Writers are Readers: Best Lessons from Young Adult Books

Whenever my students ask me what they can do to become better writers, I tell them to write a lot–and read a lot. Reading is critical for writers at all stages: it gives you a good sense of the play and rhythm of words, it helps you assess the current market for your genre, and it’s just good for you generally.

When I’m struggling to master a particular concept in writing (whether that’s microtension, or pacing, or character development), I often find it helpful to turn to a book that demonstrates that concept and analyze how it works. Since I write young adult novels, I’ve pulled my examples from some of my favorite YA books (these run a gamut of genres).


FangirlFor a lesson in voice: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
For a lesson in character development: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Stronger than You Know by Jolene Perry
For a lesson in romantic tension: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer L. Smith, The Distance Between Us by Kasie West, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

This Is Where It EndsFor a lesson in strong sibling relationships: Ink and Ashes by Valynne Maetani, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
For a lesson in pacing:  This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp (forthcoming), Red Rising by Pierce Brown, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
For a lesson in making unlikeable characters likeable: Vicious by Victoria Schwab, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Strange Sweet SongFor a lesson in mood: Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Strange, Sweet Song by Adi Rule
For a lesson in magic systems/world building, Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, Partials by Dan Wells
For a lesson in creating a vivid historical world: The Caged Graves by Dianne Salierni, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

For a lesson in humor: Not in the Script by Amy Finnegan, Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me, by Kristen Chandler, Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
UprootedFor a lesson in creating an evocative, unforgettable setting: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This post is the fourth in a series on learning from books:

Writers are Readers: Best Lessons from New Adult Books by Helen

Writers Are Readers: Best Lessons from Middle Grade Books by Elaine

Writers Are Readers: Best Lessons from Middle Grade Fantasy Books by Erin

I’d love to hear some of your favorite YA books to learn from in the comments!

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