Young Adult fiction is an inherently difficult thing to categorise. While on paper it simply means literature suitable for teens and young adults or fiction written specifically for teenagers and young adults, YA has steadily become a genre and style in and of itself.
So often, YA authors are the ones pushing the boundaries of fiction, blending genres, tackling the deepest and darkest themes, celebrating queerness, and so much more. YA fiction is broad and beautiful; it implies a bright future for the world of literature, and we love that.
So, with all that in mind, here is a diverse selection of some of the best young adult novels ever written. You’ll find books of all genres, from fantasy and sci-fi to horror, romance, and more. Many of these books were written by members of the LGBTQ+ community and hold important messages about queerness, patriarchy, capitalism, and other large topics.
It often feels like fantasy giant Sarah J. Maas dominates the YA fiction space, so here we are highlighting a wide selection of YA authors you should also be paying close attention to.
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Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender (Romance/LGBTQ+)
Kacen Callender is a transmasculine non-binary author of YA fiction, and Felix Ever After is an enormously charming coming-of-age love story. The titular Felix Love is a seventeen-year-old trans kid raised in Brooklyn. Several years ago, his mother walked out, and since then he has been raised by his father.
After coming out, his father financially supported Felix with his medical needs, but remains clumsy when it comes to the social aspects of Felix being trans. Felix also has a best friend, a cisgender gay guy called Ezra. The two are inseparable, and people often assume they’re dating but they aren’t.
And the catalyst for the main plot is a moment where Felix’s Instagram is hacked, and old pre-transition photos of him are displayed in a gallery for their class, and all his friends, to see. The revenge plan that Felix hatches leads him down a twisted path of surprise friendships, romance, and so much more.
Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White (Horror/LGBTQ+)
Andrew Joseph White is the new king of YA horror, and Hell Followed With Us is a queer post-apocalyptic story that took the world by storm. It tells the story of Benji, a trans teenager who was raised in a globe-spanning evangelical cult which released a bioweapon that decimated the world’s population.
The cult isn’t finished yet, though. Benji himself was injected with a mutated form of the virus they unleashed, and this will eventually transform him into something dangerous and terrible. Now, however, Benji has escaped the cult and joined up with a band of LGBTQ+ teenagers to fight back against the cult.
Blending visceral body horror with big themes of religious corruption and queer freedom, Hell Followed With US is a masterpiece of young adult horror fiction by one of the big names in both YA and horror.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (Sci-Fi/LGBTQ+)
Inspired by the life of China’s first and only empress, Wu Zetian, Iron Widow is a fresh and exciting work of young adult science fiction set in a world invaded by a strange alien force. For two thousand years, the Huaxia people have fought back against these invaders by piloting enormous mechs called Chrysalises.
Our protagonist, Zetian, is a young provincial woman whose sister recently died in service to a Chrysalis pilot. This world is aggressively patriarchal; women with bound feet serve the men as wives and mothers, or as concubines to the male Chrysalis pilots. Concubines are little more than power batteries, and often die after a handful of battles.
Zetian wants revenge on the pilot who killed her sister, but getting that revenge is only the beginning. From here, she will unravel the threads of patriarchy that their society is bound by. This is a monumental piece of feminist YA science fiction that explores themes of racism and classism as well as sexism and patriarchy. A massive triumph.
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson (Thriller)
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a marvellously moreish YA thriller. Written partly in traditional prose and partly in a more experimental epistolary style — blending interview transcripts, diary entries, maps, and more into the narrative — this twisted and tangle web offers readers a wonderful world to get lost in.
The novel follows A-level student Pippa, bound for Cambridge and living in a small English town. For an extra-curricular assignment, she has chosen to uncover the truth of a murder case that was considered close five years earlier. Pip isn’t happy with the results of the case, and so she digs deeper. The case involved the disappearance and presumed murder of a schoolgirl, and the suicide of the boyfriend who confessed to the murder.
Pip doesn’t know if Andie is really dead — the body was never found — but she is sure that Sal didn’t kill her. She enlist’s Sal’s younger brother, Ravi, in her hunt for the truth. This hunt leads them into danger, and along the way they will uncover so many dirty secrets about their small community and its past.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (Fantasy)
One of the original masterpieces of young adult fiction, Philip Pullman’s urban fantasy trilogy about humanism and anti-theism is set in a multiverse full of magic and adventure. We begin in a world so similar to, yet very different from our own. In this world, part of a human’s soul lives outside of their body in the form of an animal companion — a daemon.
Our protagonist, Lyra, is a twelve-year-old girl who was raised as an orphan in the grounds of Jordan College, Oxford. As she learns of the mysteries surrounding a newly-discovered elementary particle called Dust, she sets out on an adventure that will introduce her to armoured bears and witches, and throw her into dangers she couldn’t have imagined.
His Dark Materials is a story that encourages critical thinking about the church and its doctrines, and invites readers to consider the importance of human connection, of community, of curiosity and adventure and education. A beautiful story from beginning to end, and one of the great YA fantasy novels.
Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz (Romance/Historical Fiction/Gothic)
Anatomy answers the question: what if Frankenstein was a love story? This is an historical YA novel set in 18th century Edinburgh. Our protagonist, Hazel, is a wealthy young lady who dreams of being a surgeon. Her brother died of a plague and her mother is in mourning. However, a girl cannot become a doctor.
She attempts to pass as a boy to attend classes, but is discovered. But famed surgeon Dr. Beecham sets her a challenge: to pass the medical exams without attending school. In order to practise her craft, Hazel requires bodies. And this brings her to Jack, a resurrection man who digs up bodies to sell to medicine.
Together, Hazel and Jack will face danger, uncover scandals, and grow closer in the process. This is a deliciously dark and exciting young adult romance that leans hard into the gothic.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Sci-Fi)
Few young adult novels have been as inspirational as the Hunger Games trilogy. After the release of these books, and their movie adaptations, every YA novel on the shelves was suddenly a political post-apocalyptic tale of teenagers struggling for survival.
The legacy of these books aside, The Hunger Games remain smart and exciting works of speculative fiction. Set in a future North America divided into twelve (formerly thirteen) districts and their Capitol. The districts become poorer as the numbers rise, and all of them serve the wealthy residents of the Capitol.
Each year, a televised tournament is held, in which two young people from each district compete for survival. Our protagonist, Katniss, spends the first novel in these Hunger Games, and the choices she makes there will shake the foundations of her nation’s entire political system.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (Fantasy/LGBTQ+)
From the incredible mind of Akwaeke Emezi, author of The Death of Vivek Oji and Freshwater, comes a dark and fantastical YA novel in which monsters no longer exist. The city of Lucille is perfect; no bad people live there — they were all eliminated. And this is the story the children of Lucille are raised on.
But one day, a strange-looking creature climbs out of one of Jam’s mother’s paintings. It calls itself Pet and tells Jam that it is hunting a monster. From this moment on, Jam’s world will be upended and she will have to wrestle with her ideas of morality and truth. Nobody believes in monsters anymore, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Fantasy/Historical Fiction)
The Lie Tree is one of the most beloved and inspiring young adult novels ever written. Set in the Victorian period, the novel follows Faith, a girl whose family have left London for an isolated island. When the novel opens, her scientist father has died under suspicious circumstances, and this sets faith on a hunt for the truth.
In the process, she also hopes to learn what her father was investigating. As she explores, she soon discovers the titular Lie Tree, which feeds of the lies which people whisper to it, and reveals truths in turn. This is at once a wonderfully detailed work of historical fiction and a magical fantasy story. A real work of mastery.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (Fantasy/LGBTQ+/Romance)
Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys is a queer urban fantasy YA novel that made history when it became the first book on the New York Times Bestseller list to be written by a trans author and to feature a trans protagonist. That protagonist is Yadriel, a brujo (male witch) with the power to summon restless spirits and set them free into the afterlife.
Brujas (female witches), on the other hand, have the power to heal, and Yadriel’s family — who deny his true identity — expect him to develop healing powers. To prove who he really is (both to himself and the other brujx), Yadriel attempts to summon the spirit of his cousin, who has suddenly and mysteriously died. But the summoning goes wrong, and Yadriel accidentally summons the ghost of a boy from his school who refuses to move on.
That boy is Julian, a rough kid with a bad reputation. He remembers being attacked and nothing else, and his body has not been found. Something strange is going on, and as they reluctantly work together to figure this out, the bond between Yadriel and Julian only grows stronger.
If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come by Jen St. Jude (Romance/LGBTQ+)
A stunning debut novel, If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come is set in the days leading up to the end of the world. Protagonist Avery is racked by depression, and was planning to take her own life, but when she learns that an asteroid will hit the Earth in nine days, she decides to hang on until the end.
How will she spend these days? As a queer teenager in love with her best friend, she has enough time to live her truth, to be there for her loved ones, and most importantly to be honest with herself and accept herself. This is a devastatingly beautiful work of fiction about mental illness and love.
The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson (Horror/Thriller)
Written by prolific and celebrated YA author Tiffany D. Jackon, The Weight of Blood is a retelling of Stephen King’s classic novel, Carrie. Protagonist Madison is a mixed-race high-schooler whose white supremacist father has forced her to pass as white. Nobody knew she existed until she was five; she didn’t attend school until she was twelve; and at school she keeps her head down and her hair straight.
The Weight of Blood is set in 2014, in a Georgia town so backwards in its racism that it feels like Jim Crow-era USA. Maddy’s school still segregates students for their proms. Black and white students have little to do with each other, and the one Black student who is “accepted” by the white majority is a top athlete from a middle-class family.
When Maddy’s hair gets wet one day at school, her mixed-race identity is revealed. The bullying and the racism escalates, and Maddy’s strange telekinetic powers begin to manifest, which leads us — in the tradition of Carrie — to prom night. This is a smart and captivating YA thriller about the sad state of 21st century America.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman (Fantasy/Sci-Fi)
Scythe has been called the successor to The Hunger Games, and it’s easy to see why. The world of this YA novel is a future utopia in which hunger, disease, and even death have been eradicated. The one big struggle is population control. A world where nobody dies is a world that continues to grow.
To keep the population under control, some people take on the role of a reaper-like scythe — someone with the power to end a life. Our protagonists are Citra and Rowan, apprentices to a scythe. But this isn’t the life either of them wants. Like The Hunger Games, this is a series that succeeds by the power of its concept and world-building.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Fantasy)
Leigh Bardugo lit up the world of young adult fantasy with her Shadow and Bone trilogy, which gave us the world of the Grishaverse. And Six of Crows is a companion duology set within that same world. A truly unique take on the fantasy genre, Six of Crows is a heist story set in a gritty, grimy fantasy underworld.
Criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker puts together a team of thieves and sharpshooters in order to pull off a deadly heist in the city of Ketterdam. Pull it off and they’ll be rich; fail, and they’ll be dead or worse. Six of Crows is a breath of fresh air for the fantasy genre, YA or otherwise.
Bearmouth by Liz Hyder (Fantasy)
The titular Bearmouth is a dark and difficult underground world where people spend their lives mining. Our protagonist, Newt, toils away like everyone else. The novel serves as his diary, and Newt’s style of writing reflects the difficulties of his world and the fact that he can barely read and write. It’s a clever and immersive touch.
Newt’s world of work, tradition, and superstition is upended by the sudden introduction of Devlin, a boy who questions everything and encourages Newt to do the same. Bearmouth shows us the gradual growth and change in Newt as his perspectives shift and he is encouraged to think differently and see his world differently.
Loveless by Alice Oseman (LGBTQ+)
Alice Oseman is the author of several queer YA novels and comic books, including the enormously successful gay romance Heartstopper. And Loveless is one of the rare novels to explore the theme of aromanticism. Georgia has never had any interest in romance — not in kissing or anything else. And this confuses her as much as anyone else.
When she gets to university and her world opens up, she has the opportunity to understand herself better. She joins the queer society and meets girls, gays, and theys of every shape and colour. This will surely help her figure out who and what she really is, and to love herself better. Loveless is a truly charming and moving LGBTQ+ novel.
Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller (Fantasy)
A fun and bombastic high-seas adventure, Daughter of the Pirate King follows pirate captain Alosa, who has the bright idea to allow her enemies to capture her and bring her aboard their ship: right where she wants to be. Now, she has the freedom to explore and find what she’s looking for.
And what she’s looking for is a map which will lead her to a secret island. She has been sent on this dangerous quest by her father, king of the pirates, and if she can find the map piece hidden aboard this enemy vessel, she’ll be one step closer to her goal. But this ship is captained by someone who will provide Alosa with an unexpected challenge.
The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi (Fantasy)
Translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano
This fantastic Japanese novel is inspired by the culture and traditions of aboriginal Australia, and it tells the story of a village girl named Elin. In this village, her people are caretakers to a herd of fantastical creatures known as Toda. But when the strongest Toda die in her mother’s care — one after another after another — Elin’s mother is sentenced to death.
This leads Elin to flee the village, and while alone in the wilderness she is discovered by a travelling beekeeper and raised at a sanctuary for creatures known as Royal Beasts. This is a dense fantasy novel of compelling lore, history, traditions, and much more. An exciting work of young adult fantasy fiction from Japan.
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders (Sci-Fi)
Written by transgender author and editor Charlie Jane Anders, The City in the Middle of the Night is a work of “climate fiction” set on a planet that is tidally locked, with one side always facing its sun and the other in perpetual dark and cold. At the edge, where extreme heat and cold meet, is a city controlled by strict rules and harsh punishments.
Our protagonist, Sophie, is a university student who is banished to the deathly cold wastes after taking the blame for something done by a girl she secretly crushes on. Out in the wild, she meets the supposedly hostile creatures that roam there. She learns they are not dangerous, but intelligent, and she soon sneaks back into the city with this knowledge.
Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall (Horror)
Written in an epistolary style, as a collection of interviews, transcripts, and messages, Rules for Vanishing echoes the found-footage subgenre of horror movies with brilliant success. Its premise is simple: once a year, a path appears in the woods and the ghost of a girl calls out to any who are tempted to wander in and find her.
But Sara has a different reason to head into the woods: to find her lost sister, Becca, who disappeared exactly one year ago. Life has been difficult ever since, and when she receives a mysterious message inviting her to follow the path and find the ghost, she hopes that this will lead her back to Becca.
The Ones We’re Meant To Find by Joan He (Sci-Fi)
A young adult speculative sci-fi novel drenched in mystery, The Ones We’re Meant to Find tells the story of Celia, who has spent three years alone on an island, with no memories from before that time — save the loose images of a sister she barely remembers but longs to return to. No matter how many times she attempts to free herself from the island, Cee always ends up back on its shore.
Her younger sister, Kasey, is a prodigy who lives in one of Earth’s suspended eco-cities; a haven for the people who are left. Natural disasters threaten life on a daily basis, and people continue to research ways that might secure a future for humanity. Her sister has vanished, and Kay feels lost and untethered without her. Kasey and Celia both long to find a way back to each other, and neither is giving up hope.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (Horror/Historical Fiction)
Set in an American alternate history where those who died in the battlefields of the American Civil War begin to rise as zombies, Dread Nation is a politically savvy novel about race and class divides in a zombie-infested historical setting. This new reality leads to a new nation, governed by new laws.
One of those laws requires Native and Black children to attend combat schools which teach them how to protect everyone else from the walking dead. Jane is one of those girls, but she has her sights set higher. She’s looking for success and power, but it won’t be easy to obtain. Things can get worse, and stranger, and they do.
Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura (Fantasy)
Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel
An urban fantasy novel set in modern-day Japan, Lonely Castle in the Mirror is a tale of isolation and belonging. Kokoro (Heart) is a middle-school girl who is currently refusing to go to school because she is being horribly bullied. One day, while hiding away in her room, she is sucked into her mirror and arrives in a fairy tale castle.
There, she meets a handful of other kids her own age who have all just arrived, and they are greeted by a girl in a wolf mask. She gives them a task: they have six months to search the castle for a key. The key leads to a room where they will have a wish granted. Only one of them can have their wish granted, however.
The catch here is this: if the one who finds the key chooses to have their wish granted, all of them will have their memories of these six months wiped. If they choose not to, all of them will remember their time here. This implies that what they will experience here might be too precious to let go of.
The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky (Horror/Thriller)
After being the unfortunate victim of a horrible attack, Rachel moved with her mother to a new place, new work, new school, new start. At this new school, she attends a party and is the target of a prank. From this, she learns about the titular Mary Shelley Club of horror-obsessed pranksters.
This club might just be the group of friends she has been searching for, but to join them she will have to pass what they call the Fear Test. This will lead her down a deadly path. Like the works of horror author Grady Hendrix, this is a must-read YA novel for fans of horror cinema.
The Honeys by Ryan La Sala (Horror/LGBTQ+)
Mars is one half of a pair of twins, always overshadowed by the sister he was once all but glued to, and to make things worse he is often kept at arm’s length by his conservative and politically-connected family due to his genderfluid personality and expression. But when his sister dies, he wants to take her place at the Aspen Conservancy Summer Academy.
Upon arrival, Mars finds an atmosphere of toxicity, and is bullied for his queerness, but he eventually discovers the titular Honeys, his late sister’s friends, and befriends them himself. But how are they connected to his sister’s terrible death? As he learns more, Mars will uncover so much darkness at this prestigious academy.