11 Books for the Not-So-Young Young Adult Reader in Your Life

Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park

Throughout the holiday season, we’re gathering books that make the perfect gifts for everyone on your list—from your mother and the teen in your life to your foodie friend and the coworker who loves Harry Potter. Need more ideas? Check out all of our guides.

We, the Internet Ministry’s Office of Acceptability, are pleased to inform you that everyone has gotten over the “young” thing in “young adult.” It was just confirmed by our sources: Reading YA at any age is totally cool now. No longer must a 32-year-old hide her Libba Bray under a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey on her morning commute. No longer must your mother pretend she’s shopping for your niece when she hits the YA section at Barnes & Noble. No longer (unfortunately) will your brother-in-law blush and stammer when he unwraps his Hunger Games boxed set on Christmas morning. Now to the important work: shopping. If you’re looking for a gift for that recently-out-of-the-YA-closet grownup reader in your life, may we suggest a few:

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
This achingly appealing contemporary romance by Rainbow Rowell, also author of 2013’s Fangirl, would probably win the People’s Choice Award for Grownup-Friendly YA, were it to exist (it did win the Goodreads Choice Award). A sweet and funny yet raw look at young love, it will make adult readers want to go back and at the same time be glad they can’t. Plus, it’s set in 1986, which some adults will actually remember.

Somebody Up There Hates You, by Hollis Seamon
True YA fans have probably already devoured everything John Green ever wrote. While they wait for the master to produce more, they might like this The Fault in Our Stars–esque novel about Richie, a wise-ass 17-year-old dying of cancer, determined not to go gently into that good night—and not to let anyone get in the way of his romance with fellow hospice patient Sylvie. An irreverent and touching read for adults who should be able to handle the sometimes gritty and graphic.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
Absolutely heartbreaking and lyrical in its prose, The Book Thief appears on YA lists thanks to its publisher (Random House Children’s Books) and the age of its protagonist (10 when the book starts), but it competes with any work of literature written for any age. Liesel is on the brink of adolescence. The book’s narrator, however—Death—is ageless. Geoffrey Rush stars in the upcoming film adaptation, though I can’t imagine any filmmaker doing justice to the power of the written words.

Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
When I heard Levithan read from this book last year, I cried (and, dear reader, I am not a public crier). Not just a beautiful book but an important one, based on a true story about two gay teens determined to set a world record for longest kiss. The premise may sound corny, but the story, narrated by a Greek chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS, is anything but trite bubblegum romance. It’s a long, complicated journey, for the characters as much as for the gay community.

If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan
If reading Lolita in Tehran is a dangerous proposition, imagine growing up there as a lesbian. In this debut novel, two teenage girls must keep their love, punishable by beating or even death, a secret. A glimpse at a more open-minded, clandestine LGBT subculture offers a ray of hope through gender reassignment surgery. It’s a provocative premise, one that Farizan’s complex characters must navigate with their heads as much as their hearts.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick
Murder-suicide is not traditionally considered safe YA ground, which is what makes Matthew Quick’s latest novel daring and also great for adult YA readers. With a damaged and lost (but not irretrievable) protagonist in the titular Leonard Peacock, this book might interest fans of Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why (though be prepared for some quirkier narrative devices).

Picture Me Gone, by Meg Rosoff
Uncannily observant 12-year-old Mila travels with her father from London to upstate New York to find his disappeared best friend. Rosoff is known for mature young adult protagonists facing adult problems, and if the glowing, starred reviews and National Book Award nomination are any indication, her latest won’t disappoint.

Far, Far Away, by Tom McNeal
Another NBA finalist (this kind, not this kind), with a dark, supernatural fairy tale quality—which makes sense, as its protagonist, Jeremy Johnson, hears the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm (yes, that Grimm). It’s geared toward younger adults (11–15), but Neil Gaiman fans of all ages will gobble it up like enchanted Prince Cakes.

The Moon and More, by Sarah Dessen
Dessen reliably churns out sweet but complex contemporary romances with as much substance as sentiment. Her latest would be a fast, satisfying read for romance fans of the YA persuasion.

Divergent series, by Veronica Roth
Fanpeople of all ages have flocked to the Hunger Games franchise, even those who have not so much as breathed the scent of the pages themselves. This book-turned-film fantasy series is poised to inherit that massive fanbase, with the first movie coming out in March 2014. This time, make sure they read the books before they head to the IMAX.

The Infernal Devices series, by Cassandra Clare
Clockwork Princess, book number three in the prolific Clare’s Infernal Devices saga, was published in March. These are prequels, set in Victorian times, to her wildly popular contemporary fantasy series The Mortal Instruments, the first of which, City of Bones, was made into a film released last summer.

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