Nostalgia is good, right? Nostalgia for your teen years, those halcyon days when nothing bad ever happened… well, maybe some bad things happened. Still, it’s nothing compared to what’s going down these days. If you’re like me, you buried your head in books and went to faraway lands. Here are some of the best YA novels to help you retreat into an earlier time. You’ve got a long time, so maybe you can make your way through some of these.

9. Maximum Ride by James Patterson

The original cover of Maximum Ride

The Maximum Ride books were really only good in the initial trilogy–they went off on a wild path after that. But the first three books are well-crafted thrillers which deal in science fiction and genetic meddling. The books have good characterization and witty language. They’re easily a fun read and a good distraction from all of this.

8. The Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale

The covers for the Books of Bayern series

Not going to lie; these books get dark. But somehow, not as dark as right now. They’re excellent fantasy, with some incredible world-building. They’re a little adult even for the YA category, but they deal in magic in an exquisite way. Not easy reading, but reading well worth it.

7. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer 

The original cover of Artemis Fowl

Probably bad but beautiful Artemis Fowl movie forthcoming notwithstanding, these YA novels were some of the most magical of my childhood. A fully fleshed-out world of fairy magic awaits in these books, along with strong characters and the most non-annoying kid character possibly in fiction. Skip the movie, read the books, which are entertaining and a witty look at a world not so different from our own.

6. Redwall by Brian Jacques

The cover of the original Redwall

No, the Redwall series isn’t for children. Are you kidding me? There are graphic depictions of violence and death, and most of the grim things happen to cute, furry animals. Don’t get me wrong–they’re still wholesome YA novels, with plenty of good life lessons, but it can get dark. And yes, nearly every book is the same, but different; however, they’re well worth a return read. Just pick one of the 22 (!) books in the series and explore a happier (with some darkness) world.

5. Dear America/The Royal Diaries by various authors

Cover of a Dear America book

Okay, so fine: these YA novels get very real when it comes to the dark spots of history. But they’re well written by a variety of excellent YA authors, and they get to the heart of telling different stories throughout time. They don’t feel intrusive, even though you’re reading some young person’s diary. My personal favorite is The Royal Diaries‘ Anastasia volume, which reminds me of how much worse it could be. At least you’re not going to die in a mysterious basement horribly, right? I mean, probably, right?

4. Warriors by Erin Hunter

The original cover of the first Warriors books

Yes, Warriors and Redwall may have unleashed a generation of furries across the land, but they didn’t claim all of us! I really loved these books, for all their romanticization of our feline pals, feral or otherwise. Cats can have adventures and distinct personalities too. There are 60 (!!) books total in the Warriors series, and I wouldn’t just pick up a random one. But hey, that’s plenty of reading to get through, since it’s going to be a while. And you get to live in the headspace of cats for a month or three. How’s that for escapism?

3. The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

The covers of the Looking Glass Wars series

These YA novels were cool. A retelling of the Alice in Wonderland story, these books turned Wonderland into a darker, wartorn version of itself. But for all that they were dark, they were also fun. The Looking Glass Wars are pure steampunk magic and deserve a revisit. They’re also quick reads, despite clocking in at 400 pages or so, and cinematic in scope with exciting action. They place so high on this list admittedly because of a nostalgia I have for them; but I think they’ll still hold up during another read.

2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The covers of the Hunger Games trilogy

Yeah, so…The Hunger Games trilogy are probably the darkest, but most well written, YA novels in recent times. They are not escapism, except in the sense that good mostly triumphs over evil and that they serve as a reminder that it could be so much worse. But they’re so darn good that they’re well worth a re-read. I re-read Catching Fire during a dark period in my life and actually felt better after reading it. I don’t know why, but something about these books is encouraging. Maybe it’s the constant striving to be better among the cast of characters, as well as their desires to build a much better world. That’s something we can all aspire to. And hey, re-reading them will prepare you for the upcoming prequel.

  1. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Covers of His Dark Materials series

Why are YA novels so enduringly dark at times? I don’t know, but it might have something to do with the angst of adolescence. Still, the His Dark Materials series holds up remarkably well as an excellent series of fantasy mixed with science fiction. They’re steampunk, they’re magic, and they’re science-y. The first book might be the most fun, but the other two are also well worth a read. If you’ve never read them before, give them a try, and if you have, read them again, maybe alongside a viewing of the HBO/BBC series.

That’s the list; some dark, some light and everything in between. YA novels have the ability to transport us to a better time…well maybe not better, but certainly in comparison to the here and now.


  1. I’m reading Thomas Cullinan’s “The Beguiled” (the basis of two movies), which concerns young women but is NOT a wholesome YA novel.

  2. Is Redwall YA? Isn’t it middle grades? I’ve read the ones that were published up to my 5th grade year, but haven’t read the one that came out when I was in 6th grade, which makes me think I’d grown past them by then.

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