The best classic YA books that are coming-of-age gems

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been drawn to coming-of-age stories. These are the years when you’re leaving the somewhat cocooned world of childhood and entering the intimidating but (arguably) more exciting world of adolescence. Although I’m now in my 70s, I still love a good coming-of-age story!


I wrote...

The Trouble with Lemons

By Daniel Hayes,

Book cover of The Trouble with Lemons

What is my book about?

His real name was Tyler McAllister, but he felt like a lemon. He had allergies and nightmares, and was the only unfamous person in his family. But one night he and a friend went swimming at the forbidden quarry, and Tyler found a dead body. Now he’s determined to find out who killed the man and why they’re now after him….

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Daniel Hayes Why did I love this book?

Although written before YA literature was even a thing, Huck Finn is still the Big Daddy of them all! So many writers, including me, honed their craft by studying the simple but elegant vernacular of this first-person narration. Mark Twain gives careful consideration to each word he uses, which is why this novel was so admired by writers such as Ernest Hemingway, who wrote, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn." And it has a beautiful message of acceptance and rising above conventional beliefs to become a more decent human being to boot!

Book cover of The Catcher in the Rye

Daniel Hayes Why did I love this book?

Another coming-of-age classic written before YA was a thing. Salinger is a master of dialogue and description, especially when it comes to his young protagonist, Holden Caulfield, who, although outwardly cynical and jaded, is simply vulnerable as he tries to find a place for himself in a world that can often seem insincere (phony) and downright threatening. In a way, Holden Caulfield represents all of us, even if more than fifty years have passed since some of us were teenagers.

By J.D. Salinger,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked The Catcher in the Rye as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After leaving prep school Holden Caulfield spends three days on his own in New York City.


Book cover of The Outsiders

Daniel Hayes Why did I love this book?

One could argue that S. E. Hinton, at seventeen years old, wrote the book that really created the genre we now know as YA. Her first-person narration through Ponyboy Curtis also began to bend the rigid gender roles many of us felt at the time, whether we knew it or not, coming out of the fifties. Many didn’t realize at first that Ponyboy, a fourteen-year-old greaser, was narrated through the eyes of a seventeen-year-old girl, and that perspective softened the then rigid lines of gender identity. When I used this book in the classroom (as I often did), it was appreciated by girls as well as by the most reluctant of boy readers, thus making it an English teacher’s dream!

By S.E. Hinton,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Outsiders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

50 years of an iconic classic! This international bestseller and inspiration for a beloved movie is a heroic story of friendship and belonging.

Cover may vary.

No one ever said life was easy. But Ponyboy is pretty sure that he's got things figured out. He knows that he can count on his brothers, Darry and Sodapop. And he knows that he can count on his friends-true friends who would do anything for him, like Johnny and Two-Bit. But not on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids whose idea of a good time is…


Book cover of Space Station Seventh Grade

Daniel Hayes Why did I love this book?

I read this book when I finishing an early draft of my own first novel and I was thoroughly impressed as well as a little intimidated by it. Having drummed up the courage to write my own coming-of-age novel after reading another YA novel that was popular at the time which I felt had clunky dialogue and narration, I was amazed at Spinelli's spot-on dialogue and crisp narration which captured the quirky and (sometimes) wonderful world of a 7th-grade narrator who was no longer a little kid but who hadn’t yet entered into young adulthood. It remains one of my favorites even today.

By Jerry Spinelli, Jerry Spinelli,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Space Station Seventh Grade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Title: Space Station Seventh Grade( The Newbery Award-Winning Author of Maniac Magee) <>Binding: Paperback <>Author: JerrySpinelli <>Publisher: Little,BrownBooksforYoungReaders


Book cover of Dreamland Lake

Daniel Hayes Why did I love this book?

I had the pleasure of getting to know Richard Peck right before the publication of my first novel after I had given his name (as well as Jerry Spinelli’s) to my publisher when my editor asked for a short list of writers I’d like galleys sent to in search of early reactions. Dreamland Lake is the reason I added Richard to my list after discovering that, similar to my soon-to-be-published novel, it was the story of two boys finding a dead body. Peck’s ear for dialogue and eye for detail is impeccable, as is his fluent narration. Dreamland Lake is an underrated gem!

By Richard Peck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dreamland Lake as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Flip and Brian have been best friends since grade school. But everything changes during the spring of seventh grade. That's when they find a man lying dead in the leaves near Dreamland Lake. What happens in the summer that follows will change the course of their friendship—and their lives—forever.

"A finely tuned shocker."—Kirkus Reviews


You might also like...

We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

Book cover of We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

Amy T. Waldman

New book alert!

What is my book about?

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus atUW-Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

Jest established lasting friendships with John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, and others, but ultimately, this book tells a universal story of love and hope – about figuring out where you belong, finding your way there, and living a life that matters.

We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

What is this book about?

The entertaining and inspiring story of a stubbornly independent promoter and club owner 

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus at UW–Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

This funny, nostalgia-inducing book details the lasting friendships Jest established…


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