What's Up in YA

🔖 5 Great Books For Younger YA Readers

Hey YA Fans! Let’s talk about younger YA books.

“What’s Up in YA?” is sponsored by The Boy Next Story and PiqueBeyond.

The YA series where classic literature comes to life is back with a story inspired by Little Women! Fourteen-year-old Rory Campbell knows there’s no one better than the boy next door. She’s been in love with her neighbor Tobias since their first sandbox kiss. But Tobias is in love with her sister, Merrilee, who is dating one of Tobias’ best friends. When Rory is assigned to read Little Women for extra credit, she discovers more than she expected—both about herself and Toby. Maybe she wasn’t in love with the boy next door. . . but the boy next story.

It seems to pop up a lot in YA land that there are very few YA books with younger main characters and/or geared toward the younger YA reader. This is something that’s been the case for a while, and it seems to not be improving much in the broader landscape. The fact that adults are the primary YA purchasers — either for themselves or for their younger readers — is likely part of the challenge. A librarian I know has taken the opportunity to track the ages of main characters of titles she’s been purchasing, and the average age of those YA characters is 17 or 18, leaving those in the 13, 14, and 15 realm lacking.

I think part of the challenge is, too, that those younger-aimed YA books don’t see the same kind of marketing as those which reach older YA readers or feature older characters. It’s a tough spot to be in: the younger YA books aren’t middle grade, and they’re not as easy to “sell” as those books with older characters or storylines.

That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It just means there isn’t an abundance, and it also means that they’re harder to seek out.

Here’s a look at five excellent, more recent YA books perfect for younger YA readers.

Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy and The Boy Next Door by Tiffany Schmidt

The idea for pulling together this list for the newsletter was inspired by the sponsor title, in part because Schmidt’s series is such a perfect fit for younger readers. The books are twists on the classics, wherein the main character finds herself wishing for the boys in books to become real . . . and they do. A Date With Darcy is inspired by Pride and Prejudice while the second book, The Boy Next Door, is inspired by Little Women. There are a few more books in the series coming as well.

The Fade by Demitria Lunetta

I love horror, but so often, the main characters tend to be on the older side of their teen years. Lunetta’s stand alone, which came out at the tail end of last year, features a 15-year-old. Haley senses that something terrible happened in the basement of the house her family just moved into. Four girls had gone missing years before, but it was a cold case that the police never solved. Haley, however, is convinced their spirits are alive and well in her own home. Those girls want her help — but does she want to help them? What might happen to her? A chilling little ghost story.

Fresh Ink edited by Lamar Giles

This anthology of short stories features some outstanding names in the worlds of middle grade and YA authors today. It highlights identity, including intersectional identities, and it’s geared toward the younger YA reader. I think of this outstanding collection as the younger sibling of Ibi Zoboi’s Black Enough which came out earlier this year.

In The Key of Nira Ghani by Natasha Deen

Nira’s always dreamed of becoming a musician, but she hasn’t pursued it because she worries about what her parents might think. She is the daughter of Guyanese immigrants in Canada and faces a lot of pressure to be the good daughter who goes to college to become a doctor. She’s also got a problem of money: she can’t afford a nice trumpet to play, and her cheap, dinged up one is sort of an embarrassment. But when Nira goes behind her parents’ backs to audition for the school band and doesn’t get in, it doesn’t mean her dreams are squashed. It just means she’ll have to try achieving it in a different way.

Though Nira is a little older in this one, the voice in this book is particularly reminiscent of younger teens and is one that would resonate deeply with those younger readers itching to forge their own paths.

Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve

This is a book about a 14-year-old genderqueer zombie and a lesbian werewolf becoming friends. I haven’t read it, but the reviews look great, and it’s refreshing to see younger teens in a paranormal setting with gender and sexuality at the forefront. It’s also an alternate reality in the 1990s. This sounds like it’s a lot of fun and one that’ll appeal greatly to younger teen readers. The author identifies as non-binary as well.

Thanks for hanging out, and we’ll see you again soon!


— Kelly Jensen, @veronikellymars on Instagram and editor of (Don’t) Call Me Crazy and Here We Are.