This is a list of my top recommendations for folks reading in the classical young adult range. Most of these are speculative fiction (with a few classics thrown in for good measure). These books have a level of on-screen violence and physical relationships that you’d see on the television or in a PG film. Not all of these are marketed as young adult. I only list the first book in a series, because it’s a good idea to make sure you like book one before picking up all of them.
Author’s name is at the top.
Book title (only the first in a series will be listed)
– Notes or description preceded by a hyphen
Another book, maybe
– Another description
A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
– Science fiction, humor. This is the first in a series. I read this when I was 12.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
– Science fiction, humor. This is the first in a series unrelated to the more famous Hitchhiker’s Guide and frankly an underappreciated gem.
– Anthropomorphic bunnies.
– Clockwork magic
Both are dark fiction, not truly horror, but mysterious with magical elements.
– Fantasy, fountain of youth and coming of age.
The Hidden Arrow of Maether
– Fantasy, coming of age in a world with interesting magic
Etiquette & Espionage
– Steampunk, coming of age, self discovery. Takes place in the same world as her adult Parasol Protectorate series. Some of her adult fans loathe this series, but they are wrong, and this is witty and fun, and explores some complex themes (racial bias anyone).
The Hunger Games
– Future dystopic science fiction. This is the first in a trilogy, but it can stand on its own. My son read the entire series over the course of three weeks when he was ten, and it spurred a lot of conversation about politics, policy, and socioeconomic imbalance. Some parents are squeamish about these because of the premise, but I assure you that despite the nature of The Games, the violence isn’t depicted in a graphic or gruesome fashion. The focus tends to be on the planning, the impacts, and vivid descriptions of things other than the violence itself. Worth noting that the main character clearly has depression (and PTSD in later books), that her mother has a history of mental illness; these are depicted in a way that feels very real.
Suzy McKee Charnas
The Kingdom of Kevin Malone
– Contemporary fantasy in New York City with a highly specialized alternate world
Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
The Green Man: Tales From the Mythic Forest
– Collection of fairy tales, retold by mostly well-known speculative fiction authors
The Dragon and the George
– Science fantasy. While trying to travel to another world, a man accidentally projects his consciousness into a dragon.
The Hollow Kingdom
– Fantasy. A young woman tries to outwit the king of goblins while protecting her younger sister
By These Ten Bones
– Fantasy. Scottish werewolf tale
The Pawn of Prophecy
– Fantasy, specifically sword and sorcery, the first book in the Belgariad series
The Thief Lord
– This feels very magical, though there’s actually very little magic in the story. It might qualify as magical realism depending on how broadly you define it.
– Fantasy. A girl’s father can read things to life out of books (but there’s an unfortunate cost).
Igraine the Brave
– Fantasy. Igraine has to take care of the castle while her family is busy, and of course marauders come to call.
– Contemporary dark fiction. Kids read it as an adventure and adults tend to read it as a child in danger.
The Graveyard Book
– Contemporary dark fiction. A boy whose family is murdered is raised by the spirits of a graveyard.
– Fantasy adventure, includes a prophecy, magic, and a fallen star. There is a non graphic sex scene in the first chapter.
Margaret Peterson Haddix
– A story of what happened after Cinderella was brought back to the castle, only to realize the prince was hella stupid and totally not her type.
The Princess Academy
– All the girls in town have to go to a boarding school for a bit to learn how to act like princesses so they can compete in an event not unlike The Bachelor
Jim C. Hines
The Stepsister Scheme
– fantasy, fractured fairy tale, several fairy tale ladies come together (not unlike Charlies Angels) to save the day.