YA books have come a long way in the last 10 or so years. Yes, you’ll find some cheesy or cookie-cutter stories that don’t seem connected with today’s world (those still surface in every genre). But the young adult book market has become really competitive – which means higher expectations from publishers and better books for us as readers.
The YA titles on today’s shelves cover any genre you might want. And although a glance at their covers in the local bookstore might make it seem like they all tie in with dark topics, there are plenty that can entertain and challenge you without being something you would have hidden from your mom when you were 15.
Here are three I’ve read lately that are clean reads for teens – or anyone else – who want a great story that pulls you in and keeps you guessing on every page.
Back cover copy: Some secrets can’t stay hidden. Zoe Johnson has spent most of her life living in the shadows, never drawing attention to herself, never investing in people or places. But when a wide-eyed, bedraggled teenager with no memory walks into the diner where Zoe works, everything changes.
Against her better judgment, Zoe, who has been trying to outrun her own painful memories of the past, finds herself attempting to help a girl who doesn’t seem to have any past at all. With little warning, they must follow the only sure thing they know: a woman hundreds of miles away will either save them … or be the last person to see them alive.
This book grabbed me within the first few pages, when the mother figure in Lucy’s life helps her escape from people who have been controlling her from birth. She sends Lucy to find another woman who can help; Lucy meets Zoe along the way and they both know nothing will be the same. The people who have controlled Lucy are hot on her trail and determined to do whatever it takes to keep her from exposing their work. Lucy and Zoe don’t even know each other, but still realize they can trust each other more than anyone else.
Everything about the story is believable and kept me guessing until the end. Even though I expected twists along the way, the story surprised me several times. And kept me up reading way past my bedtime more than one night.
I already have two more of her books on my to-be-read stack, if that tells you anything about how much I enjoyed Nine.
Dust by Kara Swanson
Back cover copy: The truth about Neverland is far more dangerous than a fairy tale. Claire Kenton believes the world is too dark for magic to be real — since her twin brother was stolen away as a child. Now Claire’s desperate search points to London … and a boy who shouldn’t exist.
Peter Pan is having a beastly time getting back to Neverland. Grounded in London and hunted by his own Lost Boys, Peter searches for the last hope of restoring his crumbling island: a lass with magic in her veins.
The girl who fears her own destiny is on a collision course with the boy who never wanted to grow up. The truth behind this fairy tale is about to unravel everything Claire thought she knew about Peter Pan — and herself.
I’ve read quite a few fairytale retellings over the years and must say it’s hard to keep them from being predictable. Dust is different because it isn’t a new take on the all-too-familiar story of Peter Pan. Instead, it’s a modern-day tale of Peter doing whatever he can to get back to Neverland – and he’s not always the sunny, charming Peter you might expect. The book is written from both Claire’s and Peter’s points of view, so it’s fun to get inside both their heads.
Having a cover this gorgeous sets a high bar for the story – you don’t want to open something that striking and read junk! Fortunately, Dust definitely met the mark for me and I’ll be reading the sequel, Shadow, when it’s published in July 2021.
Back cover copy: A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Seventeen-year-old Eli McShane and his friends flee the chaos and violence in Phoenix and journey north toward the rumored location of a safe water source. They add several to their number, including a mysterious girl named Hannah, who, unknown to Eli, is being hunted by a dangerous man. Desperation brings out the worst in many of the travelers, infecting even those closest to Eli. When division comes, will he be able to hold his group together or will each fall victim to their own thirst for survival?
I read a couple other books by Jill Williamson several years ago but missed this one when it came out in 2019. I’m glad I came across it a few weeks ago. It’s a good story with believable teenage characters and good lessons about friendship, leadership and growing in your faith. Not in a preachy way, but woven naturally into the story so that the points are made if you take time to stop and think.
Some people might not want to read Thirst right now since it centers on a pandemic, but that didn’t bother me. The follow-up book Hunger will be published next year and I’ll definitely want to read it to learn what happens to Eli and his friends.
There are lots of other great YA books I’ve enjoyed and recommend, but they’ll have to wait for another post. Nine, Dust and Thirst are from different categories of YA fiction, but trust me when I say any middle- or high school reader would probably like all three. And any adult, too – because even though they’re labeled as YA fiction, they’re so well written that they prove YA often is not just for kids anymore.