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Ten young adult books adults should read, too

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Young adult books adults should read
More than half of young adult books are actually purchased and read by adult readers, according to a 2012 study.
Courtesy of publishers

A 2012 study showed that more than half of young adult books are actually being purchased and read by adults. So who are they really for?

Is it juvenile to read books that are marketed to teens? Some think pieces say "yes" — a legion of readers say "no." After all, what part of becoming an adult means you can no longer enjoy a good story?

(This list is just ten books. It could be a thousand. Send us your suggestions on Twitter @TheThreadMPR.)

Ten young adult books adults should read, too

"An Ember in the Ashes" by Sabaa Tahir

Put "The Hunger Games" and "Harry Potter" in a literary blender, and you might get something like this. The New York Times deemed it "a worthy novel." It cracked their bestseller list almost instantly when it was published last year.

Tahir winds a fantastical tale of love and defiance in a fictional world, with shades of ancient Rome. A young slave girl fights to save her family; a soldier longs for his freedom. For series lovers, there are at least three more books coming.

My pitch to adult readers: Nobody does fantasy series quite like the YA world. Tahir's book might be shelved for teen readers, but it gets at dark issues of false hope and what it means to be human. Plus, "Game of Thrones" isn't coming back for awhile — here's something to tide you over.

"Salt to the Sea" by Ruta Sepetys

Everybody knows the Titanic, and the Lusitania got its spotlight last year with Erik Larson's "Dead Wake."

But what about the Wilhelm Gustloff?

The tragic but rarely talked about shipwreck happened in 1945 when a Soviet submarine sank a German ship filled with civilians fleeing the war. As many as 9,400 people died, making it likely the worst shipwreck in known history.

Sepetys brings the lost history to light in this historical novel, following three passengers aboard the doomed ship. The Wall Street Journal hailed it as "masterly crafted."

My pitch to adult readers: Love history? Dive in. War, tragedy and secrets meet on the deck of the Wilhelm Gustloff, and you'll catch up on little-known moment of World War II.

"Six of Crows" by Leigh Bardugo

"No one's going to read Leigh Bardugo's newest book, 'Six Of Crows,' without thinking about 'Ocean's 11," wrote Jason Sheehan, one of NPR's book reviewers.

And he's right: This story of thieves and outcasts treads in familiar waters, but it charts its own direction.

You've got a teenage crime prodigy, an underworld gang of thieves and an impossible heist that could yield millions or could bring death. Bardugo's imagination makes it sing.

My pitch to adult readers: Who doesn't love a good heist? This book will swallow your whole afternoon if you let it.

"Only Ever Yours" by Louise O'Neill

Take the eerie alternate reality of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" and turn it up a notch.

O'Neill has created a world where all women are raised in dormitories and trained to be wives — beautiful, quiet and obedient. Isabel and Freida are 16 and best friends, dreaming of their futures and fighting to stay in the top 10 most beautiful girls in their class. But in their final year in the Schools, as the men arriving to choose brides, the futures they saw for themselves start to self-destruct.

Buzzfeed called it "an ingenious exploration of gender roles, female identity, and female competition."

My pitch to adult readers: Like Margaret Atwood? Like "1984"? Like Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go"? Then you'll love this terrifying future tale.

"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie

Alexie's 2007 novel is a clever, frank and revealing portrait of what life is really like for teenagers. There's enough alcohol, profanity and honesty to land it on the most-challenged book list, year after year.

The book takes the form of Junior's diary. Junior is 14, and he just transferred from the school on the reservation where he lives to the all-white school in the neighboring town — the one with an Indian for its mascot.

Navigating high school, first crushes and the difficulty of staying close to his friends still at the reservation school, Junior's diary drives straight through tragedy, love and disappointment.

My pitch to adult readers: Who doesn't want to read one of the most-banned books of all time? Banned books are the good ones.

"This One Summer" by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

Everyone should have a graphic novel on their reading list — and you can start with this one.

This beautifully illustrated book is an ode to the feeling of summer, and to the feeling of being in between — still a kid, not quite a teenager. 

Rose and Windy have always spent their summers at the lake, swimming and riding bikes, until they find themselves in the last gasp of childhood — facing down bickering parents, teenage bullies and the longing to just grow up already.

My pitch to adult readers: Remember how excited you used to get for summer? This wistful look at those lost days is a lovely trip.

"Bone Gap" by Laura Ruby

This is a book not just to read, but to re-read. Ruby's voice is intoxicating in its strangeness.

She brings readers along on the stories of two lives changed forever. "Bone Gap" follows Roza, a young girl kidnapped from a small Midwestern town, and Finn, the only witness to the crime.

The New York Times Book Review raved: "It's a novel about actual changes in worldview, and all its science and myth and realism and magic are marshaled, finally, to answer crucial questions about empathy and difference, and the way we see people we love." 

My pitch to adult readers: Imagine Stephen King with a heap of magical realism.

"Akata Witch" by Nnedi Okorafor

No YA book dealing with magic can avoid a comparison to "Harry Potter." "Akata Witch" is no exception, but it lives up to the expectations that come when you write about a magic school.

Okorafor's book slams magic right into everyday Nigeria. A 12-year-old albino girl named Sunny is forced to stay out of the sunlight  because of her skin, leaving her feeling trapped. But she soon discovers she is a Leopard — a person with magical powers. (The opposite of a "Lamb," a person with no powers.) 

She joins a class of fellow magical students who must take on a dangerous task. (Yes, I know, it sounds even more like "Harry Potter" now. Just read it.)

My pitch to adult readers: Okorafor, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, provides a much-appreciated new entry to the world of magic­ that doesn't center around Europe.

"Eleanor & Park" by Rainbow Rowell

Here's a good, old-fashioned high school romance: Awkward, painful and light-your-heart-on-fire.

Rowell brings 1986 roaring back to life in all its hair-sprayed glory. She also brings back the humiliation of the school bus. 

Eleanor's wild hair is out of control, her clothes are weird and her home life is falling apart around her. Park is half-Korean, making him one of the only non-white kids in his entire Omaha school. Both outsiders, they're drawn together by mixtapes, comic books and the feeling that they'll just never fit in.

My pitch to adult readers: John Green, the czar of young adult books, made it for me in The New York Times Book Review: "'Eleanor & Park' reminded me not just what it's like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it's like to be young and in love with a book."

"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" by Jesse Andrews

This book is billed as "the funniest book you'll ever read about death."

Andrews mixes the misery of high school with the misery of leukemia in a way that still holds its humor. Yes, it seems like there's a whole subgenre of "cancer books" for young adults, but this has a genuine and inspired heart behind it.

When Greg's mom forces him to hang out with a girl in his class who just got a cancer diagnosis, he'd rather do anything else. But their forced friendship ends up surprising both of them.

My pitch to adult readers: High school sucks. This book agrees.