The 10 Best Young Adult Books for Grownups


Last week the Los Angeles Times published an editorial commenting on an upswing in young adult literature sales among grownups (you know, people whose days of first crushes, driver’s ed and SAT prep courses are long behind them). Whereas hardcover sales were down across the publishing industry — a 17.8% dip for the first half of 2009 versus the same period in 2008 — children’s/young adult hardcovers were up a whopping 30.7%. Come to think of it, we have seen more than a few power-suited dudes on the subway with their noses buried in a Harry Potter book.

Of course, not all YA novels are created equally, so we’ve cobbled together ten favorites — from contemporary to classic — of the best young adult reading for any age.

by Libba Bray

Sixteen-year-old Cameron is forced to come to grips with his own mortality when he is diagnosed with… mad cow disease. This darkly funny novel combines elements of romance and tragedy while providing a crash course in existentialism and the examined life worth living.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story

by Ned Vizzini

Craig Gilner is one of many driven students at Manhattan’s prestigious Executive Pre-Professional High School. His lofty ambitions take their toll after years of over-achieving: Craig hits rock bottom and winds up in an institution following a suicide attempt. The book explores this generation’s pressure to succeed without getting lost in the serious subject matter. For instance, Craig’s requisite extracurricular activity for his college application: tae bo classes.

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief unfolds in Nazi Germany circa 1939. Narrated through the point of view of Death, the story focuses on Liesel Meminger. Liesel and her brother are left in the care of foster parents after their mother is sent to work at Dachau. She becomes fixated on reading as a form of escapism and begins to swipe books every chance she can get — from Nazi book burnings to the mayor’s house.

by Karen Cushman

Corpus bones, Catherine called Birdy is not your typical maiden from the Middle Ages. Catherine keeps a diary of her life, capturing the daily doings of a young person during the time period: spinning, untangling said spinning, tallying the number of fleas found throughout the day, and preparing to be married off “like a cheese to some lack-wit.”

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie

Riddled with health problems since birth but determined to make something of himself, Junior decides to seek schooling outside of the Indian Reservation where he lives. He enrolls at a predominantly Caucasian school where the only other Indian present is the school mascot. Junior’s aspiration to become a cartoonist is mirrored by illustrations and art throughout the book.

The Westing Game

by Ellen Raskin

Following the murder of publishing magnate Sam Westing, 16 people are tasked with solving the mystery of his death. The group moves in to Sunset Towers to work in teams and solve the mystery while living in close quarters. The hitch? The murderer is living among them and the $200 million inheritance is riding on the resolution of the case.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age novel that follows Charlie through his freshman year of high school. An introvert to the point of paralysis, the book is comprised of a series of letters to an unnamed recipient. Charlie is slowly drawn out of his shell as he befriends other misfits and is exposed to situations that force him to act rather than ride out every experience on the sidelines.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Status quo: while the movie was good, the book is better. Nick and Norah meet at a concert and play along as if they are dating to rouse jealousy in Nick’s ex-girlfriend. What ensues is a fast-paced romp through Manhattan nightlife filled with humor, budding romance, and good music.

Looking for Alaska

by John Green

Miles Halter leaves his hometown behind in favor of boarding school and thrill seeking in this novel. Away from home and truly on his own for the first time, Miles befriends a group of kids at school led by the school’s queen bee, Alaska. The book is divided into two sections, Before and After, between which the circle of friends have their world rocked by an unsettling event.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare

Following the death of her father, Kit Tyler is uprooted from her plush life in the West Indies and forced to move in with puritanical relatives in Connecticut. Unable to fit in with the drab townsfolk, Kit befriends Hannah Tupper, an older woman suspected of practicing witchcraft. An approachable, well-written look at witch hunting and social displacement.

‘Splain us your own favorites in the comments.