7 Great YA Novels Beyond John Green (Who I Still Consider a Great Author)

Young adult fiction has gotten a bad rap recently, but I believe that there’s a lot more to the genre than questionable plots and irritating protagonists. The past few years have produced some incredible young adult books that serve as great introductions for those who want to read more but don’t know where to start, or even for more veteran readers. I’ve heard a lot of people say they’re tired of John Green, so I’ve made sure not to include him in this list. Most of the books I picked have a love interest, which, I’ll admit, is a requirement for me. However, each story ends with purpose that expands beyond relationships and allows the protagonist to grow.

  1.        Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

            This book instilled a love for traveling in me, and gave me the totally unattainable goal of road-tripping to see the Northern Lights. But the story was so great that I can forgive the book altogether. Leila is on her way to Alaska to see Aurora Borealis, and encounters several strangers by way of her open and eccentric personality. I sensed a modern Stargirl vibe from her, just less hippie and a little more hipster. The book is split up into sections by the strangers she meets, all of whom help narrate and add to the story.

  1.        99 Days by Katie Cotugno

            Months before I could even get my hands on this book, I was adding it to my Amazon wishlist, reading the summary, and drooling over the polaroid-laden cover. It had the makings to be a great story, and I was definitely not disappointed. Molly Barlow is the Hester Prynne of her mid-sized Northeastern town. A year after her ‘betrayal’, no one has forgiven or even forgotten what she did to the Donnellys. But Molly doesn’t let her disgraced reputation take away her humor and wit, and finds opportunities to mature in her fallacies. Even though some of Molly’s logic frustrated me (and author Katie Cotugno recognizes this), I found the book fulfilling from the display of the intricacies of non-romantic relationships and the ability of Cotugno to step away from YA clichés.

  1.        All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nevin

            With worshipping reviews and a movie deal on the way, All the Bright Places took the trope of broken teenagers only seeking solace in other damaged, misunderstood teenagers to the next level, without making the plot too dramatic or unnatural. I can see how people describe it as a mix of the Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor & Park, but it isn’t derivative of the two. Violet and Finch, the protagonists, both have a complicated relationship with death, and it’s that that brings the two together (though not harmoniously at first). It takes some cajoling and a bit of happenstance to make the two friends, but once they connect, it’s impossible to imagine Violet and Finch apart. I applaud the reality of the story, especially the accurate portrayal of loss and grief. I’ll admit that it sounds clichéd as a story about two broken people trying to save each other, but Jennifer Niven made it work.

  1.        Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

            The most recent YA book I’ve (re)read, this book comes highly recommended because of the narrator’s witty thoughts, timely reveals, and of course, adventurous road trip. Amy Curry is still dealing with her father’s recent death while the rest of her family is falling apart, and having to drive from California to Connecticut is not helping. She finds a companion in Roger, a family friend whom her mom has enlisted to travel with her. I consider this the ultimate road trip book, filled with the understandable teenage traveling fiascos (like running out of money) and road trip necessities. One of the pinnacles of the book was the scrapbook-like quality of the book, with its cute pictures of national parks and diners, journal entries/doodles, and lengthy playlists. Among the highlights of the playlists are some of my favorite bands (Jack’s Mannequin, Vampire Weekend and the National) and artists I’ve been meaning to listen to (Dashboard Confessional, Something Corporate and Jack Johnson).

  1.        Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

            I have Sarah Dessen to thank for introducing me to the young adult genre. That Summer and Along for the Ride were some of the first YA books I ever read, and she’s the reason I went all the way to the Decatur for a book festival few weekends ago (surprise- I didn’t get to see her). I’ve distanced myself away from her books in the past few years, and have snubbed her novels because I was so adolescent when I first read them, so I didn’t think much of Saint Anything when I passed it in libraries, but I was blown away when I finally picked it up. In the book, Dessen captures the ineffable feeling of familial frustration and overall weariness that we all have with the world. The protagonist, Sydney, is used to being unnoticed, but she’s now surrounded by notoriety after her brother’s drunk driving accident. After switching schools, she encounters the Chathams, whose close-knit relationship compensates for what Sydney’s strained family is lacking. I loved all the characters, even when some were infuriating, and the plot filled me with this comforting sense of summer.

  1.        The Beginning of Everything by Robin Schneider

            Let me start off by saying that I first chose this book, not by the cover, author, or reviews, but by the protagonist’s name. Ezra Faulkner, in my opinion, is one of the coolest names ever, and when the narrator has the first name of your very favourite lead singer and the last name of a prestigious Southern author, it’s a sign that you should read it. Ezra is described as the golden boy of his school (think a modern version of Freddie Prinze Jr’s character in She’s All That). He is class president, varsity tennis captain, and that overall great person who we all strive to be. Ezra’s pristine life is shattered when a car accident ruins his knee, and he undergoes a social change of such a large magnitude that it doesn’t sound possible, even with his charisma. During the process, he reconciles with old friends and befriends a group of people that any of us would be privileged to find. Though a little irking for some readers, attractions such as the stereotypes ex-friends play is just bold enough to make you call into question what roles we take.

  1.        Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

            I’ve probably read this book five times, and each time my heart breaks a little more. It’s incredibly well written, and differs from other novels regarding teen suicide. We start off with the knowledge that Hannah Baker is most definitely dead, no matter how much hope we have that it might be a hoax explained by the end of the story. In a series of 13 cassette tapes, Hannah reveals others’ tragedies and the events that caused her to kill herself. Jay Asher’s choice of a protagonist in Clay Jansen, one of the only positive things in Hannah’s life, proved to be one of the strongest literary decisions in the story because the reader discovers what happened at the same time that he does. Thirteen Reasons Why is full of what could’ve (and in my opinion, what should’ve) beens, and forces readers to reevaluate the social and moral decisions we make. It challenges us to question what happens around us, and shows the consequences of not doing so.