The young-adult genre has exploded over the last two decades, with works ranging from the romantic to the dystopian, fantasy, and literary. But just because these are books marketed toward middle-grade and teen readers doesn’t mean that older readers can’t enjoy them as well. This year, 2022, marks the fiftieth anniversary of Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint that specializes in high-quality literary fantasy, contemporary fiction, and historical fiction geared toward teens. In honor of their fifty years of serving stories to readers young and old, here are eight YA books that anyone of any age can enjoy.
Sometimes, the books we read feel alive to us. For Delilah, that book is Between the Lines, a fairy tale about a prince named Oliver. Delilah loves the book so much, she can’t help but keep reading it any chance she gets, feeling as though Oliver is speaking to her. Except, well, it turns out he really is speaking to Delilah. He’s tired of his repetitive existence as a literary character, and he thinks his biggest fan can help. The kind of wish-fulfilling fantasy every current and former book-loving teen can relate to, BETWEEN THE LINES is a sweet love story that’s so good, it’s being turned into a musical!
Bestselling author Jodi Picoult joins forces with her teenage daughter in crafting this charming modern-day fairy tale. A shy bookworm spends all her time in the school library and falls for a storybook prince... who may not be as one-dimensional as she thinks.
Do you remember your favorite childhood toy? Or maybe the one that, for some reason, always filled you with dread? Zach, Alice, and Poppy are best friends who love playing with action figures and coming up with epic stories and adventures. But after Zach’s father declares that he’s too old for toys, Zach vows never to play with them again. Too bad one wants to play with him. Poppy is being haunted by a bone-china doll that swears she was made of the bones of a murdered girl. Now the friends must bring the doll home before they end up cursed forever. A spooky tale of friendship and the end of childhood, DOLL BONES will remind you of happier days . . . and maybe some darker ones.
Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever and have been playing a game of make-believe that centers around a bone-china doll named The Queen for just as long. But as they enter middle school and feel pressured to give up make-believe, the trio goes on one last adventure to solve a mystery surrounding The Queen together. This Newbery Honor–winning book is an adventure, a ghost story, and a touching meditation on growing up.
Everyone sees the world a little differently, but Finn Easton is definitely unique in that regard. He measures the world in miles, not minutes, and fights against the notion that he’s a character in his father’s novels. But when Julia, the love of his life, moves away, Finn recruits his best friend, Cade, to go on a mission to the college they both want to attend. Inevitably, things go wrong, but it’s in that chaos that the boys are able to find themselves. A heartwarming coming-of-age story with a touch of meta, 100 SIDEWAYS MILES is the kind of road-trip book that can appeal to readers of all ages.
Destiny takes a detour in this “wickedly witty and offbeat novel” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) that was nominated for the National Book Award.
Finn Easton sees the world through miles instead of minutes. It’s how he makes sense of the world, and how he tries to convince himself that he’s a real boy and not just a character in his father’s bestselling cult-classic book. Finn has two things going for him: his best friend, the possibly-insane-but-definitely-excellent Cade Hernandez, and Julia Bishop, the first girl he’s ever loved.
Then Julia moves away, and Finn is heartbroken. Feeling restless and trapped in the book, Finn embarks on a road trip with Cade to visit their college of choice in Oklahoma. When an unexpected accident happens and the boys become unlikely heroes, they take an eye-opening detour away from everything they thought they had planned—and learn how to write their own destiny.
NYTBR Notable Children’s Book of the Year
NPR Best Book of the Year
NYPL’s Best Book of the Year for Teens
ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults
Chicago Public Library Best Teen Fiction of the Year
A Texas Tayshas Top Ten Selection
Sisterhood can be complicated. Case in point, June Baek is the perfect older sister, the apple of her parents’ eyes, with a high-paying job and a fancy apartment; her sister, Jayne, is, well, not. Getting through fashion school with a deadbeat boyfriend and an eating disorder, Jayne wants nothing to do with her older sister. But that all changes when June is diagnosed with cancer and needs Jayne’s help as she goes through treatment. No matter how old you are, YOLK will have you reaching for the tissues as these two estranged sisters confront their issues and secrets in one of the most heart-wrenching and hopeful stories about the bond between sisters you’ll ever read.
From New York Times bestselling author Mary H.K. Choi comes a funny and emotional story about two estranged sisters and how far they’ll go to save one of their lives—even if it means swapping identities.
Jayne and June Baek are nothing alike. June’s three years older, a classic first-born, know-it-all narc with a problematic finance job and an equally soulless apartment (according to Jayne). Jayne is an emotionally stunted, self-obsessed basket case who lives in squalor, has egregious taste in men, and needs to get to class and stop wasting Mom and Dad’s money (if you ask June). Once thick as thieves, these sisters who moved from Seoul to San Antonio to New York together now don’t want anything to do with each other.
That is, until June gets cancer. And Jayne becomes the only one who can help her.
Flung together by circumstance, housing woes, and family secrets, will the sisters learn more about each other than they’re willing to confront? And what if while helping June, Jayne has to confront the fact that maybe she’s sick, too?
Ashley Bennett has one thing on her mind in the spring of 1992: graduation. Unfortunately, the carefree days of her senior year are cut short after the police officers who beat Rodney King are acquitted. As Los Angeles breaks out into riots, Ashley finds herself ostracized at school, in her friend group, and in her own community. Even though THE BLACK KIDS takes place in the early 1990s, its depictions of systemic racism and systems of oppression, along with issues of class and wealth, are just as relevant and important for all readers to grapple with today.
A New York Times bestseller
“Should be required reading in every classroom.” —Nic Stone, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin
“A true love letter to Los Angeles.” —Brandy Colbert, award-winning author of Little & Lion
“A brilliantly poetic take on one of the most defining moments in Black American history.” —Tiffany D. Jackson, author of Grown and Monday’s Not Coming
Perfect for fans of The Hate U Give, this unforgettable coming-of-age debut novel explores issues of race, class, and violence through the eyes of a wealthy black teenager whose family gets caught in the vortex of the 1992 Rodney King Riots.
Los Angeles, 1992
Ashley Bennett and her friends are living the charmed life. It’s the end of senior year and they’re spending more time at the beach than in the classroom. They can already feel the sunny days and endless possibilities of summer.
Everything changes one afternoon in April, when four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King half to death. Suddenly, Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the black kids.
As violent protests engulf LA and the city burns, Ashley tries to continue on as if life were normal. Even as her self-destructive sister gets dangerously involved in the riots. Even as the model black family façade her wealthy and prominent parents have built starts to crumble. Even as her best friends help spread a rumor that could completely derail the future of her classmate and fellow black kid, LaShawn Johnson.
With her world splintering around her, Ashley, along with the rest of LA, is left to question who is the us? And who is the them?
Romeo and Juliet is one of the Bard’s most famous tales, following the tragic downfall of two star-crossed lovers. It’s been reimagined over and over again, but what WHEN YOU WERE MINE does differently is that it presents a more uncommon perspective—that of Rosaline, the girl Romeo is obsessed with at the beginning of the original play. This retelling takes place in the modern-day world, with Rosaline losing Rob, her Romeo, to her former best friend, Juliet, who just moved back to town. But as rumors start popping up about Juliet’s erratic nature, Rosaline worries that Rob might become a victim, too—and she’ll lose him in more ways than one.
From the New York Times bestselling author of In Five Years comes an intensely romantic modern recounting of the greatest love story ever told—narrated by the girl Romeo was supposed to love.
What’s in a name, Shakespeare? I’ll tell you: everything.
Rosaline knows that she and Rob are destined to be together. Rose has been waiting for years for Rob to kiss her—and when he finally does, it’s perfect. But then Juliet moves back to town. Juliet, who used to be Rose’s best friend. Juliet, who now inexplicably hates her. Juliet, who is gorgeous, vindictive, and a little bit wild...and who has set her sights on Rob. He doesn’t stand a chance.
Rose is devastated over losing Rob to Juliet. And when rumors start swirling about Juliet’s instability, her neediness, and her threats of suicide, Rose starts to fear not only for Rob’s heart, but also for his life. Because Shakespeare may have gotten the story wrong, but we all still know how it ends.
Janna’s worldview slots people into three separate categories: saints, misfits, and monsters. As a young Muslim woman living in a predominantly white and Christian country, she feels like a misfit in more ways than one. She’s dealing with her father’s new family, struggling with a crush on a boy at school, and trying to handle a monster who wears the facade of a pious man. SAINTS AND MISFITS is the kind of coming-of-age story that touches on issues of identity, faith, and the danger of preconceived notions.
Saints and Misfits—a William C. Morris Award finalist and an Entertainment Weekly Best YA Book of the Year—is a “timely and authentic” (School Library Journal, starred review) debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.
There are three kinds of people in my world:
1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.
2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.
Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.
But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?
3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.
Like the monster at my mosque.
People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.
If your brother was killed, and you had the opportunity, would you go looking for revenge? That’s the dilemma that Will faces. His brother, Shawn, is dead, and in his neighborhood, the proper reaction is retribution, ideally with his brother’s own gun. But as Will gets on the elevator, headed down to enact his vengeance, he’s met on the next floor by the spirit of the dead boy who gave Shawn the gun. On the next floor down, a young girl who died in a shooting, even though Will tried to save her, enters and tells her tale. LONG WAY DOWN examines the ramifications of gun violence on communities, presenting a powerful, heartbreaking narrative about the cycle of violence, trauma, and grief.
“An intense snapshot of the chain reaction caused by pulling a trigger.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Astonishing.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A tour de force.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A Newbery Honor Book
A Coretta Scott King Honor Book
A Printz Honor Book
A Time Best YA Book of All Time (2021)
A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Winner for Young Adult Literature
Longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
Winner of the Walter Dean Myers Award
An Edgar Award Winner for Best Young Adult Fiction
Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner
An Entertainment Weekly Best YA Book of 2017
A Vulture Best YA Book of 2017
A Buzzfeed Best YA Book of 2017
An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds’s electrifying novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.
A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he?
As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator?
Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.
And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if Will gets off that elevator.
Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down is a fast and furious, dazzlingly brilliant look at teenage gun violence, as could only be told by Jason Reynolds.
Photo credit: iStock / Jun