Here’s what you should read next if you grew up reading John Green, Suzanne Collins, Darren Shan and more!
Also known as, ‘If you like [YA title], read [Adult title]'.
For fans of dystopia: if you like The Hunger Games, read Never Let Me Go
Suzanne Collins' dystopian tale of a society where poor children are forced to compete to the death has captivated a generation of young readers. The Hunger Games has shocking parallels to our own world, warning us of the dangers of turning a blind eye to social inequality. The novel focuses on one young girl, Katniss Everdeen, who overcomes the hand she’s been dealt and starts an epic revolution. The trilogy is full of action, presenting deep ideas about war propaganda and exploitation in a digestible format. For fans of The Hunger Games I would really recommend Kazuo Ishiguro’s subtle and heartbreaking Never Let Me Go. Where The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic North America, Ishiguro’s novel is set in an alternate rural England. It follows a woman named Kathy who is working as an end of life carer, as she remembers her seemingly idyllic childhood compared to her dark present circumstances. A sense of unease is slowly revealed with an air of mystery that really reminded me of the later instalments of The Hunger Games trilogy. At the heart of Never Let Me Go is a society where the upper class exploit the most vulnerable population for their own gain. However, unlike most dystopian novels, it is not immediately clear that this is a different reality to our own; this is the true success of Never Let Me Go, its uncanny familiarity. It is definitely a more complex kind of dystopian tale than is usually seen in YA, but that’s what makes it so brilliantly haunting.
2. Mental health epics: if you like It's Kind of a Funny Story, read A Little Life
While the film adaptation starring Zach Galifianakis turned the story into a comedy-drama, fans of the novel of It’s Kind of a Funny Story know it as a deep and meticulous portrayal of adolescent depression. The novel follows central character Craig through a stay in a mental hospital, the events that led him to this point, and his subsequent recovery. Despite the sad plot it has many sweet moments and a light romance. It just feels incredibly real. For fans of this teen book about mental health that wish to read something that goes a little deeper into the psyche, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is the perfect choice. The epic novel is about the lives of four friends from college until middle age, honing in on one of the friends, Jude St. Clair, and his history of trauma and deteriorating mental health. Though it is a harrowing read, A Little Life contains many hopeful moments of connection. Both books are heavy but fulfilling stories that have stayed with me long after closing the final page. A Little Life was truly one of the most perspective-altering novels about trauma, friendship and mental health I’ve ever read. You can read my full review here.
3. Deconstructing race in society: if you like Noughts & Crosses, read Erasure
Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series was one of the most popular books of my pre-teen years. It is about an alternate history where the dark skinned Noughts are the ruling class and white skinned Crosses are treated as second class citizens in society. This British series was aimed at teenagers to provoke deeper thinking about the ways that marginalised groups can be held back by institutional racism. Alongside this key plot, Blackman’s series examines class systems and how educational prejudice interacts with race and radicalisation. A more mature allegorical novel dealing with race and class is Percival Everett’s outstanding satire Erasure. The novel follows a classics professor, Thelonious Monk, who struggles to get his existential novels published because they do not fit into society’s perceptions of what a black writer should be writing about. Frustrated and at his wits end, one night he brazenly writes a hugely offensive, misogynistic and low brow spoof of the typical African American experience novel. Shockingly, his publisher laps it up and this persona becomes a huge overnight success. Erasure is one of the most witty and shocking novels I have ever read, and I’ve never seen a book deal with the race and class intersection in such a genius manner. Fans of Noughts & Crosses will definitely appreciate this book.
4. For the gore lovers: if you like anything by Darren Shan, read I Am Legend
Switching gears to fantasy horror, Darren Shan’s gruesome Demonata series was well loved in the late 2000s. I secretly believe that these niche horrors are what actually started the supernatural- YA revolution a few years later. They have everything you want in a horror series: gore, suspense, a clever plot and horrifying twists. I always found that I preferred YA’s treatment of this genre, being that many of the popular fantasy stories for more mature readers are Gothic classics. While they are great, they can be hard work for a light escapist read. This is where Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend comes in. The incredibly famous film adaptation is well loved by millennials everywhere and you are probably familiar with the story - in post-apocalyptic New York, a pandemic has killed off the majority of mankind and most of the people left have become monstrous nocturnal cannibals. (Yeah... it’s a bit hard to digest considering current events.) I didn’t even know the Will Smith version was based on a book, never mind one as enchanting as it is. When I read I Am Legend I was astounded by how different it was tonally from the film! It is full of suspense, and the infected species are so much more sinister and human looking than their cinematic counterparts. They actually reminded me more of the demonic creatures seen in the worlds of Darren Shan. It’s for sure that if you like YA horror then this book is for you.
5. The non-romantic romances: if you like Looking for Alaska, read Norwegian Wood
Okay, admittedly what links these two books is the manic pixie dream girl and the man who thinks he can save her. John Green is one of the most famous authors of the 2010s, and aside from the heartbreaking The Fault in our Stars, the majority of his novels are a breakdown of this irritating trope. In my opinion it is Looking for Alaska who is the most successful in its attempt to expose the fallacy of the ‘nice guy who rescues the broken girl’. The story follows a group of private school friends who are taken in by the dynamic character Alaska, but when tragedy occurs the narrator, Miles ‘Pudge’, becomes obsessed and misguidedly inserts himself into the mystery of Alaska. When I read Norwegian Wood for the first time, I was struck by the similarity in subject matter to John Green’s book. While Murakami’s 1987 coming-of-age novel doesn’t quite subvert this literary cliche, the Japanese novel offers a fascinating insight into the different ways that young men and women are socialised to interact with mental health issues in different ways. Both books are a really interesting examination of male entitlement, unreliable narration, and growth in the face of loss. Murakami’s brilliant writing and characterisation jumps off the page and brings its characters to life. Read my full review here.
When transitioning into adult fiction, one of the most challenging things can be to find books that are as gripping as popular young adult reads. One of the great things about YA is that it is often character driven and fast paced, and deals with real world issues in an exciting and accessible way. YA fiction is also usually genre fiction, whereas adult books tend to mix genres. This can be good, as it means the books become more unique, but also makes it hard to know if you will enjoy the book. The books in this list are possibly more nuanced than their YA counterparts but one thing is for sure, they do fit neatly into the genres that you know and love.
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