This list is also not necessarily made up of current books or series. Most of these young adult fiction books or series will likely have been written around the 1990s. That doesn’t mean they’re not excellent, and that might mean you haven’t read them yet!
(While the list is numbered, it is in no particular order. Anything bold means you should pay extra attention to it because it’s extra interesting!) All of the following books are recommended for an audience at least 12 years of age or older.
On to the books: Best of the best young adult fiction
- Anything by Tamora Pierce. She is hands down one of the best young adult fiction authors out there. If you haven’t read anything by this author before, I’ll give you the run down. She has written a lot of books. Most of them are written in trilogies or quartets, and most of them are written within the same world, so they have a complicated relationship. There are two universes in Tamora Pierce’s books: the Tortallan and the Emelanese. The Tortallan is my favorite, though both groups of books are fantastic. If you want a place to start, the Song of the Lioness quartet is the best place, in my opinion. The characters in this quartet are through throughout a lot of the other books in the series. However, in terms of chronology, The Immortals quartet is technically first, as the main character of this series appears in the Song of the Lioness as an adult. All of the books are set in an alternate universe very similar to medieval Europe. Castles, knights, and kings abound. Both the Song of the Lioness quartet and the Protector of the Small quartet are about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to become a knight (since Protector of the Small is the later series, the main character of Song of the Lioness appears as an adult in this quartet). Basically, if you enjoy knights, quests, and very determined (mostly female) main characters, you’ll love any of these series.
- The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine (2001). This is another of my absolute favorite books. If someone asked for my top three books, this would be one of them. When I read it now, it is evident that it is intended for a younger audience, but the story itself is just fantastic. It is about two sisters; one is weak, the other is strong. When the strong sister comes down with a sickness, the weak sister must set off on a quest to discover a cure. The adventure, relationships, and emotions this book portrays are just amazing. Also, if you aren’t sold, this book is by the author of Ella Enchanted, an extremely popular book-made-movie starting Anne Hathaway. How this one didn’t get made into a movie while that one did, I’ll never understand.
- The Dragon Chronicles by Susan Fletcher (1989-2010). Each book in this series has a new, unique main character. All of the books are stories of adventure, strength, and, of course, dragons. Each of these epic chapters follows one girl on her quest with dragons, be it saving them, protecting them, raising them, or communicating with them.
- Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde (2002). Or really anything by this author. She is a fantastic sci-fi writer and has come out with quite a few books in that genre. This particular book is set in a semi-futuristic world in which a girl is playing a virtual reality video game. When the equipment gets damaged, she gets stuck in the game. It doesn’t take her long to realize that if she doesn’t win, she could die. Written in 2002, this is one of the earlier instances of the win-or-die inevitability when stuck a video game, a trope that has become relatively common. User Unfriendly (1991), written with Dungeons and Dragons in mind, and Deadly Pink (2012), a similar novel for a bit older audience, are two other books written based on the same concept. The characters in these stories decide (unwisely) to play one of Rasmussen Corp’s video games and things go awry. So, if you enjoy this book, you know there are others like it to quench your thirst!
- Half-Human: a collection of short stories (2001). This collection made the list because it is a collection full of stories by some of the best young adult authors out there. Nancy Springer, Tamora Pierce, Gregory McGuire, and Jane Yolen being the most famous. In my opinion, the first three stories in this collection are the best. The entire collection is about half-human beings (mermaids, selkies, medusas, etc.), as the title implies.
- Bloody Jack series by Louis A Meyer (2002-2013). There was a time when I was obsessed with this series. As I got older and books continued coming out, the series kind of fell out of my interest. I don’t know why. It starts out as such a fantastic story. The main character is awesome, clever, and strong, and her adventures are some that are super fun to read about. The story is about Mary “Jacky” Faber, a sassy girl trying to survive her dream of being a ship’s boy in eighteenth-century London. If you didn’t guess, this isn’t an easy task, which makes her story all the more interesting.
- Midnight Pearls by Debbie Viguié (The Little Mermaid), Sunlight and Shadow by Cameron Dokey (The Magic Flute), Golden by Cameron Dokey (Rapunzel), Water Song by Suzanne Weyn (The Frog Prince)… Basically, the entire Once Upon a Time series (2002-2010). See the complete list on Wikipedia here. Literally every single one of these retellings that I have read has been fantastic. The authors participating in this series are all extremely talented. Plus, the subject matter is interesting. I love fairy tales; I can’t get enough of them. Although some of these retellings are very far removed from the originals, they can stand on their own as wonderful works of fiction, so I definitely recommend all of them. These may not exactly qualify as young adult fiction because there are some more mature situations, including violence, war, relationships, etc. but there isn’t anything too mature in them that should be a problem for teenagers. (Heck, Disney movies have violence, war, and relationships too!)
- Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead (2007-2010). Vampires are all the rage these days, so there had to be at least one vampire series on this list. (And that series definitely wasn’t going to be Twilight.) This series of six books is about a dhampir (the child of a vampire and a human) named Rose Hathaway and her experience becoming a Guardian at St. Vladmir’s Academy. Rose’s job is to learn to protect her best friend, Moroi princess Vasilisa. Like Twilight, these books have a relatively different take on vampires from the norm, but in a less sparkly-emo-love-story fashion. There is a movie based on the first book schedule to be released Valentine’s Day, 2014.
- Avalon: Web of Magic by Rachel Roberts (2001-2010). Like the Harry Potter books, this is another set of books that I was completed obsessed with when I was a child. I discovered they’re still planning to make a movie about these books to be released in the summer of 2014 and I’m pretty psyched to see how it turns out. This 12 book series is about three normal young girls who discover a magical world exists in addition to their own. Each girl, Adriane, Kara, and Emily, has her own very unique personality and set of interests. The tagline for the books is, “Welcome to a world where magic is real and friendship is everything!” and that’s what the series is really about.
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868 or 1869). It’s a classic, and it is long (almost 500 pages). Despite those daunting qualities, Little Women is a fantastic read. Not all of the classics are entertaining enough to keep a young reader interested, especially for 500 pages, but I read it in high school and I loved it. This novel follows the lives of four sisters—Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy. Jo is the main character, and she is enjoyable to read about because her personality and actions do not fit the traditional mold for how “little women” were supposed to act in that era. While her sisters more easily accept their traditional roles as women, Jo is boyish, temperamental, and strong-willed.
What are some of your favorite young adult fiction novels starring female leads? Do you disagree with anything on this list, or have any to add that you absolutely love? Leave your comments below!