20 Must-Read Adult Books for YA Readers
Adult books for YA readers are my jam. I love when I settle in with a good book marketed for adults and find the themes that I love in YA: coming of age, with a voice that is reminiscent of that YA books feature, and characters who are in their teens or (very early) twenties. Think older titles like Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep or Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts, both of which would likely be published as YA or marketed heavily toward YA readers in today’s book world. These adult books for YA readers are often called crossover books, and they’re frequently among the most requested by those who ask me for book recommendations, too.
I’ve pulled together a list of great crossover books published in the last handful of years. Your favorite might not be on the list; neither may be the title published five or ten years ago. This is meant to be a wide-ranging list of mostly non-genre reads, including contemporary titles and nonfiction. I’ve included a smattering of romance and historical fiction. Genre books certainly have tremendous crossover appeal and make great adult books for YA readers, but for the purposes to keeping the list to 20, they weren’t the bulk of titles included.
Nearly every one of these books I’ve read, and those that I haven’t—a very small number—are either ones I can’t wait to dive into and/or have stellar reviews noting their appeal to YA readers.
Whether you’re passing these over to the teen readers in your life or you love YA books and want some great adult books that’ll give you the same feeling, you’ll find something you love with these must-read crossover books.
Oh, also: there are a couple more than 20 on this list, simply because cutting down was such a challenge.
Great Adult Books for YA Readers
Ana of California by Andi Teran
Imagine a modern take on Anne of Green Gables set in the California inland empire, following a poor girl shuffled through the foster care system who takes on an internship at a farm. Ana is terrified of making any mistakes on the job, fearful it’ll mean losing the opportunity. Instead, she begins to lose herself and when she’s encouraged to really be who she is, things begin to turn around. Immersive, with a landscape too often overlooked, this book will especially connect with teens who feel they’ve been forgotten by the world.
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
One of the handful of titles I haven’t read on this list, I know it’s a huge crossover read in part because of its inclusion on the American Library Association’s Alex Awards. This is a murder mystery in the style of Agatha Christie, following a statewide music festival, wherein hundreds of students have gathered at a hotel infamous for a murder-suicide 15 years prior. So when one of the musicians disappears from the same room where the incident had happened, the search is on.
Brass by Xhenet Aliu
Readers who want something literary and challenging will find this to be an excellent choice. Following a mother and daughter 17 years apart during their respective 17th years, Aliu’s book is far more a character study than it is a plot-driven novel. The voices are powerful; the landscape in which the story takes place is full of rust, blue-collar work, and broken dreams; and it digs deep into mother-daughter relationships. Fans of the film Lady Bird will especially connect.
Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo Nation by Michael Powell
In this book, we get to watch a Navajo Nation basketball team seek glory on the court during a tough season. The story follows the individuals on the team, focusing on what it means to grow up in this part of Arizona at this time in history, particularly as it comes to the challenges of modern Native life. There is a lot of pain and hurt, as well as a lot of hope—and it’s through basketball, so many can rally around and cheer for something outside of personal challenges. Like good sports nonfiction, this is about the way a team can make a community come together, despite the challenges it faces.
Confessions by Kanae Minato
East Asian horror/crime noir is among my favorite genres, and this is a standout in the category. When a middle school teacher’s daughter is murdered, things only take a darker turn when it’s discovered two of her students are responsible. Rather than turning them in, though, the teacher decides she’s going to get revenge in this book about revenge, greed, and how far some people will go to get attention. It’s horrifying and dark and absolutely engrossing.
Disgruntled by Asali Solomon
This coming-of-age story is set in the ’80s in Philadelphia and follows a young teen named Kenya who struggles to understand what it is that makes her different. She’s not the only Black girl in her school, and it’s not the celebrations she and her family enjoy. It’s something bigger and more, and it’s a fascinating character study. Kenya’s father is passionate and though she doesn’t always agree with him, it’s by coming to understand him and his adult friends that she realizes how big she can grow her life.
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
Readers itching for a solid audiobook will do well with this one, which follows 15-year-old Ana Cancion. Unlike her peers at home in the Dominican Republic, she’s not eager to get out and into America, but when Juan Ruiz proposes, she’s forced to move with him to New York City. There’s no love in the relationship and Juan is twice her age, so Ana begins to plot how she’ll escape—but she’s held back from escaping again and again, and things become even more challenging as the Dominican Republic’s political reality grows harsher. Juan now leaves to return to their home country, allowing space for Ana to grow into the person she so deeply wants to be. But when he returns, Ana is forced to decide between what makes her happy and what she’s been led to believe is her duty as a wife. Set in the mid-1960s, this story of a young immigrant woman is a fabulously voiced read.
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
This is about friendship: the fierce, fiery kind of friendship that exists between two girls who understand their place in the world as girls, their place in society as girls in India of a lower class, their place in society as girls who can only rely and depend upon one another. Savitha and Poornima only spend a small portion of the book together, but it’s the spark between them that keeps them connected through tragic event after tragic event. Moving, challenging, and deeply passionate, Rao’s book is for readers who want a look at life in a which friendship is the key to survival. This isn’t an easy read—there are so many terrible things that happen to these girls—but it’s extremely rewarding.
Heavy by Kiese Laymon
Another book to consider listening to on audio, Laymon’s memoir is for readers who love books like those by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Written as a letter to his mother, Laymon’s memoir is a look at the way trauma impacts the body on every level: spiritual, mental, and physical. It’s a read about growing up black in Mississippi, about family, and about the ways that, even if all the cards are stacked in your favor, there are forces beyond you (in this case, white people and white institutions) that will never see you as human or worthy. It’s a book about addictions and the ways those addictions can be an escape, even when they’re causing harm themselves.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang
This recently-released novel is a debut, and it’s among the very few I’ve not yet had the chance to read (it’s coming up the to-be-read pile, though!). Set during the American Gold Rush, the book follows Lucy and Sam, siblings who are newly orphaned children of immigrants. With their father’s death, they set off to leave the mining town which isn’t safe for them. Their goal is to bury their father in the only way that will allow them the freedom to build their own lives. Zhang’s book marries Chinese symbolism and a reimagined American history. This sounds like the kind of book fans of Stacey Lee would absolutely eat up.
Malagash by Joey Comeau
An Alex Award–winning novel, this slight book is anything but. It’s a story of deep loss and grief. Sunday is a teen girl whose father is dying, and all she wants to do is keep him alive as long as possible. She does this by recording his voice, over and over, and she’ll use that to develop a computer virus so that his life lives forever in the world. He’ll never die but instead expand infinitely.
Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier (June 9)
Hitting shelves very soon is this book about an 18-year-old pregnant teen girl who works as a pizza delivery person in suburban Los Angeles. She feels directionless, and even more so as she grieves the loss of her father. She has a loving mom and supportive partner, but those aren’t what give her grounding. It’s instead a newly arrived stay-at-home mom in her neighborhood who regularly orders pickle pizza for her son. Their relationship is an odd one, but one that fundamentally changes them both. Intergenerational friendship fascinates me, and this book promises some humor, too.
Pounding The Rock: Basketball Dreams and Real Life in a Bronx High School by Marc Skelton
Nonfiction sports books about underdog teams are among my kryptonite. I’ve had this one on my radar for a long time, and while I’ve not yet read it, it sounds perfect as a crossover read. The book follows the basketball team at Fannie Lou Hammer High School in a working-class Bronx neighborhood, which did not become successful until Skelton took over. They’ve now become well-known on the court but even more than that: this is a book about how students in one of the poorest congressional districts in the country still manages to send the majority of students on to college. A story about the kinds of young people who don’t see their stories showcased, along with a profile of an incredible basketball team.
A Prayer for Travelers by Ruchika Tomar
This is a mystery, told out of order, about a brown girl named Cale who is raised by her grandfather. She becomes entwined with a brown girl named Penny who goes missing. They’re close friends—though we only kind of believe this to be true, as the friendship seems one sided—so Cale wants to know what happened to Penny and why it is she disappeared.
Set in the west, in the desert, this well-paced, cleverly crafted, and gorgeously written story offers up a slice of American narrative we don’t see enough in that setting. Readers who adore Courtney Summers’s Sadie will want to pick this one up post-haste.
The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons To Fall In Love With Me by Keah Brown
There are not enough narratives by disabled people telling their own stories, and this is even more true for disabled people of color. Brown’s collection of essays is fantastic, both as an introduction to her voice and advocacy work, but as an introduction to disability more broadly. It’s about being invisible in and to the world around you and about learning to fall in love with yourself. Keah’s voice is really great and she’s wildly vulnerable. She also invites you, as reader, to be vulnerable with her. Pop culture fans will find a lot of great stuff to think about here as well.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
This is not a YA book, and no matter how many YA lists this book gets included on, it doesn’t change the fact this is a queer adult romantic comedy. There’s nothing wrong with that—especially as this book does have so much appeal for YA readers. McQuiston’s debut follows the sons of political rivals (insomuch as a British Royal and the son of an American president are rivals) who, well, have a rivalry until they begin to fall for each other.
The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson
Readers who want something “horror lite” will do well with Davidson’s nostalgic release, with apt comparisons to Stand By Me and Stranger Things. Davidson’s a YA writer under the name Nick Cutter and while this book is under his adult alias, it’s got YA appeal aplenty.
Jake Breaker is a neurosurgeon and he knows how complex the brain can be. The story begins with him talking about the delicacy involved in surgery, and it weaves in the history of one summer in his youth in 1980s Niagara Falls, Canada. He’s been the victim of a vicious bully, which puts him in contact with Billy, the Metis boy who becomes a long-time friend. Over the course of the summer, Jake and Billy, as well as Billy’s older sister Dove (who struggles with bipolar disorder) become close to Jake’s eccentric uncle Cal, who runs an occult store in their small town. Cal suggests that they create a weekly ghost club, taking the lead on treating and terrorizing his nephew and nephew’s friends to stories of the ghosts that haunt their small town. The stories are horrific, though they’re far more about loss and sadness than they are about being scared. They’re stories of death, of people gone missing, of the relics of lives that never got to become what they were meant to be.
And they’re stories about a person who may not be who Jake believes him to be.
Shiner by Amy Jo Burns
This book just released and it follows 15-year-old Wren Bird, who is growing up on a mountain top in West Virginia, an hour from the nearest mining town. Her father is legendary, offering Sunday sermons at the abandoned gas station in town. Wren lives with him and her mother in deep isolation, but when Wren’s father performs a miracle that turns tragic, she realizes she needs to understand the mythology behind her father and the tragic history of her mother’s life. This book is set in Appalachia and follows a girl coming to realize the depths of sadness, pain, and abuse in her family and community.
Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Meche is back in Mexico City for her father’s funeral. It’s 2009, and everything has changed since she’d been there last in 1988. Coming home isn’t something she’s looking forward to, especially because of the way she left. Morena-Garcia’s novel travels back and forth on the two timelines to piece together a story about friendship, love, and magic. When Meche left, it was because the magic she conjured caused more pain than pleasure; when she comes back, she has to face the consequences of her actions while also choosing how—or if—she needs to patch up the holes she left.
The bulk of this story is about teen relationships, woven together with magical realism.
Spirit Run: A 6,000 Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land by Noé Álvarez
Noé grew up in Yakima, Washington, alongside his mother who worked in an apple-packing plant. As the son of two Mexican immigrants, he knew he was lucky to receive a scholarship to attend college, but a year into his program he is having a hard time fitting in and figuring out what it is he wants to make of himself as a first generation Mexican American. This is a theme that will carry throughout the book, with no definitive ending, but along the way, Alvarez does a great job highlighting why this space of indecision, of opportunity, and of longing for connection and a place to fit in IS the immigrant story.
At 19, Alvarez discovers the Peace and Dignity Journey, which is a movement by Native American and First Nations people meant to create cultural connections across the Americas through marathoning. He drops out of school as he realizes this is something he needs to do, and he begins his journey in Canada, where he runs along side individuals of a whole array of Native and Indigenous backgrounds and experiences. The journey takes him through all kinds of terrain, experiences of hunger and thirst and exhaustion, as well as land that has been stolen by colonizers and turned to profit at the loss of original culture, tradition, and pride. Throughout the marathon, he not only finds himself being pushed to his physical, mental, and emotional limits, but he faces being kicked out of the race over and over—which fuels his determination to fight harder, until the moment he knows he wants to end.
Things We Have In Common by Tasha Kavanagh
A story about a fat teenage girl who is half Turkish and the obsession she has with a man who she knows is going to kidnap one of her classmates. When the classmate goes missing, Yasmin knows who is responsible but, well, what do you do when you’ve fallen in love with the criminal?
This is a story about outsiders and at times, it’s deeply uncomfortable to read at times because of how we get into Yasmin’s obsessive mind (she notes being obsessive, and with any knowledge of anxiety disorders, even the little tics she displays make it more evident). Yasmin’s voice is so perfectly teenage and sharp. She’s a girl with teeth and she’s not afraid to use them.
We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
Witchcraft + high school girls’ field hockey + Emilio Estavez = this book is a win, even without saying anything more than that. This book is a romp in all of the best possible ways, following the 1989 Danvers High School field hockey team discover their powers as a witchy coven. They go from the worst team in the state to real contenders for state championship when they take a vow with the image of Emilio Estavez. Each of the main characters tells one of the chapters from a third person POV, and it all rounds back to the team revisiting one another on their hallowed ground 30 years later.
Inclusive, soaked in late ’80s pop culture references, and downright hilarious at times, this is also a surprisingly thoughtful story of the power of being a teen girl, the ways our society has shifted in the last 30 years, and what it means to make your own type of power. It reminded me a lot of the film Now and Then, in the best ways.
Wild Life: Dispatches From a Childhood of Baboons and Button Downs by Keena Roberts
This memoir follows Keena, her sister, and her parents—who are research primatologists—as they spend half of their year working in Botswana in “Baboon Camp” and the rest of the year off the Main Line in the Philly suburbs at a private school. It’s a really fascinating story of falling in love with Africa and growing up understanding what it is to be privileged enough to live such a life, as well as what it is to have a really wild and free—yet at times downright terrifying—childhood. The ability to interweave her less-than-happy American experience really made this one stand out, and without question, this book has loads of crossover appeal to teen readers. It’s told in anecdotes, with a number of pictures, as well as entries from Keena’s diaries.
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Putting together any sort of crossover appeal book list and not including one of Abbott’s more recent works would be a big misstep. Although her book Dare Me also has tremendous appeal to teen readers, with bonus adaptation to marathon, You Will Know Me will catch the fancy of readers who love a good, high-drama story of elite gymnasts and murder.
Itching for some more crossover book recommendations? Give these adult nonfiction pairings for YA novels a shot.