Growing up, my nose was almost always buried in a book. I would stay up late, hoping my mom wouldn’t catch me, with my flashlight on, voraciously reading. It’s a tale as old as time for all secret nerds, really. It started with classics like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. After that, I moved on to less precocious, but far more dramatic, young adult novels. I devoured entire series in the span of a week, camping out at Borders to wait for the next installment (it seems almost archaic to think about, now that the Kindle exists). I spent so much time reading YA series, it never occurred to me that I would eventually age out of the system.
There was something so special about YA novels. You can’t find all that angst elsewhere. Authors try to re-create it in the “New Adult” genre today, but I’ll never love anything as much as I liked YA in my youth (unfortunately). I’m pretty sure I read through the entirety of my hometown’s library, and could still recite almost every book they had by name. While some were giant flops, the majority of YA literature resonates with me even now. These were my 14 favorites.
1. Sweet Valley by Francine Pascal
If I could make beaucoup bucks selling my old Sweet Valley books, I would have Beyoncé money. Unfortunately, I’m left with Wakefield twin memoirs that span from elementary school to adulthood.
2. Fearless by Francine Pascal
Once you read all 2,000 Sweet Valley books, it was time to move on to the Fearless series, also ghostwritten by Francine Pascal. They would make an epic movie– unfortunately, they were made into a Rachel Leigh Cook WB show that never saw the light of day. The main character, Gaia, was born without the fear gene, which mean this series had 100% more murder than most YA novels.
3. Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
While this isn’t technically a “Young Adult” novel when you look at the rest of the list, you can find it in the YA section. This is my favorite book of all time, ever, to this day. The combination of angst, sarcasm, and sincerity made it a potent read for middle school me. I still relate to the protagonist, Jessica Darling, more than any other female heroine in existence. In diary form, it says everything you wanted to express when you were struggling in high school, but couldn’t… plus, there’s Marcus Flutie, who’s the original bad boy reformed.
4. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
Full disclosure– most of Sarah Dessen’s books blend together, now that I’ve reached adulthood. That doesn’t make them any less wonderful, emotional, or moving. Girlfriend knows how to tell an incredible story, and she truly captures all of the feels that come with your first love. Her novels featured perfect book boyfriends who were grappling with as many issues as the heroines, making for magical moments. The incredibly underrated Mandy Moore and Trent Ford (swoon) movie How To Deal was based on two of her books, and it still makes me feel some kind of way.
5. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
This was probably the funniest book series in the history of humanity, and it made me want to move to England immediately, because their slang was far superior to ours. Like Georgia, I struggled with boy toys (what does “See you later” even mean?) and debated dying my hair a ridiculous color. This painfully funny series was turned into the movie Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging, starring the extremely fit Aaron Johnson, who’s now most famous for marrying someone older than your parents (and his). Most importantly, Georgia taught me how not to be wet and slaggy, although I am a little mad.
6. In the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Before there was the dark magic of The Vampire Diaries, there was Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, a 15-year-old author/prodigy. She weaved tales about magic and vampires that were far more twisted than I could dream up now, and I’m officially a decade older than she was when she started writing.
7. Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar
If you were a true GG stan, you were probably horrified when they announced the casting, because Jenny was nothing like described. Before Leighton Meester became Blair Waldorf, there were the books. They were the perfect introduction for naive nuggets into the debauchery that went on in the big city. If you read GG religiously, you know that Chuck was meant to be a maybe gay with a monkey, and that Vanessa Abrams was too punk rock for everybody.
8. The Wind Blows Backwards by Mary Downing Hahn
This is a little more obscure than say, GG, but that doesn’t make it any less of a pre-teen necessity. It tackled some serious issues that other books wouldn’t, like abuse, mental illness, and suicide. I always thought that this was a book that only existed in my my own mind, but with the help of the internet, Amazon helped me realize that it was a major YA hit– in 1993.
9. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
Meg Cabot killed it when she created Mia, the awkward (but in the books, astoundingly awesome), main character who had no idea she was a princess. Unlike Anne Hathaway, Mia was likable. Cabot also wrote the All American Girl series, about a girl who saves the president’s life and then falls in love with his son, which gave me hope for myself and Prince Harry (all that reading meant that I had a vibrant imagination).
10. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
This book convinced everyone in the world that they were 100% secretly adopted. When you were exceedingly mad at your family for some silly fight, the best way to recover was by blaming the supposed kidnapping. Sure, Janie was kind of a bitch to her new family, but it’s a lot for a girl to take in. Plus, the made for TV movie based on all that drama was everything.
11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
If you happened to feel out place in middle school, this book was your savior. I wasn’t a huge fan of Emma Roberts attempting to hide her Hermione in the movie, but I did appreciate taking a look at my emo feelings as an adult, because in that moment, I swear I was infinite.
12. Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn
I once loaned this dirty book (by middle school standards), to one of my teachers, who was a former nun. She kept it. I’m mortified, to this day. It followed a teenage girl named Cyd (so incredibly cool) around New York City, after she was kicked out of boarding school.
13. Making Waves by Katherine Applegate
This series was never finished, which is incredibly disappointing. It involved a summer in Ocean City, and a Green Card marriage. What more could you ask for?
14. Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
If you thought you were too old for fairytales, Francesca Lia Block proved otherwise. Her gorgeous stories followed the magical Weetzie Bat around Los Angeles, or “Shangri-L.A.” as she called it. You felt like you were swept away in Weetzie’s life, which was equal parts bewitching and beautiful.
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