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YA Novels to Read with Your Teenager

by Laura Lambert

Photo Credit: fstop123/Getty Images

The gift of YA is that we adults were teens once — and we can relate. The best books are meaty enough for an adult to enjoy, full of believable characters and stories that pull you right along, and set in worlds that teens might want to inhabit. They make perfect fodder for the long days we have now as many of us are at home with our families.

But reading YA isn’t just about escapism. As a parent of a teen, I’ve often found that I need to come at a subject sideways in order to spark conversation. (Head-on, it’s bound to be two sentences or less: “Honey, what do you think about X?” “Okay, mom.”) But we can talk about love and betrayal — or even heftier topics — by talking through the finer points of a good book. While you don’t have to start an official in-house book club with your teen, you certainly could.

Tuck into these 10 engrossing YA books that span across genres — first love, historical fiction, dystopian fantasy — and appeal to adults and teens alike (even if it is just to escape). For additional book lists, reading tips, and more, visit Read Together, Be Together.

  • Nicola Yoon 2-Book Bundle: Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also a Star

    by Nicola Yoon

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    Everything Everything is the first YA book I shared with my own daughter. We didn’t read it at the exact same time, but one after the other – closely enough that we could discuss plot points or characters in a casual way. She thought I was cool for liking it; I thought she was cool for chatting with me about it. That’s about as good as it gets with a teen. Everything Everything is a love story, but the pieces my teen and I talked about were not just about love — it was a parent’s desire to protect a child, an 18-year-old’s need for freedom. I imagine reading it today, weeks into a pandemic that has us shut away inside from everyone but our immediate family, and how we might see the disorder that defines the main character's entire life — "bubble baby disease" — in a new light.

    If you love Everything, Everything, be sure to check out The Sun Is Also a Star.

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  • I’ll Give You the Sun

    by Jandy Nelson

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    I’ll Give You the Sun is the story of Jude and Noah, fraternal twins who at 13 are the best of friends, but by 16 are estranged. The story is deftly told from alternating perspectives — shy, loner Noah, from age 13; bold, beautiful Jude, from the vantage point of age 16, after the tragedy that tears them apart. As much as the story is about grief, it’s also about art. “The book celebrates art’s capacity to heal, but it also shows us how we excavate meaning from the art we cherish, and how we find reflections of ourselves within it,” wrote Lauren Oliver in her review in The New York Times. Nelson’s first book, The Sky is Everywhere, is also an equally good read.

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  • If I Stay

    by Gayle Forman

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    In If I Stay, the protagonist, Mia, a promising young cellist, is caught between life and death — and has to choose. Her parents died in the same car accident that has left her in a coma. As she hovers in an out-of-body in-between place, we learn about who and what she’s already lost and what she would leave behind. It’s a thought-provoking, compelling book that can spark truly meaningful conversation. What in your life is worth living for?

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  • Between Shades of Gray

    by Ruta Sepetys

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    For mature teens, Between Shades of Gray is a brutal first-person narrative of 15-year-old Lina, who is whisked away from her middle class life in Lithuanian to a Siberian work camp, by order of Joseph Stalin. The year is 1941. Sepetys’ work of historical fiction draws from her own family stories — she is the daughter of Lithuanian refugees who escaped to Germany — and reveals a harrowing chapter of history that most, teens and adults alike, are not aware of. “Hard to read but even harder to stop reading,” writes Linda Buckley-Archer in The Guardian.

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  • Speak

    by Laurie Halse Anderson

    Because it can be tough to speak directly about topics like sexual assault, Speak occupies an important and profound space, even now, more than 20 years after it was first published. In Speak, 13-year-old Melinda stops talking after being sexually assaulted. Told in the first person, Speak brings adult readers right into the volatile context of high school, into the mind of a traumatized young woman, struggling to find her voice. It took Anderson 23 years to speak of her own sexual assault, which also happened at age 13. Rendered even more powerful in this audiobook edition, listening to this with your teen will open a dialogue that in the age of #MeToo is essential and everywhere in the ether.

  • Turtles All the Way Down

    by John Green

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    In Turtles All the Way Down, 16-year-old Aza Holmes is trying to help solve the mystery of a missing billionaire by reaching out to his son, a boy she knows from “Sad Camp” — a summer program for kids who have lost a parent. But the story is really a window into what it’s like to live with crippling anxiety and OCD. “One of the main things I wanted to do in the book was to get at how isolating it can be to live with mental illness and also how difficult it can be for the people who are around you because you’re so isolated,” Green said in an interview for Time. Green has been open and vocal about his own mental health struggles as well.

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  • Legend

    by Marie Lu

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    Not every YA book needs a capital-M message in order to appeal to both parents and teens. Sometimes, a good ol’ dystopian romp through not-so-far-in-the-future Los Angeles is enough. In Legend, June and Day, both 15, are from opposite sides of what’s left of the United States: June is an educated elite from the ruling Republic, Day is a Robin Hood-like rebel from the slums. The story may feel familiar — part Hunger Games, part Les Miserables — but the writing feels fresh. The first in the Legend trilogy, this is a gripping series that will compel you and your teen to have a discourse about class.

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  • The Future of Us

    by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

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    Read The Future of Us together if only to see the look on your teen’s face when they finally understand what it meant to be ‘online’ in 1996. In this story — co-written by Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why, and Mackler, author of The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things — Emma and Josh, best friends, log on in 1996... only to somehow land in a future full of likes and friend requests (i.e. Facebook). When they realize that their thoughts and actions in 1996 have consequences 15 years in the future, things get interesting. Can the two teenagers rewrite the future? Should they try?

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  • One of Us Is Lying

    by Karen M. McManus

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    A murder mystery, YA-style. Gen X adults will appreciate the allusions to The Breakfast Club, as five teens from five different social circles end up in detention. But only four of those teens make it out of detention alive. The student who dies — Simon — ran a gossip app called About That, and apparently he knew enough devastating secrets to make any one of the others a viable suspect. Like any good mystery, One of Us Is Lying keeps you guessing, and offers good fodder for discussions about stereotypes, secrets, and gossip.

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  • How I Live Now

    by Meg Rosoff

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    Rosoff’s award-winning book, How I Live Now, follows 15-year-old Daisy as she leaves her father and pregnant stepmother in New York City for the English countryside, to live with an aunt and cousins she hardly knows. It’s the not-so-distant future, and when war breaks out, the children are left to fend for themselves. Daisy falls in love, and finds her own strength, but How I Live Now is also a powerful, sometimes disturbing opportunity to talk about the realities of war.

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