Young Adult novels with adult reader appeal

Posted on September 27, 2016 at 6:00 am

By Rachel Edmondson

In recent years, Young Adult (YA) literature has become increasingly popular, and studies have shown that a surprising number of YA readers are adults. According to a 2012 study, 55% of buyers purchasing YA literature are 18 or older. Also, 78% of these buyers indicate that they are purchasing the books for their own reading.

Some people were shocked by these high numbers. For those of us working in libraries, the numbers aren’t all that surprising. Of course, many adults were first introduced, or reintroduced, to YA fiction by such popular titles as The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Fault in Our Stars. All of these titles gained even more recognition when they made their way to the big screen. But there are many lesser known titles appearing on shelves today that have strong appeal for adults.

So whether you want to dip your toes into YA literature for the first time, or you’re an avid YA fan looking for some new titles, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite Young Adult books that have strong adult appeal. You just might join the YA fan club!


The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

In Opium, drug lords rule the land, “eejits” have microchips in their brains to ensure they stay enslaved, and clones are used for spare body parts. Despite its futuristic setting, this dystopian novel explores contemporary themes and at times feels disturbingly real.


A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Mattie dreams of going to college and becoming a writer, but family responsibilities keep holding her back. Desperate for money, Mattie takes a summer job at a fancy hotel. But when a guest is found floating in the lake, Mattie realizes she may hold the key to figuring out the mysterious death. Donnelly weaves the true story of Grace Brown into Mattie’s story and transports the reader back to 1906 and the harsh realities of this time period.


The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

Rats, cream puffs, and yellow tights fill Holling’s life. As if that isn’t enough, he is convinced his teacher hates him, knows he’ll never live up to his dad’s expectations, and worries about the Vietnam War, which is on the news every night. The tone of this book reminds me of
The Wonder Years
, but instead of narrator Kevin Arnold we have Holling Hoodhood. The audio version is especially charming, and is even Dad-approved (years later my dad is still telling me how much he enjoyed it).

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

A British spy plane, torture from Nazi interrogators, friendship in the midst of horror—these themes may sound familiar, but this isn’t your typical WWII novel. This is one of my all-time favorites. I love it so much that I don’t want to give anything away and spoil the discovery for you.


Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

In this semi-autobiographical book, Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist. Determined to make something of himself, Junior decides to leave his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school. This humorous and frank book explores what it’s like to be caught between two worlds.


Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Sixteen-year-old Hattie has been shuffled between distant family members her whole life. So when an uncle leaves her his homestead claim, Hattie moves to Montana determined to prove herself and finally have a home of her own. With real-life events from Larson’s family woven into the story, the pioneer days come to life.



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