, war, and disease are eradicated. Only when he is given his life assignment as the “Receiver of Memory” does he discover the secrets embedded in his world. As the “Giver” passes on knowledge to Jonas, the reader enjoys a genuinely thoughtful story with dark undertones.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
This book is a thick one — it is not a light read, but it is absolutely worth it. I read this book by my own volition in 9th grade, and it has not left my mind since. Dumas crafts a truly special story with plot twists and turns that had me reading obsessively until the very end. The story is so enthralling; it is no wonder that it has been made into some great movie adaptations — it’s hard to mess up a plot this good. The story is of Edmund Dantes who is the victim of a horrible miscarriage of justice. It’s a story of revenge, love, betrayal, passion, jealousy, and good vs. evil. Action and adventure from beginning to end.
This novel pushed me to pick up longer reads in the future and cured me of my aversion to “big books”. It may do the same for you!
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Full transparency here — I have not yet finished this book. I am about halfway through it and, honestly, it was a bit of a slow start for me. But I can see that it is starting to build and taking an interesting direction. I was curious to read this book ever since seeing the beautiful trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation. I’m going to rely on the Amazon description for this one: “A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.” So far, it is nowhere near as dark as I had expected — it strikes me more as a fantasy/adventure story and I am interested to see where it goes.
I still enjoy reading YA novels as an adult, and I even have a passion for collecting unique Children’s picture books, pop-up books, and interactive Children’s books. I don’t believe that a good book has an age restriction any more than I believe art has an age limit. I would love to know what you think — what YA novels have you enjoyed? What is this list missing and what did I get wrong? I love to start conversations, especially when it comes to something I am passionate about so — let’s talk books!