First off, let’s get one thing straight: just because a book is labeled for children or teens does not mean that it isn’t also super relatable for older readers. Many of these books grapple with and speak about issues we the adults are currently weighing on and making decisions about–police violence, sexual and gender identity, mental health issues.
While many of these books were already on my to-read list at the start of the year, I also picked up some books that were on sale or were major hits of the year or given to me while I worked BookExpo and BookCon in New York City this summer.
As someone who wants to work in children’s book publishing and be a published young adult author, I try to stay abreast of what everyone’s talking about. I also like to examine what the youth of today are reading and talking about.
Children’s & Middle Grade
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket: I first read this series starting in fourth grade through middle school. In honor of the spectacular Netflix series adaptation, I reread all thirteen books and found them just as enjoyable as an adult. This is a great gift for a quirky kid with an offbeat sense of humor; they’ll devour them as I did both times I’ve read the series!
Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling: I might not have survived the first few months of 2017 without the comfort and wisdom this series offers. Hogwarts will always be home no matter how many times I reread it. While most everyone has the complete series, a great gift for your favorite Potterhead might be the illustrated editions of the first three books in the series (the other four books’ illustrated editions are forthcoming). The illustrations are absolutely STUNNING and totally worth the extra penny. I know they’re on my Christmas wish list.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead: For fans of A Wrinkle in Time (no seriously, you better have read the book before you read this), this is a delightful middle grade novel for time travel lovers and A Wrinkle in Time fans.
George by Alex Gino: This Own Voices middle grade novel is about George, a transgender girl who wants to play Charlotte in the school play of Charlotte’s Web. I read this novel in a day, cried multiple times, and truly felt for this character and her journey. A great book for starting discussion of accepting diverse gender identities with younger audiences.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds: The first book in a series about a middle school track team, the story of Ghost is one I hope finds a home in the hands of many black kids. If you’re looking for a story that speaks to the everyday lives of African American children rather than just exploring major news story events that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum: If you know a hopeless romantic sixteen-year-old who fantasizes about bonding over T. S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein poems with their soulmate, get them this book pronto!
Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom: This is probably one of my very favorite YA books I read this year. I’ll probably reread it in 2018. Featuring a blind protagonist in a totally non-ableist way, the best group of female friends a teen could ask for, and issues that go way beyond the protagonist’s disability, this is everything I imagine the future of YA to be.
You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan: Besides this book being gorgeously designed and written by two of YA’s outstanding LGBTQ+ authors, this is a great story for any young adult facing a time of change. I underlined a lot of passages in this book.
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin: As gender queerness garners more acceptance and discourse, this story will garner empathy from allies and sceptics alike. My favorite part of this book is that the protagonist never states what gender they were assigned at birth, thus nullifying its importance in your ability to relate to the protagonist.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs: If you’ve seen the Tim Burton film adaptation, you most definitely have not read the book, because they are drastically different once you’re three-fourths of the way through the first book. This is a great series for anyone who loves, time travel, historical fiction, Tim Burton style creepiness, and groups of misfits saving the day (and possibly the world).
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: This novel has been riding the YA bestseller list since its publication in February. If you haven’t picked up this book and joined this conversation about racism and police brutality, it’s time you did. Plus, this film adaptation will be hitting theaters in 2018.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour: I can’t remember reading a YA novel where the emotional atmosphere was so masterfully crafted. While this book is pretty short, it doesn’t hold out on the emotional rollercoaster that comes with changing relationships in the wake of the first semester of college.
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour: If you’re in need of non-cheesy teen romance, this one boasts mystery, old Hollywood film stars, and queer protagonists.
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira: Another one of my favorite YA reads from this year, this novel reminded me a lot of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in that it talks about a lot of awesome music and grapples with some deeply painful teenage experiences. The narrative is told through a series of letters to dead celebrities, TV characters, and other people written by the protagonist as she grapples with her older sister’s death. So stunning and brilliant.
Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger: This 90s YA novel centers around zine culture and a protagonist who must learn to accept the girl he loves does not love him back. For anyone who’s crushed hard and learned some even harder lessons about love.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero: This is possibly the most feminist YA novel I have ever read. I also couldn’t tell you the last time I read a YA novel with a latina protagonist. You will love it.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely: This novel tackles police brutality and racism from the dual perspective of white and black teen boys. Reynolds and Kiely provide a well-rounded, compelling story centered on a difficult but prominent topic in present day America.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston: A stunning story of a teen at cheer camp who is drugged and raped, and the aftermath that follows. One of the best YA stories about sexual assault survivors.
The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith: Spanning the protagonist’s four years at high school, we follow the aftermath of sexual abuse by her older brother’s best friend and the journey it takes the survivor to sharing the truth and finding herself.
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon: A whirlwind romance that occurs in the span of a day in New York City featuring two star-crossed immigrant teens with wildly different cultural backgrounds. For all you hopeless romantics who believe in fate.
All the Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler: Whether you loved the Netflix original Big Mouth, or are just tired of acting like teens aren’t horny, hormone-crazed idiots still figuring things out, this literary, stream of consciousness narrative following a teen boy’s sexual adventures is hilarious and honest. This will launch the conversations Sex Ed shies away from, and for once let teens be portrayed as so many really are.
All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater: A tale of miracles set in the 1950s with a narrative unlike anything Stiefvater’s written before yet still undeniably her. If you’re a fan of radio broadcasts, cars, and people with peculiar afflictions, this might pique your interest.
History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera: If you can handle dwelling in an extremely palpable grief, this tale of Griffin’s struggle to get over his deceased ex-boyfriend is a beautiful examination of teenage sexuality, grief, and mental illness.
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli: This is a book I wish my hopeless romantic, never been kissed, sixteen-year-old self could have read. Full of contemporary, hilarious teens; beautiful albeit painful truths; and some pretty great romances, this story is both fun and encouraging.
Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone: If you’re seeking Dead Poet’s Society by way of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this novel delves into one teen’s struggles with her OCD and how a secret poetry club helps her find her way.
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz: A wonderful coming of age story that’s focused on friendship and family in a lower class neighborhood with a predominantly latinx population. Grief, sexuality, and identity are at the forefront of these characters’ journeys told in Saenz’s poetic narrative voice.
The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis: This multi-POV story focuses on the escapades of a psychopathic teen girl in a small town. It’s bizarre and brilliant like nothing before it.
Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell: If you’re looking to do some good while getting your fill of Rainbow Rowell meets Star Wars fangirling, this short story is perfect to you. All the proceeds are donated to the ACLU! And don’t worry, you don’t have to be into the Star Wars fandom to enjoy this tale of teens camping out for a movie premiere.
Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney C. Stevens: This novel explores what it means to be a woman when your identity and sexuality may not meet the desires of your small, southern town. Stevens nails the small town life, and offers up a great friend group and a charming protagonist who is still navigating her identity.
Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens: Two teens grappling with tragedies in their past find refuge and strength in each other to confront their pasts and strive for better futures. A great exploration of the aftermath of rape and domestic abuse. Stevens never fails to write characters who feel extremely real.
Paperweight by Meg Haston: These days I find it hard to find a YA novel about chronic illness–both physical and mental ones–that doesn’t involve a romance having a curative power. So I was absolutely delighted to run across this story of a girl with a eating disorder in which romance plays absolutely no role in her recovery process. While this story would probably be triggering for people with eating disorders, I think it’s a great empathy read that makes this illness palpable for those who’ve never experienced it.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green: I feel like all the praise for this book has already been given, but if you’re still unsure whether this book might make a good gift, all I can say is that it’s been a long time since I’ve read a YA novel that made OCD and anxiety so palpable and unsettling.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone: If you’re seeking another empathy read about the lived experience of African Americans, then this is a great choice. It does a fantastic job of explaining white privilege, and how it permeates every aspect of life.
What are your favorite children’s and YA books that you’ve read this year?