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YA Reads: The Best Novels for the Young at Heart

It’s no secret that young adult (YA) fiction is being read by more than young adults these days. Despite being generally geared at kids ages 12-18, the hoards of grown women wearing Team Edward shirts clearly indicate that this is a very loose guideline.

I’ve personally avoided the Twilight saga (I prefer my characters to be humans, instead of vampires, goddesses, time travelers, and so on), but I’m not immune to some healthy teen angst. Here are a few winning choices, from my own childhood and from today.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott &

Anne of Green Gablesby L. M. Montgomery

I didn’t read either of these until I was an adult, and while they are still certainly wonderful books for young girls, and I hope my daughters read them, my own life experiences of loss, heartbreak, sisterhood, friendship, and love enriched these books for me in ways that I can’t recommend enough.

Surely, many of you have read Little Women, but I encourage you to read it again. When Jo goes off on her own to the big city (“You are the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind, flying far out to sea, and happy all alone… ”), she is everyone I’ve known who has had that dream. When poor Beth—well, when it happens—expect an even more profound shattering.

Anne of Green Gables is the girl with the muddy boots and the pointy elbows, who pledges lifetime fealty to her dearest friend, while slowly falling in love with the boy next door and likewise convincing her stern adoptive mother Marilla to love her fiercely. I grew up with the mini-series and finally read the book a few years ago, and I wasn’t disappointed—the deliberate pacing, the at times arcane but charming language, and Marilla and Anne’s unshakeable bond. I like my heroines a bit wild and quick-witted, and Anne is a good one.

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

One of the biggest breakouts last year, this sad, funny little tome deserves all the heaped praise. Oddly, I think John Green is the closest thing his target generation has to Judy Blume.

Hazel and Gus, Stars’ main characters, are both dealing with their cancer diagnoses in various stages of remission, but Hazel’s prognosis is gloomy. It would be easy for a story about two teenagers in love, battling cancer and their concerned families, to be maudlin, but it’s not. They are such real kids, so wonderfully written. Green never patronizes his protagonists, instead allowing them to fall in real love and feel real grief.

You want for them so much. You also might really wish that Gus was your boyfriend in high school. (I’ll admit when they started texting I got confused—isn’t this book set in 1986? It reminded me so much of my Tiger Eyes phase)

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s blowing up all over the place. Another story of teens who just want to be together and all the stuff that makes that so hard for a couple of weird kids. (She’s eccentric with a dangerous home life and he’s a comic book reader in a family of sports fans.)

This one actually is set in 1986, so naturally there is an exchanging of mixed tapes and the kind of loneliness that existed before you could go online and find a million other Watchmen fans. Eleanor and Park are outsiders slowly falling for each other without a net to catch them. Doomed love—it doesn’t get more teen angsty than that.

Photo of woman reading courtesy of Shutterstock.