20 YA Novels for Thinking Adults: A Diverse List

There has been a lot of controversy this week surrounding that now-infamous Slate article saying that adults should be embarrassed to read YA. Here at LEE & LOW, we couldn’t disagree more. We don’t think your enjoyment of a book should be limited by your age (or anything at all, really). YA novels are great. They can be entertaining, literary, thought-provoking, funny, sad, or all of the above at the same time.

There have been several excellent lists of YA recommendations floating around this week, so we thought we’d add our own. Here is a list (a diverse list, of course!) of YA novels that made us think, featuring some great books from LEE & LOW and some of our favorites from other publishers:

1. Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)

When Odilia and her four sisters find a dead body in the swimming hole, they embark on a hero’s journey to return the dead man to his family in Mexico. But returning home to Texas turns into an odyssey that would rival Homer’s original tale.

2. How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents by Julia Alvarez (Algonquin Books)

Uprooted from their family home in the Dominican Republic, the four Garcia sisters – Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia – arrive in New York City in 1960 to find a life far different from the genteel existence of maids, manicures, and extended family they left behind.

3. Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Lee & Low Books)Under the Mesquite

As the oldest of eight siblings, Lupita is used to taking the lead—and staying busy behind the scenes to help keep everyone together. But when she discovers Mami has been diagnosed with cancer, Lupita is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit Mexican American family.

4. Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas (Vintage)

Thirty years ago Piri Thomas made literary history with this lacerating, lyrical memoir of his coming of age on the streets of Spanish Harlem.

5. Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac (Tu Books)

This thriller is a totally new take on vampires and werewolves, featuring a Native American character and by a Native author.

6. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic)

A coming-of-age tale for young adults set in the trenches of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, this is the story of Perry, a Harlem teenager who volunteers for the service when his dream of attending college falls through.

7. Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac (Tu Books)

This postapocalyptic book with a steampunk twist was inspired by the real-life Apache warrior Lozen.

8. Drift by M.K. Hutchins (Tu Books)

Tenjat joins a dangerous defense to protect his island home from the monsters who threaten it in this fresh new high fantasy inspired by Maya and Indian folklore, by a talented debut author.

9. If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson  (Speak)

Both Elisha (Ellie) and Jeremiah (Miah) attend Percy Academy, a private school where neither quite fits in. Ellie is wrestling with family demons, and Miah is one of the few African American students. The two of them find each other, and fall in love — but they are hesitant to share their newfound The dead and the gonehappiness with their friends and families, who will not understand.

10. More Than This by Patrick Ness (Candlewick)

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies. Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive. How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place? As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

11. Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman (HarperTeen)

Shawn McDaniel is glued to his wheelchair, unable to move a muscle. His life is not what it may seem to anyone looking at him. Not even those who love him best have any idea what he is truly like.

12. The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer (HMH Books for Young Readers)

This harrowing companion novel to Life As We Knew It examines that book’s apocalyptic event–an asteroid hitting the moon, setting off a tailspin of horrific climate changes–as it unfolds in New York City, revealed through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Puerto Rican Alex Morales.

13. Farewell to Manzanar by James D. Houston and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston  (HMH Books for Young Readers)

This story follows Jeanne Wakatsuki, a seven-year-old child whose family is placed in the Manzanar internment camp during World War II.

14. The Tankborn series by Karen Sandler (Tu Books)

This thought-provoking dystopian trilogy with a hard science fiction edge deals with genetic engineering, slavery, and what it means to be human.


15. Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse)

Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she’s made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings.

16. If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (Arthur A. Levine Books)

This wry and moving novel follows Lewis “Shoe” Blake, a teen living on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975.

17. Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

This YA novel follows three New York City teens during and after the September 11th attacks.In Darkness

18. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Simon & Schuster)

This beautiful story of love and friendship, which takes place in 1980s El Paso, follows two very different boys who form a special bond.

19. In Darkness by Nick Lake (Bloomsbury)

This complex YA novel, winner of the Printz Award, tells the parallel stories of Toussant L’Ouverture, the leader of Haiti’s slave revolt two hundred years ago, and modern day Haitian teen “Shorty,” buried in the rubble after Haiti’s earthquake.

20. The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Arthur A. Levine)

A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.


6 thoughts on “20 YA Novels for Thinking Adults: A Diverse List”

  1. Great list! Can’t wait to check out the books by Joseph Bruchac. Just a note: the “Killer of Enemies” links to If You Come Softly on Goodreads.

  2. Great list! Another one I highly recommend is “The Wrap-Up List” by Steven Arntson. It’s quirky, thoughtful, humorous, magical, and populated with a sensitively drawn world of diverse and wonderful teens.

  3. Great list! May I humbly suggest one more? It isn’t a novel or technically YA but A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade is by the brilliant Kevin Brockmeier and YA readers of all ages will love it. Here’s why: http://wp.me/p4zqG5-3X

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