I was just thinking the other day how big the Young Adult section of bookstores and libraries have become. I remember when I was 14, only one medium-sized shelf was dedicated to it. And now, it has a whole section of big shelves. There’s so much more to read now in YA. Hence, it’s hard to get to all of it, right? I know it is for me.
So I thought about the books that I read when I was in junior high and high school and realized that they almost have been forgotten or teenagers these days haven’t even heard of them. I decided to compile a list of my favorite YA books that I read as a teenager. Specifically, I wanted to make a list of great books that came out before or around the same time as Twilight. Because I think Twilight’s release was the big turning point for the YA genre’s growth. And I really want some of these books to see the light of day again because I really do love them.
It’s likely that you may have heard of or read some of these before. I know it’s a bit presumptuous assuming what the general young adult bookworm has or has not read. I determined this list based on the fact that I’ve never met, read or heard someone talking about reading most of these books in the past five years or so.
The books listed are in alphabetical, not preferential, order.
Some of the very first YA books I read were Meg Cabot’s novels. All-American Girl is my favorite of all her books. Cabot has a charming and funny way of telling a story. This book was about a girl who ditches art class because her art teacher was criticizing her work. While ditching the class, she finds herself stopping an assassination against the President. Billed a national hero, she must deal with the newfound fame and with the President’s adorably attractive son.
This book and series is something you may have heard of before. The story follows an awkward British adolescent and her thoughts about friends, boys, school and herself. It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious. It totally had me cringing at times when something embarrassing would happen to Georgia. I feel like they don’t write YA books like this anymore. And if they do and I’m totally missing them, leave a comment with a recommendation!
This is one of my all-time favorite YA series. It follows Cyd Charisse (not THE Cyd Charisse, just a girl named after her) and her life as misunderstood teenager. I know I make that sound pretty average. But Cyd has such a unique heart and soul that makes her story such a wonderful one to read. Plus, she’s witty and smart. This was another series that had me laughing out loud. It’s also important to note that these books were always about Cyd finding her way. Sure, she has a few romances, especially with Shrimp. But it never centered on romance, like many YA books seem to do today.
4. Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar
Okay, I will admit that I only read the first 5 books of this series. I have no idea how long it is now, but I do know that a serial killer version of it has been written (WTF?). Anyway, these books read like crack, and while it was a little too melodramatic, they were fun summer reads. In addition, it inspired one of the best teen TV shows of our generation.
When I started reading A Great and Terrible Beauty, I had only read contemporary YA. I had not read anything that had a blend of history and fantasy. This book opened my eyes to so much more. What an adventure! I love Libba Bray and adore her writing style. The story in this trilogy is captivating and enchanting. It was bittersweet when it ended. Although Bray has written a few other excellent books, these books will always remain my favorite of hers.
This was the first dystopian book I had read. At the time, I didn’t even know what a dystopia was. Now that I’m reflecting back, this is based in a dystopia. In Naughts and Crosses, the privilege of races are switched. Dark skin people (Crosses) are considered the elite and worthy, while light skin people (Naughts) are considered lower class and publicly despised. Racial prejudices run very high, and the Naughts have begun rebelling against the Crosses. The story revolves around a forbidden romance between a Cross and a Naught. I found the story to be so breathtaking and incredibly written. I may have read this book over a dozen times. I did some research on it recently and found out that the author adapted it into a stage play, which starred Richard Madden (Robb Stark on Game of Thrones). Currently, Blackman is adapting the play into a musical to be performed on London’s West End.
Perks is most likely a book you have heard of, whether or not you have read it. Perks is one of the books that has always stayed with me. It’s a poignantly told story about a wallflower named Charlie, who becomes friends with a cool assortment of kids. They teach him about life and vice versa. With the movie coming out soon (September), you should definitely make it a point to read this book, if you haven’t already.
You know the movie, but have you read the book(s) it’s based on? Well, let’s just say that Hollywood took quite a few liberties with the story. I do love the movie, but the books are great in a completely different way. In the books, you meet a ton of new characters, and there’s many more funny moments. I was a bit surprised about how different the books are, but I’m glad they are. I got to have a refreshing and new experience with Mia Thermopolis and co.
Reading a Sarah Dessen book is like a rite of passage for a teen these days. She’s still writing and publishing new books, but she has quite a few older ones that you may not have had an opportunity to read yet. She published her first book in 1996, That Summer, and went on to publish Someone Like You, Keeping the Moon, Dreamland, This Lullaby and The Truth About Forever, which all released before 2005 (and Twilight). If you were a big teen reader in the late 90s or early 00s, then it’s likely that you read one or more of Dessen’s books. I do have a soft spot for her books, and I think what makes her stories great is that years after being written and published, they still feel relevant today.
It’s likely you’ve seen these movies too. While the first film is a decent adaptation of the first book, the second film is a disappointing mess because it combines plotlines from the last three books. So forget the films and read the books! The Sisterhood books meant so much to me as a teen. I loved all of the characters. The fourth book ended on such a perfect note. Unfortunately, years later, Ann Brashares wrote a fifth Sisterhood book that took place 10 years after the fourth book. Honestly, I don’t recommend reading that because it kind of killed the whimsy that I always felt when reading the previous Sisterhood books. In addition, while the Sisterhood dealt with their romances, it was always about friendship first. And I can’t think of any recent books that shift romance aside to explore the amazing bond of friendship.
Have you read any of these books? Are there any older YA books that I missed and deserves recognition? Sound off in the comments!