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YA Author's Favorite YA Novels, Ranked

May 1, 2023


There are the novels that will remain among the most powerful literary works of today—The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars, The Goldfinch—and there are the novels who survive on equal merit but have not achieved to the same degree. Margaret Beaver, author of the Young Adult Fiction Flowers for Papa arriving in early 2024, talks her favorite YA novels, fiction and nonfiction, and some titles may appear quite peculiar.

“My philosophy is that if a book is popular, it’s popular for a reason; you should read it and see what all the buzz is about,” said Beaver. “But, also, I go out of my way to search for novels I’ve never heard of or have gone out of print and can only be found by chance. I like to find the lost word and bring it back into our contemporary sphere of influence.”

While Beaver’s taste in reading material typically remains within the literary inventory of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, she reads across a vast array of genres and subgenres, such as science fiction, dystopian, romance, LGBTQIA+, young adult fiction and nonfiction, the occasional memoir, and any concepts relating to politics and the social sciences of psychology and sociology. Particularly, historical novels crafted in the modern word she holds as one of the most endearing experiences.

“My profession and field of work does not make my opinion more credible,” reminds Beaver. “The publishing industry as well as consumer response is terribly subjective, so my advice is to never take stock in the opinion of anyone; just impartially explore what you’re exposed to. Old or new, popular or lost, there is always something new to appreciate, and it is your individual experience alone. No one else can influence that.”

Feelings were hurt and books were reread in the making of this list: Margaret Beaver’s top fifteen YA novels, spanning contemporary, romantic, historical, and science fiction genres.

15. Love is Eternal by Irving Stone

“Perhaps I have a sentimental value attached to this novel, since it is the first one my grandmother ever gifted me from her own collection as she is an avid reader herself, but the content and substance of this novel did prove to be substantial. Love is Eternal follows the unconventional love story of Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd, who he refers to as Molly, and details how their relationship progresses and strengthens through the peaks and valleys of Lincoln’s social and political career. It also provides humbling insight into the luxuries of our modernity: when children are struck with illness, there is no casual cure; the terms of political improvement are those rather ordinary to us now; women advise others solely on marital prospects; and relatives prove to be slaveholders. When I indulge in historical fiction, it usually surrounds World War II or general acts of war, so I was not anticipating an entirely pleasurable experience; I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a steady yet gripping narrative on the archaism we often forget we originate from. I certainly expect someone who enjoys this period of time even more than myself to find this a truly fascinating read.”

14. If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

“Very rarely am I able to come across homosexual fiction as frequently as I do heterosexual fiction without having to actively seek it, but I managed to encounter a promotional ad for this novel and was immediately intrigued—not only for the circumstance’s infrequence, but because of the content. If You Could Be Mine is an implicit romance which deeply distinguishes the heteronormativity of Iran by way of the poignancy of forbidden romance: Sahar is a teenage girl forced to watch idly as her best friend, Nasrin, is destined for marriage to a man she does not love. In secret, they are strained lovers suffering the longing yet resentment of one another and are with so great a passion Sahar is willing to endure sex reassignment surgery to be permitted her husband. The novel concludes in the dismal of a most bitter ending, Farizan admirably refusing to cloak the authentic circumstances of Iranians in a sheet of wistful fiction. It is moving, it is sharp, it is passionate, and it is shattering.”

13. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

“I received this novel as required reading during my time in AP Language & Composition in the eleventh grade, and I would refer to it as singularly the most fruitful nonfiction I’ve ever experienced. I read it all through the winter months and upon January second, my class was tasked with the assignment of dissecting out three primal quotes which we connected with in the text, and to analyze and expand upon them in our own writings. As a writer who specializes primarily in their area of optimal entertainment—romantic fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, just any fiction at all—I found myself at utter despair with having to read the devil of all book genres: the memoir (which is highly coincidental considering my first publication was nonfiction). Some of the most intimate sentiments have come from pure logic, and that pure logic has come from Zinsser: ‘I don’t like to write; I like having written’; ‘I think they get that permission by being born’; ‘Writers who write interestingly tend to be men and women who keep themselves interested. That’s almost the whole point of becoming a writer. I’ve used writing to give myself an interesting life and a continuing education.’ The narrative is composed on the entirety of making one feel less otherworldly, admitting the truths and realities of the completely condescending and mentally exhausting processes that is writing, and providing what could be largely considered as the Holy Bible of nonfiction writing: beneficial and substantial for any writer or reader across any genre. And even above that, Zinsser instates and emphasizes the comprehensive lessons of a student bent to the mold of traditional educational algorithms: everybody loves to learn and create—but not for a grade or under a time limit or having to turn around and prove themselves to superiors. To students and anybody at all: You mustn’t be reduced, and you don’t have to prove yourself to anybody.”

12. Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

“It was the first time I would ever speak on the phone with who would become a best friend, and we sat for over thirty minutes debating and recommending novels to each other instead of her quizzing me on material. Immediately after I got off the phone, I spoke to my mother, and she bought the book for me as a gift. I was fairly new to the science fiction genre at the time—I read slightly into the realm of it but never fully indulged—and I had never read a short story collection in my life, so this was a first in many instances. This work spans such intricate subjects and concepts that, while it is a singular work, it is so thoroughly vast in every individual short story that, combined, there is truly something to entice everyone: history, philosophy, psychology, fantasy, futuristic science, exploration, existence, hypothetical interpretations on current social issues. It’s incredibly thought-provoking in its every measure considering it attacks literally every basis available, and it’s a novel that, when you conclude, you feel both entertained and educated. Some stories, since they venture into such drastically different directions, can be perceived as incredibly dense if you’re not interested in a particular concept, so it’s definitely a pick-and-choose type novel; I would still recommend reading the whole of it since Chiang’s perspective and imagination is one truly fascinating, and his commentary is beyond the capacity of many writer’s retrospections—including mine. It was one of the few times I’ve read a novel and truly admired—and resented—the author for the strength of their intellect.”

11. Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

“I picked this one up very unsuspectingly at a library sale since I recognized Coelho’s name for having written The Alchemist—a novel I haven’t read yet but am impatiently awaiting. It was a very slim volume, and I was looking for a quick read to keep me entertained between the stress of my own writing, so I figured it would be a good pastime. Needless to say, I didn’t anticipate holding it as highly as I’ve come to. Exposed within this novel was an immense critique on the truly ravaging nature of society: our accustomed culture of unquestioning routine and obedience, thoughtless conformity, and the soulless deceptions of—often crooked—authority. Drowning in this delirious cycle of habitual activity was Veronika, a member of a convent, and nearly immediately in the narrative she very placidly attempts suicide after ruminating on her circumstances with an unusual rationality (readers need to be mindful of this novel’s substance considering it revolves around potentially triggering events). Having failed and been sent to a mental institution, Coelho attempts to fathom the unfathomable realities of the seemingly misunderstood, the individual atrocities proposed and endured by the conditioned superiors, the turbulent contradictions in the split between despair and freedom, and the ultimate gift of both life and the learning to appreciate it. Coelho’s rightfully poetic expression is surrendered into every word—for the smallness of this novel, it is compacted into a great and boisterous analysis framed by fictionality—and makes for a wonderfully and perhaps unbearable realization of the unrelenting inconvenience that is life.”

10. Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz

“My brother gave this one to me several years back after a bout of cleaning out his closet and bookshelves, and for being an unrelenting adversary to reading, he claimed to enjoy this book—and that is exceptionally high praise. We both share a fascination with wars, as disturbing as that may sound, and often we’ve been able to recommend things to one another, most of those recommendations never actually being pursued. Published by Scholastic, I believe he got this one year from the Book Fair at our elementary school—which is rightful considering the substance is harrowing; however, not graphic—and based on the real-life stories of Ruth and Jack Gruener following Gratz’s interviewing them. With minimal creative liberties taken, the novel spans the Grueners’ enduring of, first, an anxiously quiet childhood consisting of concealment and the midnight rendezvous of natives to be treated as refugees; and second, Jack’s successive enduring of ten different concentration camps and the horrors of such before his liberation. A testament to the unbreakable human spirit, Gratz amalgamated his literary aptitude with the courage of innocent children—two of millions—and succeeds in recognition for the Grueners and the reconciliation the virtuous managed to achieve.”

9. Letters to Milena by Franz Kafka

“I very recently became acquainted with the works of Kafka—The Metamorphosis, The Castle—and as I hadn’t had much experience with the style of his literature, I hadn’t known what to expect when deciding to indulge in not one of his novels, but one of his memoirs—or more specifically, the letters he wrote to a woman by the name of Milena Jesenska from 1920 to 1923. This work, naturally, as it is derived and forged in the disdain of truth and actuality, is undoubtedly Kafka at his most vulnerable and explicit, encompassing the typical magnetism and ambiguousness of his personal genius with the savoring of an understanding meant only for the eyes and souls of him and Milena. Nevertheless, the public has been allowed into their intimacy since the memoir’s first publishing in 1952—against Kafka’s wishes—and remains not only a tracing of his own life, but his internal rumination and retrospection regarding an array of topics, both hypothetical and actual—which provides to the sprawling and rambling nature of Kafka’s letters. Within this memoir, readers are introduced to Kafka’s inner philosophies concerning the concepts of life, death, burden, loss, sacrifice, and love—the ever-uncontrollable—in the most desirous fashion of his thoroughly trying voice. Letters to Milena, a century later, survives as a despairingly sweet haunting that never really goes away—and you are both burdened and glad for it.”

8. “Escape from Furnace” series by Alexander Gordon Smith

“My father is an occasional reader, and during one of his phases, my mother got these books for him. Years later, he mentioned the series to me, and purely out of boredom, I decided to buy some used, discount copies off the internet since our originals were long gone. For an incredibly thorough and well-developed five-book series, I intended for the quality of the books to vary or wane as the story progressed, but Smith managed to preserve his story’s intrigue, lustful darkness, and invention from the first page to the last. Considering the immense quality of this series, I’m honestly surprised and somewhat disheartened that this series isn’t more well-known—as it much deserves to be—so I will continue to put this series on every list imaginable. The storyline commences with the innocent crime of seventeen-year-old Alex Sawyer and gravitates toward the insidious as the narrative details his incarceration in the fictional Furnace Penitentiary in London. Conditions worsen and wrenching schemes are revealed to maneuver the populace farther from any means of sustainable humanity as orchestrated by the dreaded Warden Cross. This series is particularly remarkable in that it is completely unlike any other science fiction to be attempted, amplified with bizarre creatures concocted from ill-conceived experimentation, the theft of friends murdered and maimed by means of scientific transformation, and Smith’s literary ability provides a great sense of clarity: spirited and elegant without problematic poeticism complicating the prose, and specially crafting likeable and relatable characters one inevitably fastens themselves to. In every element, Smith and Sawyer alike have proved to be extraordinary.”

7. “Chronicle of the Dark Star” trilogy by Kevin Emerson

“It was the eighth grade, long before I had developed my love for reading, and my class was assigned with the prospect of reading a book of our choice and then performing the customary literary analysis. Needless to say, I was absolutely dreading this assignment and picked merely the first thing that sounded even slightly interesting off some list I found on the internet: Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. I’d like to think that this embarking contributed to my eventual evolution, as science fiction remains to be one of the most thrilling, imaginative, and testing fiction subgenres in existence. The plot follows the resettling of the Martian population in Earth year 2213 as they originally emigrated from an obliterated Earth, and the relentless and ambitiously paced search for a new home begins with the adolescent lives of Liam and Phoebe, some of the last humans on Mars. Commences is the government’s greatest hope for long-lasting survival: the one-hundred-fifty-year journey fleeing to a distant star by droves of independent starliners encompassing the entire population. As their journey progresses in the movement of time to Earth year 2256, Liam and Phoebe are confronted with battles upon star systems, stranded isolation within dead universes, and their most trying prospect yet: the uncovered identities of one another.

“I know this trilogy is mainly for twelve-year-olds, but I’d reread this over and over again to achieve the adrenaline I did the first time; if someone were to ask me the best science fiction trilogy besides Mass Effect, this would be the first I would name.”

6. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

"I began collecting John Green books like Infinity Stones a couple years back, and have since treasured each and every one as if it were my own child. One of my favorites has remained Will Grayson, Will Grayson since my very first read—which, admittedly, only lasted a few hours because I was determined to finish it. When the paths of two Chicago natives, both curiously named Will Grayson, align, it results in the most striking play that ever graced a high school stage. But long before that riveting climax, Green and Levithan collaborated gracefully in this sincere and humorous portrait of adolescent development of high schoolers floundering into adulthood, and the epiphanies surrounding the importance of friendship, family, and individualism. Organized into two separate perspectives, each with their own distinct writing style as purposely orchestrated between Green and Levithan, one Will Grayson reflects the struggles and hardships of self-limitation and a turbulent and rushed strive for identity, and the second Will Grayson opposingly illustrates the sheer isolation which encompasses difference and a seeming lack of social tolerance and understanding, resulting in him surviving solely on the basis of an anonymous online relationship with an ambiguous Isaac. Upon the collision of both Will Graysons, these initial strangers are individually bound by their platonic and romantic affection for a friend they are just beginning to truly understand, and in the same breath, they come to realize themselves and the bizarre phenomena of their own lives. I would consider this novel—and these authors alike—as a must-read for all LGBTQIA+ readers.”

5. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

“Most of my social media algorithms and recommendations are clogged with anything and everything relating to literature and writing—so naturally I am to stumble upon a good list of book recommendations every once in a while. It was this circumstance that introduced me to the great ambition of Sepetys, who has written countless novels with an inexhaustible vigor and superior care for the written word. I asked for this novel for Christmas back in 2021, and rightfully finished it the next day on the twenty-sixth. What initially drew me to this narrative was its singularly original foundation: Endured during the treachery of World War II, it follows four refugees, four independent storylines, and four different perspectives to converge and intertwine in the trying for the ultimate destination: the Wilhelm Gustloff ship, destined for eventual shipwreck in January of 1945. This novel, meticulously researched and years in the making, addresses the completely forgotten and discarded tale of the ship’s fate, but also the potential realities of the lives of fleeing refugees. The characters uniquely originate from totally diverse circumstances, all encompassing a righteous or misinformed faith and loyalty, thus illustrating both the opposite extremes of man’s humanity and the warped retrospections of fascist followers.

"This novel was excellent in every element but truly climaxed at the ending: it satisfies the heart-pumping exhilaration of an adrenaline junkie, the worried gaze of a mother over her children, and seals the fate of a tragically misplaced and untimely love story. As this novel comprises elements across numerous subgenres—contemporary and commercial romance, historically accurate framework, and the enchantment of adventure novels—it broadly appeals to a wide audience and has a little something for everyone.”

4. Looking for Alaska by John Green

“I’ve spoken before on the excellence of John Green and this novel in particular. Green strays none from his philosophical and analytical roots when it comes to his debut novel, Looking for Alaska, which arrived in 2004, cementing and establishing his knowledge and ability to instill sentimentality and a distinct intelligence within an ordinarily surface situation. The characters founding this novel are sharply independent, each providing a diverse element to bolster the plot: unsuspecting innocence, tarnished ambiguousness, adolescent exploitation, and the forming of friendships and humans’ need for connection following a detrimental and undeserved loss. Green deftly implements a distinct contrast between the novel’s themes and its setting: the youthful and expectedly juvenile ambiance of a far-away boarding school meanwhile simultaneously exploring the infiniteness of death, the afterlife, religion, and suicide—all components which youths endeavor to understand but are commonly discarded in the media. I would consider this novel—and its author—to be vital reading for young and older adults (or the supplemental learning of anyone at any age), as the narrative wholly and extensively supplies honest and developmental notions crucial to growing intellects, instating a curriculum of preparatory courses never addressed in any traditional classroom: emotional intelligence and educated perceptions, the internal tenderness to admit to loss, and the reclaiming of personal responsibility. Friendships formed and pranks pursued, John Green forever understands and extenuates the hidden aptitude of children and the validity of their subtlety, contributing freshly informed perspectives to a twenty-year conversation.”

3. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover

“I was first introduced to Star Wars very recently, perhaps just over a year ago, by an old friend from my elementary school whom I temporarily reconnected with. He very graciously made a chronological list of all the Star Wars films, explained their individual importance, and then set me free and floundering into this incredible world I’ve still not yet fully fathomed. After completing all the films (except the sequels—for now), I decided to pursue the novels based off the screenplays, and this was a glorious and beautiful mistake for the further insight I collected from the wholeness of the novels’ narratives. To put it simply, this novel was very hard for my impractical heart to read. The film, though some periodic components weren’t entirely explored due to time constraints, was an incredible visual representation and illustration of Anakin Skywalker’s anguish and the subsequent birth of Darth Vader. The breaking of friendships and sibling-hoods, the ruin of a promising marriage and, ultimately, the total collapse of the Republic and the fluid rebirth of an ugly empire—these are all elements beautifully written in lyrical, stylistic prose by Stover, and his great attention to—and expansion of—detail allows readers access to even further content and internal monologue than I would have previously perceived. A score of brand-new information I was able to learn for the first time when immersed in this novel, and I was even afforded the perspectives of originally unknown filling characters, never-addressed side schemes, and personal details of the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan that, comprehensively, makes their individual characters and their doomed affection all the fuller—and all the more devastating. Such as in The Clone Wars TV show, readers are allowed sparse content into the existence of the clone troopers—specifically Clone Commander Cody—and greater knowledge of true intents all fitted in the package of an intricately illustrated internal conflict as sustained by Anakin, written with such a knowledgeable vigor it is insurmountably painful. An extraordinary read, and an even more extraordinary story, we witness the fall and feel the regret, as Obi-Wan says, of the man Anakin should have been. And in the final pages, it is expressed to us what it feels like to be Anakin Skywalker, harrowed and wrenching, ‘forever.’”

2. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

“This title is more universally and commercially known, I realize, but it simply had to make the list. I first came into contact with this novel three years ago when I ordered it online after having been introduced to the 2016 film adaptation of the novel. It subsequently sat on my shelf those first two years until I finally picked it up in December of 2021. It doesn’t seem that was almost a year and a half ago since the memory I can recall very precisely: it being late at night, me staying up well into the morning to finish it, and quietly having to turn the light on in the bathroom to get a roll of toilet paper since I didn’t have any tissues and was uncontrollably sobbing everywhere. When I finished this novel, I didn’t initially want to review it; I wanted to reread it. I cannot begin to describe the magnificence, the silent tragedy that this novel is. It is treacherous, finely unbearable, but worst of all, it is truthful in actuality. It tells the reasonable and outlandish story of a love of an unimaginable magnitude, only to be crippled—an undying relation to die with them. The narrative is humorous, bold, vividly drastic, and demonstrates the intimacy and the fullness of hope, illustrating the cruelly indelible lesson nearly all individuals must endure: life with—and life without—your lover, and the courage it requires to sustain existence to its fullest plausibility. It is both a remarkable and nauseating read—a complete literary torture—and if anybody wants a copy, don’t borrow mine because it is still stained with tears. (In its girth, it should be noted that the prose can potentially be triggering to certain audiences, as it deals extensively and graphically with paralyzing illness, and does venture into the concepts of assisted suicide.)”

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

“I’ve spoken before about my struggles with social anxiety—the entirety of inkwells. is drawn on it—and this deprivation of ability made me consider taking a communications course as an elective in the eleventh grade (I didn’t take this class by choice; I had exhausted all the other elective choices, and this seemed the least boring). A requirement of this course was to write essays corresponding to a prompt and then record yourself reciting them—which was not without its frustration and shaky fingers—and the prompts spanned quite trivial topics like ‘What is the best way to study for a test?’ or ‘What is your favorite subject and why do you like it?’ For one of my prompts, though, it asked me to write a book review, and for six straight minutes I blabbed about the perfection that is The Book Thief. It went exactly as follows:

“‘The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was published the year I was born, so it’s safe to say I was unfortunately not one of the eager readers waiting in line for their next binge-read to ensue. The novel centers on a girl just shy of ten years beginning in 1939 in Germany and continuing until 1945. Following her father’s capture, her brother’s death, and her mother’s eventual disappearance, Liesel is thrusted into a conflicted home sorted with an abrasive mother; however, an unassuming yet supportive father.

“‘The novel is a spirited invention of the innocence and ambition of a 10-year-old girl teetering on Nazi occupation, as she doddles through her preteen years floundering from obedient stepdaughter to a young girl ravaged with literary inspiration and her own devious wonder, such an aspect being fueled by her stealing of books from both the mayor’s wife and from the Nazis.

“‘The Book Thief is riveting for an array of matters and contains a cathedral of themes, open to interpretation for every individual reader; however, the themes which resonate most with me are the horrors of war, especially from the perspective of a blindsided daughter and scattered parents serving their roles as best they can, and the comprehensive undertone on man’s morality.

“‘The novel in itself is hugely ambitious, considering it is told from the perspective of Death, who becomes a beloved and respectable character, and challenges and entertains the stereotypes of World War II: that death is unforgiving and cruel, and that all those in 1940s Germany were, too. The novel’s sheer impact is amplified with Death’s exploring of various human emotions and interests, attempting to comprehend the presence, as well as the lack, of humanity. This is where Death and Liesel merge, because they are both attempting this challenge at the same time. As Liesel’s town begins to crumble and her family’s living conditions become swamped, the reader is introduced—not cruelly, but realistically—to the horrors and wrongful passion of war.

“‘Man’s morality, further, is tested not only by the environmental elements but the mental destruction and hopelessness which often opposing Germans faced during World War II. Death, in particular, remains the most impactful character, as he describes the truth of collecting souls and offers foreshadowing into the lives of the Germans whom he encounters past or present. He speaks of the fragility of life, the easy weakening of humanity; however, the contentment in knowing he is collecting souls which are destined only for better. Death helps us to appreciate human’s frailty and morality; however, Markus Zusak is to thank for creating perhaps the most impassioned novel I have ever read, belonging on the shelf beside The Diary of Anne Frank and any other novels, fiction or nonfiction, which detail World War II.’”


Picture of Margaret Beaver's desk covered messily with books.

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