Major franchises like Twilight, Divergent, and The Hunger Games have helped popularize young adult literature for adults, and as a YA novelist and editor of kids books myself, I couldn’t be happier about it. But don’t stop there: for every one of these movies, there are hundreds of well-written, thought-provoking, envelope-pushing, and thoroughly entertaining teen novels.
A truly great YA novel goes down easy, but it’s not candy. It has substance and nuance, too. It’s more like ice cream: a delight to consume that leaves you feeling full afterward. And what’s a better season for ice cream than the summer? So as you put together your summer reading list, make sure to pack some of these books for your trips to the Rockaways and your picnics in Prospect Park.
June: Go on a Globe-Trotting Adventure
Heist Society, by Ally Carter
Heist Society is basically Ocean’s 11 starring teenagers. It’s jam-packed with action, international travel, high stakes, shifting alliances, constant surprises, and some delightful romance. This plot is so tightly wound you’ll want to start it all over again as soon as you reach the end, just to see how it all fit together.
July: Have a Summer Romance
Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman
A teenage alt-girl looks back on her five weeks of dating the school basketball star with so much love and pathos, using mementoes from their relationship—a pack of matches, a bottle top, etc.—as touchstones. Anyone who has ever dated the wrong person (not a bad person, just the wrong one) will find this novel beautiful, relatable, and cathartic.
August: Hang out with Your Best Friend
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
This is the story of two British teen girls who undertake a covert mission in France during World War II. You spend a lot of the book not completely understanding what’s going on before discovering, and then discovering again, who to trust and what this mission truly is. What will ultimately stick with you is not the ingenious plot but the overwhelming strength of the friendship between these two girls. To quote the narrator: “It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”
September: Indulge in a Fantasy
Chime, by Franny Billingsley
This is a story about twins living in a slightly magical version of turn-of-the-century England—sort of like a Brothers Grimm fairy tale crossed with Dickens with a feminist bent. The writing is striking in its originality, the magic is captivating, and Briony is a complex and broken heroine of a sort rarely seen in fiction.
Bonus Summer Fun: Hit up a Dance Party
I’m biased because I wrote this novel! And the paperback edition just came out. This Song Will Save Your Life is about a deeply unhappy and unpopular teen girl who discovers an underground dance club, where she rises through the ranks as an indie DJ sensation. The music and community she finds there give her a passion and a purpose in life, but juggling that with her old identity turns into an impossible challenge. It’s an exciting dance party of a book, but it also explores meaningful issues of self-determination, self-worth, and what makes a life worth living.