Leading Adults to YA Fiction | Readers’ Advisory

ljx170501webRAslugBlockbuster hits like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and The Fault in Our Stars put young adult (YA) fiction in front of adult readers. In fact, according to a 2012 Bowker study, “Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age,” the majority of YA buyers, at 55 percent, are adult—and of those, 78 percent are buying for themselves. However, that doesn’t mean adults are clued in to all the titles out there that have true crossover appeal, whether they are avid fans of the category or haven’t yet dipped their toes into the YA waters. That’s where librarians can help.

Blast from the Past

Fans of recent World War II–era adult fiction titles such as Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale or Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See will love Ruta Sepetys’s Salt to the Sea and Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity. Books like Julie Berry’s The Passion of Dolssa, with its compelling plot, well-developed characters, precise language, and intriguing setting, are strong suggestions for fans of medieval or religious fiction like Nicola Griffith’s Hild.

Readers who grew up in the 1970s will connect with Meg Medina’s Burn Baby Burn, a coming-of-age novel set in New York City during the summer of 1977. Children of the 1980s will relate to falling in love over mixtapes and comic books like the titular characters in Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. Gen Xers will appreciate emily m. danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a novel about growing up gay in rural Montana in the 1990s.


Keeping it Real

YA authors are quick to incorporate current cultural issues. Books like Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys explore responses to police violence against young black men and the Black Lives Matter movement.

While plenty of YA fiction tackle tough issues such as abuse and addiction, the category has evolved beyond the traditional “problem novel.” Books like Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun and Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King feature complex, nuanced characters, with witty writing that explores such classic themes as identity, sexuality, and discovering one’s purpose. YA isn’t even “just” about teenagers. Take, for instance, Jenny Downham’s intergenerational drama Unbecoming.

A Taste for the Weird

There’s lots of YA fiction for readers who like experimental or boundary-pushing literature. Authors like A.S. King and Marcus Sedgwick write thought-provoking works that beg to be discussed. Readers who love a twist of the surreal in their fiction should check out Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap, Leslye Walton’s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Mary O’Connell’s Dear Reader, and Corey Ann Haydu’s The Careful Undressing of Love.

Fantasy readers who love complex worldbuilding and compelling characters won’t be disappointed by ­Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, Melina Marchetta’s “The Lumatere Chronicles,” and Marie Rutowski’s The Winner’s Curse, with their political intrigue and intelligent plots. Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer and Maggie Stiefvater’s “The Raven Cycle” each feature intricate systems of magic and dreamy, lush writing. Renée Ahdieh’s atmospheric tales, ­Ellen Oh’s pulse-pounding “The Dragon King Chronicles,” and Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes all have strong crossover appeal as well.

Fans of cerebral sf should pick up M.T. Anderson’s Feed, a futuristic look at consumerism and Internet culture. Fans of Kurt Vonnegut will appreciate the absurdity of John Corey Whaley’s Noggin, in which a teen wakes up to find his head attached to a new body. Neal Shusterman’s dystopian novel Scythe defies all the tired tropes and keeps readers questioning what they think they know.


There’s a reason that shows like The 100, Vampire Diaries, and Pretty Little Liars are so addictive: they’ve got killer hooks and loads of drama. It’s also no coincidence that they’re inspired by YA novels. Readers looking for books that could be shows on the CW include Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s These Broken Stars (Titanic in space), Holly Black’s White Cat (magic and the mob), Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper (magic and art in Brooklyn), and Sona ­Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton’s Tiny Pretty Things (ultracompetitive ballerinas). Fans of My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks will like the snarky main characters from Anna Breslaw’s Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here or Kat Spears’s Sway.

Notable Mysteries

Lovers of twisty crime fiction should check out Barry Lyga’s “Jasper Dent” series about the son of the country’s most notorious serial killer. Fans of psychological thrillers will love Stephanie Kuehn’s gripping novels.

Readers’ advisors should be aware of the Young Adult Library Services Association’s (YALSA) annual awards like the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and Michael L. Printz Award as the winners will generally have crossover appeal. Watch for YA novels that get big marketing pushes in mainstream media like Entertainment Weekly, or show up in the book aisle at Target or in airport newsstands—publishers are betting those titles will be scooped up by adult readers.

Molly Wetta is a Senior Librarian for Youth Services, Programming, and Marketing at Santa Barbara (CA) Public Library, manages YALSA’s Collection Development blog The Hub, and is a contributing writer at Book Riot. She loves helping people find just the right book

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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