Best YA Books of the Decade, According to the Best YA Authors of the Year

Authors of SLJ’s Best Young Adult Books of 2019 weigh in on their favorite teen titles of the decade.

We’ve already counted our Best Books of 2019, but as the year—and the decade—comes to a close, we’re feeling nostalgic for the great titles from years past. So we asked some the authors of this year’s Best YA Books to pay it forward and list their top titles of the 2010s.

 

Elizabeth Acevedo, author of With the Fire on High

Dread Nation coverDread Nation by Justina Ireland (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, 2018)

This book is a remarkable feat that showed me the possibilities in writing alternative history fantasy. A badass book that I wish I had written first.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Holt, 2018)

Adeyemi's novel will change the trajectory of fantasy as we know it and her cast of characters are ones that will stay with readers for a long time.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (Candlewick, 2013)

Medina writes young people's voices like no one else in the business, and this contemporary YA should be on every school's reading list.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (HarperCollins, 2011)

A remarkable novel in verse that made me cry, and hope, and root for a family so different from my own, but who I felt like I knew intimately by the end of the book.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (S. & S., 2012)

Sáenz is a master of his craft and I loved this book about these two boys discovering love for each other, and love for themselves. A masterpiece.

 

S.K. Ali, author of Love from A to Z

Monsters of Men coverMonsters of Men by Patrick Ness (Candlewick, 2010)

The last book in the Chaos Walking trilogy left me affected in profound ways, driving home what good literature does: make us ponder new questions, sit with new insights, see the world with new eyes.

Blood Red Road by Moira Young (S. & S./ Margaret K. McElderry Bks., 2011)

The postapocalyptic landscape in this debut novel, first of a trilogy, is immersive and raw as is the writing stylewhich may take a bit to get used to but serves this gritty story of courage and conviction so well.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (Putnam, 2011)

Maureen Johnson turning to writing a thriller/mystery was the kind of thing I needed to see as a YA writer setting out, with grand ambitions to Write All The Things but also paralyzed with worry that there wasn't room for jumping around genres for authors. And how awesome of a jump from one of my favorite YA authors! This had signature Maureen moments and style with the perfect beats we expect from a mystery well done.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (Grove, 2012)

In this blend of sci-fi and fantasy set in the Middle East, the race-against-time adventure a young hacker embarks on will have readers seeing the world through his eyesthrough the innards of technology and alternate realitieswith the result that we become heavily invested in his coding work, in his journey to love and freedom.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2014)

The only thing I can say about We Were Liars is this: surrender to the tale, because it's E. Lockhart! (You know you'll be rewarded with a good story in the best sense of the word.)

 

Rena Barron, author of Kingdom of Souls

Strange the Dreamer coverStrange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (Little, Brown, 2017)

Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always been obsessed with the lost city of Weep. When the Godslayer—a native of the city—and a band of legendary warriors show up, Lazlo seizes his chance to find out what happened to Weep. The answer involves blue-skinned terrible gods and much more than he could have ever imagined.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Holt, 2015)

Join Kaz, Inej, and the gang as they prepare to pull off the biggest heist in Ketterdam, sprinkle in some magic and a gritty criminal underworld, and you’ve got Six of Crows. Bardugo masterfully weaves rich world-building with superb characterization that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (Sourcebooks/Fire, 2017)

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she discovers that she is a bone witch and wields magic that most people fear. She and her brother’s ghost travel to a new land so she can train to put down dark forces, but she must keep them from consuming her first. Chupeco builds a world that is equal parts fascinating and frightening in the first book of this fantastical series.

 

Ellen Hagan, co-author of Watch Us Rise

Inside Out and Back Again coverInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (HarperCollins, 2011)

This stunning coming-of-age novel in verse takes us from Vietnam to Alabama with Há as she navigates her new life. Centered on family, the story has such heartthe language and images so lyrical and beautiful.

This Side of Home by Renée Watson (Bloomsbury, 2015)

I love the sisterhood, friendships, and community that this novel embodies. Maya and Nikki are identical twins discovering who they are as individuals, while confronting a gentrifying neighborhood and finding out how powerful, how vital, how unique their voices areand figuring out how to use them.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen, 2018)

Xiomara Batista is a brilliant, truth-telling, confident young woman who is figuring out who she is in the world. Written in verse, this story centers around first love, sharing music in the park, religion, and relationships between mothers, daughters, brothers and best friends. It captures high school in such breathtaking poetry.

The Moon Within by Aida Salazar (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks., 2019)

A gorgeous novel in verse about a young girl’s journey to womanhood, as she navigates her changing body, friendships, and her relationship with her mother. Full of such tender love and generosity, and a community that gathers around two best friends as they blossom together.

Who Put this Song On? by Morgan Parker (Delacorte, 2019)

This novel captures the intensity, love, frustration, and trauma of high school life. In poetic and gutsy prose and hilarious dialogue (both inner & outer), Morgan comes to life and is passionate, complicated, funny as hell, and cares deeply about making sure she shows up in the worldhealthy and full of life.

 

Stacey Lee, author of The Downstairs Girl

Scorpio Races coverThe Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic, 2011)

The first chapter of this contemporary fantasy counts for me as one of the best I've ever read, the opening salvo to a race run using flesh-eating horses that emerge from the sea.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin (Little, Brown, 2015)

A fascinating exploration of what would've happened if Hitler had won the war, and how a girl with the ability to shape shift her face attempts to bring him down.

Grave Mercy by Robin Lafevers (HMH, 2012)

This book about assassin nuns who serve the god of Death in medieval France starts off a series that just keeps getting better.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber (Flatiron, 2017)

In this immersive fantasy, a girl must save her sister by being a player in a magical circus where anything is possible, but nothing is real.

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert (Disney-Hyperion, 2018)

An Asian American teen pursuing an artistic career with a dysfunctional yet supportive family is both fresh and heartbreaking.

 

Mindy McGinnis, author of Heroine

My first on the list is actually from 2009, but the series extended into the 2010's and it's one of my favorite YA books ever, period. So I'm sliding that one in there.

Monstrumologist coverThe Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey (S. & S., 2009)

Think early criminal profiling meets monster hunting in 1888 America.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor (Little, Brown, 2011)

Amazing (and brutal!) world-building with a strong blue-haired female lead. Yes, please!

Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn (HarperTeen, 2013)

A girl disappears at a party only to reappear halfway across the country, with no memory of what happened. What if they found the right girl...but she's got the wrong soul? Underrated thriller!

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman (HMH, 2015)

A YA Western with a tough as nails heroine. True Grit for a new generation.

How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana (Harper Collins/Katherine Tegen Bks., 2017)

Sandra's story of surviving a massacre in the Congo and her immigration to America should be more widely read.

 

Tehlor Kay Mejia, author of We Set the Dark on Fire

Aristotle and Dante book coverAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (S. & S., 2012)

This was the first time I (and a lot of people) saw queer Latinx representation in YA. In so many ways it opened the door for everything we’ve done in the genre since. I’ll always be grateful for this book.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks, 2019)

Latinx culture is so integral to this book, but isn’t the main focus of Sierra’s story. I loved watching a badass heroine save her neighborhood (and maybe the world) without feeling preached at or condescended to about her identity.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen, 2018)

What to say about this book that hasn’t already been said? This book felt like a road home, and a hot meal in an empty belly, and permission to reach higher. It’s an absolute triumph.

Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno (Disney-Hyperion, 2019)

The perfect marriage of swoony love story and expertly nuanced dive into the complexities of diaspora identity and life after exile. I’m so glad kids will get to grow up with Rosa.

 

Mitali Perkins, author of Forward Me Back to You

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book coverRather than picking my personal favorites, I settled on three books that I feel have shaped the wider culture and changed the market for good.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic, 2007)

My favorite of the series, Rowling's exploration of power and love permeated cultures and shaped a generation in many countries on a deep level.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008)

This book shattered the market myth that "boys won't read stories with girl protagonists." Not only did boys read it in droves, I'd see middle-aged men on the train ensconced in Katniss Everdeen's adventures.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, 2017)

This novel destroyed the market myth that "white YA readers won't buy stories with black protagonists." I'll forever be grateful to Angie.

 

Justin A. Reynolds, author of The Opposite of Always

We Are Okay coverWe Are Okay by Nina LaCour (Dutton, 2017)

This story is wonderfully atmospheric and achingly beautiful. LaCour gives us poetry on every page.

Mem by Bethany C. Morrow (Unnamed Press, 2018)

With bristling intelligence and a steady hand, Morrow delivers a profound meditation on memory and trauma that begs the question, what does it mean to be human? Morrow's imagination is a gift.

Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson (Harper Collins/Katherine Tegen Bks., 2019)

Highlighting her outstanding range, Jackson delivers a powerful mystery-filled narrative, while simultaneously paying homage to real hip-hop. Jackson's talent is boundless.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, 2015)

This book's voice alone is enough to warrant a “Best of" shoutout. Fortunately for us, Albertalli also gives us an abundance of heart and humor.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015)

When I first heard this compared to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my favorite movies, I was nervous. But with an excellently drawn cast and eye for compassion, Silvera's story soars.

 

Laura Ruby, author of Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All

Sun is Also a Star coverThe Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte, 2016)

A mulitivocal love story, this novel shines not only because of the beauty of the language, but because of the magic in its intricate structure.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Disney-Hyperion, 2012)

The story of a spy captured during World War II, dizzying and dazzling by turns.

The “March” series by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Top Shelf, 2013)

These graphic novels tell the story of John Lewis’s lifelong struggle for civil rights. Harrowing and necessary.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (Dutton, 2017)

An exquisite meditation on grief and family.

Get In Trouble by Kelly Link (Random, 2015)

Okay, not technically a YA book, but these short stories are so quirky, inventive, playful and delightfully strange that I have to include it.

Some others! Graceling by Kristin Cashore, This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang, I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

 

Renée Watson, co-author of Watch Us Rise

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces coverGabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (Cinco Puntos, 2014)

Through diary entries and poetry readers get to know Gabi Hernandez, a vulnerable, funny, say-it-like-it-is teen who is trying to figure out if there’s a right way to be Mexican, to be a girl. Quintero’s bold writing creates an unforgettable character to root for, to love.

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon (Holt, 2015)

Kekla Magoon’s storytelling is captivating in this multi-perspective tale that begins just seconds after the fatal shooting of Tariq Johnson, a black teen who was shot by a white man after a confrontation in front of a neighborhood convenience store. The various voices tell the story of a community trying to make sense of Tariq’s death as those closest to him struggle to go on without him. Ripped from the headlines, this novel captures the emotional horror of grief. A timeless and riveting read.

Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes (Wordsong, 2019)

Nikki Grimes tells her story in masterful verse and offers a balm for any teen who needs to know that there can be forgiveness, joy, and fulfillment on the other side of struggle and pain. A lyrical, poignant memoir that brings new meaning to the notion that words are powerful, that words heal.

 

Kip Wilson, author of White Rose

Code Name Verity coverCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Disney-Hyperion, 2012)

World War II historical fiction is almost always my cup of tea, but this book is a must-read for anyone who likes plot twists, unreliable narrators, and unforgettable lines like, "KISS ME, HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!"

A Time To Dance by Padma Venkatraman (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks., 2014)

This brilliant novel-in-verse about a bharatanatyam dancer finding her way after a tragic accident offers everything I love in a book: an incredibly strong heroine, transportive setting, and absolutely stunning writing.

Out Of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez (Carolrhoda, 2015)

This historical set in a racially explosive 1937 Texas town completely wrecked me. It came out four years ago, and it's still my go-to recommendation for anyone looking to ugly-cry over a book.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks., 2014)

The awards all over this book's cover speak for it themselves, but I recommend everyone read this memoir-in-verse, both for the glimpse it provides into recent history and for the gorgeous writing. It is sublime.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen, 2018)

There's a reason this novel-in-verse about a teen poet in Harlem finding her voice won pretty much all the awards last year: it's simply that good.

 

David Yoon, author of Frankly in Love

Grasshopper Jungle coverThe Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte, 2016)

Nicola’s charming philosophical romance about the interconnectedness of things led to an extraodrinary movie featuring something almost never seen in American media: two POCs as lead romantic roles in a major film.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (Dutton, 2014)

Andrew’s book made me feel like I was reading Vonnegut all over again, with his page-turning combination of sci-fi mayhem plus unwavering kindness and humanity.

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games: Book 3) by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2010)

Not only was this an action-packed read, it also depicted trauma not as something to overcome (as it so often is), but as a devastating tragedy that leaves everyone permanently affected in its wake.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Dial, 2014)

I literally threw this book across the room, I was so thunderstruck by Jandy’s exquisite prose and style. Jandy taught me that anything can be magical, if looked at from just the right angle.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015)

Adam brilliantly uses near-future sci-fi to heartbreaking effect, amplifying and heightening his characters’ emotional struggles without ever falling prey to melodrama.

 

Ibi Zoboi, editor of Black Enough

Children of Blood and Bone coverChildren of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Holt, 2018)

This book lets the world know that there is indeed a rich and vibrant African mythology and that it can inspire such a successful fantasy novel.

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor (Viking, 2017)

There's such complexity, culture, history, and joy in this book. Nnedi's entire body of work takes deep dives into West African culture to bring us girls who balance magic, technology, heroism, and spirituality so well.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen, 2018)

This book would have been a balm for my sixteen-year-old poetic soul. I wish so badly that I had The Poet X in high school. It would've changed my life. Though I'm so glad my daughters have it.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks, 2019)

It's the very first time I saw Brooklyn teens navigating magic and spirituality in a YA novel and that was such a breath of fresh air.

Teenie by Christopher Grant (Knopf, 2010)

If this book were published this year, it would've been the perfect story to address the #MeToo movement. It's about the presumed blurred lines between consent and sexual assault that teens must navigate, all while highlighting a supportive Carribean family living in Brooklyn, strong female friendships, and personal goals.

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Katy Hershberger
Katy Hershberger (khershberger@mediasource.com) is the senior editor for YA at School Library Journal.
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Emily Schneider

This list is kind of self-replicating. It features many interesting suggestions, but they are by the "best YA authors" chosen by SLJ. I would love to see more attention to a terrific book of this past year, Someday We Will Fly by Rachel Dewoskin.

Posted : Dec 18, 2019 05:58


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