I almost exclusively read YA, as I have for years, but occasionally I do venture into adult books. Although, in the past, it hasn’t been of my own free will. I typically read non-YA only for my literature classes. So that limits my scope a bit to the literary fiction category.
Despite that limited scope, I’m going to recommend ten Non-YA books that every YA reader should consider reading. What I love MOST about YA is the exploration of so many different topics, themes, and identities. I think YA books are about more than just a story. YA books are about people and cultures and learning, and exploring your own identity by reading about others. Sometimes this is done in realistic contemporaries and sometimes through other non-realistic genres like fantasy or sci-fi, but I still get the same overall emphasis on exploration from all of them. So when composing this list, I thought about the books that stuck with me in similar ways that YA books do.
Some of these could technically be considered YA because the characters are young adults, but they don’t really fit in with the mainstream YA category that we typically see talked about on YA blogs or book lists. Also, despite being suitable for young adults, in my opinion, I must warn you that many of these books may have explicit content. This content may include sex, violence, war, drug abuse, etc. I would recommend readers that are age 15+ for this list.
10 Non-YA Books for YA Readers
1. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.
When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Apocalyptic, Fantasy | Goodreads
This is book is excellent and will absolutely open its readers eyes to some pretty tragic situations and ideas about society, religion, and politics. I read this book for my contemporary fiction course. The protagonist is a teenager, but she is also very mature. This book does contain graphic content.
2. The Lost Daughter Collective by Lindsey Drager
Using bedtime stories as cautionary tales, a Wrist Scholar relays the story of a fabled group of fathers coping with dead and missing daughters. When the girl sacrifices everything to send a final message to her father through her art and one lost girl is revealed to be not dead or missing but a daughter who has transitioned into a son, fathers are faced with the reality that their children’s “play” is anything but.
Caught in a strange loop that—like Escher’s “Drawing Hands”—confuses the line between reality and artifice, folklore and scholarship, far past and near future, The Lost Daughter Collective illustrates how the stories we receive are shaped by those who do the telling.
A story about the complex relationship between fathers and daughters as well as the ethics of storytelling, The Lost Daughter Collective is a gothic fairy tale fusing the fabulism at work in Donald Barthleme and Ben Marcus with the brevity and language play of Rikki Ducornet and Jenny Offill to raise questions about agency and authorship in our narratives.
Genres: Magical realism, feminism, some elements of science fiction | Goodreads
This isn’t really a collection short stories, but it is a short book and it is broken up into sections that come across as fairy tales. I read this to prepare for my publishing internship, because this is one of their books, and found it to be very literary and hard to read at times, but it also had very powerful themes of femininity and social issues.
3. Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal
As an only son, Kiran has obligations-to excel in his studies, to honor the deities, to find a nice Indian girl, and, above all, to make his mother and father proud-standard stuff for a boy of his background. If only Kiran had anything in common with the other Indian kids besides the color of his skin. They reject him at every turn, and his cretinous public schoolmates are no better. Cincinnati in the early 1990s isn-t exactly a hotbed of cultural diversity, and Kiran-s not-so-well-kept secrets don-t endear him to any group. Playing with dolls, choosing ballet over basketball, taking the annual talent show way too seriously. . .the very things that make Kiran who he is also make him the star of his own personal freak show. . .
Surrounded by examples of upstanding Indian Americans-in his own home, in his temple, at the weekly parties given by his parents- friends-Kiran nevertheless finds it impossible to get the knack of -normalcy.- And then one fateful day, a revelation: perhaps his desires aren-t too earthly, but too divine. Perhaps the solution to the mystery of his existence has been before him since birth. For Kiran Sharma, a long, strange trip is about to begin-a journey so sublime, so ridiculous, so painfully beautiful, that it can only lead to the truth. . .
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT+, Humor | Goodreads
The protagonist in this book is a young boy, but it does contain sexual themes. I read this for my ethnic literature class. I remember finding this book very sweet and funny, but also sad at certain parts. It’s a very wonderful book.
4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.
Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special—and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together.
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopia | Goodreads
I read this book for my contemporary literature class as well. This book is pretty weird in terms of plot. I think what really drew me in was the narrator, Kathy, who tells the story in a nostalgic and very human way that plays on the reader’s emotions.
5. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Magical Realism | Goodreads
This book has incredibly complex but beautiful writing that will totally blow you away. This is the type of book where you just have to accept the magical elements as real. Otherwise, you just end up confused. Beloved is a beautiful and haunting book.
6. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Middlesex tells the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family, who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City and the race riots of 1967 before moving out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret, and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.
Genres: Historical Fiction | Goodreads
The blurb describes this as an American epic, and it absolutely is. So much happens in this book. Middlesex is a wonderfully complicated story that recounts the lives of Cal’s family going back several decades. Plus, the writing is so beautiful.
7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukœ – the curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations.
This is the long-awaited first novel from one of the most original and memorable writers working today.
Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukœ-the curse that has haunted the Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.
Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss. A true literary triumph, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao confirms Junot Diaz as one of the best and most exciting voices of our time.
Genres: Fiction, Magical Realism | Goodreads
Similar to Middlesex, this book follows many characters and their histories. You’ll love the narrator’s sense of humor and the straightforward tone.
8. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
At an astonishingly young age, Edwidge Danticat has become one of our most celebrated new novelists, a writer who evokes the wonder, terror, and heartache of her native Haiti–and the enduring strength of Haiti’s women–with a vibrant imagery and narrative grace that bear witness to her people’s suffering and courage.
At the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York, to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers. There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know, and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti–to the women who first reared her. What ensues is a passionate journey through a landscape charged with the supernatural and scarred by political violence, in a novel that bears witness to the traditions, suffering, and wisdom of an entire people.
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction | Goodreads
Breath, Eyes, Memory is a really heartbreaking book at times, and while some aspects are difficult to read about, I’m glad this book gives voice to those issues in such an honest and emotional way.
9. Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
Every year, Ceyala “Lala” Reyes’ family–aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, and Lala’s six older brothers–packs up three cars and, in a wild ride, drive from Chicago to the Little Grandfather and Awful Grandmother’s house in Mexico City for the summer. Struggling to find a voice above the boom of her brothers and to understand her place on this side of the border and that, Lala is a shrewd observer of family life.
But when she starts telling the Awful Grandmother’s life story, seeking clues to how she got to be so awful, grandmother accuses Lala of exaggerating. Soon, a multigenerational family narrative turns into a whirlwind exploration of storytelling, lies, and life. Like the cherished rebozo, or shawl, that has been passed down through generations of Reyes women, Caramelo is alive with the vibrations of history, family, and love.
Genres: Fiction, History, Family | Goodreads
Caramelo is also similar to Middlesex in the way that both have a long historical, complicated story that spans throughout several generations of family members, but it is well worth reading. Caramelo touches on many themes, including race, politics, family, gender, etc.
10. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is an inventor, amateur entomologist, Francophile, letter writer, pacifist, natural historian, percussionist, romantic, Great Explorer, jeweller, detective, vegan, and collector of butterflies. When his father is killed in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, Oskar sets out to solve the mystery of a key he discovers in his father’s closet.
It is a search which leads him into the lives of strangers, through the five boroughs of New York, into history, to the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima, and on an inward journey which brings him ever closer to some kind of peace.
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary | Goodreads
Oskar is a delightful young narrator who is coping with losing his father in 9/11. That said, this book is sad and funny and adorable. The movie is pretty good, too.