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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Middle-Grade and YA Favourites (Updated 2024)

Young Adult (ages 14-19 approximately)

See also: Watch Over Me by the same author Genre: contemporary, LGBTQ+, grief Although I said these were in no particular order; this one is the exception. We Are Okay truly is my favourite young adult novel, and for sure within my top 5 of books period.

You go through life thinking there’s so much you need…

Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

2. Bridges of Clay – Markus Zusak See also: The Bookthief by the same author Genre: contemporary, grief, mental health Five Dunbar brothers are living – fighting, loving, grieving – in the perfect chaos of a house without grown-ups. Today, the father who left them has just walked right back in. He has a surprising request: Who will build a bridge with him?

It is Clay, a boy tormented by a long-buried secret, who accepts. But why is Clay so broken? And why must he fulfil this extraordinary challenge?

Bridge of Clay is about a boy caught in a current, a boy intent on destroying everything he has in order to become everything he needs to be. Ahead of him lies the bridge, the vision that will save both his family and himself. It will be a miracle and nothing less. If you're familiar with the authors debut novel The Bookthief, you might know to keep your tissues at the ready for this one...

3. Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo Genre: fantasy This one needs little introduction... Although I liked the Grishaverse, it is this second duology set in the same world that truly rose above its peers for me. I have yet to find more than a handful of fantasy-series that have matched my investment for these characters... Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .

A convict with a thirst for revenge

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager

A runaway with a privileged past

A spy known as the Wraith

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

4. Strange Creatures – Phoebe North Genre: contemporary, mental health/trauma What do you do when the story of your life no longer makes sense? Or if the reality of that story is too dark to accept at that time? You create a new story of your own…

This idea is at the core of Phoebe North's deeply personal and hardhitting novel Strange Creatures.

We follow the story of Jamie and Annie, an inseparable pair of siblings; basically twins except for their date of birth. Alike in almost every way, they promised to always take care of each other while facing the challenges of growing up different in suburban America. And when life became too much for them, they’d escape into their own space; a wooeded area just behind their house. They transform this place into the land of Gumlea, where fantasy and reality merge together, and where nobody could find them.

Until Jamie disappears, and Annie is left behind… Unable to process any other faith for her brother, Annie becomes convinced that Jamie has escaped into Gumlea one final time, and she will do anything to follow him there, and bring him back.

Told from three separate perspectives, we witness the fallout of a tragedy on a family, friends and a small town community; from the harsh reality of growing up, to the stories we tell ourselves to keep going…

5. A Heart in a Body in the World – Deb Caletti Genre: contemporary, trauma/mental health When everything has been taken from you, what else is there to do but run?

So that’s what Annabelle does—she runs from Seattle to Washington, DC, through mountain passes and suburban landscapes, from long lonely roads to college towns. She’s not ready to think about the why yet, just the how—muscles burning, heart pumping, feet pounding the earth. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t outrun the tragedy from the past year, or the person—The Taker—that haunts her.

Followed by Grandpa Ed in his RV and backed by her brother and two friends (her self-appointed publicity team), Annabelle becomes a reluctant activist as people connect her journey to the trauma from her past. Her cross-country run gains media attention and she is cheered on as she crosses state borders, and is even thrown a block party and given gifts. The support would be nice, if Annabelle could escape the guilt and the shame from what happened back home. They say it isn’t her fault, but she can’t feel the truth of that.

Through welcome and unwelcome distractions, she just keeps running, to the destination that awaits her. There, she’ll finally face what lies behind her—the miles and love and loss…and what is to come.

Genre: contemporary, romance, disability

Where You See Yourself combines an unforgettable coming-of-age tale, a swoon-worthy romance, and much-needed disability representation in this story about a girl who's determined to follow her dreams.

By the time Effie Galanos starts her senior year, it feels like she’s already been thinking about college applications for an eternity—after all, finding a college that will be the perfect fit and be accessible enough for Effie to navigate in her wheelchair presents a ton of considerations that her friends don’t have to worry about.

What Effie hasn’t told anyone is that she already knows exactly what school she has her heart set on: a college in NYC with a major in Mass Media & Society that will set her up perfectly for her dream job in digital media. She’s never been to New York, but paging through the brochure, she can picture the person she’ll be there, far from the Minneapolis neighborhood where she's lived her entire life. When she finds out that Wilder (her longtime crush) is applying there too, it seems like one more sign from the universe that it’s the right place for her.

Genre: contemporary, romance, LGBTQ+, caregiving A gorgeously written and deeply felt literary young adult novel of identity, millennial anxiety and first love and learning your parents are fallible.

In Savannah Espinoza’s small New Mexico hometown, kids either flee after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. Vanni never planned to get stuck—but that was before her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, leaving her and her mother to care for him. Now, she doesn’t have much of a plan at all: living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another.

That changes the day she meets Leigh. Disillusioned with small-town life and looking for something greater, Leigh is not a “nice girl.” She is unlike anyone Vanni has met, and a friend when Vanni desperately needs one. Soon enough, Leigh is much more than a friend. But caring about another person stirs up the moat Vanni has carefully constructed around herself, and threatens to bring to the surface the questions she’s held under for so long.

8. The Mirror Season - Anna Marie McLemore Genre: Magical Realism, Romance, LGBTQ+ You can consider this one a sort of pageholder title as well, as I basically just wanted to feature an entire authors catalogue on this list. If you're ever in the market for an LGBTQ+ story, told in the most lushes prose you've ever encountered; look no further than A.M. McLemore. They manage to cover harrowing topics in the most gentle and wonderous way...

Graciela Cristales's whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned.

But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela's school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depend on no one finding out what really happened.

9. Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy - Laini Taylor Genre: fantasy, romance Similar to Six of Crows, you will have heard me talk about this one before if you're read my Fantasy Favourites list too. Daughter of Smoke and Bone holds the honour of being the only "romantasy" series I've ever enjoyed to date...

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in 'Elsewhere', she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole.

Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

Last but not least is the quintessential read of my personal teenage years (which might date me horribly...) This dystopian series rekindled my love for reading after a long rut, and still stands the test of time for me in terms of quality. In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weight survival against humanity and life against love.

Honourable Mentions:

  1. The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas Genre: contemporary A powerful novel, inspired by the Black Lives Matters Movement about one girl's struggle for justice after losing her best friend to police violence. 

  2. The Astonishihg Color of After - Emily X.R. Pan Genre: magical realism A magical realism novel about grief and chasing your roots, following a Taiwanese-American teen who becomes convinced her mother turned into a bird after her death.

  3. Breathe and Count Back from Ten - Natalia Sylvester Genre: contemporary, disability/illness In this gorgeously written and authentic novel, Verónica, a Peruvian-American teen with hip dysplasia, auditions to become a mermaid at a Central Florida theme park in the summer before her senior year, all while figuring out her first boyfriend and how to feel safe in her own body.

  4. The Last True Poets of the Sea - Julia Drake Genre: contemporary A striking novel about a teenage girl dealing with complex grief during her summer at the coast of Main, researching into her families history of shipwrecks.

  5. If We Were Villains - M.L. Rio Genre: mystery, thriller, dark academia Did you ever wonder: what if The Secret History, but for young adults, and with Shakesperean theatre instead of Greek Mythology...? Regardless, here it is, and it's brilliant.

  6. We Are The Ants - Shaun David Hutchinson Genre: sci-fi, magical realism, LGBTQ+ A thoughtprovoking novel about a teenage boy who must decide whether or not the world is worth saving. Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button. Only he isn’t sure he wants to...

  7. Catfish Rolling - Clara Kumagai Genre: magical realism Magic-realism blends with Japanese myth and legend in an original story about grief, memory, time and an earthquake that shook a nation.


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