The best YA novels for adults

Who am I?

 When my children entered middle school and high school, I began reading the books they were assigned. At first, I merely wanted to know what they were reading, but I found myself captivated by The Book Thief, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and Speak. That's when I realized genres were suggestions, not limits. A few years later, my first YA novel, Rachel's Secret, was published, and adults wanted to read it. I spoke at adult book clubs and was awarded Notable Book for Teens by the Association of Jewish Libraries. This has been my greatest accomplishment, reaching readers of all ages, especially now, in this disturbing climate of growing anti-Semitism. 

I wrote...

Rachel's Secret

By Shelly Sanders,

Book cover of Rachel's Secret

What is my book about?

How does a lie lead ordinary people to hurt, even kill, their neighbors?

Though my question could be applicable today, it dates back to 1903, when an anti-Semitic newspaper publisher wrote lies that polarized a community. In Kishinev, Moldova (now part of Belarus), Jews made up half the population and lived peacefully amongst the community. Until a 14-year-old Gentile boy is found dead. Fabricated headlines about Jews killing the boy for his blood leap from the newspaper’s pages. A steady stream of propaganda about Jews turned minds and hearts against them. The rage against Jews erupted over Easter weekend culminating in a three-day pogrom (massacre). It was just one of thousands of pogroms that took place at the beginning of the twentieth century, including one that my grandmother endured, a few years later, in Russia.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Lullabies for Little Criminals

Shelly Sanders Why did I love this book?

This would be a perfect choice for a mother-daughter or father-daughter book club. The twelve-year-old protagonist, Baby, will slip under your skin with an astonishing intensity. The odds are against her. She has no mother, a heroin-addicted father, and spends too much time on the streets of Montreal with unsavory characters. And yet, Baby’s spirit and maturity are imbued with a rawness that will make you laugh and cry all at once. When her father tries to bribe her to get her to stop following him, she thinks: “As he shouted out all my favorite things, they seemed so cheap to me. They paled in my desire to be with him.” Baby is smarter than her father, whom she adores. She doesn’t want to end up like him but it’s a struggle. Still, no matter how hard it gets, Baby never gives up and never reveals even a hint of self-pity.

By Heather O'Neill,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Lullabies for Little Criminals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Baby is twelve years old. Her mother died not long after she was born and she lives in a string of seedy flats in Montreal's red light district with her father Jules, who takes better care of his heroin addiction than he does of his daughter. Jules is an intermittent presence and a constant source of chaos in Baby's life - the turmoil he brings with him and the wreckage he leaves in his wake. Baby finds herself constantly re-adjusting to new situations, new foster homes, new places, new people, all the while longing for stability and a 'normal' life.…

Book cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Shelly Sanders Why did I love this book?

My oldest daughter read this as part of her school’s curriculum. When she told me it was about a boy, obsessed with math, on a hunt for the person who killed his neighbor’s dog, I was intrigued. I started reading and couldn’t put it down because Christopher, the boy who loves math, is such a wonderfully complex character. He has a literal, matter-of-fact thought process that leaves no room for emotions or relationships. He’s excessively observant and logical, creating diagrams to bring order to the chaos he finds. He doesn’t understand metaphors or subtext and speaks bluntly, with no thought as to how his message will be received. During a conversation with a well-meaning neighbor, about his mother’s death, he says: “But I don’t feel sad about it. Because Mother is dead.” Through Christopher, we see the challenges of being on the autism spectrum. We see how others mistakenly perceive him. And we see how one boy is able to harness the gifts he has in order to triumph.

By Mark Haddon,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year

'Outstanding...a stunningly good read' Observer

'Mark Haddon's portrayal of an emotionally dissociated mind is a superb achievement... Wise and bleakly funny' Ian McEwan

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger's Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the…

Book cover of Speak

Shelly Sanders Why did I love this book?

First of all, it’s banned by many school districts and these books are, therefore, the most important and visceral narratives available. From the first two sentences, Speak takes you back to that dreaded and anticipated first day of high school. “It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.” You might think that Melinda Sordino is starting high school in a new area, where she is a stranger. You would be wrong. She knows everyone in her class and they know her. But she is an “outcast.” We don’t know why. This mystery will keep you turning the pages, as you get to know Melinda through short, conversational paragraphs. You can hear Melinda’s self-deprecating yet witty voice as she pulls you into her world, a place we’ve all been at least once. A place where we feel as if the universe is against us. I think this novel should be required reading for all high school freshmen and their parents. Because it would ignite pivotal conversations between generations. Because these discussions might encourage students to seek help when they feel as if they are drowning.

By Laurie Halse Anderson,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Speak 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?

A fiercely authentic, critically acclaimed and award-winning modern classic.

'Speak up for yourself - we want to know what you have to say.'

From my first day at Merryweather High, I know this is a lie.

Nobody will even talk to me, let alone listen - all because I called the cops on an end-of-summer party.

But if I could only tell everyone why I called the police that night...

If I could explain what happened to me...

If I could speak...

Then everything might change.

'With the rise of women finding their voices and speaking out about sexual assault…

Book cover of The Book Thief

Shelly Sanders Why did I love this book?

What sets this Holocaust novel apart from others, is the unconventional and sympathetic narrator—death. As the story unfolds through Death’s eyes, we become immersed in a small German community of colorful people. Here, an orphaned, illiterate girl, Liesel Meminger, steals books, learns to read and, most of all, discovers the power of words. “The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Fuhrer was nothing.” This theme resonates throughout the novel and elevates it to an evocative adult read. Author Markus Zusak’s portrayal of ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstances, forced to make impossible decisions, makes you wonder, what would I have done? Do you hide an injured Jew, as Liesel’s foster father, Hans Hubermann, does, risking your life as well as your family’s? Do you refuse to join the Nazi party, as Hans does, or do you become a member and learn to kill with great aplomb, like the thousands who loaded Jews onto cattle cars, into pits, and into gas chambers? If you’re thinking I’m a fan of Hans Hubermann, you’re right.

By Markus Zusak,

Why should I read it?

28 authors picked The Book Thief 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?

'Life affirming, triumphant and tragic . . . masterfully told. . . but also a wonderful page-turner' Guardian
'Brilliant and hugely ambitious' New York Times
'Extraordinary' Telegraph


1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.


Book cover of White Oleander

Shelly Sanders Why did I love this book?

My copy of White Oleander is tattered, with lime-green post-it notes sticking out from the pages, and sentences, often paragraphs, highlighted throughout the novel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this haunting, coming-of-age story. I come back to it for two reasons, the clever prose and the relationship between Astrid, the teen narrator, and her mother, in prison for murder. This is how, for instance, Astrid sees herself and her mother: “She was a beautiful woman dragging a crippled foot and I was that foot. I was bricks sewn into the hem of her clothes, I was a steel dress.” As Astrid sinks deeper into the unpredictable and unsafe foster care system, she feels caught between her mother’s destructive hold and her own need for independence. Astrid’s life is upended by her mother’s poor decisions and horrific actions, yet Astrid cannot let go of the woman who gave her life. Could you?

By Janet Fitch,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked White Oleander as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

White Oleander is a painfully beautiful first novel about a young girl growing up the hard way. It is a powerful story of mothers and daughters, their ambiguous alliances, their selfish love and cruel behaviour, and the search for love and identity.Astrid has been raised by her mother, a beautiful, headstrong poet. Astrid forgives her everything as her world revolves around this beautiful creature until Ingrid murders a former lover and is imprisoned for life. Astrid's fierce determination to survive and be loved makes her an unforgettable figure. 'Liquid poetry' - Oprah Winfrey 'Tangled, complex and extraordinarily moving' - Observer

You might also like...

The Alchemy Fire Murder: a Mary Wandwalker Mystery

By Susan Rowland,

Book cover of The Alchemy Fire Murder: a Mary Wandwalker Mystery

Susan Rowland Author Of The Alchemy Fire Murder: a Mary Wandwalker Mystery

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Part-time celt Modern alchemist Myth hunter Jungian

Susan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A traditional mystery with a touch of cozy, The Alchemy Fire Murder is for those who like feisty women sleuths, Oxford Colleges, alchemy, strong characters, and real concerns like trafficking, wildfires, racism, and climate change. This book especially works for those fascinated by myth and witches in history. Read for a seventeenth-century alchemist in Connecticut, a lost alchemy scroll stuck in a California Museum, and a blizzard in Los Angeles.

Murder ensues when an intern is attacked after making a momentous discovery with Mary Wandwalker, an inexperienced detective commissioned to recover the treasure vital to the survival of her Oxford college, St Julian’s. When the young man’s brother is falsely accused, Mary has to step in.

The Alchemy Fire Murder: a Mary Wandwalker Mystery

By Susan Rowland,

What is this book about?

Former Archivist Mary Wandwalker hates bringing bad news. Nevertheless, she confirms to her alma mater that their prized medieval alchemy scroll, is, in fact, a seventeenth century copy. She learns that the original vanished to colonial Connecticut with alchemist, Robert Le More. Later the genuine scroll surfaces in Los Angeles. Given that the authentic artifact is needed for her Oxford college to survive, retrieving it is essential.

Mary agrees to get the real scroll back as part of a commission for her three-person Enquiry Agency. However, tragedy strikes in Los Angeles. Before Mary can legally obtain the scroll, a young…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in teenagers, coming of age, and bildungsroman?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about teenagers, coming of age, and bildungsroman.

Teenagers Explore 114 books about teenagers
Coming Of Age Explore 1,177 books about coming of age
Bildungsroman Explore 284 books about bildungsroman