April 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

42 Diverse Must-Have YA Titles for Every Library

My fascination with YA polls began when Time published its call for the 100 Best Young Adult Books. An avid fan of teen lit, I of course participated. And I was just as dismayed as most of the librarian community to see the results: a hodgepodge of non-YA children’s lit and classics, and the usual suspects—John Green, Judy Blume, and Laurie Halse Anderson (deservedly so). I hoped that a poll of must-have YA made for librarians would yield better (and more diverse) results. And it did—as you can see here.

But despite the recent call for the diverse books in the librarian community, these results still don’t completely reflect the community of teens whom librarians serve. And they don’t offer enough windows and mirrors for the young people who deserve to see themselves and their peers in the books made for them. As we celebrate 50 years of YA (launched by Booklist), let’s celebrate the, diverse titles and milestones (see this wonderful list compiled by Edith Campbell) that should be highlighted along with works long-considered part of the classic YA canon.

Taking into account the books that were voted in by SLJ readers and considering the plethora of YA fiction and nonfiction published since the poll was first posted, School Library Journal editors have chosen the following 42 works as must-have YA titles for every teen librarian’s collection, in addition to our Top 100 YA.

Did we miss any of your favorites? Please add them in the comments.

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Scholastic. 2007.
Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausum. Viking. 2015.
Tyrell by Coe Booth. Scholastic. 2006.
Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices edited by Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale. Annick. 2016.
The Reader by Traci Chee. Putnam. 2016.
Ball Don’t Lie by Matt de la Peña. Delacorte. 2005.
Forged by Fire by Sharon M. Draper. Atheneum. 1997.
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan. Algonquin. 2013.
The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle. S. & S. 2016.
The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. Hyperion. 1999.
Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert. Disney-Hyperion. 2015.
Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes. Dial. 2001.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose. Farrar. 2009.
Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen. Algonquin. 2017.
Like No Other by Una LaMarche. Penguin/Razorbill. 2014.
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. Knopf. 2003.
“March Trilogy” by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin. illus. by Nate Powell. Top Shelf.
Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano. Scholastic. 2015.
Burn, Baby, Burn by Meg Medina. Candlewick. 2016.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. S & S. 2017.
A Step from Heaven by An Na. Boyds Mills. 2001.
Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection ed. by Hope Nicholson. AHComics. 2015.
“Prophecy” series by Ellen Oh. HarperTeen.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. Viking. 2011.
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. Scholastic. 2015.
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez. Calorhoda Lab. 2015.
Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Roaring Brook. 2015.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. Flatiron Bks. 2016.
X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz & Kekla Magoon. Candlewick. 2015.
The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin. Roaring Brook. 2014.
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin. Roaring Brook. 2017.
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson.  Carolrhoda. 2016.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.  HarperTeen. 2015.
Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared To Dream by Tanya Lee Stone. Candlewick. 2009.
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork. Scholastic. 2011.
This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. First Second. 2014.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. HarperCollins. 2017.
Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune  by Pamela S. Turner. illus. by Gareth Hinds. Charlesbridge. 2016.
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson. Bloomsbury. 2017.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. Delacorte. 2015.
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. Delacorte. 2016.








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Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

Empowering Teens: Fostering the Next Generation of Advocates
Teens want to make a difference and become advocates for the things they care about. Librarians working with young people are in a unique position to help them make an impact on their communities and schools. Ignite your thinking and fuel these efforts at your library through this Library Journal online course—April 24 & May 8.


  1. Katie Slayter says:

    Maybe I missed it, but I was shocked there was no Micheal Vey or Riordan. They are both staples at our library. You have other tween books, so I wasn’t sure why they were left off.

    • Shelley Diaz Shelley Diaz says:

      Hi Katie,
      Thanks for your comment! Do you mean that they were left off the Top 100 poll? Or the editor’s picks?

      Either way, thanks for these suggestions!


  2. I’d add Looking for Group by Rory Harrison as well.

  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Alexie Sherman, Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee, and Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. These are all starred reviews or award winners.

  4. The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango; Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo; Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis; Trigger by Susan Vaught. Full disclosure: These authors are all represented by my agency–but all four books received quite a lot of recognition and all express diverse elements–three of four are #ownvoices, and the fourth has a marginalized identity different from her protagonist.

  5. Sandy Hernandez says:

    Good Girls Don’t Lie by Alexandra Diaz. It was published by a small publisher and didn’t get the publicity it deserves. It’s a Latino book, with a little of LGBT, as well as being about teen pregnancy. Realistic and occasionally funny!

  6. Wonderful selection of titles. I would have loved to see MARE’S WAR by Tanita Davis on this list! It’s a Coretta Scott King honor book.

  7. Robbin W Miller says:

    Please include “Three Best Friends,” by Robbin Miller. It is a heart touching story of a boy who gets his wheelchair stuck in the wood chips of a new community playground. Feeling hurt and humiliated, the protagonist, is determined to find a way to join his two best friends despite being verbally bullied and learning the true meaning of friendship. Based loosely upon a true story in Massachusetts.

  8. Curtis Sarad says:

    Boy Meets Boy is already in the main top 100 list, so I think Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing should be swapped here.

  9. I can also recommend two by Zan Romanoff, A Song to Take the World Apart, and Grace and the Fever. She is a wonderful writer!

  10. My middle schoolers and I loved Sharon Flake and Sharon Draper; good to see them included! Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary should always be included. Also, One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Garcia Williams; Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai; Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall; Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez; and, among so many Jackie Woodson books, After Tupac and D Foster.

  11. Is there a Jewish-themed window or mirror book on this list, or on the list you linked to by Edi Campbell? I didn’t notice any, but I probably do not know all the books on these lists as well as you do.

  12. The Living (Matt de la Pena)–I read this in one night–and I don’t often binge read. Fantastic survival/dystopian novel.

    Mirador series (Dan Wells)–I’m not much of a sci fi/futuristic reader, but since it’s so popular with our YA patrons, I read enough so that I can make recommendations. Virtual reality series featuring a girl gamer.

    A Time to Dance (Padma Venkatraman)–compelling story about a young dancer who has to deal with life after losing her leg in an accident. Set in India.

    One (Sarah (Sarah Crossan)–two conjoined sisters must have separation surgery when a heart condition becomes life threatening. Effectively captures the psychology and rebellion that teens with chronic/life threatening conditions face.

    Enchanted Air (Margarita Engle)–my favorite YA title from Engle (Mountain Dog is my top favorite, but not YA). Although her memoir is set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, this is timely in that it is an eye-opening look in what it’s like to be thought of as “the enemy.”

    Queen of Secrets (Jenny Meyerhoff)–I really like this one because the main character is a Jewish girl living outside of a major metropolitan city. Essie is a popular cheerleader who comes face to face with anti-Semitism when her observant cousin transfers to her school.

    Gold Medal Winter (Donna Freitas)–this is on the young end of YA. Main character is an elite figure skater of Dominican descent. A fun read (hoping for more figure skating novels before the 2018 Olympics, but I haven’t heard of any! We had a slew of gymnastics chapter books and YA novels before the 2016 Games, including Tumbling by Caela Carter…one of the characters is lesbian).

    Shame the Stars (Guadalupe Garcia McCall)–McCall’s best work so far, set on the Texas-Mexico border in 1911.

    • Two more!

      Hooked (Liz Fichera)–main character is a Native American teen who tries out–and makes–her school’s golf team (and is the only girl and only Native student on the team). The cover is a bit unfortunate–makes it seem much more romance-y and sexier than it is, and not much of a sports novel.

      If I Ever Get Out of Here (Eric L. Gansworth)–set in 1975 New York. Friendship between a Tuscarora Native American teen and a Caucasian teen who lives on the nearby Air Force base. 70s music is an important part of the story, so a great read for fans of that era.

  13. Anne Ursu says:

    On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis and Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann are terrific.

  14. Ailynn Collins says:

    Great list. I’d like to add:
    The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow
    American Born Chinese and Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
    Orleans by Sherri Smith
    Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert
    The Wrath and the Dawn (duology) by Renee Adieh
    It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura
    I’ll stop there. I could go on!

  15. Nichole Shabazz says:

    Solo by Kwame Alexander

  16. Is there any evidence for the idea that minorities are more likely to enjoy books that are written by minority authors or about minority issues? A lot of the books on this list seem good for teaching people about diversity, but maybe not quite as good for getting diverse audiences excited about reading. I just think it should be recognized that these may be competing goals. It can be condescending when people assume minorities want to read about what it’s like to be a minority. I think people of all sorts just like good fiction no matter where it comes from.

  17. Dirt by Teffanie Thompson. Brown Girl Books, 2016

  18. What a great selection! I would like to add that Robert Mackey’s YA books entertain, educate and should be in libraries everywhere. Dr Antonio’s adventures in Costa Rica is a trilogy … Trouble with Howlers, Trouble on the High Seas and Trouble Down Under. Your local library can order them from Amazon. The Other Side of the Wall will be ready in September. Another great adventure story!

  19. Kiffe kiffe tomorrow by Faiza Guene
    Falling Boy by Allison McGhee
    Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
    Aristotle and Dante Discover the secrets of the universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
    Huntress Malinda Lo
    Five Flavors of Dumb by Anothny John
    She is not invisible Marcus Sedgwick
    Hurricane dancers Margarita engle

  20. Dee Price says:

    Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your — By Meg Medina
    All American Boys. The Boy In The Black Suit, and As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
    The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

  21. Not a fan of This One Summer. I find the bits about Native Americans troubling.

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