10 Impressive (and Popular) YA Novels According to Mrs. Krajewski’s Students

Reading is a true passion of mine, and I make it an integral part of my high school English classroom. Ask any of my students, and they will tell you I know a lot about books. I have to, for if I didn’t, I don’t think my passion would be as contagious. Now that we are toward the end of the school year, many of my students “know their books” as well. Below are just some of my students’ current favorites:

Scythe (Arc of the Scythe #1) by Neal Shusterman

Imagine a world where death has been conquered. Now anyone can be revived and saved, no matter what they do to themselves. The world, however, still has death, and scythes are the only ones who can deliver it. Citra and Rowan and two teens will are chosen to become apprentices to Scythe Faraday. Some may look at this as a way out from being “gleaned” by a scythe, but the more they learn, the more they see that being a scythe is a lot harder than it looks.


This book was pure genius, and Neal Shusterman at his best. I can’t keep this title on my shelves.


The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter

Cassie O’Malley is anxious to turn 18, which happens soon. Only then will she finally be able to escape the mental institution her mother shoved her in over two years before. Cassie was pathetic in her mother’s eyes, yet all Cassie continued to desire was her mother’s attention and love. As Cassie grew, she learned that she was utterly alone. Her father didn’t have the guts to stand up to his wife, and Cassie’s brother Matthew got all the attention. By the time Cassie leaves the mental institution, she knows she needs to take college as a fresh start. Will that be possible though, with her mother lurking around every corner?


This was a difficult read, but an amazing and unforgettable one. Kerry Kletter’s writing is beautiful and raw, dripping with emotion at every turn. I couldn’t put it down, and neither can my students!


American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Fabiola Toussaint and her mother want a better life. As the novel opens, they are flying from Haiti to Detroit, Michigan to live with her mother’s sister. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned, and Fabiola’s mother is detained. Fabiola has to navigate the new world she lives in by watching her three cousins and aunt, who live on the corner of American Street and Joy Road. She sees the have a lot of money. How? Fabiola’s Aunt Jo doesn’t go to work, but instead stays in her room all day. Her one cousin, Donna, a true beauty, dates Dray, who gives her all the jewelry and clothes she wants. Donna’s twin Pri, the brawn, who is the exactly opposite of Donna. Then there is Chantal, who is the oldest and the brains of the sisters. Together they are the Three Bees. They make sure no one messes with their cousin. At first, Fabiola just wants good grades and her mother back in her life, but soon she finds that she is getting into trouble on her own.


American Street is a shocking, yet amazing, novel. I loved it, and shared it immediately with my students. Now I can’t keep my two copies on my shelves.


The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon’s first novel, Everything, Everything, was about Madeline, who had a beautiful spirit and sense of humor. Yoon obviously has a knack for creating memorable characters. The Sun Is Also a Star made me fall in love with main characters Daniel and Natasha. Both are teens struggling with very different family issues when they meet one day in New York City. At first, I liked them for different reasons. Daniel was full of optimism and had a strong belief in fate, despite what it made Natasha think of him. He believed the universe brought them together. Natasha, who loved her grunge music and science, had a tough time believing in fate, but she saw something in Daniel that made her trust him. They were so different, but as their love began to grow, I began rooting for them too. Though Natasha and her family were being deported that very day, I began having that same hope that Daniel always believed in: I wanted them to find a way. My fans of Everything, Everything are now falling in love with The Sun Is Also a Star, and you will too.


Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In 2044, the real world has gone to hell, for the people in it spend the majority of their time in the OASIS. This virtual world enables people to have the life they desire, but it comes at a price: people become obsessed and spend all of their time there. When the creator of the OASIS, the genius James Halliday, passes away, a new game awaits all avatars. Whoever finds the three keys will win the Easter Egg: Halliday’s fortune. Wade Watts is one that of many people that wants to win. When he uses his avatar Parzival to find the first key, he instantly becomes part of an intense hunt that everyone is either watching or participating in. As Parzival attempts to win, he meets Art3mis, Aech, Daito, and Shoto, his biggest competitors. Throughout this intense treasure hunt, Ernest Cline weaves in tons of 1980s pop culture references that add a ton of humor.


I wish I would have read this book when it first came out. I know I would have hooked many more of my reluctant male readers. So many have already fallen in love with it this year.


All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Two boys, Rashad and Quinn, are both there that night. Rashad was almost beaten to death, and Quinn watched it happen. This book tells their stories and how their community of Springfield reacted. I incorporated All American Boys into a reading unit this year, and many students chose to read it then. Many students who didn’t read it then are choosing to read it now. This book is powerful. This book will make people think. This book can make people change.


Forever by Judy Blume

Forever. That’s what all teenagers hope for that first time they fall in love. In Judy Blume’s Forever, main characters Katherine and Michael believe exactly that after meeting at a party. They begin an intense romantic relationship that ends up having to go through some tough times. Will their love last forever like the planned?


Judy Blume is still making my students’ favorite lists after all these years, and why not? Her stories are timeless, and most definitely needed. My students see themselves, or their siblings, or their friends in her books.


The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

Eden is a sweet, innocent girl who is looking forward to starting high school. Her older brother, who is her best friend, is now in college, so she misses him and his best friend, Kevin. Kevin has always been a member of the family, but not anymore for Eden. The book opens with Eden waking up the morning after Kevin sneaks into her room and rapes her. He threatens her, saying he will kill her if she says anything. So she doesn’t. The rest of the book is about Eden’s four years of high school, and how she struggles to hold her life together. She becomes a shell of her former self, and begins leading a destructive life. Who will save her, if she is unable to save herself?


I picked up this novel because so many of my students flew through it. Now I understand why. The book is shows the reality of what sexual assault can do to a person.


Winger by Andrew Smith

Meet Ryan Dean West. He is a 14-year-old junior who is stuck in Opportunity Hall, which is where all the troublemakers are. Ryan Dean is not a troublemaker, but somehow trouble always seems to find him. He is the winger on the school rugby team, and in love with a girl who sees him as a great friend. Winger will make you laugh out loud one moment, cringe the next, and then leave you heartbroken in the end. All of your emotions will come out while reading this one, and you’ll be glad you did.


Since Winger came out in 2013, I have had to replace a few copies of it. This book has gotten students to read who truly believed that hated it. This book will be forever loved in my classroom.


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

16-year-old Starr Carter may live in a poor neighborhood called Garden Heights, but that doesn’t mean her classmates at Williamson Prep need to know that side of her. Starr is one of the few black students at Williamson and does all she can to be “Williamson Starr” there. Then one night she sees one of her best friends, Khalil, at a party. The two end up leaving together after shots are fired, and Khalil offers to drive her home. Not more than a few minutes later a cop pulls them over, and before Starr knows what happened, Khalil is dead and he was unarmed. What follows is the aftermath, and Starr is right in the thick of it. She always said she would speak up in a situation like this, but can she now? Will it even make a difference?


What a powerful story. Angie Thomas’s debut is a must-read that is needed in every classroom. Teachers need to read it with their students. Students need to bring it home and share it with their parents. I have four copies in my classroom library, and that’s still not enough.


Sarah Krajewski is a 9th grade English teacher at Cleveland Hill High School near Buffalo, New York.  She is currently in her 15th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. At school, she is known for dedicating her time to helping students become lifelong readers, and for being a devoted reader herself who “knows her books.” At home, she is a proud wife and mother to three avid readers.  You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.