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Science Fiction/Fantasy

8 Great Portal Fantasies for YA Readers

Nicole Hill

Staff Writer

An aspiring Golden Girl, Nicole Hill is a former journalist and forever writer whose home is equal parts pet rescue and personal library. Nicole lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and growing canine and feline brood. Please send any and all book recs and review copies to

Flatiron Books, publishers of The Night Country by Melissa Albert

The highly anticipated sequel to Melissa Albert’s beloved, New York Times bestselling debut The Hazel Wood! In The Night Country, Alice Proserpine dives back into a menacing, mesmerizing world of dark fairy tales and hidden doors. Follow her and Ellery Finch as they learn The Hazel Wood was just the beginning, and that worlds die not with a whimper, but a bang.

Oh, to be anywhere but here. With one narrative foot in the “real” world and the other in the realm of the fantastic, portal fantasies are the perfect form of escapism. Looking for your own door to a world strange and new? Here are several picks for YA books that will take you far, far away.

A Blade So Black coverA Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

Let’s start this list with a modern reimagining of one of the classic portal fantasies: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In this telling, Wonderland is literally a home for Nightmares, monsters forged by humans that can cause mayhem in our world. Alice is skilled in killing these Nightmares, but saving the world is a full-time job. And her real world commitments (school, friends, her mom) may have to take a backseat when Wonderland’s darkness begins to spread.

Every Heart a Doorway coverEvery Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

What happens when your ticket to your version of Narnia is round-trip? That’s the premise behind the Wayward Children novellas. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is the place families send their unusual children—those who disappeared to magical lands only to return later, changed. These special children share a unique grief, exacerbated by a murder of one of their own.

Sabriel coverSabriel by Garth Nix

In most portal fantasies, magical worlds are hidden from the population at large. You stumble into them through secret doors or down rabbit holes. Nix’s series approaches things differently: A defended border wall divides the magic and mayhem of the Old Kingdom from the 20th century modernities of Ancelstierre. Sabriel attends boarding school in Ancelstierre, but her father is the Old Kingdom’s Abhorsen, whose magic maintains balance between the living and the dead.

Akata Witch coverAkata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Before she ever steps foot in a different world, 12-year-old Sunny is a fish out of water. Not only is she an American who’s moved to Nigeria with her family, but her albinism makes her stand out even more. Budding friendships introduce Sunny to the world of the Leopard people and to her own magical powers. When her young coven is tasked with a supernatural mission, she discovers the wonder and the danger of her new identity.

Havenfall coverHavenfall by Sara Holland

There is an inn at the crossroads of four realms, nestled deep in Colorado mountains. Maddie Morrow’s uncle is its keeper, and she’s seen various types of magic up close and personal each summer. She wants nothing more than to be her uncle’s successor—but not anytime soon. Yet when the sanctuary of the inn is shattered by death and destruction, it’s Maddie who has to uncover the truth.

Labyrinth Lost coverLabyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Unlike some on this list, Alejandra Mortiz knows she has powers. The problem: she doesn’t want them. So this is the story of how the most powerful bruja in a generation tries to curse herself and destroy her magic. But playing with sorcery backfires, as it so often does. Alex will need all her powers—and more—when she travels to Los Lagos, the underworld, to rescue her family.

Wintersong coverWintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Would you like a dark, lush fantasy heavily inspired by Jim Henson’s Labyrinth? Yes, I thought so. Eighteen-year-old Liesl has big musical ambitions that she’s worried will be dashed by her responsibilities running her family’s inn. Then her sister is kidnapped by the Goblin King, and Liesl journeys to the strange and exhilarating Underground to save her.

The Chosen coverThe Chosen by Taran Matharu

Life has not been easy for Cade, which is how he ended up at a boarding school just this side of juvenile detention. One day, however, he wakes up in an odd new world, filled with ancient relics and populated with people from the past. He and his classmates don’t have much time to get oriented before they’re ensnared in a brutal, mysterious, and (apparently) long-running game.

Want to explore magical worlds? Check out Book Riot’s other portal fantasy picks: