Best book series for young adults — ever
by: Melina Marchetta - (Candlewick, 2011) 416 pages.
The hook: At 9 years old, Finnikin has a prophetic dream about the destruction of his kingdom, Lumatere. The prophecy leads him to make a pact with his two best friends to protect their people. But when an imposter king takes the throne and kills much of the kingdom’s population, a curse is put on Lumatere, locking some of its inhabitants inside and some without. As Finnikin grows up, he spends his life trying to find a home for the refugees locked outside the kingdom. When the mysterious Evanjalin arrives, offering to help him find his lost friend, Finnikin’s not sure if he can trust her. Finnikin struggles between his growing love for Evanjalin and his quest to save his friends and kingdom. This richly complex fantasy trilogy is beautifully written with well-developed characters and an intricate plot, which might make it a bit hard to get into for weaker readers. But it’ll thrill fans of elaborate fantasy stories like The Lord of the Rings. Parents should note the mature sexual content (including rape) and violence make this series best for older teens and up.
Perfect for: Older teens who like complex plots.
The House of Earth trilogy
by: Pearl S. Buck - (Open Road Media, 2013) 722 pages.
The hook: Beginning with The Good Earth — the classic Pulitzer Prize winning novel — The House of Earth trilogy depicts the life of Wang Lung, a poor farmer, and his family in China at the turn of the century. As China’s culture shifts from ancient dynasties to a more modern world, Wang Lung and his descendants experience rises and falls in fortune as they struggle to come to grips with a new way of life. Moving, gritty, and unforgettable, The House of Earth trilogy is considered a must-read classic. The Good Earth is frequently taught in high schools, but the sequels are also great reads.
Perfect for: Teens who want to experience other eras.
by: John Marsden - (Scholastic Paperbacks, 2006) 304 pages.
The hook: When high schooler Ellie and her friends return from a weeklong camping trip, they find their homes and farms empty and their families gone. Australia is under attack from an enemy force, and almost everyone has been taken prisoner. Unwilling to hide and do nothing, the group of teens begins fighting for their freedom as the world around them falls apart. Written before The Hunger Games sparked the dystopian future craze, the seven-book Tomorrow series has been a teen favorite since the first book was published in 1993.
Perfect for: Teens who want to be in on the action.
His Fair Assassin
by: Robin LaFevers - (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013) 576 pages.
The hook: In medieval Brittany, women are considered the property of men, seen as lesser beings, and often abused. But a group of warrior nuns at the convent of Saint Mortain — the god of death — defy the social conventions of the time and become trained assassins for their country. This historical fantasy trilogy will make feminist teens cheer as the three protagonists kick booty across 15th century France. Lovely prose, accurate historical details, and well-developed characters draw in fans of historical fiction. Parents should note this series is fairly violent and has some disturbing details about sexual abuse to women, making it best for teens and up.
Perfect for: Teens who like history-filled stories with a fantasy twist.
by: Elie Wiesel - (Hill and Wang, 2006) 120 pages.
The hook: In Night, the first book of the Night trilogy, Elie Wiesel provides a semi-autobiographical account of his experience during the Holocaust in the concentration camps. This deeply moving and horrifying novel delves into one man’s quest to understand why men — and God — allow such atrocities to occur. In Dawn, a work of fiction, Holocaust survivor Elisha moves to Palestine and becomes part of a Jewish gang. In the hours before dawn, he has to decide whether to commit an act of violence. In Day, Elisha, now living in New York, begins to question his ability to move on from his experiences during the Holocaust following a terrible accident. Night is commonly taught in high schools, but teens shouldn’t miss the following works in the series, which examine how a person can transition from the darkest depths of human experience to the hopeful light at the end.
Perfect for: Teens looking for historical perspective.
The African trilogy
by: Chinua Achebe - (Everyman's Library, 2010) 536 pages.
The hook: We usually learn history from the conquerors’ point of view, but this series throws readers into the world of British colonialism from the side of the oppressed. The story shows firsthand what it feels like to watch your world and culture crumble. In Things Fall Apart, we meet Okonkwo, a clan leader in the Nigerian Igbo tribe, who’s known for his strength and bravery. After a series of terrible events force him to leave his village in exile, he’s stunned to find it under the influence of Christian missionaries upon his return seven years later. Like the first book, others in the series examine the lasting effects of colonialism and how it shaped the lives of Okonkwo’s descendants. While Things Fall Apart is widely taught in schools, teens might not know about the two sequels, which are as eloquent and engaging as the first book.
Perfect for: Teens who want to understand history.
Chaos Walking trilogy
by: Patrick Ness - (Candlewick, 2014) 512 pages.
The hook: Todd Hewitt grew up with Noise — the constant thoughts of all humans and animals — that everyone can hear at all times. As a child, Todd was told that the alien race who filled the world with Noise also used biological warfare to kill all women. But when Todd discovers a patch of silence and a girl named Viola, he realizes everything he’s ever known is a lie. Beginning with The Knife of Never Letting Go, this thought-provoking science fiction trilogy raises questions about the real meaning of war and peace. Parents should note that this series has quite a bit of intense violence.
Perfect for: Teens who like asking difficult questions and trying to find the answers.
Daughter of Smoke & Bone series
by: Laini Taylor - (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012) 448 pages.
The hook: Raised by four half-human, half-animal creatures called chimaera, blue-haired Karou is not your typical 17-year-old. While traveling between worlds on a mission to find teeth (for what purpose she isn’t sure), Karou is attacked by a seraphim named Akiva. All of a sudden, her portal back to her family is closed. Karou finds herself drawn into a war between angel and chimaera and against a strong attraction to Akiva that she can’t explain. Although this fantasy series falls in the angel romance camp, the intriguing mystery plot and strong writing help it avoid the clichés of the genre and make it a popular pick for adults and mature teens.
Perfect for: Teens who like romantic fantasies.
by: Libba Bray - (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013) 608 pages.
The hook: It’s the 1920s and trouble maker Evie O’Neill is sent to live with her Uncle Will, who runs the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult in New York. When a serial killer with ties to the occult is discovered in the city, Evie must reveal her supernatural powers to help find the culprit. But Evie isn’t the only one with gifts, and she soon discovers other diviners with special abilities who can help her save the city. Dense and full of era-specific slang, this series isn’t a quick read, but the well-researched details and fascinating characters make it a page-turner. Parents should note the series (especially The Diviners) has some violence and mature themes.
Perfect for: Teens fascinated by the Roaring ‘20s.
The 5th Wave
by: Rick Yancey - (Speak, 2015) 512 pages.
The hook: After a series of alien invasions, most of the human race has been destroyed and the planet is overrun with disease and destruction. But when 16-year-old Cassie Sullivan becomes separated from her younger brother, Sammie, she braves the open road to find him until she’s seriously wounded. Rescued by the mysterious Evan Walker, the two must learn to trust each other as they brace for another wave of attacks. Teens and adults will be sucked into this page-turning, suspense-filled series, which makes apocalyptic clichés somehow feel fresh. Parents should note this series has a lot of action-packed violence and some mature content.
Perfect for: Teens who like action-filled stories that feel like a movie.
Graceling Realm series
by: Kristin Cashore - (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2009) 480 pages.
The hook: In the Seven Kingdoms, some people are born with graces, or extraordinary talents. Katsa is a trained killer with a secret plan to help the helpless. Fire, a mind reader who was raised to be a monster, risks her life to protect others and live a human life. And Queen Bitterblue, new to her throne, must uncover the secrets of her father’s dark legacy to truly rule her kingdom. At the center of each book in The Graceling Realm series is a heroic, strong woman who will definitely appeal to teen girls looking for strong role models. Parents should note that books have some violence and mature themes, including rape.
Perfect for: Teens who like strong female characters.
by: L.J. Smith - (Simon Pulse, 1996) 752 pages.
The hook: Much like Harry Potter and Twilight, this series sets up a world within a world completely unbeknownst to mere mortals. An entertaining romp with supernatural teens — replete with vampires, witches, werewolves, and shape-shifters — these books are written like sci-fi romance novels with protagonist teen girls seeking their soul mates. All the usual tropes of the genre, but entertainingly told, à la wooden stakes, wicked martial arts, and, of course, teen vampire love.
Perfect for: Teens looking for variety in their vampire, werewolf, and human love triangles.
by: Cassandra Clare - (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007) 592 pages.
The hook: New York City is more complicated — and populated — than 16-year-old Clary ever guessed. Walking out of a night club one night, she witnesses a murder that no one else can see — and learns about the city’s hidden Downworlders. Clary’s emerging powers (beyond seeing supernatural beings) prove she may be a Shadowhunter — a warrior who hunts and kills demons. The four books (and counting) have some story-line snafus, but still manage to be thrilling, empowering page-turners.
Perfect for: Middle-schoolers who enjoy a mix of urban grit, fantasy, and old-fashioned good-versus-evil.