The best novels you’ll be excited to share with young adults

Laurel McHargue Author Of Waterwight: Book 1 of the Waterwight Series
By Laurel McHargue

Who am I?

I’ve always been a vivid dreamer, so when a book makes me feel like I’m “there,” I’m hooked! My Waterwight series started with a dream and begged me to remember it. The books on my recommendation list didn’t have to beg me. Their characters and plots grabbed me, shook me, and made me feel it all—the good and the bad. I especially love psychological drama and dark humor, maybe because those elements populate my dreams, maybe because of my years in the Army followed by years of teaching. Life’s too short to waste on books that make you say, “Meh.” Give yourself permission not to finish those.


I wrote...

Waterwight: Book 1 of the Waterwight Series

By Laurel McHargue,

Book cover of Waterwight: Book 1 of the Waterwight Series

What is my book about?

In a post-cataclysmic world threatened by stinking ooze, a brave girl searches for her parents with the help of talking animals and evolving powers. When a mountain spirit challenges her to save the planet, she must overcome a magical, malicious castle of sand and a shapeshifter who wants her dead. “Mustn’t. Just mustn’t. Now run along and be a good girl like the others...”

But Celeste isn’t like the others. She’s done with being shunned by those who refuse to discuss “The Event,” the global catastrophe that changed the planet, left them orphans, and continues to pose a threat to frightened survivors. Kirkus Reviews calls Waterwight "...powerfully spooky, reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's Coraline...."

The books I picked & why

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The Fault in Our Stars

By John Green,

Book cover of The Fault in Our Stars

Why this book?

I’ve read heaps of books I don’t remember days—even minutes—after reading the last line, and this is not one of them. After subscribing to Green’s CrashCourse on YouTube and listening to many of his pieces from The Anthropocene Reviewed, I had to read The Fault in Our Stars.

After all of the hype surrounding the movie adaptation (“It’s a tearjerker!” “You’ll cry your eyes out!”), I didn’t want to read it, and I certainly didn’t want to love it, but my curiosity got the best of me.  

This novel is brutally honest in presenting “conventions of the cancer kid genre,” and although I experienced some “ouch” moments during verbal interactions, I recognized there’s no time for platitudes when your days are numbered. The dark humor in the two main characters’ banter is delicious.

And although readers may not believe these teens could be so witty, I wish I had friends like them. I smiled a lot while I read. I never “cried my eyes out”—though I did get choked up a bit—because Green is too intelligent to write cloyingly. 

Why won’t I watch the “tearjerker” movie? Because I loved this novel.


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

By Ken Kesey,

Book cover of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Why this book?

Yikes! Kesey wrote this the year I was born and published it a few years later, and its scenes haunt me still. Need a lesson in character development? This novel has it all: the wretched head nurse of the mental institution, Nurse Ratched, the stuttering Billy Bibbit (such a cruel name!), the “Chief,” who narrates and holds secrets, and among many others, our villain, Randle McMurphy, who inspired me to cheer for his acts of defiance while I cringed from the consequences. 

This novel about authority, control, brutal manipulation, and railing against it all will challenge all notions of a happy ending. It’ll stick with you, for sure. As a bonus, the 1975 film adaptation with Jack Nicholson is as memorable as the novel.


The Hunger Games

By Suzanne Collins,

Book cover of The Hunger Games

Why this book?

This first book in a trilogy I consumed like it was made of my favorite chocolate, The Hunger Games kept me wanting more. I totally related to Katniss Everdeen, maybe because of my past experiences in the US Army. I understood when she recognized she had to “play the game” in order to survive (and keep her little sister alive), even when it pained her—physically and emotionally—to do so. Told from her first-person perspective, the story pulled me right into each vivid moment and never released me. The characters are believable in an unbelievably cruel world, and the rare moments of tenderness are made all that more profound by the savageness of their circumstances. 


The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak,

Book cover of The Book Thief

Why this book?

A book narrated from the POV of Death? Yes, please! 

Although I expected a book about a foster child in Nazi Germany to be sad (of course it is!), Death’s dark humor provides moments of relief throughout his narrative, and “his” apparent fondness for young Liesel, the MC, is surprising. Faced with tragic loss from the onset, Liesel nevertheless finds ways to remain hopeful, and her spirit heals those she encounters. The suspense of wondering who would be “next”... and the beautiful development of the various relationships in this beefy novel... kept me turning pages until late at night.


The Giver of Stars

By Jojo Moyes,

Book cover of The Giver of Stars

Why this book?

Books about strong women—and weak women who learn to be strong—have always interested me, so when I heard about this novel based on actual packhorse librarians in Depression Era America, I had to learn about this unusual place in time. Anyone who’s ever had to move to an unfamiliar place will relate to Alice and her challenges of fitting in with people so different from those she’s known. Filled with vivid scenic details, troubled romance, evolving friendships, and ever-lurking danger, this story gave me all of the ”feels” and left me smiling.


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