“Dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or a dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I’ve discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that’s filled with masterpieces I’ve never heard of.” —Nick Hornby
As writers, we gain something with every book we read. Whether you’re writing for young readers, or just looking for something new to read, books for young adults (YA) can be a great untapped resource. But where to start? Here are a few points to keep in mind when picking out a YA book to read:
Is YA a genre?
Designating a book as “YA” is usually about marketing or readership—making it more of a category than a genre. Thus a lot of the same genres and subgenres that are found in adult literature also exist in YA literature. These broad and diverse options available can be overlooked when young adult literature gets lumped into one genre. So, consider the genres you already enjoy, and use those as a jumping off point for selecting your next YA read.
How do I tell what age group a book is written for?
YA books tend to target 12–18 year olds. An online search for young adult book recommendations will give you many lists with titles across this age range, but might also sometimes list middle grade (MG) books, intended for 8–12 year olds. (Side note: there are fantastic MG books out there, and I encourage you to read some of those as well!) To help determine a book’s specific audience, check out the publisher’s website, which sometimes lists the intended grade level, or School Library Journal, which recommends grade level in their book reviews.
I’m intrigued, but I’m not so sure about those crazy covers…
Although many YA books feature stunning dust jackets with incredible artwork and design, they are not immune to the challenges of adequately or fully reflecting the stories within. Young adult book covers tend to follow trends and are usually marketed to a specific gender, even if the content would have a broader appeal. Rather than taking a book at face value, try reading a few pages to see if the tone, language, and subject matter make you want to read more.
Ok, I’m ready to pick up a YA book! Where do I find good recommendations?
Here are a few booklists that are great sources for new, diverse, and award-winning titles:
- We Need Diverse Books Resource Page and End of the Year Booklists
- Micheal L. Printz Award List
- The Young Adult Library Services Association’s Book Awards and Booklists
What YA books are you reading right now?
Here are a few of the YA titles I’m reading:
- Contemporary: A Psalm for Lost Girls by Katie Bayerl and The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
- Graphic Novel: Giant Days by John Allison, Whitney Cogar, and Lissa Treiman
- Historical Fiction: The Rock and The River by Kekla Magoon
- Nonfiction: Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson
- Speculative Fiction: Illuminae series by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Denise Santomauro is a writer, storyteller, and performer with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Interested in learning more from Denise? Sign up for her Prompt-A-Palooza class on October 26th!