The books you read when you are growing up, either in school or at home have a tendency to stick with you for the rest of your life, but the best Young Adult fiction books can captivate you at any time. How many mums and dads have enjoyed reading Harry Potter or Twilight? So if you’re looking for reading inspiration for the school holidays or just feel that you missed out the first time round, maybe one of my top ten of the best Young Adult Fiction could be a favourite of yours for years to come too.
“Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn’t stop for anybody.”
Kicking off this list of the best young adult fiction is The Perks Of Being a Wallflower. Set in an American High School in the 90s, shy teen Charlie is a high school freshman who confides his deepest thoughts and anxieties in a series of letters to an unknown person. Although he isn’t an overly likable character and certainly not a role model, it is fascinating to watch him navigate the high school universe and sex drugs and rock n roll lifestyle alongside his new friends Samantha and Patrick. His blunt honesty is refreshing and laugh out loud funny at times and you will find yourself turning over page after page to mark your favourite quotes. I particularly enjoy how pop culture references are woven into the narrative, such as books recommended to him by his English teacher and songs he puts on a mix tape. Although this book has a tendency to be cliché (it was promoted heavily by MTV after all) it is a coming of age story intended to be enjoyed by a wide audience.
“I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.”
Imagine if Sherlock Holmes had been a 15 year old boy with Asperger’s syndrome and you might be half way to understanding this gem of a novel. Christopher isn’t like other teenage boys – he loves numbers and lists, hates the colours yellow and brown and finds it hard to relate to other people. When his neighbour’s dog is murdered, Christopher sets out on a mission to uncover the truth and we are let in on his unique view of the world. It is often very funny to witness how he tackles every day activities with such innocence and judges everything at face value, but also proves to be very moving too. The plot is wonderful in its own right and The Curious Incident is a definite page turner. Perhaps this book would have been at home in my Top Mystery Books list too!
“Grand. There’s a word I really hate. It’s a phony. I could puke every time I hear it.”
I am always slightly hesitant to read books that feature in “Top 100 books” lists out of fear that they are over hyped, but I honestly feel that this classic has earned its place. The story takes place over three days when the lovable lay-about, Horten Caulfield goes on a jaunt to New York after flunking out of his school Pencey Prep. He tries to exist in the adult world but all of his misadventures show that he just isn’t ready yet. He doesn’t know who he is or where is going. The slang he uses throughout the book is fascinating and the use of language succeeds in creating an absolutely believable character. This is a novel I am looking forward to reading again and again.
“Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favour.”
Set in a post-apocalyptic vision of the USA, known as Panem, the Hunger Games are an annual contest between a boy and girl from each district whereby they are forced to fight to the death until only one victor remains. It is kill or be killed. This brutal sport is arranged purely for the entertainment of the rich in the Capitol. Katniss Everdeen becomes a heroine from the start, when she offers to compete in the place of her younger sister, who was picked in the lottery. Katniss is used to fighting to survive but how can she compete against Peeta, the boy who once saved her life? This is a great read for anyone missing the Harry Potter books who wants action and romance and you feel genuine empathy for the characters along the way.
“Sometimes you lose a battle. But mischief always wins the war.”
This might sound like a road trip or self-discovery novel and although the latter may ring true, Alaska is not a place, she’s a girl. A beautiful, enigmatic emotionally unstable girl (imagine any of the female characters in Skins). When Miles begs his parents to enroll him in a new boarding school, he is looking forward to a fresh start and Alaska is the shake up he needed. The narrative begins ‘136 days before.’ and ‘before what?’ is the question that hangs over most of the book. This doesn’t feel like a typical teen novel in the sense that the dialogue between the group of intellectual friends is sparkling and often very funny. This book could very easily be devoured in one sitting.
“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink…”
Coming in at number 5 in this list of the best young adult fiction is I Capture The Castle. In the dying ages of the aristocracy in the 1930s, Cassandra lives a charming bohemian existence in a crumbling old castle with her eccentric family: her beautiful older sister, Rose, her father who is an author struggling with writer’s block and her stepmother, Topaz, an artist’s model. The sisters dream of escaping their poor lifestyle by marrying for money and when the American heirs to the castle come to visit, Cassandra is thrown into the depths of unrequited love. Cassandra captures the world of the castle in her journals and her witty observations of the sometimes chaotic goings on around her make for a fantastic read. As a teenage girl I would have loved to have a friend like her!
“Trolls simply detest the very sight of dwarves (uncooked).”
The Hobbit is a tale of a quite, unassuming sort of chap with large hairy feet and a penchant for two breakfasts, who is transformed into a (reluctant) hero. Bilbo Baggins is happy living peacefully in The Shire, when he meets Gandalf the wizard, who is searching for someone to come on an adventure with him to Lonely Mountain. Bilbo is suddenly catapulted into the world of dwarves, trolls and dragons and everything else in between. This prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a wonderful introduction to the imagination of Tolkien for younger readers, who can’t quite face the sheer length of LOTR. This story is just as vivid but it is perhaps less sinister than its sequel and Bilbo is far more likable than his nephew Frodo!
“Labelled like parcels- Caroline Wendy Willow and Nicholas Peter Willow- only with no address to be sent to.”
I remember writing a book report on this when I was 12 years old and was fascinated and horrified with the idea of children moving away from home. Carrie and her brother Nick are evacuated to a village in Wales during the Second World War. Life suddenly becomes exciting once again when they receive a warm welcome at the house in Druid’s Bottom from Hepzibah Green, the housekeeper, who is said to be a witch. She tells them the story of the Screaming Skull, which will place a curse on them if it is removed from the house. This story affects Carrie deeply and causes her to do something she comes to regret. Although war is raging in the background, this is more a heartwarming tale of a girl learning from the people she encounters and learning about herself too.
“If this were a made-up story, it would begin at night, with a storm blowing and owls hooting and rattling noises under the bed.”
When young Darren Shan visits a freak show with his friend, he had very little idea that he would become part of it! He is so fascinated with the star attraction, the poisonous, eight-legged Madame Octa that he steals her away, but her owner, Mr Crepsley the vampire won’t let her go without something in return. Something that Darren is not sure he’s prepared to give . This book is deliciously dark, easy to read and a refreshing change from recent books about friendly vampires. It is fast paced and genuinely frightening in places. An excellent number two in this best Young Adult Fiction list. If you enjoy this there are 11 more books in the series to get stuck into!
“You’re brave. You are the bravest person I know, and you are my friend. I don’t care if you are imaginary.”
It feels like Neil Gaiman’s faultless prose is giving you a great big hug.
Number one and winner of this list of the best Young Adult Fiction is a book I read last year at the grand old age of 22 and was only half way through it when I decided it had the potential to be my favourite book ever (sorry Wuthering Heights!). Nobody Owens, or Bod for short escapes from the clutches of a professional murderer who kills his parents, as a toddler and finds himself in the relative safety of the local graveyard. The resident ghosts take it upon themselves to adopt him as one of their own and he his raised by the dead and let in on their secrets, notably his enigmatic mentor, Silas. Nobody has to learn to hold his own amongst the other supernatural creatures but knows he doesn’t belong to the living or the dead. Can he stay in the safety of the graveyard forever? This story is both sinister and beautiful. It feels like Neil Gaiman’s faultless prose is giving you a great big hug and the illustrations by Chris Riddell complement the writing perfectly. Once again Neil Gaiman has created a magical world that you don’t want to leave. I only wish this book was 300 pages longer!