I read a lot of books – essay and poetry collections, history books, literary fiction, memoirs – and I love them all. But when I want to disappear into a book, to really escape, I read young adult fantasy series. I was set on this path when my mom gave me The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was about 6. I’ve been using fantasy books as my way into the Narnia of magic and power ever since.
So here, in no particular order, are my twelve (I couldn’t stop at ten today) favorite young adult fantasy series.
1. The Pellinor Series by Allison Croggon – I fond this series at my local library when I was in the darkest grief over Mom’s death. The strong female protagonist, the journey to overcome, the rich land of Croggn’s world – they all helped me heal a bit. (If you’re on Goodreads, there’s a fun Pellinor discussion group there.)
2. The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper – My mom read these books first, and then she passed them on to me. The protagonist is young Will Stanton, who discovers he has a journey and a duty as the last of the Old Ones who guard the earth from the dark. The whole series is amazing.
3. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins – I got totally caught up in the hype for these books, but in my opinion, it’s hype well-deserved. There’s complex characterization for Katniss, and then, Peeta. . . sigh. Not the best writing ever, but engrossing and original.
4. The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix – Magic, forces of dark and light, a young woman growing into herself, and a medieval-ish setting – all things that hooked me in. Plus, Nix’s choice to bring good out of something we typically see as so bad – death – is powerful and healing.
5. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – by J. R. R. Tolkien – If you’ve seen the movies but haven’t read the books, it’s time. The books are nuanced and complex. The characters so very human – even if they aren’t actually humans. I love Frodo Baggins because of his fear and the way he overcomes it. Of the four, The Hobbit is my favorite, but the whole series is profound. It has shaped my theology and my faith deeply.
6.His Dark Materials
by Philip Pullman – You may have seen the film version of The Golden Compass, but don’t let that film deter you from the books. They are masterful, and I rooted for Lyra like I have never rooted for a character before. In the final book, I sobbed. You’ll see why. Pullman is critical of organized religion, and I appreciated his criticism because it is wise and helpful. Nothing to fear here except losing hours of your day to great reading.
7. The Complete Harry Potter Collection by J.K. Rowling – When these books first came out, I was working in the children’s section of a bookstore. I cursed Harry Potter most days because of the amount of “junk” that went with the books, including the packets of beans that I’d find empty behind the picture books. But hype aside, these books are lovely – fun, engrossing, and Hermione – oh Hermione. If you haven’t read them, try them. I think you’ll like it.
8. Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan – I must confess that I have not read the Percy Jackson series. I should, I know, but now that I’ve read this one (which is the sequel to that series), I feel like I’m coming in too late. But in this series, I’m enthralled by how Riordan works in both Greek and Roman mythology and crafts a captivating through-plot while also making each book feel complete. Such fun.
9. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl – The thing I love most about these books – and I’ve just started the second one – is the point of view. Unlike most other YA fantasy, the narrator in this book is not magical; he’s human, and it’s his girlfriend who has the powers. This POV lets us get closer to the story as ourselves. We imagine what it might be like to BE Ethan rather than Lena, and that’s fresh. So far, so good.
10. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis – Start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when you begin. While the newer versions have The Magician’s Nephew first in the series, Lewis wanted LWW to be first, and it works better. You get a full sense of Narnia and the characters before you flash back in MN to get the backstory. These are my FAVORITE books of all time. Just read them.
11. The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer – Some of you are rolling your eyes already. Yes, Bella can be annoying. Yes, the writing isn’t profound. But boy oh boy, did these books grip me? I stayed up all night reading the first one and bought the next three the next day. If you’ve ever felt lonely or outcast, these books grip you, especially if you’ve felt like the only unloved one. So yeah, they’re fun.
12. The Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeline L’Engle – Next to The Chronicles of Narnia, these books are my favorites. I love the wisdom that L’Engle sprinkles in, especially through Mrs. Whatsit, and time travel and physics and all the great ways science allies with fantasy. Great for younger kids, too. I still miss Meg and Charles Wallace.
Those are my favorites. What would you add?