Reading lists

The 10 greatest YA books ever written

From first love to the loss of friends, these books deal with big issues through the eyes of teenagers.

The best YA books ever, including Malorie Blackman's Noughts & Crosses and Melvin Burgess' Junk.
Mica Murphy/Penguin

What makes a great young adult novel? Is it the relatable characters? The exploration of big issues? A sense of fun?

We’d argue it’s all of those things, and many more besides. The best YA fiction discusses the things that teenagers are dealing with, from first love to the breakdown of a friendship, from the rising tide of prejudice to the nature of mortality. And YA isn’t just for teenagers; it can also speak to adults as well, helping them reminisce about their own teen years or even be happy that they’re not back there.

But YA fiction can also be entertaining, making us laugh, love and cry.

Here are, in our opinion, the 10 best YA books ever written. Let us know if you agree, or what you think should be on this list, by emailing 

Junk by Melvin Burgess (1996)

Melvin Burgess' Junk is a classic of the genre, and possibly one of the first books to fit the modern definition of YA fiction. It follows teenagers Tar and Gemma, and tells the story of their love for each other, and for heroin.

Told from multiple viewpoints, Junk is a powerful novel, and it proved controversial when it first came out for its unflinching portrayal of drug addiction. But it won both the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, evidence not only of Burgess' excellent writing and characterisation, but also of the book's bravery in confronting difficult issues.

Initially read by teenagers in secret, and passed around the school corridors clandestinely, Junk is now a firm part of the YA canon.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2009)

Suzanne Collins' dystopian smash hit – which spawned a hugely successful film franchise – paved the way for dozens of YA books set in post-apocalyptic worlds.

The Hunger Games takes place in a future America where society is divided into 13 districts. The further away a district is from The Capitol, where society's rich and powerful live, the worse the standard of living and the status of its people.

Katniss Everdeen lives in District 13 with her mother and younger sister Prim. When Prim's name is called as the district's female champion for the Hunger Games, an annual fight to the death between the districts played out for The Capitol's amusement, Katniss volunteers in her place.

The Hunger Games – and its sequels Catching Fire and Mockingjay – introduced one of YA's best modern day heroes, a teenage girl trying to be brave and honourable in the most terrible of circumstances.

Forever by Judy Blume (1975)

Like Junk, YA legend Judy Blume's Forever was passed around in secret by many teenagers, mainly girls, in the decades after its release. It prompted both embarrassed laughter, but was also many young people's first honest introduction to sex and relationships. The fact that it was so often banned made it all the more enticing.

It follows Katherine and Michael, and the development of their love story, and in particular their sexual relationship. The pair and their friends' discussions about sex as a physical and emotional act are nuanced, and offered generations of teenagers an insight that was missing in the teaching of sex education in schools.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2018)

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give is a look at police brutality and how to do what's right, even if that's hard.

Sixteen-year-old Starr straddles two worlds: the poor, largely black, neighbourhood where she lives, and the posh, largely white, school she attends. Although she's used to code-switching depending on where she is and who she's with, it's an uneasy existence.

Starr's worlds are shattered, and the separation between them destroyed, when she is the only witness to a fatal shooting by police of her childhood friend Khalil. Khalil was unarmed, and what Starr chooses to say and do could destroy her community, affect her relationships, and even get her killed. But Starr knows speaking up could be the first step in the long road to justice.

Powerful and gripping, The Hate U Give delves into what it means to speak up in a world that wants to bring you down. 

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