As we head into the new school year, it’s easy to feel like the time for reading for fun is over, what with your overwhelming syllabi and reading lists. But fret not: you can still find time for a little pleasure reading. When you do, we know exactly how to help you make the most of it.
When you’re tired of re-reading your old faves, it can be hard to find new books to move on to that will make you feel the same feels but in a new and exciting way. We’re here to help you with the best of both worlds: a book list with recommendations based on the books that have made you feel happiest, when you want something a little more advanced. To help you max out your for fun reading time this school year, here’s a Graduating Up Book List for all your fall read needs. (And who knows, you might discover a new old favorite, too!)
If you liked Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine….
My favorite, favorite book until age 12 was Ella Enchanted. The story takes Cinderella and makes it fun, with entertaining step-sisters, an oblivious but great prince named Char, and a girl who must break through her fairy godmother’s “helpful” gift for her to be obedient in order to save herself and the boy she loves.
You’ll love Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi.
This is a more literary retelling of fairytales. Boy, the titular girl protagonist of this novel, runs away from her family to find herself. She gets enmeshed in the upperclass world of a fictional New England town, marrying a man with a daughter with skin as fair as Snow. When Boy has a darker-skinned daughter, whom she names Bird, she sends Snow away so that Bird will not be constantly compared to her. Boy starts out as a kind of Cinderella, and turns into a version of Snow White’s mother. The novel is a strange and dreamy concoction of fairy tales and mid-century movie glamour, all wrapped up in a meditation on race and identity in America.
If you liked Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh…
Harriet learned a lot of lessons from her nanny, Ole Golly, but her biggest lesson came from her own actions. When her secret notebooks with keen but mean observations of those around her are discovered, Harriet decides to be kinder. I will admit to starting several notebooks of observations of those around me because of this book. It’s really, really fun to pretend to be a spy.
You’ll love The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.
Christopher, a 15-year old-boy with Asperger’s, finds the body of the neighbor’s dog and decides to find the truth about who killed him and why. Christopher’s parents are separated and his mother has disappeared, but in the course of his investigations, Christopher finds a huge secret that changes his life. By the end of the book, Christopher has overcome many of his fears and set himself on a path to the future that he alone determines. It’s a great look inside Christopher’s mind – he’s an unbelievably interesting narrator, and it’s a story will leave you super satisfied.
If you loved the Circle of Magic series or the Tortall books by Tamora Pierce…
I freaking loved these books. Tamora Pierce is a master author who created two separate but equal worlds of magic, with coherent interior laws and a mess of lovable protagonists. Her books feature girls learning to take control of their own power, both through magic and through strength of character. I credit these books with leading me into the world with the expectation that my books should be gender-balanced, and a deep and abiding love of fantasy.
You’ll love Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.
Diana Gabaldon is a revelation. Outlander is now an (amazing, beautiful, exciting) series on Starz, and the book is even better. It’s the story of Claire Randall, a nurse trying to put her life back together with her husband after World War II, who is transported back in time to 18th century Scotland when she touches some standing stones. She has to navigate an unfamiliar world of clans, corsets, and crime, all while falling in love with the handsome Jamie Fraser. It’s the definition of un-put-downable — and the best part is that there are seven books in the series to keep you sated.
If you liked The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins…
I can’t revisit these books any more without seeing Katniss in my head as Jennifer Lawrence (which tbh is fine, because #jlawforever). The books and the movies have become a sensation, propelled by the story of a harshly regulated and stratified world set on fire by a rebellious girl’s love for her family. I love the crazy world-building of the Districts and the Games arena just as much as I love a good love triangle.
You’ll love Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
This is another dystopian future turned into a movie (this time with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan as the heroines), but with a slightly sadder and more melancholy tone. Ruth, Kathy, and Tommy are three friends (do you see the love triangle coming already because I do) living in a strange boarding school. It is revealed that they and all their friends are clones, being brought up to replace organs for the “possibles” who double them in the real world. The three struggle to find their identity and purpose in a world that built them to be disposable.
If you liked the Royal Diaries series…
I loved this collection of fictional diaries by real historical princesses. The books themselves were beautiful, with gold leaf along the edge of the pages, and the stories felt relatable, aspirational, and dreamy all at the same time. Some of the princesses were from times of strife and trouble, like Mary, Queen of Scots, or Anastasia, the Romanov princess, while others struggled to learn how to lead their people while balancing their own desires as teenagers, like Cleopatra and Kaiulani, a Hawaiian princess. These books definitely started by adoration for historical fiction. The format of someone’s personal diary is so compelling. Who doesn’t love a good secret?
You’ll love The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.
Philippa Gregory is the queen of historical fiction, specifically centered around England and its monarchy (she’s written over 30 books set there!). This book was turned into a (just okay) movie, but the book is so worth your time. The titular girl is the sister of Anne Boleyn, a girl just as buffeted and bruised by Tudor Court, but with less power and more substance. She finds and loses love, all while trying to help her sister and avoid her sister’s fate. Philippa Gregory has a style that draws you in to her protagonist’s lives, while populating the world with beautiful details in a seamless and engrossing way. Have you wanted to feel the flagstones under your feet and hear a whisper in the hall as you prepare for a royal dance? This is the book for you.
There you have it – 5 book recommendations for 5 beloved YA novels. Enjoy your new favorites while never forgetting the old.
(Images via here, Harper Collins, Penguin Random House, Random House Kids, Doubleday/Penguin Random House, Scholastic Kids, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, Faber and Faber, Scholastic, Simon and Schuster, and here.)