Turn the page with the best books for young adults
Books for Young Adults
Young Adult books are how many readers find the stories and characters that they will end up falling in love with. From sweeping fantasy epics to contemporary romance, and everything in between this age category features intense storylines and characters that jump right up and off the page. Of all the YA books out there today the best of the best is Children of Blood and Bone a lush Nigerian inspired fantasy epic that follows Zélie as she tries to return magic to a world stripped of it.
Best Overall: Children of Blood and Bone
For years when people thought of High Fantasy, they thought of homogeneous pseudo-European casts and Tolkien-esque stories. Tomi Adeyemi took that idea and spun it on its head delivering a beautiful Nigerian inspired fantasy. Children of Blood and Bone revitalized the fantasy genre. It features an unapologetically black cast, a fantastic story, and a world that is gorgeous, imaginative and heartbreaking.
The land of Orïsha used to hum with magic until the night it disappeared. Afterward, by order of a ruthless king, the Maji were killed to ensure it would never fully return to the land. They didn’t bet on young Zélie’s determination to restore magic to the land, no matter what kind of sacrifice it takes. She’ll need the help of a rogue princess to strike back against the monarchy, and outwit the crown prince who wants to eradicate magic once and for all. The only question is whether they can do it, and what happens if they do.
This is Tomi Adeyemi’s first book and the first book in a new trilogy. It started with the idea of finding a way to explain police brutality, using fantasy as a mechanism to do it, but it goes far beyond that. This book revitalized the fantasy genre, bringing in new blood and new ideas that turned old tropes on their heads. Zélie is a fierce protagonist, but each character in the cast is vivid and three-dimensional.
Children of Blood and Bone is a classic for a new generation of readers. It shows everything fantastic about the Young Adult books in one package — an excellent story, fantastic characters, and a beautiful world that draws you in from the first page. If there is only one book you suggest to the young adult in your life, this should be it.
- Gorgeous Nigerian inspired fantasy
- Inventive and thrilling story
- Start of a new fantasy trilogy
- Book may be too lengthy for some readers
- Heavy subject matter
Best Horror: Wilder Girls
Eighteen months ago, something terrible happened at the Raxter school for girls. They call it the Tox, and it takes something from each of them. It killed teachers and turned the bodies of the girls into strange things they barely recognize. The school is cut off from the real world on an island off the coast of Maine, and one of the few rules that remain is that they must not leave the school grounds. They all listen until Hetty’s best friend Byatt disappears.
Hetty isn’t about to sit back and let her friend go missing. Military quarantine or not, she breaks past the border of the school ground only to find that the island is wilder than even she could have believed. Something far darker is happening to the girls and the island. To find Byatt, Hetty will uncover secrets she never wanted to know.
- Awesome queer representation
- Super creepy setting
- Excellent story and characters
- Not suitable for readers who scare easily
- Certain parts may be too graphic for younger readers
Best Romance: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Romance is easily one of the most popular genres of books, and that isn’t an exception when it comes to YA. Jenny Han shows off how fun and quirky the genre can be with the mishaps of 16-year-old Lara Jean in her novel To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. For years Lara Jean has been writing love letters to her crushes and then hiding them in a hatbox under her bed so that they never see the light of day. Until the day they are accidentally sent out, revealing her feelings to the boys she has feelings for.
Not all romance needs to be high tension, crazy stakes, and drama everywhere. This story is a light-hearted romance that will have your teen or tween laughing along with Laura Jean as she works things out with the boys in her life. With a relatable protagonist, hilarious antics, and healthy relationship models, it’s a romance that parents can be happy their kids are reading. Teens can even check out the Netflix original movie once they’ve finished reading.
- Non-toxic relationship models
- Hilarious story
- Now a Netflix movie
- Almost 400 pages might be long for some readers
Best Contemporary: Sick Kids in Love
Being chronically ill in a world that is designed to overlook you is difficult. It’s worse when the only real representation in media ends up with stories about death and grief. Sick Kids in Love tells the story of teenager Isabel, a girl with Rheumatoid Arthritis who doesn’t date. It’s easier that way, at least for the other person. She’s cool with that until she meets another sick kid and realizes maybe this love thing isn’t so bad after all.
Sick Kids in Love is written by Hannah Moskowitz and is a poignant story that gives kids with chronic illness the representation that they deserve. There are no death stories here, and that’s a very good thing. The story is funny and insightful, and if you have a sick kid in your life, it might be precisely the kind of story they’ve been looking for.
- Amazing story
- Character voice jumps right off the page
- Chronic illness representation
- 300 pages may be too long for some readers
Best Fantasy: Wicked Saints
For centuries the countries of Tranavia and Kalyazin have been locked in a bloody war where no one ever seems to win. Tranavia has the power of its armies and blood mages with which to wield their power. In juxtaposition, Kalyazin has saints, those who can commune with Gods and use their power to wreak havoc on their enemies.
The story twines together three different characters. Nadya, a girl raised in a Tranavian convent who can speak to Gods and use their power. Serefin, a blood mage and the crown prince of Kalyazin who doesn’t want the destiny set before him. Malachaisz, a monstrous boy with plenty of power and some serious skeletons in his closet. The three of them must work together to assassinate the king, and stop the war, but none of them realize the price they’ll have to pay to do it.
- Fantastic cast of characters
- Lush Slavic inspired world
- First book in a new trilogy
- Leans towards cosmic horror which may not be suitable for all readers
- Story is fairly bloody
Best Debut: Slay
Kiera lives a double life. During the day she’s one of the only black students at Jefferson Academy, where she is an honors student and a math tutor. By night she plays through the secret MMO game she developed: SLAY. No one knows that Kiera created the game, but when a player is murdered after an in-game dispute, her game becomes public knowledge. Soon after a troll messages her in the game threatening to sue her for anti-white discrimination.
Slay follows Kiera as she makes her path, weaving between her real world and her online persona. She’ll need to learn what it means to be unapologetically black in a world that is intimidated by her as she comes into her own. The only question is whether she’ll lose herself as she tries to protect the game she created.
- Awesome depiction of gaming culture
- Great characters
- Fantastic story
- May be a bit long for some readers
- Isn’t available until September 24, 2019
Young Adult fiction includes dozens of genres that are all written with teens and tweens in mind. They cover all sorts of genres from romance and contemporary dramas to sweeping fantasy epics and terrifying horror reads. Each book that made this list is a fantastic option for the young reader in your life, and they cover a variety of different genres. Out of everything available, the absolute best is Children of Blood and Bone.
A sweeping fantasy epic, this novel is the first book in a new trilogy and the debut of author Tomi Adeyemi. It follows Zélie; a young woman determined to bring magic back to a world that has been stripped of it or die trying. With a Nigerian inspired fantasy world, it doesn’t look like any other high fantasy on the market and is a new classic for readers everywhere.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Jen Karner is a self-professed book fanatic who can always be found with a book or two on hand. She also reviews books in her spare time. You can follow her on Twitter
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