Here at Pages Unbound, we love reading YA! Still, there are some types of YA books I would love to see more of! Below is my list.
Characters Who Pursue a Vocation
I see a lot of YA books about characters who are going to college, but I do not think I have ever read a YA book where the protagonist decided to pursue a trade. It would be really interesting–and powerful–to have more protagonists who attend vocational schools or participate in apprenticeships. I know authors probably want to celebrate higher education and encourage readers to attend college, but pursuing a vocation is a valid life decision, too! Why not reflect that in literature?
Characters Who Do Not Get Into Their Dream College/an Ivy League School
I wrote in 2020 that I wanted to see YA book treat college applications more realistically by showing some of the process (applying for financial aid, worrying about the personal essay, etc.) and by showcasing some more protagonists who do not get into an Ivy League school. (Especially since many of these characters do not even seem to study that much, and surely would not be chosen out of all the more qualified applicants, when acceptance rates are so incredibly low!)
Some commentors suggested that having protagonists worry about the application process or financial aid, or having characters experience rejection would be too depressing for teens, but I don’t think that is the case. Most teens probably do worry about the process, and I am sure most also relate to worrying where the money will come from. It’s relatable! And being rejected from schools is a reality for probably most applicants. The book would only be depressing if it suggested that rejection from an Ivy League or a dream school is actually the end of the protagonist’s life. But the book could just as easily show the protagonist choosing to move forward after rejection and still finding success. Which is something plenty of people do in real life!
Funny YA Books (NOT Dark Humor or Rom Coms)
Humorous middle grade books like Dog Man and Diary of a Wimpy Kid are extremely popular, but humor in YA books seems mainly to be relegated to either dark humor or romantic comedies. I would love to see YA books that treat the experience high school with humor! Why not have a Wimpy Kid-esque book for teens?
More International Authors/Translations
I would love to see more international authors being published in the U.S.! I think voices from other countries would diversify the types of books on the market, not only because other countries might publish books that aren’t seen as marketable in the U.S.–and so these books would hopefully feel less formulaic–but also because readers would be exposed to ways of thinking that are not U.S.-centric. I talked about wanting to see more international authors back in 2019, and it seems not much has changed in terms of what is being offered.
More Friendship, Less Romance
YA books are often associated with romance and middle grade books tend to focus more on friend and family relationships. But friendships are important for people of all ages, and not every teen is going to experience a whirlwind romance (and probably not a love triangle). I like a good romance in my stories, it is true. But I think it would be good to reflect more often the experiences of teens who are not dating and maybe are not even interested in dating yet!
I have no idea why pictures are considered to be just for little kids. Illustrations are an art form, one that can be appreciated by all ages! I would love to see YA books that are illustrated–not just with little borders or decorative elements, but with full-page pictures. And I think it would appeal to teens, too! I know a lot of teens who seem to be just reading Wimpy Kid over and over again. And manga is increasingly popular with teens, as well. Why not make some sort of illustrated book series for those fans? Teens like pictures, too!
Shorter YA Books
I enjoy longer books! I really do! But sometimes it feels like every YA book I pick up is 400 pages or more. I wouldn’t mind a few more teen books in the 300-page range. Sometimes having to edit a book down can really streamline the narrative, too, so it’s a win all around!
More YA Books for Younger Teens
I have been talking about the lack of YA books for younger teens for years, and I still maintain there is a need! Most YA books certainly seem to be more mature and possibly aimed at an adult, not a teen audience. I would recommend the majority of YA to readers 16+. But we need books for younger teens! Books where the protagonists are 14 or 15, a freshman or a sophomore in high school. I think younger teen books are being marketed as middle grade these days, but that makes it harder for teens to find these books, especially as they desire to read up and enter the world of YA. It’s time for YA books to be written for teens of varying ages, not adults.
Sometimes I see YA books focused on sports like football or cheerleading, but I would love to see more stories focused around extracurriculars like band, math competitions, academic bowls, and more. Something like The View from Saturday for teens!
More Standalone Fantasies
I love a good series! I also love a good standalone. I enjoy having that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment when I finish a book–and also the knowledge that I will not have to dedicate the next seven years trying to keep up with all the new installments. Find our list of 17 YA Standalone Fantasies and our list of 20 Standalone YA Fantasies!
What would you like to see more of in YA?
21 thoughts on “My YA Book Wishlist”
Total agreement with you on needing more YA for 14-16! 🙌
There is a lot I have comments for here, but I am trying to focus on one (or two). I have always clamored about the lack of books for the younger YA. It seems there is middle grades, and then all the main characters in the majority of YA books tend to be in their last two years of high school (or starting college). The only thing is when I see reviews for those younger YA books, they always say the characters feel “young”. They are 14 (or so) – they are young! I personally enjoy the different challenges of that age group for a bit of change of pace. I was a school teacher for over a decade, and I would love to see books featuring teens interested in vocational school (versus college). I always felt like we pushed all kids towards college as the only means to a future. Dead wrong. There are many well paying jobs that require vocational training and would better suit some of the kids I had taught.
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Really interesting perspective, Samantha.
I live in the UK and as a student, I always felt the same way (re: being railroaded to university).
I think I always wanted to go, but there was that added pressure of ‘what happens if you don’t get the grades?’. Never did our teachers, or parents to be fair, discuss the alternatives.
It’s a shame.
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Agree with a lot of your points actually as a blogger who focuses on YA, that’s why its been a struggle with me to keep up with a lot of recent releases (especially when seeing the long page count)!! I think a lot of YA I’ve read touch upon the points you’ve mentioned here, but its sometimes tough to remember them all 😅 One that comes to mind for the “extracurriculars” (one of the mc’s is a drummer in band) and “worrying about the college process” was definitely the YA Our Way Back To Always (nina moreno) it made each of those points present in the characters stories, highly recommned! A fantastic post, I LOVED reading this 💕
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This is a great list. I want to point out that while there are some books which do fit into your list, more of them are needed; and, we’re getting them!
True- my first WIP is a middle grade is meant for those ages 8-12, however will have illustrations
But with Ayra’s Story (true, still don’t have a title or plot yet)———I know it is a fantasy, but have no clue if it is a YA or not
When I go to a bookstore, I don’t usually go straight to the YA book section (usually in the adult section or the middle grade section); not in YA
Amazing list! I always enjoy books with friendship in books and some I have read that usually they balance the romance, never more than romance.
Great point re: the vocational route. It would certainly diversify the kind of characters we typically see in YA.
I also love the idea of a more comedic-focused book.
You make an interesting point about less series and more standalone books. I agree, I just wonder if there’s pressure from a commercial POV.
Publishers are always trying to find that next book that’ll spawn a series. I wonder if that’s why we don’t see it as often in the YA space.
Anyway, great blog as ever.
I love all your points! Not everyone gets into their dream school or goes to college or wants to date in high school or ever. I’d love to read a book that included any of these!
Yeah, we’re getting so many great new books lately. I’d love to see some more of these ideas get more attention! There might even be some out there now and I’ll discover them later!
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Yes yes yes! Hard agree on the pursuing a vocation instead of college/not going to Ivy League schools thing; I’d love to see more YA protagonists deciding to go to state schools, to not go to college, to live with their parents while attending college, to go to community college before going off to a four-year institution. At this point, my eyebrows go up a little when a middle-class protagonist can decide to go to NYU or Boston University, no problem. It’s 2022, and that stuff is out of reach even with privilege; I think we should start using contemporary YA to reassure people that making realistic school choices is normal and okay.
Ah, yes! I’m trying to think if I’ve ever seen any of those scenarios. I feel like books usually portray going to community college as a failure. The character usually couldn’t get into a “better” school or the character in question is small-minded and doesn’t have the vision to leave their hometown and explore the great outside world of Other Colleges. It’s often very negative! But community college is a perfectly valid choice. There are many with great programs!
Also, yes, the number of characters who go to prestigious schools with no talk of money and who also never seem to study is truly baffling!
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The only contemporary (really, near-future) YA I can recall with a character who doesn’t go to college is K. Ancrum’s The Weight of the Stars. It was handled really well––and Ancrum made some effort to acknowledge that the adults in their life gave them a lot of needless blowback.
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Definitely more friendship-focused YA for me. One of my biggest personal complaint about YA fantasy is how often the romance starts to overshadow everything else in the story to the point that I find it annoying. The only recent YA book I can think of off the top of my head that didn’t try to force romance into the plot was Elatsoe (and if the main character wasn’t asexual, there probably would have been a romance)
Yes! I like a little romance in my books as much as anyone, but if the protagonist is trying to save the world or something, I get annoyed when they start mooning over their crush for 300 pages instead of focusing on the mission. I picked up a fantasy adventure to see some adventure happening!
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I definitely agree that YA could use more humorous books! As someone who primarily reads YA fantasy, it can get a bit exhausting to see all these dark and grim series with extremely high stakes like saving the world. They all kind of blend together after a while and personally I think YA authors are pushed to make their books dark and “edgy” because publishers think it’ll sell more. I think more lighthearted and low-stakes fantasy stories can really diversify the genre.
For illustrations: I totally agree. A lot of authors commission some really beautiful art for their series nowadays, and it’d be nice to see them in the books as well. I don’t know if you know about Japanese light novels, but a lot of those have illustrations and those are considered one of the selling points (of course it helps that they tend to be on the fanservicey side though haha)
Yes, I find myself reading a lot more MG these days just because YA is so dark! There’s only so much violence and despair I can handle at one time. And I do think that these books are being pushed to be edgier for an adult audience, but I think that publishers should go back to serving the teens these books are allegedly meant for. Adults have their own books and don’t need to take over the teen section with dark despair!
Oh, so true! People do make and buy fan art, and sometimes authors actually offer this, so there’s clearly a market for it! Why not illustrations?!
And I have seen the Japanese light novels! I haven’t read any because I don’t read a lot of manga, but I love both that they are shorter and feel more accessible than a 500-page dark fantasy, and that they have some pictures!
100% agree on all of these.
The one YA book that I can think of that is funny is The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Excursion by Chris McCoy. Instead of a romance the two main characters become friends in the end as well.
Rachel Neumeier is a good and underrated YA author that writes stand alone fantasy. I recommend The City in the Lake.