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One Read Fits All

The evolution of young adult books

The fact that young adult titles top booklover's To Read lists isn't news to Iowa City Public Library staff. We have a lot of YA fans working here - many who passed the suggested age range years ago.

In 2013, the Library's pick for Book of the Year was a young adult title: Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park. In 2012, staff members named John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, also a young adult title, as their choice for best book of the year.

Once relegated to a small section in libraries and book stores, today's young adult titles regularly top best-selling lists. Teens, and adults, are devouring these books, creating a popularity trend the genre hasn't seen since the 1970s.

What's the appeal?

Nostalgia? Are parents trying to find common ground with their teens? Maybe, but as most adult readers of young adult books will tell you, they're simply great stories.

'A lot of the protagonists in young adult books are teens and, during that part of your life, there's just so much happening," Teen Services Librarian Brian Visser says. "You're figuring out who you are. Maybe you're falling in love for the first time. As a reader, maybe you're looking for a character you can relate to, or you want to read something that gives you a break from your life, your problems. Or maybe it's none of those things and you just want to read a good story. Young adult books have all of that."

The term "young adult" was coined by the Young Adult Library Services Association in the 1960s. At that time, young adult meant realistic fiction; stories set in contemporary times that addressed the issues, problems, and circumstances of interest to middle and high school readers.

Today, young adult titles range from contemporary to fantasy, graphic novels to romance, and nonfiction to science fiction.

"Though once dismissed as a genre consisting of little more than problem novels and romances, young adult literature has, since the mid-1990's, come of age as literature - literature that welcomes artistic innovation, experimentation, and risk-taking," Michael Cart of the Young Adult Library Services Association writes in The Value of Young Adult Literature.

At the same time, Cart writes, the young adult audience has grown to include readers as young as 10 and, since the late 1990s, as

  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill
  • Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
  • Inheritance by Malinda Lo
  • The Registry by Shannon Stoker
  • Fractured by Teri Terry
  • This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
  • More Than This by Patrick Ness and Nick Podehl
  • Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
  • BuzzFeed's 25 YA Books for Adults Who Don't Read YA

    • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
    • Divergent by Veronica Roth
    • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchatta
    • Sabriel by Garth Nix
    • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
    • Every Day by David Levithan
    • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
    • Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
    • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
    • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
    • Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
    • Monster by Walter Dean Myers
    • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
    • The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth
    • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
    • Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
    • The Diviners by Libba Bray
    • Crank by Ellen Hopkins
    • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
    • Dodger by Terry Pratchett
    • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
    • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
    • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
    • Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

    "Classic" Young Adult Novels

    • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
    • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
    • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
    • Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
    • The Giver by Lois Lowry
    • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
    • Holes by Louis Sachar
    • I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier.
    • Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
    • Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
    • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
    • The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
    • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

    Mashable's 15 Young Adult Books Every Adult Should Read

    • Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
    • Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
    • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
    • Feed by MT Anderson
    • Going Bovine by Libba Bray
    • Monster by Walter Dean Myers
    • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    • Luna by Julie Anne Peters
    • The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
    • Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
    • Hate List by Jennifer Brown
    • NPR's 100 Best Ever Teen Novels