This is part three of my 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
– Sword and sorcery. First book of the Song of the Lioness quartet, and really the best place to start all your world of Tortall reading (there are three 4-book quartets, a 2-book set, and a trilogy that take place in this world). The magic is interesting, the characters feel real, and there is well done ethnic and religious diversity. Lots of coming of age and finding your path in these books.
– Sword and sorcery. Takes place in the same world as Alanna, but you don’t have to have read those to enjoy these. The main character is the child of a god and a human and has magic allowing her to speak with animals.
– High fantasy-ish. The first book in the Circle of Magic quartet and the larger connected Magic Circle collection. This set follows four kids who have unusual magic. They are all very different characters, coming from various walks of life. Again, diversity is well handled here. The character Tris starts of prickly and unlikable. Over the course of the series we learn to like her, but she stays prickly, which I think is excellent (she doesn’t have to change who she is). Great self discovery books.
Young Warriors: Stories of Strength
– Collection of short stories edited by Tamora Pierce featuring strong female characters.
The Wee Free Men
– Again, sort of high fantasy. Self discovery and adventure of Tiffany Aching, who didn’t know she was a witch until she had to rescue her little brother. Lots of neat language that is still accessible to younger readers. They may pick up words like susurrus (a low soft sound such as whispering or muttering) and crivens (Scottish for “oh heck”).
– High fantasy. While this takes place in Discworld, you do not have to read the other books first. This one is a bit of an of witches adventure, and it pokes lots of fun at the tropes of witches riding brooms and dwarf and cultures as inspired by Tolkien.
The Amber Spyglass
– Parallel world fantasy. This is the first book of the His Dark Materials Trilogy, which has some spectacular writing.
The Firework Maker’s Daughter
– Historical Chinese fantasy. The writing in this is very much classical YA, but this is more of a novella than a true novel. It is beautifully illustrated. I feel this is actually Pullman’s best work. His novels often have a deus ex machina ending, which I find wholly unsatisfying, the cost is far higher than it should be. This one sticks the landing.
The Lightning Thief
– Contemporary fantasy, Greek mythology was actually historically factual. I’d been hearing the hoopla about these books for years, and it is justified. It’s funny, clever, but also has great depth. Fun twisting and use of Greek mythology and characters. If you like this, you will want to read the rest
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
– Contemporary fantasy, magical boarding school. Yes, you’ve probably heard of it and watched the movies. It’s still quite good, and gets to be here just in case someone hasn’t read it and needs a nudge in that direction.
– Science fiction. Kids created and raised by a deep space ship are being sent out to colonize a planet.Some things go well, others go horribly wrong, and there are a couple key surprises. I read this when I was 11 and only reread it recently. It help up pretty well.
The Vampire’s Beautiful Daughter
– Urban fantasy. Has a very Buffy the Vampire Slayer feel, with the sass. Main character is a Native American boy who is a traditional dance performer. He befriends a new girl at school, and it turns out she’s half vampire. Lots of fun with vampire tropes.
A Walk in Wolf Wood
– Contemporary fantasy, parallel universe. A couple of kids walk into the woods and find themselves transported to Arthurian time and place. Will they ever get home? This one is often out of print, but it’s worth looking for at the library or through ABE books.
The Dragonet Prophecy
– This is the first book in The Wings of Fire series. This is a great story about coming of age, finding yourself, and leaning on your friends. This story (and series) provides nurturing male characters, tactically strong female characters, racism and social bias, and characters learning to break out of the mold they’ve been assigned, to be who they truly are.
The Lost Continent
– While technically book eleven in The Wings of Fire series, it is a completely different storyline fully independent of the first ten books (on a different continent, even!). The world is rich and culturally interesting. This book continues the focus on the importance of friendships and warping gender norms, while addressing war, subjugation, and genocide.
– Fantasy. This really continues to be a gold standard for classical fantasy, and it’s part of how the genre gained traction in publishing. I read this in fifth grade after discovering that the Rankin and Bass cartoon was based on a novel.
The Fellowship of the Ring
– Fantasy. You don’t have to have read the Hobbit first. While this continues the tale, it’s written in a much more academic language, so it’s not accessible to everyone.
– Not speculative fiction, but includes the adventure element that often appeals to fans of the genre. Episodic and feels like a serial that was put together in novel form. Best read in elementary or junior high before bad teachers can ruin your enjoyment of it.
– Not speculative fiction, and also not a true sequel to Tom Sawyer, though it takes place in the same world. This is less episodic, and has a continuous story line. Again, best read before a bad high school teacher or college prof can ruin it for you.
Vivian Vande Velde
Now You See It
– Contemporary fantasy. A girl discovers a pair of glasses right after breaking hers. Surprise, they let her see the fae hiding among us!
The Once and Future King
– Arthurian fantasy. Not sure how true to Mallory this is, but this is definitely the source for pretty much every King Arthur cartoon or movie I’ve ever seen. The language is a bit more complex, so more fun for older or stronger readers.
– Urban/steampunk-ish fantasy. Amazing world. Fascinating magic. Well developed characters. Flora’s dad has PTSD and drinks a lot, this is actually very well handled. As the series progresses, it begins to look like her parents may have had a non-conventional relationship involving a third party.
– Science fiction. A girl wakes up one morning to irritated shoulder blades. She’s sprouting wings, as her mother and grandmother did before her. Instead of drugging her and clipping her wings (which seems to be standard protocol in the family), they find a group of people studying this mutation in an open way.
Dealing With Dragons
– Sword and sorcery. A princess who has no interest in being wooed by a knight, goes out to defeat a dragon herself, but makes friends instead.
– Fantasy, middle grade-ish. Magical boarding school that features a lot of things you see in Harry Potter, but was published well before Harry Potter.
Sister Emily’s Lightship
– Speculative fiction short stories
Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast
– Speculative fiction short stories
Spells of Enchantment
– Comprehensive fairy tale collection. The author is an expert and former professor specializing in fairy tales.