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The 30 Best Young Adult Novels of the 2010s

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To say Young Adult books have had a spectacular decade is an understatement. Coming down from the Twilight boom and thundering past The Hunger Games, the leap into 2010 saw the YA lit explode. And not just because teens were reading more than ever, but because adults couldn’t get enough. Coming-of-age stories are relatable no matter how old you are, and all of us understand what it’s like to be a teenager searching for an identity.

This decade also saw the publishing world finally begin to prioritize releasing diverse and inclusive teen novels. There’s still a long way to go, but the work that’s being done makes us hopeful. We can’t wait to see what the next 10 years bring, and we’re thankful to watch the industry growing.

As this decade wraps up, we wanted to highlight 30 YA novels that powerfully impacted us during the last 10 years. This list includes novels published between 2010 and 2019, and we’ve limited it to one book per author. We hope you enjoy this list of books that shook us, made us cry, made us laugh, and most importantly, made us feel like kids again.

30. Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan (2019)

When you give a book a title like this, one that makes you laugh every single time you see it, it has to have a wonderfully hilarious cover to match. Consider Jennifer Dugan’s Hot Dog Girl a success on multiple levels there. Because the cover and title’s promise of a humorous and heartwarming book absolutely deliver, making for one of the best novels of 2019 and one the best YA books released this decade. Protagonist Lou is geared up to have the greatest summer of all time working at a local theme park: her crush is there, her bestie is there, things couldn’t be better. Right? Except it’s hard to win over hearts when you’re hired to be a dancing hot dog—and when the theme park is closing. Reading like Becky Albertalli wrote the movie Adventureland, it’s a heartwarming nostalgic romp that’s memorable for more than its title. —Eric Smith

29. Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman (2017)

The best debut novel of 2017, Akemi Dawn Bowman’s Starfish announced a new powerhouse author in the world of YA literature. A finalist for the William C. Morris Award, Starfish introduces readers to Kiko, a half-Japanese teen with big dreams of a life in the arts—specifically at a fantastic school she’s always wanted to attend. But things don’t go the way she plans. She doesn’t get in, and then an abusive relative moves in with her and her distant, unsupportive mother. If she’s going to find a way out, Kimo will have to break out of her bubble and find answers about herself while wrestling with anxiety and identity. The result is a lyrical, moving novel about discovering who you are, even while others are trying to hold you back. —Eric Smith

28. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (2015)

There’s so much to adore about Nicola Yoon’s beautiful debut novel. Everything, Everything revolves around Maddy, a girl who is allergic to everything and lives sealed off from the outside world with her mother and a nurse. But when a boy moves next door and begins writing her notes, Maddy realizes there’s more to life than just the walls she’s trapped within. Venturing outside to meet the boy could make her so sick she’d die, but she could also truly live for the first time. Full of swoons and sighs, Everything, Everything is a gorgeous romance with a little bit of mystery, lovely illustrations and a flowing narrative that makes the book easy to devour in a single afternoon. You’ll want to inhale this book and then treat yourself to the wonderful movie. —Eric Smith

27. Timekeeper by Tara Sim (2016)

Tara Sim’s Timekeeper isn’t just a magical ride through a Victorian world in which giant clocks literally control time; it’s also a paranormal LGBTQ+ love story. The first book in the Timekeeper series introduces Danny, a teen mechanic who is haunted by the fact that he can’t figure out how to repair a clock that froze an entire town. The kicker is that it’s the same town where his dad is currently trapped. And when attacks start happening in neighboring towns, Danny must determine a way to save everyone, including the boy he loves—who happens to be a mythical clock spirit. Steampunk. Fantasy. Paranormal romance. Science fiction. Timekeeper is a genre mashup like no other, and I promise you you’ll love it. —Eric Smith

26. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018)

What happens when a slam poet writes a novel about a slam poet? Magic. How else do you describe the stunning achievement that is The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo? The winner of numerous awards, including the National Book Award and the Michael L. Printz Award, this YA-in-verse book introduces readers to Xiomara, a teen discovering the joys of slam poetry and pouring her fury into her work. What spools out from this lyrical book is a story about finding yourself and standing up to anyone who wants to box you in. Acevedo tackles tough themes like faith, love and family, crafting a novel that demands to be read multiple times in order to savor every hard-hitting line. —Eric Smith

25. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

A stunning, award-winning narrative set in the American South, The Serpent King shifts its point-of-view between three characters with unique voices. At the heart of the story is Dill, a teen haunted by his minister father’s very public fall from grace, involving, well, serpents. Hence the title. It also follows Dill’s friends, a famous fashion blogger and a staff-wielding fantasy geek, each wrestling with their own issues. But outcasts can’t band together forever, and Dill worries what the world holds as it comes barreling toward them. When Jeff Zentner’s narrative makes the world come crashing down around them, the result is devastatingly beautiful read about family and friendship. —Eric Smith

24. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (2015)

There’s something spooky about every single novel by Nova Ren Suma, but it’s in The Walls Around Us that she truly leaves readers feeling haunted. Propelled by Suma’s lyrical prose, the novel shifts back and forth between places, characters and time to tell the story of a murder that’s wrapped in secrets upon secrets. You’ll slowly begin to understand how the murder of a teen binds two people together: a ballerina and a girl currently serving a sentence at detention center. And as the supernatural mystery unravels, you’ll be left gasping. The book’s been described as “Orange is the New Black Swan,” and nothing could be more perfect. —Eric Smith

23. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (2016)

It’s noteworthy when a novel explores a moment in history that has gone largely overlooked, introducing a time we shouldn’t forget to those who were never taught it. And that’s exactly what Ruta Sepetys does in her extraordinary novel Salt to the Sea, which highlights the deadliest maritime tragedy in history: the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Set during World War II, Salt to the Sea introduces Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred—all wildly different, and each with their own story to tell. And as they all collide at the sinking of the ship…well, hearts are going to break. This novel teaches history (you’ll likely learn about the Amber Room for the first time) and delivers a heart-rending story. Don’t be surprise if you sob throughout this entire gorgeous epic. —Eric Smith

22. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (2011)

Today’s YA readers might only get flashes of raven boys and dream thieves when they see Maggie Stiefvater’s name. But before she was writing about Virginian tarot readers and ghostly ley lines, she was winning the Printz Award for her 2011 standalone murder-horse book, The Scorpio Races. Next to impossible to describe without giving everything away, The Scorpio Races is technically about two teens, their families and the bloodthirsty racehorses their livelihoods depend on. Substantively, though, it tackles the savagery of nature, the suffocation and isolation of small towns, the intractability of siblings, animal cruelty, grief, friendship and change. It’s unlike any fantasy story you’ve ever read, and we expect you’ll return to it again and again in the years (and decades) to come. —Alexis Gunderson

21. Legend by Marie Lu (2011)

The United States is no longer united in Marie Lu’s epic dystopian series, which kicks off with Legend. The novels whisks readers away to a future where the Western United States is now known as The Republic, a military state with a chokehold on its people, and is in a nonstop war against anyone on the outside. But there’s hope in this brutal landscape of powerful technology, unbelievable wealth and devastating poverty in the form of two teens named June and Day. They couldn’t be more different, but when the two of them collide and start to unravel the secrets that are keeping the Republic in power, they’re forced to make some difficult decisions. It’s a non-stop thrill of a series, and you can read all four books in a row thanks to Lu releasing the finale, Rebel, this year. —Eric Smith

20. Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (2018)

Writing an entertaining coming-of-age story that tackles Islamophobia is no easy feat, but Samira Ahmed proves that it can be done—and done well. Her debut novel, Love, Hate and Other Filters, introduces readers to Maya Aziz, a 17-year-old with dreams of going to film school. As a member of the only Indian American and Muslim family in her small Midwestern town, Maya finds herself caught between two worlds—and two love interests. But when the prime suspect of a terrorist attack happens to share her last name, she’s catapulted into a frenzy of fear and bigotry. Ahmed weaves a powerful saga that encourages readers to examine their own prejudices—a theme she continues in her sophomore novel, Internment. It’s obvious that Ahmed is necessary reading in this decade (and beyond), and you’ll love her three-dimensional heroines as much as her timely narratives. —Frannie Jackson

19. Want by Cindy Pon (2017)

With lush world-building and a cast of memorable characters, Cindy Pon’s Want takes readers to a futuristic Taipei blanketed by the constant fog of smog and disease. The wealthy live healthy lives in exo-suits, can change their appearance and celebrate a life of total excess. The poor? Not so much. The air is toxic, and people are dying young, terrible deaths. So it’s up to Jason, and his ragtag group of friends living in the city’s underbelly, to take on the system and save those suffering around them. Want is a dystopian novel that breathes new life into the genre, complete with a Blade Runner-esque world, heart-pounding stakes and swoony romance. You’ll also want to check out the second book in the Pon’s duology, Ruse, which is just as exciting. —Eric Smith

18. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (2015)

Set two years after the end of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, Six of Crows boasts an inspiring fantasy world that’s easy to get lost in. The novel takes you back to Bardugo’s fantasy realm of Ketterdam, featuring a ragtag crew of outcasts who must pull off a major heist. The result is a fast-paced saga that will keep you turning the pages for hours. And if Six of Crows is the heist, then its sequel, Crooked Kingdom, is the glorious getaway drive. One of the many wonderful things about this magical duology is that if you haven’t read Bardugo’s original trilogy, this fantasy must-read stands on its own. But you’ll likely want to further explore Bardugo’s enchanting Grishaverse after the final page. —Eric Smith

17. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (2018)

Named the best YA novel of 2018, Dread Nation blends elements of fantasy, horror and alternate history to create something wholly unique and utterly memorable. Set in an alternate world in which the undead rose up at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War, Justina Ireland’s novel picks up years later as the United States is spiraling into horror. Readers meet Jane, a teen studying to be an Attendant who is trained to fight zombies for the wealthy white class—but it isn’t the life she wants. A novel that discusses race, class and so much more, Dread Nation is a masterpiece of YA fiction. —Eric Smith

16. This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp (2016)

It’s tragic that this book is wildly timely, and it’s even sadder that it shouldn’t be. But that’s a major theme at the heart of this book—the idea that something must be done about gun reform in the United States. Marieke Nijkamp’s devastating debut novel is set during a school shooting, and the entire story happens in 54 minutes. It highlights people trapped in the school, teens on the outside and people trying to get help, shifting points-of-view through a massive cast of characters. This Is Where It Ends boasts a harrowing narrative that showcases heartbreak and bravery. Nijkamp’s writing will leave you haunted and, ideally, will move you to act. —Eric Smith

15. Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig (2016)

In his astonishing debut novel, CalebRoehrig introduces readers to Flynn, a teen whose girlfriend, January, goes missing. What unravels as Flynn and the entire town seek to solve her disappearance makes for an incredible thriller. While the world has its eyes set on Flynn, eager to blame him for January’s disappearance and possible murder, he’s wrestling with the fact that January has never been right for him…because he’s gay. (And no, we didn’t just drop a massive spoiler on you; you learn these details in the synopsis.) The story’s surprises don’t let up from cover to cover, which is why we named it the best YA novel of 2016. Pick up Last Seen Leaving for a book with LGBTQ+ themes, memorable characters and shocking twists from a talented author. —Eric Smith

14. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (2014)

You’re likely familiar with Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the diverse contemporary YA romance that Netflix adapted into a perfect teen movie in 2018. The cinematic vision of protagonist Lara Jean’s high school love life is unforgettable, but Han’s original text is even richer. It gives more space to Lara Jean’s earnest interior world, especially as it pertains to the mom she lost and to the deep connection to her Korean heritage she lost with her mom’s passing. In a decade awash with contemporary YA romances that were fun but had little more staying power than a batch of Lara Jean’s chocolate chip cookies, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before makes more than a solid enough case for itself to become a genuine classic (and for you to read Han’s entire trilogy). —Alexis Gunderson

13. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (2015)

We’ve all watched movies and TV shows in which a teen hero saves the small town from zombies, vampires or whatever supernatural threat is looming. But after the character saves the day, what happens next? Enter Patrick Ness’ The Rest of Us Just Live Here. A geeky blend of contemporary YA and fantasy, the novel centers around Mikey, a teen who just wants to go through the motions of high school and maybe, just maybe ask out his friend, Henna. He’s got a great group of friends, including a best friend who has super-powered family members and is weirdly treated like a god by the cats around town. This unique novel succeeds in asking tough questions: What happens when you feel average around extraordinary people? Can you find a way to stand out? Do you even want to? And hidden within all the nerdiness, Ness tackles mental illness, sexuality and friendship for a serious emotional punch. —Eric Smith

12. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (2015)

Set in a world resembling ancient Rome, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy novel of love and revenge. When a young soldier groomed to take over the oppressive, military government decides to turn his back on the regime, he collides with a young scholar determined to save her brother. He’s a soldier. She’s a slave. Together, they prepare to discover their freedom. Full of political intrigue in a setting that’s as awe-inspiring as it is brutal, An Ember in the Ashes kicks off a series that digs into your heart and doesn’t let go. And by tackling serious topics like slavery and government corruption with strength, Sabaa Tahir proves that compelling fantasy sagas exploring real-world issues are not only entertaining but essential when done right. —Eric Smith and Frannie Jackson

11. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2015)

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s story about a black teen being beaten by a white cop is necessary reading, spurring people of all ages to have constructive conversations about the violent racism and police violence endemic to the United States. In All American Boys protagonist Rashad is more than just an avatar for the violence suffered by young black men in an America patrolled by increasingly militarized police. He leaps off the page as an easy-going, eye-rolling person whose can’t be kept at an impassive distance. And Quinn, the classmate who witnesses Rashad’s beating, isn’t a white savior. Instead, he gives white readers a model of how to productively see past their privilege and contribute to real change. It’s only the start of a very long journey, but it’s nevertheless a good one. —Alexis Gunderson

10. Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (2015)

The magical, monstrous New York City of Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper Cypher series is vibrant, and its plot challenges many of the last decade’s prickliest cultural and political questions from a Latinx perspective. From witchy graffiti artist Sierra Santiago and her big, joyful, diverse collection of family and friends to the electrically imaginative ghosts and monsters threatening their Brooklyn neighborhood, Shadowshaper is a paragon of #ownvoices lit, one of the decade’s biggest YA movements. It’s also a captivating thrill ride of a modern YA fantasy, which you’ll want to revisit again and again. Older fortunately released the sequel earlier this year, so you can dive into Shadowhouse Fall immediately after reading Shadowshaper. —Alexis Gunderson

9. The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (2010)

Many readers first discovered Jandy Nelson through I’ll Give You The Sun, but it’s her stunning debut that left us breathless. The Sky Is Everywhere is the story of Lennon, a teen who loses her older sister, Bailey, in an utterly tragic and sudden way. It doesn’t just throw her world into a tailspin; it destroys her entire family. And well, there’s Bailey’s fiancé, who understands how she’s feeling all too well, and a gorgeous new guy at her school, who plays music and makes her swoon… thus resulting in one rather complicated, emotion-filled love triangle. It’s a beautiful book about falling in love, making mistakes and wrestling with grief—complete with a lot of heartbreak and a lot of hope. You’ll want to pick this one up before the film adaptation hits theaters. —Eric Smith

8. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (2015)

We named Adam Silvera’s debut novel the best YA novel of 2015 for good reason. A YA take on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the book follows a teen named Aaron who wrestles with family, friends, love, heartbreak and his sexuality. But Aaron’s in luck—the world Adam Silvera has crafted boasts a company that will erase your memories, for a price. And Aaron wants to forget the romantic feelings he has for one of his male friends. The consequences of Aaron’s actions make for one of the most heart-rending YA reads you’ll ever pick up. And despite the slight sci-fi twist, everything in the novel feels so very real. More Happy Than Not will leave you shaken for days, if not weeks with its powerful story. —Eric Smith

7. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (2012)

Dragons are a mainstay of fantasy as a genre, but they’re rarely complex, thinking beings integral to a story’s interpersonal dramas, which is how Rachel Hartman frames her coolly calculating shape-shifting dragons in Seraphina and its companion books. Everything about the titular Seraphina’s world is novel and compelling. But while the dragon-human political dramas and various battles (terrestrial and airborne) are exhilarating, it’s the central importance of art and music in dragon-human relations publicly—and in Seraphina’s constant tension privately—that makes Hartman’s narrative so gripping. Seraphina will encourage you to think about what it means to be human, and what we owe to each other, long after you’ve finished the series. —Alexis Gunderson

6. The Diviners by Libba Bray (2012)

In Libba Bray’s Roaring Twenties-set Diviners series, there exists a tug-of-war between the supernatural and the horrific. You’ll discover a bright-eyed radio star diviner here, a serial killer ghost sending Ouija messages there. Maybe you’ll meet a flame-throwing flapper in this chapter or a possessed asylum doctor terrorizing his ward with a bloody hatchet in the next. But while the Diviners series has offered 2010s readers no end of unhinged ghosts and demons to be haunted by, Bray is a sharp enough storyteller that she’s had no trouble also weaving in trenchant social commentary that still resonates today, tackling everything from racism to homophobia to eugenics to a narrator invested in interrogating the moral and ideological contradictions baked into the story of America. Truly, The Diviners has given this decade everything. —Alexis Gunderson

5. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2015)

There are few writers who can deliver epic sobs and heartfelt belly laughs in rapid succession like Becky Albertalli, particularly in her amazing debut novel. Loaded with humor and heart, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda introduces readers to Simon, a gay teen who’s not quite out of the closet yet. He meets a sweet boy named Blue online, but he finds his entire life flipped upside down when the class clown discovers his secret and blackmails him. And then Simon’s group of friends starts to fall apart as he tries to keep things hidden. A powerful novel about identity, friendship, family and first love, Simon packs an emotional punch that stick with you for a long time. (When you’re done reading, watch the movie! It’s perfect.) —Eric Smith

4. Pointe by Brandy Colbert (2014)

Over the years, Brandy Colbert’s novels have earned her plenty of accolades—all of which are wildly deserved. Her Stonewall Award-winning Little & Lion is a gorgeous triumph of a novel. But it’s her debut, Pointe, that made this particular reader fall in love with her prose, and you will, too. A twisting, dark mystery, Pointe introduces Theo, a ballerina who struggles with trauma on top of the fact that her dearest friend has been missing for years. But what happens when the missing boy returns? And when Theo’s forgotten memories begin to bubble to the surface? Avoid Googling this book to avoid spoilers; you don’t want to ruin this enthralling mystery for yourself. —Eric Smith

3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017)

This searing novel is a phenomenon, plain and simple. Topping the bestseller list for over two years and launching a blockbuster film, Angie Thomas’ award-winning debut is a powerful book inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Digging into themes surrounding police brutality and racism, Thomas introduces readers to Starr, a teen who finds herself swept up in nationwide headlines after she witnesses a police officer fatally shoot one of her friends. As powerfully moving as it is painfully timely, The Hate U Give has clearly struck a chord in the hearts of readers everywhere. If you’ve somehow missed out on this one, you should read it immediately. —Eric Smith

2. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (2010)

Set in a dystopian future where mankind has exhausted the world’s resources, Ship Breaker also gives us a glimpse of our current reality. After all, a story about people surviving by scrapping ships for spare parts isn’t exactly fiction, and that makes the novel’s bleak and violent dystopia all the more terrifying. With visceral prose and brutal characters, Bacigalupi’s novel introduces readers to Nailer, a teen irking out a miserable life as one of the lowest dregs in his community, frequently risking life and limb to make just enough to get by. Until a high-tech vessel full of wealth, and a survivor, falls into his lap. He can either save the girl…or change his entire life. Offering up high stakes, intense thrills and a portrait of a not-too-distant-future that’s as haunting as it is gripping, Ship Breaker the first title in a must-read series. —Eric Smith

1. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2012)

When Elizabeth Wein writes, it’s pure energy. Her characters are vibrant, and her plots untangle like perfect, heart-rending knots. All three of the books in her Code Name Verity set are gems; prequel novelThe Pearl Thief was one of our favorite audiobooks of 2017, and loose sequel Rose Under Fire is a devastating must-read as our country is throwing the most vulnerable among us into cages. But it’s the unreliably narrated Code Name Verity, about a British Allied pilot and her captured spy best friend, that stands out as one of the smartest and most beautiful books of the last decade, YA or otherwise. Set during World War 2, this humorous and tragic novel is impossible to describe without giving too much away. Just trust us and read it. —Alexis Gunderson

For more best of the decade book coverage, check out our lists of the best novels, best fantasy novels, best horror novels and best memoirs of the 2010s.

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