After recently reading this positively absurd Slate piece declaring that adults should be ashamed to read Young Adult fiction like The Fault in Our Stars or Eleanor and Park, I’m blaring the YA horn even more strongly than usual. I’m not saying books written for children should take the place of reading adult fiction, but Young Adult has a rightful place on any reading list. Not only does good YA have merit in and of itself, but there’s something magical about reconnecting with the emotions you felt as a kid.
Even more so, re-reading a book you loved as a child is a moving experience. Especially if you re-read the same copy, it’s a powerful connection with your former self only rivaled by reading an old diary. And of course, since YA books are for the most part written by adults, you will pick up on mature aspects you didn’t quite grasp the first time. Just take my advice and dive into one of these childhood classics. You won’t regret it.
1. The Giver by Lois Lowry
For me, the pages of The Giver literally smell like childhood. It’s the book I’ve read more times than any other in my lifetime. Somehow that love didn’t fully translate into an adult love of the utopian genre, but The Giver remains one of my favorite books. It will take you about an hour to read, so please don’t go see the movie without giving the book one more read.
2. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
How good was The Westing Game? Not “good for YA,” whatever that means, but unqualified GOOD. A clever, off-the-wall mystery, it’s the YA version of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. I haven’t re-read it for a few years, but I honestly wonder if I would be able to figure out the puzzle now. If you never read it when you were younger, I guarantee it’s worth the read.
3. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
This is an anomaly for me, because I’m actually in the midst of reading the Harry Potter series for the first time right now. I’m absolutely loving the books, so I can only imagine the experience would be emotionally heightened for those who grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. If you need any more motivation, this “greatest moments” list should do the trick.
4. The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
This book marked the beginning of my fascination with Venice, and when I finally made it there at age 21, all I could think about was Prosper and Bo roaming the streets. Talk about fulfillment of childhood dreams. If you’re into fantasy or adventure as an adult, take a little trip down memory lane to remember where it all began.
5. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
This is another book that somehow escaped me in childhood, and I only cracked open last year. Boy was it fantastic. Phantom Tollbooth is packed with puns galore (good ones), as Juster stretches the English language to its most literal and its most symbolic extremes. Come on, give Milo another chance to take you on a magical journey.
6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time is in itself a case for why adults absolutely should read YA. It’s part children’s sci-fi adventure story and part serious exploration of the problem of evil. L’Engle was one of the first authors to put a female protagonist into a science fiction book. Unheard of in 1960, the book was rejected by 26 publishers before being picked up. You like Hunger Games and Divergent? A Wrinkle in Time is where their lineage begins.
7. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
These classic tales remain hilarious and brilliant no matter what age you are. I know, because I have read them over and over. An example:
“It’s very simple,” said Louis. “You are not supposed to take no notes to no teachers. You already haven’t done it.”
Calvin: “I’m supposed to take a note that I don’t have to a teacher who doesn’t exist, and who teaches on a story that was never built.”
8. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
My younger cousin recently came over and announced her OBSESSION with The Outsiders. Naturally, I went off in search of the book to rekindle my own obsession with it. I was reminded of how mature I felt reading about gang violence, underage smoking and drinking, cursing, and general dysfunction. This is one of the most controversial YA books of our time, and very interesting to read from an adult perspective.
9. Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
I don’t know about you, but I still have a full shelf of those yellow hardcovers in my room, The Scarlet Slipper being my favorite. Nancy Drew was the original female badass. The girl could do anything. At 16 years old she was a smart, amazing detective, a great painter and athlete, she spoke French, she could drive a car or motorboat out of any sticky situation (not to mention swim or paddle a rowboat), and could cook, sew, and administer First Aid with the best of them. Nancy embodies girl power at its finest.
10. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Because reading this as a kid I remember being fairly baffled. The Little Prince is literary, philosophical, and beautifully poetic, and I think it takes a little bit of age and reading experience to fully appreciate it. AND they just released an awesome-beyond-awesome pop up version, which will add the perfect amount of whimsy to your coffee table.
What books did I miss? Do you have a favorite from childhood that you return to over and over again?
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