Earlier this month, Time released a list of The 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time, which was less, well, young adult than you might expect. While it stands as a collection of 100 worthwhile reads, many are more reasonably classified as children’s, middle grade, or even adult titles. And while I’d never complain about a reminder to reread, say, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, there are better places for it than taking up real estate on a list that should be wall-to-wall YA. In an effort to address some of the list’s more unlikely picks, here are suggestions for totally awesome, fully YA replacements.
Time‘s pick: Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
Our pick: Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray
In a battle between feral British schoolboys and poised and polished teen beauty queens, I’m putting my money on the ones with the Vaselined teeth. Bray’s anarchic, wildly original book follows the survivors of a plane crash that occurred en route to a pageant, on an island that turns out to be way less deserted than it initially seems. Reality TV stars, evil entertainment moguls, and a third-world dictator all play a part, as the girls, led by the indomitable Miss Texas (the kind of girl who would end an appearance on Naked and Afraid having single-handedly built and opened a wilderness bed and breakfast), fight back against expectations, shadowy conspiracies, and bad skin-care regimens. Who needs Piggy when you can have Miss New Hampshire, embedded feminist?
Time‘s pick: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
Our pick: Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor
In C.S. Lewis’s beloved children’s series, the Pevensie kids and assorted other characters enter Narnia a number of ways: through wardrobes, through thin air, with magic rings, and, my personal favorite, through a painting of a ship. In Akata Witch, novice magic worker Sunny gets to the magical city of Leopard Knocks by bridge, after learning she’s a magical Leopard person in a world of lambs. Like Lucy, Edmund, and the gang, she adjusts fast to her new world, where acts of magic call down showers of currency called chittim, and figures both wholly original and inspired by African folklore run wild.
Time‘s pick: The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
Our pick: Graceling, by Kristin Cashore
Let no one say I don’t love, lurve, and loave The Princess Bride, Goldman’s insanely charming, wildly quotable book about the most beautiful woman in the world and the man that loved her (and the king that tried to marry her, and the Sicilian who kidnapped her, and the giant and world-class fencer who both kidnapped and rescued her, and and and…), but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s probably the least YA book on this wacky list. So what should you read instead? Try a book where the heroine is the one protecting the royals. Katsa is a Graceling, born with different colored eyes and a supernatural ability known as a “grace”—in her case, the ability to kill anyone in combat. Her evil royal uncle uses Katsa as a weapon, but she has more noble aspirations—and when she’s caught up in a strange kidnapping plot, she’ll need all her instincts and graced abilities to battle an incredibly creepy evil taking root in the Seven Kingdoms.
Time’s pick: A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
Our pick: Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
Instead of Knowles’ required-reading classic, try Code Name Verity, another story of best friendship set during World War II—but without the benefit of a boarding school’s walls to protect its teen protagonists. Queenie is an upper-class girl turned British spy being held by the Gestapo, and Maddie is the skilled pilot who’s doing her part for the Allied effort while fearing the worst for her friend. Their story is told through flashbacks and in the present day, from their first conversation in an air shelter right up to the moment of their gut-wrenching reunion. Warning: will make you cry in public.
Time’s pick: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
Our pick: Last Night I Sang to the Monster, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Curious Incident is another adult book with a child narrator, whose autism makes him see the world in a singular fashion. For another wonderful protagonist with a unique point of view shaped by his circumstances, try Sáenz’s story about Zach, a teen who can’t remember how he’s ended up in a rehab facility. Zach speaks from inside a haze of sadness and addiction, rendered as a state so powerful it’s like a physical prison. Sáenz’s lyrical yet fully grounded prose is best known through his indispensable Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and you’re missing out if you haven’t read this one, too.
Time’s pick: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
Our pick: Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, by Laini Taylor
L. Frank Baum’s fantastic kids’ series is vivid, iconic, and darker than you remember (unless, of course, all you can remember is the terrifying Fairuza Balk movie Return to Oz. Then it’s…not quite as dark). But it wasn’t written specifically for teens—unlike Laini Taylor’s phenomenal Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, also about a girl who enters a parallel world, then discovers it’s her destiny to save it. Dorothy had wicked witches and magical friends, Taylor’s Karou has an age-old battle between angels and demons, and a star-crossed love written with such aching beauty you’ll find yourself completely swept away.
Time’s pick: The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
Our pick: Charm & Strange, by Stephanie Kuehn
This one’s a bit of a stretch, but we’re making it because Kuehn’s book is just too good to miss. Her antihero, Andrew Winston Winters, is a tennis star with anger issues and a black secret (and, fittingly, an obsession with wolves). London’s main character, Buck, is a dog who grows vicious when treated viciously, but finds some redemption in love. Drew (or Win, depending who he’s talking to) was also raised in an environment of violence and fear, and must decide, like Buck, whether to succumb to his wildness or to the more civilized angels of his nature.
Time’s pick: The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Our pick: King Dork, by Frank Portman
Few can argue against every teen everywhere being exposed to Holden Caulfield at an early age (well…except for all those people who’ve argued to ban the book, but their votes don’t count). But since Salinger certainly never intended it to be a YA novel, we nominate another incredible book about a boy who feels ill at ease in the world to take its place—and who, it should be noted, can’t stand Salinger’s classic. Tom is the self-declared King Dork, a hilariously honest weirdo who makes the mundanities of his life of suburban geekery seem epic in scale. The book is a must-read for anyone who wants to remember how teens really, actually think and talk. It’s also one of the funniest YAs I’ve ever read.
What titles would you add to a best YA list?