I'm constantly surprised by the number of science fiction and fantasy fans who haven't given YA, or young adult literature, a chance.
Yes, YA is written for teenagers, but that doesn't mean it's not intended for and can't be enjoyed by a broader audience. The language in YA is a little less complex, the writing is a little easier; that doesn't mean they don't include fabulous world-building and intricately written and developed characters. In fact, some of the most interesting (and diverse) genre fiction being written right now is in YA.
If you haven't given YA sci-fi and fantasy a try, check out these books. You're sure to find something (or many things!) to love on this list.
An Ember in the Ashes - Sabaa Tahir
In a world inspired by ancient Rome, Laia must do everything she can to save her brother — even if it means risking her own life. Though she was raised by grandparents who instilled in her the value of never speaking out or acting against the Empire that brutally rules them, Laia knows she must take action after the arrest of her brother. She makes an agreement with the resistance — they'll help save her brother, but in return she must go undercover at the Empire's military academy. Tahir creates a fascinating brutal world — there's more violence within these pages than in a typical YA book. It's the characters and the creative setting that will draw you into this one, though.
Across the Universe - Beth Revis
I feel like I've been recommending Beth Revis' space opera to anyone and everyone nonstop since it was released a few years ago, but that's because it's just. that. good. It follows the story of a ship called the Godspeed carrying cryogenically frozen humans to their new home. But when Amy is awoken early after someone tries to murder her, she must discover why someone is trying to kill colonists and what is really going on underneath the surface on this ship. Revis excels at ratcheting up suspense and building cliffhangers — but the good news is that the entire trilogy has been released, so you don't have to wait to get all the answers.
Wintersong - S. Jae Jones
This dark YA fantasy novel follows the story of Liesl, a plain girl with a gift for music living in medieval Germany. When the Goblin King kidnaps Liesl's sister, she bargains with him in order to win her sister's freedom. The combination of a compelling anti-hero in the Goblin King with the sensual nature of this book — passion, romance and intrigue — make this an incredible read that's difficult to put down, even if it's a hard book to describe. This is actually one where it's better if you don't know what to expect going in: Let's just hope that there's a sequel releasing as soon as possible, because this book will leave you wanting more.
Lost Stars - Claudia Gray
This is another book I push on everyone I know, and there's a good reason. Some avid readers are skeptical of this book because it's Star Wars, and many Star Wars fans haven't given this novel a chance yet because it's YA. Well, let me tell you — this is one of my favorite sci-fi books and my favorite Star Wars book, period. It follows two young people, Ciena and Thane, as they grow up together in the shadow of the Empire. It follows their journeys through the Imperial Academy as they navigate a world of deceit, treachery and lies while trying to stay true to one another. It is so incredibly, ridiculously good, and I hope that everyone reads this book.
The Wrath and the Dawn - Renee Ahdieh
Shahrzad lives in a kingdom ruled by a madman: Their 18-year-old prince marries a new young woman every night and executes her the next morning. But when Shazi's best friend becomes one of the victims, she vows to get revenge, no matter the cost. Her plan? To become the Caliph's next bride. It's a story based on One Thousand and One Nights, and Ahdieh tells it incredibly well. Readers will find themselves caught up in Shazi's story even as they try to uncover what is exactly happening within this kingdom and why.
Mirror in the Sky - Aditi Khorana
What would happen if we discovered a mirror planet to Earth? Not just an Earth-like planet, but one from a parallel universe where we all have duplicates? An actual, alternate Earth? Sixteen-year-old Tara Krishnan is haunted by the thought of what her counterpart might be doing on this mirror world. Is she living a better life? A more fulfilled life? As Tara navigates these difficult, life-changing questions, she must also face the realities of her life at a prep school, trying to fit into a community she doesn't feel like she belongs to but so badly wants to be a part of.
Three Dark Crowns - Kendare Blake
This twisty fantasy novel features three sisters who must compete to be queen, and the price for failure is death. Once a generation, a set of female triplets is born on the island of Fennbirn, and each has one type of magic: an elemental, a poisoner and a naturalist. They must each be the best at their magic in order to defeat — and kill — their sisters. The battle is about to begin, and Katharine, a poisoner, knows her skills aren't up to the task. This is a brutal, yet beautiful, dark novel about defying destiny and forging your own path.
The Queen of the Tearling - Erika Johansen
Johansen's Tearling trilogy is technically a crossover between adult and YA — the main character, Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, is 19-year-old princess who's been raised in hiding for most of her life. But the time has come for her to ascend the throne, and while she was educated to be a good leader, the situation of her kingdom and rule of her mother, a failed queen, are more of a mystery. This series does not always make complete sense, but it is so compulsively readable that you could do the entire trilogy in one marathon sitting without breaking a sweat.