Sometimes people think YA books are all light and fluffy, but they’re forgetting that since the genre started with The Outsiders, YA books have been providing windows and mirrors for teens dealing with all sorts of topics, ranging from fantastically wild to wickedly dark to emotionally heavy. Read on for 10 books that are not afraid to go there.
Rosie Girl by Julie Shepard
A dead father, an abusive stepmother, a best friend who turns tricks, and a search for a missing birth mother – ROSIE GIRL was never going to pull any punches. But the book really goes there with that twist. OMG.
Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi
Taj is a sin-eater, an indentured aki, who slays sin-beasts for those who are corrupt and can pay others to take on their guilt. A fantastic magical world, a conspiracy to destroy his city, and a fight to save the princess he loves – BEASTS MADE OF NIGHT goes there even before you factor in its powerful commentary on guilt and justice.
Forest of A Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao
A reimagining of the Evil Queen legend, part of the magic of FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS is wondering whether Xifeng will pay the price it costs to get to the throne. Xifeng’s perspective is so compelling that even when she goes there – like, yikes, she really does that – early on, you can’t help but keep reading to see what she does next.
The Merciless Series by Danielle Vega
With a review for THE MERCILESS that says: “think ‘Mean Girls meets ‘The Exorcist’’ – well, you always knew this book was going to go there.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The New York Times review of this book said: “The Outsiders transformed young-adult fiction from a genre mostly about prom queens, football players and high school crushes to one that portrayed a darker, truer world.” So, yeah. The Outsiders is basically the first YA book that went there – which is not surprising, as S.E. Hinton was only 16 years old when she wrote it.
The Valiant by Lesley Livingston
In a book where fighting is the only way to survive, just like its heroine Fallon, THE VALIANT doesn’t shy away from anything. This feminist fantasy goes there only a few chapters in, and then keeps you hooked with another shocking twist, a mysterious love interest, and a whole lot of violence.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Think the Hunger Games was harsh? In Sabaa Tahir’s EMBER IN THE ASHES – inspired by Ancient Rome – defying the Emperor means Game of Thrones-level retribution.
City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson
A thrilling quest for revenge set in Kenya, CITY OF SAINTS & THIEVES is one captivating twist after another. You’ll be on the edge of your seat to see how far Tina is willing to go to get vengeance for her mother’s death.
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE is a brilliant coming-of-age story that tackles the struggles of recession-era small-town America. And also, the struggles of facing an unstoppable army of hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises.
When I Am Through With You by Stephanie Kuehn
Author Stephanie Kuehn has a doctorate in psychology, so when we say her book is a twisty psychological thriller, you know we mean business. A group of teens from a dead-end town going camping for a weekend is a recipe for trouble, but when you add in a suspicious group of fellow campers, a loaded gun, and the wrath of Mother Nature…well, you’ll just have to find out what happened from Ben, who has plenty of time to tell the story—from his jail cell.
Looking for more recommendations? Check out these 7 alternate histories to answer your biggest “what if’s”