Jesse Carey: It’s super obvious, but there’s a reason The Chronicles of Narnia have become all-time classics. Not only is the seven-novel series a riveting fantasy adventure, it contains profound spiritual and theological truths that go deeper the more you dive into the series. Plus, it spawned this:
Seth Tower Hurd: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes is a Newbery Award-winning novel that follows the downfall of its title character after a terrible hand burn ends his career as a Boston silversmith. Stripped of his pride and identity, Johnny is forced to look for meaning outside his own ego and is swept up in the early days of the American Revolution. It’s a heavy children’s book that doesn’t shy away from death or grief, and stands as a solid allegory for a journey of how each of us must start over at some point in our lives. Plus, the closing line is one of the sharpest sentences ever penned.
Lesley Crews: This one is a no brainer: the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. It’s about six genetically modified orphans who, thanks to their avian DNA, can FREAKING FLY. Not only do they have these sick angel-like wings, they fight bad guys, too. They call themselves the “Flock,” but consider them more of a junior-league X-Men. Their mission is simple: Save the world. Over and over and over again. Maximum Ride houses core elements you can only grasp at when you’re 15, but upon revisiting later in life, they hit you where it hurts.
Jon Negroni: I find a lot of YA books to be worth your time as an adult, honestly, but one of the best options right now is easily The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which deals with police brutality against African Americans in the inner city. The book is written in a young woman’s voice, but the content and messages are far from juvenile. Hate U Give tackles challenging issues, asks some tough questions and demands plenty from the reader in the best ways possible. It does it all through the perspective of a kid dealing with these problems in ways that are believable, sympathetic and often heart-wrenching. It’s no wonder they’re putting it on the big screen this fall.
Sharon McKeeman: My favorite YA books will alway be Madeleine L’Engle’s quintet, notably including A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. These books are coming of age exploration, adult hardship, spiritual metaphor, science fiction suspense and most of all mysterious magic. A Wrinkle in Time begins the quintet with subject matter as accessible as a teenager’s longing for her absentee father and as esoteric as quantum physics. The books constantly find a balance between drawing the reader into stories they are already living and piquing your interest with strange and complex concepts. Also, I do have to say, the recent Wrinkle In Time movie just doesn’t do the book justice. Pick up the real thing.
Tyler Daswick: The Uglies series was way under-appreciated back in the day, but still hasn’t captured any retrospective cult-classic status. It’s a shame. These books were an original and action-packed collection of sci-fi novels in which young people, called Uglies, are given intense cosmetic surgery to become Pretties at age 16. To be a Pretty in this universe is to gain massive societal perks, and thus, the parallels to today are apparent and prescient, even more so now than they were in 2005. For a series that predates social media, but somehow predicts all the anxieties and politics of social media, Uglies deserves immense credit, not to mention your time. Plus, word on the street is more books are incoming.