A painting of pirates
(Featured Image: N C Wyeth)

The 10 Best YA Novels of All Time

Are you a YA novel fan? Good. Are you beyond the age when it’s socially acceptable to be a YA novel fan? Even better. Don’t believe what the snooty op-ed literary mag writers tell you, YA novels are for everyone. Keep the inner child alive with these YA books, and stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.

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10. The Percy Jackson Series

Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book 1 - The Lightning Thief cover art (Disney Hyperion)
(Disney Hyperion)

The gods of Olympus have inspired authors for millennia, and the Percy Jackson series picks up the Olympic torch. The story begins with the titular Percy Jackson, a 12-year-old boy who has greatness thrust upon him when he is chosen on a quest to capture a thief who has stolen the most dangerous weapon in all of Greek myth: Zeus’s lightning. The series unfolds in a spellbinding young adult Odyssey.

9. The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is a novel that has never felt more relevant. Set after the fall of American democracy, a new totalitarian nation of Panem has risen from the ashes, and subjugates the twelve districts it rules over with an iron fist. Each year, two teenagers from each district are chosen to compete in The Hunger Games, a battle royale where teens must fight to the death until only one is left alive. Katniss Everdeen, a teenager from District 12, is sick of the ruling class and ready to lead a revolution against them. The novel depicts the dangers of end-stage capitalism, where parasitic elites live luxurious lives on the backs of the poor. Sounds like a place I know.

8. The Hate U Give

hate u give on the come up angie thomas
(Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins)

Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give is about a young teen named Starr Carter, who is caught somewhere in the middle between the poor Black neighborhood where she was born and the wealthy, mostly white prep school she attends. Like many of the most important novels in American history, it’s been banned due to its portrayal of racism and criticism of the police. Like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry before it, The Hate U Give paints a portrait of prejudice and perseverance that young people can understand without pulling any punches.

7. Holes

Cover art from "Holes"
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Before Holes was a Disney Channel phenomenon, it was a landmark novel for teens. The story centers around Stanley Yelnats, a kid with the misfortune of being sent to Camp Green Lake after being falsely accused of stealing a pair of sneakers. Situated in the middle of the desert, the misfit kids are forced to dig holes in the ground to build character. It’s essentially The Shawshank Redemption for young audiences. Like The Hate U Give, Holes doesn’t pull punches in its portrayal of bullying and racism, but tells a story of a group of troublemaker boys who manage to overcome the odds nonetheless.

6. The Outsiders


The power of The Outsiders comes from the wisdom of its young author S.E. Hinton, who was just 17 years old when she wrote the novel. The story is about two rival gangs, The Greasers and The Socs. The Greasers aren’t some Guys and Dolls chuckleheads that brush their hair with switchblade combs, they’re the real deal. Working-class teens from broken homes who style their hair with motor oil. The Socs are the preppy kids, upper-class Varsity jacket types born with silver spoons in hand. After a rumble between the gangs leaves a member dead, the crews collectively have to grow up, and grow up fast.

5. The Giver

(Houghton Mifflin)

The Giver is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World for kids… except arguably better. It’s set in a utopia where citizens have no memory of the past, save for a person known as the Receiver of Memory. They are also not allowed the freedom of choice, as the elders of the society believe that lack of freedom will spell the end of war and poverty. Sounds a little like a dystopia to me there, bruh. Poor 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory, but he’s of half a mind to give society its freedom back with the greatest weapon of all: the truth.

4. Bridge To Terabithia

Cover art for "Bridge to Terabithia"
(Harper Collins)

A heartbreaker of a story, Katherine Paterson’s Bridge To Terabithia was written after the best friend of the author’s son died after being struck by lightning. The novel is about two young kids who make up an imaginary world called Terabithia in the bed of a dry creek. The pair go on all sorts of magical adventures with each other as an escape from their difficult family lives, until a senseless tragedy strikes and changes the world for one of them forever. It’s a coming-of-age novel about friendship, love, and loss. And ohhhhhhh is there loss.

3. His Dark Materials

His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
(Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)

His Dark Materials is a badass series. So badass that the Catholic Church tried to ban it. Why? It’s essentially a novel about two kids on a quest to kill God. Metal.

After the precocious young Lyra Belacqua discovers a scientific secret that threatens the authority of an all-powerful religious organization, she has to go on a spiritual quest across the multiverse to liberate not one world, but all. It’s a book series about the defiance of authority, overthrowing the Kingdom of Heaven, and installing a Republic in its place.

2. Treasure Island

(Cassell and Co.)

Treasure Island is just a banger. While it might lack the weightier themes of the other novels on this list, it makes up for the fact by telling a kick-ass story. The plot centers around the young Jim Hawkins, who stows away on a pirate ship in search of the mythical Treasure Island, an island of fabulous wealth. It’s the OG One Piece, and has inspired countless adaptations like The Muppets: Treasure Island and the underrated sci-fi Disney epic Treasure Planet. Written in 1883,  Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure novel has survived the centuries for a reason.

1. To Kill A Mockingbird

"To Kill A Mockingbird" cover art
(J.B. Lippincott & Co.)

The ultimate young adult story, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story about the power of decency and justice, how anyone can be a hero even in the face of societal adversity. The young Scout is the daughter of Atticus Finch, a small-town lawyer who believes that all people are entitled to fair treatment under the law. His mettle is tested when he is called to defend a Black man falsely accused of raping a young white woman, and he must contend with racist townsfolk of his Southern home and the prejudiced policies of 1930s America. Atticus Finch is perhaps the most heroic character in any work of fiction, and the ultimate role model for a child. This novel is not only the most important young adult novel, but arguably the most impactful novel in American history.

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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.