Beginner's Guide to Classic YA

By Skokie Staff Advisory Services

Young adult (YA) literature, broadly defined as books intended for those ages 12 to 18, wasn’t officially recognized as a category until the 1960s. Even though these books are based on the lives of teens, readers of all ages enjoy them. Here are some of the most influential YA titles throughout the years.

  • The Outsiders

    2012 by Hinton, S. E.

    Stay gold, Ponyboy. S. E. Hinton started writing this coming-of-age novel when she was only 15, which can account for why it’s consistently been a popular book for teens. Even though books for or about adolescents existed before the 1960s, The Outsiders is often considered one of the first books to be officially labeled a “young adult” title. Suggested by Elise.

    Get this item
  • The Giver

    2018 by Lowry, Lois

    Celebrated as one of the very first dystopian novels written for young adults, this title has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. Despite being praised for discussing themes of color, eugenics, and the power of human connection, this book is still challenged by critics and sits on the list of banned books. Suggested by Amber.

    Get this item
  • Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret

    2001 by Blume, Judy

    Although this book is sometimes shelved as “kids” or “junior high,” it’s still an influential title for young adults. It has been frequently challenged for years due to its discussions on sexuality, menstruation, and religion, but for the same reasons, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is a fan favorite for its candid portrayal of adolescence. Suggested by Elise.

    Get this item
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower

    1999 by Chbosky, Stephen

    The author of this coming-of-age book drew inspiration from his personal experiences and memories. It included teen sexuality, drug use, and mental health-related issues and themes. As a result, it was constantly contested and, for a long time, thought to be inappropriate for the very age group it was written for. Suggested by Amber.

    Get this item
  • Twilight

    2005 by Meyer, Stephenie

    In the early 2000s, this paranormal romance shocked the entire world. This series is renowned for its contentious love triangle (People continue to argue about whether Team Edward is preferable to Team Jacob), and for being many people's introduction to vampire and werewolf antics. Suggested by Amber.

    Get this item
  • Divergent

    2014 by Roth, Veronica

    Fast-paced and adventurous, this Chicago-based dystopian series has all the appeals of a good early 2010’s YA book: an imaginative world, a heartbreaking romance, memorable characters, and tough decisions. Divergent emphasizes the common humanness in all of us, while still celebrating our unique traits. Suggested by Elise.

    Get this item
  • Annie on My Mind

    1984 by Garden, Nancy

    Groundbreaking titles wouldn’t be groundbreaking if they didn’t cause controversy. This book is known for (and has been challenged for) it’s LGBTQ+ themes—it follows the romantic relationship of two 17-year-old girls. In 1993, copies of Annie on My Mind were even publicly burned in Kansas to protest its homosexual content. However, Kansas City did not win its case to ban the book. In fact, Annie on My Mind has never been out of print since its original release in 1986. Suggested by Elise.

    Get this item
  • The Hunger Games

    2008 by Collins, Suzanne

    May the odds be ever in your favor. This title was on The New York Times bestseller list for more than five years. An obvious critique of the exploitation, consumerism, and violence of capitalist societies, this title inspired many YA novels after its peak. Suggested by Amber.

    Get this item
  • The Fault in Our Stars

    2012 by Green, John

    Sixteen-year-old Hazel, a stage IV thyroid cancer patient, has accepted her terminal diagnosis until a chance meeting with a boy at cancer support group forces her to reexamine her perspective on love, loss, and life. John Green's exploration of teen romance and navigating serious illness received critical acclaim and was a bestseller for seven consecutive weeks. Suggested by Amber.

    Get this item
  • Crank

    2010 by Hopkins, Ellen

    Crank is a unique glimpse into the possibilities of YA. Loosely based on the author’s daughter’s addiction to crystal meth, it works through tough topics in the format of free verse, rather than standard prose. Like most popular YA books with depictions of sex, drugs, teen pregnancy, and sexual assault, this book is frequently banned—yet many people argue that books like Crank serve as a cautionary tale to teens and do not actively promote drugs and underage sex. Suggested by Elise.

    Get this item
  • Speak

    1999 by Anderson, Laurie Halse

    Following a teenager girl as she processes being sexually assaulted at a party, Speak offers a voice to those who have faced trauma, even when no one takes it seriously. However, this short novel has caused an uproar over the past two decades due to its sexual content and presumed politics, so it is frequently found on banned book lists. Author Laurie Halse Anderson has spoken out numerous times against censorship and explains how novels like Speak can help teens think critically and understand their own experiences. Suggested by Elise.

    Get this item
  • The Hate U Give

    2017 by Thomas, Angie

    After witnessing her friend's death at the hands of a police officer, Starr Carter's life is complicated when the police and a local drug lord try to intimidate her in an effort to learn what happened the night Kahlil died. This timely novel quickly established itself as a valuable resource in discussions about racism, police brutality, and the significance of speaking up against injustices. Suggested by Amber.

    Get this item