I was once a young adult.
I remember being in 5th grade and having finished the 8th grade reading textbook (after having plowed through the others) in the first few weeks of school. By the time I got to 7th grade, I had read lots of different things, but had no particular favorites, until a friend lent me “A Spell for Chameleon” by Piers Anthony. This began my life-long love affair with fantasy and science fiction.
At the time, Piers Anthony’s series of Xanth novels was not classified “Young Adult” as there was no such category. In fact, I rather think that many libraries or bookstores workers thought that all of science fiction or fantasy (not the ones with sex, of course!) were for young adults. But, maybe I’m just reading my own geeky disaffected youth into that. Either way, a number of books that were favorites, for whatever reason, in my youth, I would now classify as Young Adult. They captured my interest, my imagination and drove me to look for more of the same.
Looking back, I find that some of them don’t hold up quite as well to my current tastes. Sometimes the characters are a bit simplistic. For example, I remember the moment when I read a Piers Anthony novel, maybe somewhere around my 30th and realized that every single hero of his, male or female, human or otherwise, solved problems in the same manner. Sometimes the plots were a little too melodramatic, or details seemed to come from the writer’s unconscious unedited (and not in the good way). For example, I collected most of Michael Moorcock’s works, fascinated with his endless creativity. I still feel that some of his works are meaningful, but many of them feel like they have lots of style and not much substance. That being said, they got me started reading and the fact that I prefer something different now is predicated on the fact that I read those novels (and enjoyed them) way back when. There is something to be said for the “At least they are reading something…” statement.
I don’t know whether many of the books I read as a “young adult” would be classified in that category today, but my tastes have definitely changed; I like to think they’ve evolved. Now I look for works that are original, have good worldbuilding and interesting characters, but also have layers that get me to think and feel beyond the trappings of the plot and the world the author created. I’ve been reading a fair amount of young adult novels over the last four or five years and I’ve come to the conclusion that, like other genres, there are a whole lot of average, well crafted works with only a few standout excellent ones. To that end, here is a list of some that I like, some that I love and some that are amazing in any genre. I’m sure there are more out there that I haven’t read yet! Feel free to add or disagree with my list in the comments.
- Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness — Most powerful YA novels I’ve ever read, up there with any “adult” novels
- Shipbreaker and The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi — He brings a lot of the power of his adult novels into the genre
- Railsea by China Miéville — China’s strangeness is leashed a bit (in a good way), but still lots of fun.
- His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman — The movie doesn’t do the books justice.
- Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson — For younger audiences, but lots of fun.
- Jumper series by Steven Gould — Again, the movie doesn’t do the book justice.
- A Wrinkle in Time (and its sequels) by Madeleine L’Engle
- Earthsea series by Ursula K LeGuin
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Best of the Rest
- Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
- Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
- Pathfinder and Mithermage Series by Orson Scott Card