TLT Turns 10: The Top 10 YA Books I’ve Read of the Last 10 Years, by Karen Jensen
Today is the day! 10 years ago today, I wrote the very first post here at TLT. I thought I would end this week of celebration by talking about the books. I have always been a reader, so the books are one of my favorite parts of both librarianship and this blog. In the last 25+ years as a teen librarian, I have literally reads 1,000s of YA books. I know because up until last year, I kept track and I was well over 3,500. So here are my favorite books of every year for the past 10 years. I am not a person who does well with favorites, so I cheated and added a lot of honorable mentions.
2011 : Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Contestants on the way to the “Miss Teen Dream” contest crash on an island and have to find a way to survive, both the elements and each other. This feminist take on Lord of the Flies is by far one of the funniest novels I have ever read while also being deeply profound and moving. Do yourself a favor and listen to the audio read by the author, Libba Bray. This is Riley’s go to comfort book when she needs to be cheered up.
- Hourglass by Myra McEntyre – Great for fans of Doctor Who
- Human.4 by Mike Lancaster – Save the bees, but it feels like a Twilight Zone episode
- Legend by Marie Lu – When dystopian was strong
- Delirium by Lauren Oliver – love is outlawed in this other favorite dystopian
- Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King – one of A. S. King’s first and best looks at trauma and who am I kidding, it’s A. S. King and I love it
2012 : Ask the Passengers by A. S. King
A teenage lesbian named Astrid talks to the planes that pass overhead as she wrestles with self acceptance in a small town full of gossip. This is by far the most profound reading experience I have ever had. Riley and I are both huge fans of A. S. King and I know that this novel is one that we have both read more than once. A moving exploration of what it means to be human.
- The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater – just beautifully written look at family, friendship and magic
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – The only historical fiction novel I like, best friendship ever
- The Immortal Rules by Kendara Blake – amazing take on vampires and what it means to be human with a great discourse on what happens if we ban reading
- This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers – If zombies existed in The Breakfast Club
- A Bad Day for Voodoo by Jeff Strand – 2 boys chase down a voodoo doll while it’s being used against them in this hilarious novel
2013 : The Archived by Victoria Schwab
There exists a library of souls and the keeper’s job is to help make sure they don’t escape the archives into our world. This is such a fantastic twist on libraries and a great read for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Doctor Who.
- The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black – another great take on vampires
- Canary by Rachel Alpine – a searing look at one of the most infamous sexual violence cases in high school history
- Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller – a heartbreaking look at the long term effects of sexual violence and childhood trauma
- Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian – a compelling tale of a young man who wrestles with unlearning toxic masculinity
- This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales – friendship, family and the power of music
2014 : A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
The town is Midnight Gulch, a place where magic used to exist. The girl is 12-year-old Felicity, who has moved around a lot and now they have come here, a place her momma used to call home. It is here and now that Felicity learns about friendship, family, magic, and hope. Technically, this is a middle grade novel. But it is my go-to-recommendation for anyone looking for a joyful read, a hopeful read, or a family read. This is a book that will remind you of childhood favorites as it becomes a new family favorite.
- Uses for Boys by Erica Loraine Webb – a heartbreaking and far too real look at what life can be like for teen girls in this world
- Panic by Lauren Oliver – an elaborate game of truth or dare highlights the desperation that teens in small towns feel to try and escape poverty and small town life
- Noggin by John Corey Whaley – Like The Breakfast Club, but set in a time where we can transplant a healthy head on a different body, which causes a lot of wrestling with identity
- Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King – Girls eat bat dust and imagine a future where they lose reproductive rights in this far too eerily real feminist novel
- Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican – There are a lot of great books out there about bullying, but this one talks about the fact that sometimes, teachers are the bullies as well
2015 : More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
Aaron Soto wants to forget the love of his life, so he heads to the Leteo Institute in an attempt to have his memory erased. But the heart can not always forget, no matter how much we want it to. This is a glorious, heartfelt speculative fiction novel that also highlights what it is like to live in very real poverty. Older readers will recall Sunshine of the Spotless Mind but this is a moving and original tale about love, loss, and trying to accept yourself in a world that very much does not want you to.
- Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle – A dystopian with religious cult highlights
- The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes – another twisted tale about cults and feminism
- The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds – a simple and beautiful exploration of grief and character
- Hit by Delilah Dawson – a searing take on capitalism where the banks that own your debt turn teens into hitmen to work of said debt
- The Accident Season by Moria Fowley-Doyle – a beautiful, lyrical look at family secrets and lies
2016 : Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston
In the aftermath of her rape, head cheerleader Hermione wrestles with abortion, her classmates, and the idea of justice. Johnston has said that this book is a fantasy because it’s everything she wishes would happen after a girl has been raped. A powerful testament to friendship, resilience, and finding justice in a world in which far too few survivors of sexual violence and rape get justice.
- This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab – my favorite take on monsters and politics, ever
- The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis – a revenge fantasy for every survivor of sexual assault
- Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova – after making her family accidentally disappear, a girl journeys into a magical realm to try and save them
- And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich – one of the creepiest haunted life stories I have ever read
- Rocks Fall Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar – I love a good this town is weird story
- Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley – a great look at mental health issues in the lives of teens
2017 : Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
When Will’s older brother is killed, he wants revenge. And he knows just how to do it. But in one long elevator ride down to exact that revenge, he sees how the cycle of violence is never ending and is forced to reconsider the rules he lives his life by. Told entirely in verse, this is a profoundly amazing novel that looks at revenge and the cycle of violence in the life of our youth.
- Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson – the most mind blowing twist ever written
- We Are Okay by Nina LaCour – a beautiful exploration of grief
- Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu – a fun, fabulous feminist read (see also another favorite of this year, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed)
- The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy – another great this town is cursed read
- Sadie by Courtney Summers – uses the popular concept of podcasts to explore a mystery and feminism
2018 : Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
Tiffany D. Jackson is arguably one of the greatest YA authors writing right now. And she is queen of the plot twist. Claudia is the only one who seems to notice that her friend, Monday, is missing. So she tries to get the adults, the police, her teachers – anyone really – to help her find her friend in this exploration of a world in which Black girls go missing far too often and no one wants to do anything about it. It’s a moving exploration of missing Black girls and how the media doesn’t seem to care. It’s also one of the very few YA novels that talk about Dyslexia.
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – a profoundly moving novel of identity written in verse
- Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand – another this town is cursed novel, with feminism; great for Stephen King fans
- Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson – a great friendship story, if you and your friends were witches and you had to raise your friend from the dead because issues
- White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig – a mystery that looks at the opioid epidemic
2019 : The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
What if everything you thought you knew about your life, your town, and even your family was a lie? Girls have a very specific role to play and rules to follow in Garner County, and Tierney James is not a fan of them. They don’t feel right. But she is placed outside the community with others during what is called The Grace Year, and here they learn shocking truths about what it means to be a girl, about violence, and about the lies that run and ruin their lives.
- Internment by Samira Ahmed – a look at anti-Muslim hate through the lens of a dystopia that reads as far too possible in current times
- Wilder Girls by Rory Power – a science fiction and feminist take on Lord of the Flies that will disturb you
- Heroine by Mindy McGinnis – small town life, girls in sports, and the opioid epidemic come together in this moving contemporary tale
- Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson – Anderson shares herself in verse in this beautiful look at finding your voice after surviving sexual violence
- I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones – this novel set in a day combines with Black Lives Matter for this moving contemporary novel that looks at police violence
- Dig by A. S. King – the way all the pieces come together will always blow my mind in this surrealistic exploration of toxic families and white privilege
2020 : We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez
In the midst of cultural discussions about refugees and immigrants, Sanchez writes a searingly honest and painful novel about what it means to flee your home and try to find sanctuary in the United States, and what that journey looks like. Jenny Torres Sanchez is one of my favorite YA authors of melancholy explorations of grief, and she really hit it out of the park with this timely novel.
- You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson – if you are looking for pure joy, you will find it here
- Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold – one of the best fairy tale retellings
- The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes – for fans of The Westing Game, a fun mystery with twists, puzzles to solve, and Barnes witty dialogue
- Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson – one of the best books that highlight what grooming looks like
- Punching the Air by Iba Anu Zoboi – many books talk about how art can heal, and this one does so while also talking about incarceration
2021 : The Nature of Witches by Rachel M. Griffin
What if witches were the key to saving the world from Climate Change? I love this interesting take on witches that also explores Climate Change, grief and guilt. Each type of witch controls a different season, except for Clara. Clara is an Everwitch, the first in a century. So she controls all of the seasons, but it’s a power she doesn’t want because it has caused her great grief. When the world is on the verge of destruction from climate change, everyone needs Clara to use her powers, but she very much wants to get rid of them because of what they have cost her.
- Off the Record by Camryn Garrett – a moving exploration of body acceptance and dealing with trauma
- The Taking of Jake Livingston – a fantastically creepy book with a Black boy who sees ghosts
- The Project by Courtney Summers – another fantastic exploration of cults and feminism
- Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley – a mystery that explores the world of sports and the opioid epidemic while exploring the very real and long term effects of grief
And there you have it, a look at some of my favorite YA reads of the last 10 years. This was actually pretty hard, because there are a lot of great YA book out there. There are a lot of other books I love that didn’t get mentioned, because I could be here all night – or for another 10 years – talking about YA lit. Seriously, YA lit is amazing (and not a genre!) What books would be on your list? Leave us a comment and let us know. We love talking about books! And here’s to another 10 years of reading and reviewing books here at TLT. Thank you for taking this journey with us.
Also, check out Amanda MacGregor’s Top 10 List for more great reads, because there are a lot of books here I love as well: https://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2021/07/tlt-turns-ten-ten-fav-books-ive-reviewed/
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
SLJ Blog Network