Three Young Adult Books That Everyone Should Read, and Why You Should Read Them

By Jordan Shaw

For the past 10 years of my life, my go-to sections in bookstores and libraries have been the Young Adult shelves. I liked that it was a place where many of the books I picked up featured magical creatures or people with miraculous powers, and I found such stories a welcome vacation from a world where I (unfortunately) would never be able to ride a dragon or develop the ability to shoot lasers out of my eyes. However, I’ve seen many people discount the genre as a whole simply because it’s written for teenagers. Some see it as unsophisticated and juvenile, believing that such books hold little value for readers no longer in their teens. I have to disagree with this sentiment; I think that anyone can take away something valuable from a book, regardless of whether they are part of its intended audience. In fact, I have a list of Young Adult novels that I would recommend to book-lovers across the board, whether they are adults or still in their teens. Here are three of my favorites:

“Six of Crows” is carried by its strong characters.

1._Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

If I’ve spoken to you for any length of time over 10 minutes, chances are I’ve tried to get you to read this one. It’s also relatively popular, so the name might be familiar to you even if you aren’t an avid reader of Young Adult literature. This novel takes place in a fantasy setting inspired by the Dutch republic of the seventeenth century and features a motley crew of six teenagers tasked with a nearly impossible job: stealing a magical stimulant called jurda parem from an impregnable fortress. The world Six of Crows takes place in is vibrant and detailed, and the plot is a gripping adventure that will capture you and hold you hostage until the final word. 

Why Should You Read It?

Put simply: the characters. The main cast is fantastically well rounded and dynamic. Every one of the Crows has their own individual arc, and each one is given space within the narrative to come to a satisfying conclusion. It’s not unusual in a novel written with multiple perspectives for one or two of the main characters to fall flat (We’ve all read a book where we’ve found ourselves flipping past one of the characters’ chapters to get back to the more exciting stuff). With this book, you will never feel that urge. With every part of the book that focuses on a different member of the main cast, you will be happy to pick up where you left off. 

(Note: This book is part of a duology! If you liked it, check out the next book here.)

“Vicious” is a strong read because of its fresh take on morally ambiguous characters.

2. Vicious by V.E. Schwab

This one straddles the border between Young Adult and New Adult, a recently-developed genre marketed to people in their twenties. This genre shares some territory with Young Adult novels since many people in their late teens find such books appealing, as well. New Adult protagonists are often college-age, and that is where this novel begins with new roommates Eli and Victor. They quickly form a bond over their shared intelligence that solidifies over their time in college. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse when a project on near-death experiences and their correlation with the manifestation of supernatural abilities results in the death of someone close to both Victor and Eli. Ten years after the incident, Victor has escaped prison and is hunting for Eli, the person responsible for putting him there. 

Why Should You Read It?

V.E. Schwab’s depiction of Eli and Victor and their shared moral ambiguity makes for a very interesting read. It is common in Young Adult novels to have a clear protagonist and antagonistthe main character is usually unambiguously good, and the person or force they are opposing is clearly “the bad guy.” This novel features two characters who are clearly opposed to each other, but neither one can truly be called a good person. This dynamic does not encourage the reader to root for “the good guy,” but instead pushes them to set aside this urge in favor of simply observing to see what happens next.

(Note: This book is part of an ongoing series! If you liked it, check out the next book here.)

“Steelheart” stands out because of the worldbuilding.

3. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

This novel takes place in a dystopian version of today’s world following the appearance of Calamity, a bright light that illuminates the sky and gives ordinary people incredible abilitiesbut takes away their humanity. These people are dubbed Epics, and everyday citizens live in fear of their power. David, our protagonist, is looking to join the Reckoners, an organization dedicated to neutralizing Epics. For 10 years, he has been seeking a way to kill Steelheart, the nearly-unkillable Epic that rules over his home city and murdered his father. David is the only person alive who has seen Steelheart bleed, and he knows that he can make it happen again. 

Why Should You Read It?

Brandon Sanderson is known for his stellar worldbuilding, and Steelheart is no exception. The world of this novel is intricately crafted; Sanderson takes into account the unique abilities of every powerful Epic and factors their powers into the construction of his environment. The story itself takes you on a tour through Newcago and allows the reader to truly enjoy all the work that went into its construction. This novel is definitely something to read if you’re interested in the construction of fictional worlds.

(Note: This book is part of a trilogy! If you liked it, check out the next book here.)

***

Young Adult literature has a lot to offer—the interesting characters and inventive worldbuilding I’ve mentioned here only scratches the surface. As a whole, it’s a fantastic and diverse genre that anyone could find enjoyable. I hope this short list has piqued your interest (if you weren’t already a fan) and inspired you to give it a try. If this is the case, I wish you happy reading!


Jordan Shaw is the Long River Review chief copy editor and a poetry panel reader. She can be reached at jordan.shaw@uconn.edu.


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