7 Underrated YA Novels
Which Book Should I Read Next?
The thoroughly untraditional 2019-20 school year is about to come to a close, and as quarantine requirements begin to relax, more and more libraries and bookstores are opening up again. These two facts are not as unrelated as you might think--as many teens in my library and tutoring careers have told me, schoolwork often keeps them from reading recreationally, even though they desperately want to do so. Now that teens and young adults finally have the time to read, however, which books should they check out? The newest bestseller, or something a little more offbeat?
I genuinely believe that there is a book for every person, and a person for every book. That's why this list prioritizes personal taste above everything else. It's a compilation of both old and new, series and standalone, created with the reader's interests in mind. All of these are books I'd highly recommend that shine in their own ways, so knock yourself out and read them all if you really want to!
Without further ado, here is my list of some of the best underrated YA novels:
For Music Lovers: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas may be best known for her groundbreaking debut, The Hate U Give, but On the Come Up is proof that she's not just a one-trick pony. Told from the perspective of Bri, the daughter of an underground hip-hop sensation, On the Come Up is the story of a girl trying to find her place in the rap world while trying to live up to her father's legacy. Rap might not be my favorite genre, but I still found myself getting caught up in Bri's world of battles and mixtapes, and Thomas's rhymes blew me away just as much as her writing already does. Like always, Thomas finds a way to blend issues of racism and social justice into a compelling story filled with lovable characters, and brings a new perspective on music to boot.
For Aspiring Poets: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Instagram is bringing poetry back in a big way, and for anyone who wants to really sink their teeth into the genre, Long Way Down is a good place to start. Probably the best so far out of the books-in-verse trend, Reynolds' poems tell the story of Will, whose older brother was killed by a gang member. The rules of the street dictate that Will has to kill his brother's murderer to avenge his death, so he gets a gun, rides down the elevator in his apartment building, and makes a strange discovery. The ghosts of all the people in his life who've fallen to violence enter one at a time, attempting to convince him of a better way to solve his problems. This Christmas Carol-like setup is unique and genuine, making this a quick and compelling read that'll stay with you for months to come.
For Old School Teens: Pendragon by D.J. MacHale
The '90s are another thing that's coming back, and hopefully, this series will come back right along with them. To make a 10-book long series short, Bobby Pendragon, a seemingly ordinary basketball star, suddenly vanishes along with his uncle on his way to the big game. No one can remember he even exists other than his two friends, who receive letters from him soon after his disappearance. As it turns out, Bobby is actually a Traveler, a hero who travels across dimensions to fight the evil Saint Dane. Think Doctor Who meets Harry Potter.
For Mafia Movie Fans: Run for Your Life by Silvana Gandolfi
Whether you prefer The Godfather, Scarface, or the chicken finger episode of Community, you probably won't deny the fact that a good mafia novel is hard to find in YA. However, Silvana Gandolfi does just that in Run for Your Life, the story of a young boy who's the sole survivor of a mafia attack. His whole family has been wiped out, but even then, his past catches up to him as he faces the mafioso who started it all. Not only is this book full of twists and turns to leave you speechless, but it's a translation of an Italian YA novel. What's better than reading a Sicilian mafia story from someone who knows the territory?
For Fairy Tale/Disney Fans: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
The Lunar Chronicles has a decent cult following on sites such as Tumblr and has made the New York Times bestseller list, but still isn't quite in the public's eye. However, it leads the fairy tale retelling pack by far with a unique combination of fantasy and science fiction. The first book, Cinder, tells the story of Cinderella with androids, killer viruses, and evil moon queens without giving up the essential core of the classic tale. Each of the main characters is a different cool spin on a classic--ever wanted a hacker Rapunzel or a cyborg Cinderella? Then this is the series for you.
For Mystery Lovers: Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
What would you do if your best friend disappeared seemingly without a trace? That's the question Claudia finds herself asking in Monday's Not Coming and unfortunately, the answer isn't that her friend Monday went on a Pendragon-style space-time adventure. Even when everyone seems perfectly willing to shove Monday to the side, Claudia takes initiative and investigates everything that could have led to her disappearance--including her thorny family situation. This book, inspired by a series of real-life disappearances of black women in the DC area, is every bit as twisty as a true crime show. While its structure might seem confusing at first, when it all clicks, it's nothing short of brilliance.
For Dystopian Fans: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
The Darkest Minds has a bit of a bad reputation--most people know it as a box office bomb, if they know it at all. However, the book series that the notorious movie was based on is not only worth a read, but is one of my favorite YA series period. In this trilogy, Ruby, a so-called "Orange" who can manipulate memories, struggles to be accepted in society. Originally, she was imprisoned in the notorious Thurmond camp with others like her, but once an outsider helps her escape, she's desperate to liberate the other camps. On this quest, she forms a found family with telekinesis users Chubs and Liam and electricity-controlling Zu. This sort of storyline has been told before, but The Darkest Minds takes it to a new, heartwarming, and raw level. (And yes, it deserved a better movie, but what else is new?)