Regardless of how much your teachers force you to read classics like Moby-Dick or Great Expectations, the books you read as a teenager are likely to be the ones you cherish the most. Who can forget their first encounter with the charming, quick-witted Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables? Or the years they spent as children with Harry, Hermione, and Ron? Or the jaw-dropping, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-the-screen passages that helped The Hunger Games become a worldwide sensation?
Fortunately for us, we are currently living in the Golden Age of Young Adult Fiction, as YA authors continue to push the genre in new and fascinating directions. Indeed, young adult books have emerged as a significant literary genre in its own right, establishing role models for all of us and igniting critical dialogues about personhood, gender, sexuality, and race.
So, what are the best teen books of all time? It’s a broad question that no one person can answer. So, in order to construct this masterpost, we polled our 300,000-strong readership for their favorite adolescent books. Without further ado, here are the top 115 YA books of all time.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of outstanding YA books to read, take our 30-second quiz below to rapidly narrow it down and get a tailored YA book recommendation.
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
This powerful and fascinating young adult book series, conceived as a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast, is written by the author of Throne of Glass. In the eponymous first volume, a young human huntress named Feyre is kidnapped and forced to become the ward of Tamlin, a part-faerie, part-beast High Lord. Though they are initially chilly to one another, Feyre’s irrepressible human personality and curiosity quickly endear her to Tamlin, and their lives become intertwined as she learns the ways of the fae. But Feyre’s happiness is ruined when she discovers the curse that hovers over Tamlin and his people… and realizes that only she has the ability to save them.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
A Separate Peace, one of the most quietly affecting young adult books on an AP English reading list, is about a complex friendship between two adolescent males. Gene and Finny are roommates at the distinctively northeastern Devon School, where despite their very different personalities, they become thick as thieves. But when the introverted, unathletic Gene gets envious of Finny’s easy confidence, he is compelled to do something awful — and neither of their lives will ever be the same again. Set against the somber backdrop of WWII, A Separate Peace makes universal themes of loyalty and loss of innocence seem profoundly personal, ensuring that the reader will never forget this novel.
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
Lemony Snicket is the master of balancing hilarity with pathos. His abilities are on full display in A Series of Unfortunate Events, a collection of thirteen unrelentingly grim yet beautifully accessible young adult novels about the Baudelaire children. Their problems begin with the deaths of their parents and their adoption by Count Olaf, the series’ famed (if absurd) villain who takes on a new guise in each novel — all in pursuit of the Baudelaires’ immense inheritance, which always seems just out of reach.
This is the children’s one ray of hope, since they are continually thrown into unpleasant conditions with various weird caregivers and have little success finding the truth about their parents’ deaths (and the mysterious organization, V.F.D., to which they belonged). It can be aggravating, especially for young readers, to witness their efforts being thwarted at every turn. Nonetheless, this young adult book series is well worth it for the mystery, excitement, and thought-provoking themes regarding morality and “good vs. evil,” especially as these adolescent tales grow into more intellectual territory.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
We couldn’t leave off this seminal young adult novel by one of SFF’s best authors. Ged, a youngster with magical abilities who must attend wizard school on an island, is the protagonist of A Wizard of Earthsea (henceforth establishing this classic YA fantasy premise). Ged’s abilities astonish his professors and classmates, but he struggles to control them, and one day a spell gone awry unleashes a ferocious “shadow creature” on him. Ged heals and receives his wizard’s staff, but the shadow follows him, hanging over everything he does. Our hero finally realizes that he has badly damaged the universe’s equilibrium — and that he must do everything he can to restore it.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The fanciful exploits of young Meg Murry, her brother Charles Wallace, and their neighbor Calvin on their mission to save the Murry siblings’ father are recounted in this mind-bending, genre-defying YA novel. They “tesser” through space and time with the help of a magical trio of ladies to bizarre locations on many other planets, each of which teaches them something new. But, when they confront the universe’s terrible powers, will the children be able to overcome them and return Dr. Murry to Earth? A Wrinkle in Time is a completely surprising novel with precisely calibrated characterization that lives up to its Newbery-winning status.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Theodore Finch is a teen outcast: an academic laggard and self-described freak, he has undiagnosed bipolar disorder and is obsessed with death. He thinks he has nothing in common with Violet Markey, a popular cheerleader and classmate — until they’re vying for space at the top of the school bell tower, both planning to leap. Violet discovers her first true confidante since her sister’s death when Finch immediately recognizes there’s more to her than meets the eye. Even as their friendship blossoms, they are unable to outrun their problems, and are forced to confront them throughout the course of this lighthearted yet touching YA novel.
All the Walls of Belfast by Sarah Carlson Indie Spotlight
All the Walls of Belfast, an unusual romance between two teenagers who must overcome the weight of their families’ pasts, has more star-crossed lovers. Fiona and Danny were born in the same hospital, but their paths have never crossed: she was reared in the United States and has never returned to her father’s Catholic home, whereas he is a born-and-bred Protestant who hopes to escape his violent father by joining the Royal Irish Regiment. When they meet and realize how much they have in common, right down to their favorite band… sparks ignite… Nonetheless, ancient rivalries threaten to rip them apart, especially as unsettling secrets about their families emerge.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Fabiola Toussaint was born in America, although she has spent virtually her entire life in Port-au-Prince. She and her Manman are finally returning to the United States. She’s resolved to establish une belle vie — a wonderful life, richer in possibilities than the one she left behind in Haiti — with an offer from her aunt in Detroit.
However, Immigration detains Manman as soon as they arrive at JFK, and Fabiola is forced to fly on to Detroit alone, unable to cry as the grandeur of America passes beneath her feet. Her aunt Marjorie, she knows, lives at the crossroads of American and Joy Roads. What she doesn’t know is how she will fit in with her three American cousins—or when she will see her mother again.
American Street, which was nominated for the National Book Award, is a beautiful, immensely moving debut that draws on Pushcart finalist Ibi Zoboi’s personal experiences growing up as a Haitian-American immigrant. It’s already a contemporary masterpiece, thanks to its delicate characterization and evocative feeling of place.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes is the first book of an acclaimed fantasy young adult novel series, and it contains some of the best worldbuilding in YA fiction. Members of the overthrown old ruling class, the Scholars, live in bondage and poverty under the thumbs of the Martial overlords who displaced them in its painstakingly portrayed, Rome-inspired Martial Empire.
When her brother is jailed on accusations of treason, Laia, a young Scholar girl, witnesses Martial violence firsthand. Desperate to save him from a gruesome end, she joins a clandestine rebel movement with ties to her late parents. She infiltrates an exclusive military academy as their spy, where she meets Elias, a pupil being groomed for the top levels of Martial power. But Elias has no desire to wear a crown or have blood on his hands. Together, these two unlikely partners attack the empire’s core depravity.
Anger Is a Gift: A Novel by Mark Oshiro
This contemporary novel is no less real because it is fiction. Moss Jeffries, a teenager whose father was slain by an Oakland police officer several years ago, suffers from not only deep sadness but also panic episodes in Anger is a Gift. Things haven’t gotten any easier for him now that he’s in his sophomore year of high school. In fact, Oakland police officers have been stationed in his school’s hallways, treating Moss and his classmates like criminals. As the students fight back against the oppressive administration, Moss realizes that his rage can be utilized to drive the struggle to make things right.