As we near the end of the 2010s, we are reflecting on the past decade. There was so much that we enjoyed, and there was quite a bit that we didn’t quite enjoy… But since it is the season of giving, we are all about sharing the love by highlighting what we think are the best—the exceptional—books of the decade.
Because we are The Young Folks, after all, we consider ourselves particular experts of Young Adult literature. The reviewers for our Books section came together to vote for and rank the books on this list. While our preferences are very diverse, we were able to come up with a list that reflects our tastes and we hope that of our readers.
Without further ado, here are the 25 Best Young Adult Books of the Decade.
25. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
In the past couple of years, most of the fantasy that’s been coming out has swerved onto the dark side, returning to fairy tales’ originally dark, Grimm roots. The Hazel Wood is no exception; in fact, it dives deep into that darkness and revels in it. This book doesn’t hold back — the main character is deeply mean and unlikable, the urban fantasy setting is gritty New York City, and the book is full of dark fairy tale twists. I really admire the way the author takes such risks. The way the author works with fairy tales too is interesting and new — she doesn’t reinvent old fairy tales, she creates her own, while still sticking to the Grimm model. – Abby Petree
If you ever wondered what it might be like to be Taylor Swift’s best friend, this novel provides an interesting take. Reagan is one of my favorite characters in YA because she is so messy and real. She’s struggling and her story is so much more cathartic for that struggle. I loved reading about Dee’s life through her eyes and her slightly broken lens, as she figures out how to heal after a series of past mistakes. Her relationship with Matt Finch, arguably one of the swoon-worthy characters in YA, is sweet and lovely. The whole book is sweet and lovely and I’m so glad it exists. – Brianna Robinson
23. The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Marie Rutkoski is a master of prose and The Winner’s Curse is a testament to her skill as a storyteller. She crafted a story that was so beautiful and enthralling, that even though the fantasy world she created has no magic, it is still enchanting. Each of her characters, especially Arin and Kestrel are captivating to read and root for. The moral dilemmas at the heart of the book compels readers the same way the gorgeous prose does. This book is a must read, as is the rest of her series. – Brianna Robinson
22. Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
Vibrant and stunningly creative world building continues in the sequel to the epic fantasy Way of Kings. This book builds on everything that made the first book great to make this one a masterpiece. The magic systems and the different regions of Roshar are explored much more in depth, making you marvel at Brandon Sanderson’s imagination. Epic action scenes pack the pages. The level of fantasy is truly epic. But what makes this series is the characters. In this book, we see Kaladin develop into a better character and a much better person. This book is Shallan’s story, however, and she really shines, from her truly hilarious wit to her painful backstory and the emotional baggage she still carries. Brandon Sanderson dives into mental illness in this book, and through Shallan, tells a story about mental health in an epic fantasy in a way that’s never been done before. This book wrecked me emotionally, made me laugh and cry, and made my imagination soar. – Abby Petree
21. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
There’s something truly bewitching about Alexandra Bracken’s writing, and whatever this indescribable quality is, it’s especially prominent in The Darkest Minds. Bracken paints such a vivid and poignant image of power and persecution and the trials Ruby faces. She’s such a real character, wracked with such fear and contempt of her own abilities despite their necessity, and this internal struggle adds depth and is so befitting of her character. It’s not just Ruby that comes to life on the page either; each of the characters harbors their own uniqueness, not only in ability but in personality as well, rife with fascinating traits and backstories that complement the plot. And what an explosive plot it is, chock full of suspense and heartstopping action. The Darkest Minds is simply one of those books that enthrall you so totally you go back and reread it just to experience it all again. – Gina Webber
One thing I know for sure about this novel is that it is capable of breaking your heart and putting it back together all within a few hundred pages. Jude and Noah’s narratives (told each three years apart) provide a gorgeous portrait of what shattered their inseparable relationship, and their spirits, and how they can be rebuilt. Through artistic descriptions and superstitions, Jandy Nelson has you falling in love with these characters wholeheartedly that even years after reading, your heart aches to read the book over again and discover the magic of the story again. – Brianna Robinson
19. Legend by Marie Lu
This decade experienced an explosion in YA dystopian novels. Among the greatest of these is Marie Lu’s Legend series. Legend follows military prodigy June and the country’s most wanted criminal Day. This story blew my mind with the setting and unlike any other dystopian I have read. The idea of the U.S. experiencing another civil war, which causes the states to split into two factions, is just ripe with narrative tension on its own. However, Lu adds even more suspense by causing the Republic’s most wanted criminal and their best elite military prodigy to work together. June and Day are like oil and water with their backgrounds, but their chemistry together just rockets off the page. You can’t help but root for these two as they discover terrifying and life-altering secrets about the world they live in. If you want fantastic characters, mind-blowing twists, and a gritty dystopian setting, Legend is for you. – Meagan Stanley
This book holds nothing back in its brutally honest depiction of what it’s like to struggle with OCD. We can really see into Aza’s head and truly experience what it’s like to have your thoughts control you. And it’s terrifying. These thought spirals lead Aza to have a serious identity crisis: who am I really, if my thoughts control me? If I have to take medication to be myself, what is my true self? All these questions ring so true to me as someone who has struggled with crippling mental illness. What I also love about this book is that it shows the effects of OCD not just on herself, but on everyone around her, including her relationships with her best friend and her mom. I loved it didn’t use stupid cliches to try to make mental illness more palpable, but it instead was totally honest, no matter how hard or sad that might be. – Abby Petree
17. The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
As a First Daughter, Lia is expected to marry in an allegiance to another kingdom and use her destined First Sight to guide her husband and protect him. But Lia doesn’t have this gift and instead of marrying the Prince, she flees with a friend to a faraway seaside village where they can hide. Lia has no way of knowing that the two handsome strangers who arrive in the village are both there for her–one an Assassin and one the Prince she left behind. In a stunning narrative, Mary E. Pearson chooses to conceal the identity of both Prince and Assassin. As Lia uncovers secrets about the traditions of her world and herself, she falls in love with one of the boys, unaware of their true identity. This well-written lush fantasy is gripping and fantastic and the start to a magnificent series. – Brianna Robinson
16. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
The power of our words and our voice is on display in Elizabeth Acevedo’s electrifying and deeply-felt novel, The Poet X. Written in verse, Acevedo tells the story of Xiomara, a Dominican-American teenage girl, whose only truly outlet for expression is her poetry. From challenging stereotypes and traditions to exploring first love, The Poet X poignantly captures what life is like for an Afro-Latina, capturing all the nuances and channeling them compelling through Xiomara and her experiences. – Gabrielle Bondi
Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. Homosapien Agenda is the type of novel that will always hold a special place in YA literature. While I don’t think it’s fair to previous LGBTQ+ novels to credit Simon solely for changing YA, its success did help usher in a surge of new books with leading LGBTQ+ characters. That success is earned as Albertalli’s novel is centered on acceptance as it follows Simon’s humorous but ultimately journey of coming out to his family and friends. – Gabrielle Bondi
Don’t let yourself be swept away by the magic of Caraval, because remember— it’s only a game. Stephanie Garber’s fantastical debut novel wows the senses and imagination with her lush world of Caraval, a magical carnival that happens once a year and lets the audience participate in the show. I devoured this book and love everything about it— Scarlett and Tella’s sisterly bond, Julian and Dante’s bewitching charms, the magic system of paying for goods with something costly (like an entire day of your life), and magical dresses that change with your mood. If you love racing against the clock, magical treasure hunts, a sexy sailor boys, and stunning descriptions, then Caraval is for you. – Meagan Stanley
There is a reason The Hate U Give has spent most of its weeks since its release on the bestsellers list. There are few books that speak so exactly to our time than Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give. Following Starr, a black teenage girl who witnesses a police officer shoot and kill her friend, Thomas crafts a story that explores today’s racial divide and how the system, society, and the powers that be are at the root of injustices for black Americans. The impassioned Starr must standup for her friend and her community for justice, so that the world can know the truth. It’s a powerful work that is blistering in its prose and commentary. – Gabrielle Bondi
12. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson is a master storyteller. His ability to craft a fully-realized world is top tier in today’s roster of fantasy writers. The Way of Kings is a true testament to his skill, for it is a high, epic fantasy in every sense. The world of Roshar is mesmerizing, terrifying, and alive! Complete cultures and governments inhabit the rocky and storm-ridden landscape. Entire armies clash over the possession of even one of the ten magical swords known as “Shardblades”. Kaladin, Dalinar, and Shallan are intricate and complex characters, each with their own secrets and motivations. When reading this book, you are completely transported and enveloped into the world Sanderson took over ten years to create. In fact, this book is the first of ten (the fourth one is expected to come out next year), known as The Stormlight Archive. Undoubtedly, this series will continue to rock the fantasy world for years to come. – Meagan Stanley
Jenny Han has a way of creating characters that feel real and nuanced, as seen with her previous novels. With To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Han creates a new standard for the contemporary YA romance. Lara Jean is a wonderfully complex character, one who has so many specific yet familiar qualities that she feels like you are reading a story about a friend. The romance treats first love with such wit and tenderness, and most importantly, it gives Lara Jean a romantic opposite in Peter Kavinsky, the kind of character that challenges her. To All the Boys is as much a romance as it is a coming of age story about learning to open up yourself to new experiences. – Gabrielle Bondi
Cinder is as if Star Wars and Terminator had a cyborg baby and lived in a fairytale. This unorthodox version of Cinderella is the first in a stunning collection of sci-fi, fairytale retellings called the The Lunar Chronicles. Of course, this story is so much more than a mere retelling. Marissa Meyer brings forth a massive, vivid world that goes to the moon and back for the reader to explore. Cinder is a crazy smart cyborg that fixes robots in a futuristic Beijing, and Prince Kai is an adorable dork, you can’t help but ship them. Beyond romance, there’s high stakes action, a crazy ballroom scene, and wild twists that will blow your mind. I highly recommend reading the entire series if you love fairytales and science fiction, because Cinder and The Lunar Chronicles deliver. – Meagan Stanley
With its insanely strong characters, riveting story, and detailed world, Throne of Glass not only surpasses all your YA fantasy expectations, but entirely dismantles them. I don’t know what I expected when I first picked up Throne of Glass, but it certainly wasn’t the gem found within its pages. As an assassin with a harsh past, Celaena is a brutal character, strong willed, deadly, and at times abrasive, yet Maas beautifully crafts her in a manner that still endears her to readers. Rebellious and witty, she’s endlessly entertaining to read about, and coupled with the intensity of the plot, Throne of Glass demands to be devoured. – Gina Webber
Despite being a fairytale retelling, A Court of Thorns and Roses is so wholeheartedly unique, propelling readers into unexplored territory. Rather than simply traverse the same pre-drawn lines of Beauty and the Beast, Sarah J. Maas carves her own breathtaking plot of faeries, romance, and retribution. Not to mention, one of the most, if not the most, intense endings I’ve ever read. I remember staring in open-mouthed shock at multiple points, completely transfixed by Maas’ masterful storytelling and the sheer villainy she concocted. From her antagonists to her protagonists, Maas has an uncanny way of investing readers into all their stories, crafting characters that you root for and adore or curse and deplore long after you turn the final page. – Gina Webber
This book is truly one of a kind. This novel is completely built out of a bunch of vintage photographs, which is incredibly odd and there should be no way to make any kind of story out of that, but Ransom Riggs somehow made this into something beautiful. Deep down, this book is the story of a boy who desperately wants to be extraordinary, but feels like he never can be. Is there anything more relatable than that? Jacob is intensely relatable, funny, smart, and incredibly perceptive — I can’t tell you how many of his lines I read and just went yes! I fell in love with Jacob as a main character. I fell in love with all the characters, actually, which is really what took this book from a unique concept and delightfully creepy atmosphere to a story that you can love with your whole heart. – Abby Petree
6. Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus #2) by Rick Riordan
6. Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus #2) by Rick Riordan
A continuation to Rick Riordan’s best-selling series, The Son of Neptune delivers not only a must-read mythological story, but also an entirely different side to Percy Jackson. Albeit the same goofy demigod beloved to fans, Percy is portrayed through a much different lens, filtered through a Roman perspective rather than a Greek one, as well as his companions’ alternating points of view. And it’s fascinating to see how others view Percy, how he’s portrayed as a surefooted and capable hero, as opposed to a reluctant and trepidatious one in Riordan’s previous novels. Riordan expertly maintains Percy’s wit and charm, yet provides this new perspective that makes readers fall in love with his character all over again. – Gina Webber
5. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee
Hilarious, at times heartbreaking and utterly charming, The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue is one of the most original novels I’ve ever read. Despite his rakish qualities, you can’t help but fall in love with Monty as he blunders his way across the continent, hopelessly in love with his best friend and overcompensating for it. Said best friend Percy and Monty’s sister Felicity are equally as endearing. Despite the levity ( n one memorable scene Monty runs across the lawns of Versailles in the nude after a failed tryst) there is a real discussion of chronic illness, privilege, racism and identity that is handled with aplomb. – Brianna Robinson
Albeit a dystopia, Divergent presents a pretty positive and uplifting message. In a world where people are defined by one sole personality trait, aligned with only one group, those who fall into more than one category (Divergents) are the outliers and outcasts. The book essentially challenges the idea of putting people in boxes and instead allowing them to be as they are. Alongside its morals, Divergent harbors an eventful plot with substance and quite a few moments you won’t see coming. Moments that will blindside or even break your heart. A truly engrossing tale of a post-apocalyptic future, this book more than lives up to its fanfare. – Gina Webber
Okay, you say, but isn’t this just some sad story about two teenagers who fall in love and die at the end? Can I really believe the hype? Yes, you can believe the hype, because this book is so much more than that. This is not a standard, cliche cancer book. What really makes this book so exceptional is the way the characters think about death. Depressing, I know, but beautiful. In The Fault in Our Stars, Gus is afraid of death because he is afraid of oblivion. He is afraid of death not because he will cease to exist, but because someday no one will remember that he did exist. This fascinates me because I think this is something we all fear, deep down, but we never really think about it or express it. This book also honestly portrays what it looks like to lose yourself to an illness, which is painful to watch, but incredibly important when illness is so prevalent in our society. – Abby Petree
Maggie Stiefvater is a tremendous writer, and The Scorpio Races showcases just that with a stirring story about love, courage, and loyalty. Set in a world where humans race killer water horse, Stiefvater’s atmospheric world-building is grounded in human stakes. This is in much thanks to excellent character development, where Puck and Sean come off the page feeling so real. There are moments in this book where the prose writhes with tensions and then swooshes with relief, eliciting such breathless reactions from the reader. Its visceral description and heartrending story make it a novel that has stood out as one of the very best in Young Adult literature this decade. – Gabrielle Bondi
Closing out the YA book phenomena known as The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay blazes as a bright and burning star of this decade with its poignant message about the devastating effects of war on the human psyche and the corruptive force of power. This book is painful to read and I have never cried so much after reading a book. I felt numb for days afterward. Despite its tragic nature, Mockingjay is a crucial piece of The Hunger Games narrative. For the first time we see Katniss grow as a character, for she is no longer desperate to save herself and her loved ones, but is now ready to fight for the safety and freedom of others. Mockingjoy is a triumph in the world of series endings, and a part of a series that is bound to become a classic for years to come. – Meagan Stanley
That’s our list!
We look forward to the stories the 2020’s brings our way!