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11 YA novels not just for kids

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Throughout the summer, EW has been rolling out lists of some of our favorite books of all time. So far, we’ve suggested celebrity memoirs, heart-stopping thrillers, and audiobooks to devour in the sun. This week’s installment should excite readers gearing looking for an excuse to re-read old favorites, find new classics, and get back to your youth. Enjoy EW’s 11 favorite YA books, that are not just for kids.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)

Sheman Alexie’s coming-of-age story about Junior, a 14-year-old Native American living on the Spokane Indian Reservation, is just as powerful for tweens as it is for adults. Alexie’s characters encounter bullying, poverty, homophobia, violence, and abuse of many kinds, while finding the humor in daily life. Told through journal entries with cartoons and annotations, True Diary is a sweet lesson in empathy and learning to like yourself.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (2005)

None other than Death himself narrates this World War II story that the Australian author intended for adults though his American publisher marketed it to brilliant effect at teens. Death crosses paths with young Liesl, who is taken at the age of nine to live with a foster family in a working class German town. Their enduring relationship will enchant readers of all ages.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (2009)

This sequel to Collins’ best-selling Hunger Games might be intended for children, but its very adult themes – suicide, rebellion, government domination – will resonate with readers of any age.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003)

Haddon imagined his novel from the point of a view of a wildly endearing 15-year-old boy who sees the world through the fractured lens of Aspergers. Though originally written for a YA audience, adult readers everywhere claimed this winning, wistful, big-hearted book as their own.

I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)

Before Dodie Smith wrote The Hundred and One Dalmatians, she penned what would become a YA classic, I Capture The Castle, which tells the story of the eccentric Mortmain family who live in a decaying castle in the 1930s. Teenage daughter Cassandra is our enchanting eyes and ears as she leads readers through her world.

Looking for Alaska by John Greene (2005)

John Green’s debut novel Looking for Alaska is the tale of Miles Halter, who in his quest to find poet Francois Rabelais’ so-called “Great Perhaps,” enrolls in an Alabama boarding school. There he finds a cadre of friends, among them Alaska Young, a clever, sexy girl who seeks to escape a “labyrinth” of suffering. The book — a Printz Award winner — has been challenged in schools due to its depictions of drinking, smoking, and sex, but the tale is not salacious; rather, it brims with compassion, humor and the awkwardness of youth. Like Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, Alaska is headed to the big screen, slated to begin filming this fall.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (1999)

The first few Harry Potter adventures taught kids everywhere the joys of reading, but the third installment took things up a notch. Prisoner of Azkaban is the only Harry Potter book in which Lord Voldemort does not appear; as a result, the stakes are far less cosmic and far more personal. A sense of dread hangs over the entire book, from the doom-spouting divination professor to the mysterious shaggy dog to the fear-mongering dementors. For the first time, Harry learns some of life’s darker truths, those somber realizations that mark an adult.

Holes by Louis Sachar (1998)

After a long time atop the lofty heights of Wayside School, Louis Sachar got down in the dirt with this classic YA novel. Ancient curses, hidden treasure, and larger-than-life villains like Mr. Sir, never end up burying the human story at its center, or its excavation into the meaning of childhood friendship.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1983)

With The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton created a group of teenage characters so vivid they still resonate years later. Maybe it’s because of their beautiful, believable nicknames (Ponyboy, Sodapop), or the realistic socioeconomic commentary, or the fact that Hinton was 16 at the time of writing. Either way, The Outsiders is still a rollicking ride, memorable to teens reading today and their parents who found it in the ’80s. Stay gold, Ponyboy.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2012)

Rainbow Rowell’s sophomore novel captures the flutterings of young love, but Eleanor & Park is no fairy tale. The story unspools over alternating chapters from dual teenage narrators — full-figured, red-haired Eleanor, whose home life, choked by poverty and abuse, offers little respite from bullies at school; and Park, a half-Korean misfit whose passion for comics and ’80s alternative music provides a haven for them both. Though the protagonists are in high school, this poignant book grapples with adult themes and will appeal to anyone who remembers the peculiar ache of first love.

The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)

This somber, accessible meditation on individuality and memory proved that YA fiction is not just kid’s stuff. The road to dystopia is paved with good intentions, and although Lois Lowry’s dismally too-perfect world is colorless, her book is anything but.

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