If You Didn’t Like This, Try This (YA Edition)

Book recommendations are usually given based on books that readers like.

You’re a fan of Stieg Larsson? Read some Jussi Adler-Olson. You enjoy a little (or a lot) of Robert Jordan? Read Tad Williams.

If You Like This, Try This is, not so coincidentally, today’s Bout of Books prompt. But since everyone else is doing that I thought I’d try something a little different.

Book recommendations rarely come as a result of what readers don’t like. But disappointment can be fertile ground. If a reader shows interest in a particular genre or style, there’s something that’s drawing them in. Quite often, though, they pick the wrong book (i.e. the “it” book at the moment) as a test–a book that doesn’t speak to them for one reason or another–and they swear off the genre altogether.

For that person, no one was there to talk them off the ledge. Had someone suggested something in the same vein, something with that same spark that drew their attention in the first place, then that’s one reader saved.

With that in mind, I’m going to suggest a few titles for those who have waded into YA but found it a little lacking. Maybe you loved the easy language and edge-of-your-seat pacing, but wanted something a little riskier, or a more sophisticated romance, or harsher consequences.

Whatever the case, if YA hasn’t done it for you I’m here to suggest a few alternatives that might provide what you’re looking for.


If you weren’t entirely satisfied with …
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

I would recommend you read …
The Magicians by Lev Grossman

In many respects, The Magicians was written in direct response to Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s a postmodern deconstruction of many of the books you grew up loving. It takes fantasy and makes them reality, only to show how unsatisfying and destructive that can be. But it’s also, like, crazy fun.

In a nutshell, The Magicians is a story in which “Harry Potter” (in this case, Quentin Coldwater) grows up a fanboy of “The Chronicles of Narnia” (a series called Fillory and Further), discovers “Hogwarts” (er, Brakebills) at 17 rather than 11, and learns that without monsters to combat and evil to vanquish magic has no practical application. He becomes an apathetic, melancholic byproduct of magical ennui.

If you felt like Harry and the gang possessed a little too much whimsy and not enough edge, then give The Magicians a shot.


If you weren’t entirely satisfied with …
Graceling by Kristin Cashore

I would recommend you read …
The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

This pick is probably the shortest jump in terms of tone, as some readers would argue that The Assassin’s Apprentice is an actually YA novel. I disagree, but as you probably know, the YA designation can be extremely subjective.

Like Graceling, The Assassin’s Apprentice features a young protagonist trained to kill at the request of a king, and as one might expect, shit eventually hits the fan. There’s poison and murder and subterfuge, as well as a quasi-zombie outbreak. There’s young romance thrown in for good measure.

But where Graceling might be seen as surface-level entertainment, The Assassin’s Apprentice dares to delve a little deeper. Where Graceling is a book about a young adult for young adults, The Assassin’s Apprentice is a book about a young adult that’s not written for young adults. Big difference.


If you weren’t entirely satisfied with …
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I would recommend you read …
The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari

The Book of Joby is a novel I often submit during “tragically under-appreciated books” conversations. I’ve never met a person who’s even heard of it, and it’s a book that absolutely knocks me on my ass with how terrific it is. Rather than the Greek gods of Riordan’s series, Mark J. Ferrari deals with the Christian pantheon.

It goes a little something like this. God and the Devil have once again wagered the existence of creation upon the success or failure of one man (or in Joby’s case, one boy). Nine-year-old Joby dreams of blazing like a bonfire against the gathering darkness of his times. Instead, he is subjected to a life of crippling self-doubt and relentless mediocrity thanks to a meddling Satan, an enemy he did nothing to earn and cannot begin to comprehend. Angels are forbidden to intervene as Lucifer, unhindered, attempts to turn Joby’s pure heart into a shadow of its former self.

Grown to manhood, Joby’s last respite of hope lies in a forgotten seaside village and the hearts of Joby’s long lost youthful love and her emotionally wounded son. But the ravenous forces of destruction that follow Joby into this concealed paradise plan to use these same things to bring him and his world to ruin.

Oh, and there’s also this thing about Joby and his friends being the reincarnated King Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere. Merlin may or may not appear.

It sounds weird, I know. But trust me when I tell you that Mark J. Ferrari somehow makes it work.

After writing this, I think I’m going to go back and re-read it…


If you weren’t entirely satisfied with …
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

I would recommend you read …
The Radleys by Matt Haig

The Radleys takes classic vampire tropes and uses them to deal with all those dangerous, exciting things we reveled in during our youth, but now abstain from in order to live a civilized, “adult” lifestyle.

Married couple Helen and Peter are like any other that finds themselves in a rut. They are struggling to find happiness and peace, but it goes much deeper than that. Haig uses vampirism to symbolize the responsibility we all assume during that transition from child to adult.

At the same time, the Radleys face English middle-class social issues like mid-life crises, bullying, fidelity, and conformity. And I swear to God it’s funny.

The Radleys is a vampire book for readers who don’t normally read from the genre, but I think this is something that traditional fans can enjoy as well. There’s enough respect paid to the classic presentations of the vampire myth, but Haig also parodies the concept whenever he can. He finds a nice balance.


If you weren’t entirely satisfied with …
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I would recommend you read …
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami and Masayuki Taguchi

I read Battle Royale (the 15-volume manga adaptation, not the novel) years before The Hunger Games, which ruined any chance I had of enjoying the YA juggernaut.

The two stories are incredibly alike, however Suzanne Collins’ PG-13 knock-off is not even in the same stratosphere as Takami’s epic.

As part of a ruthless program by a totalitarian government, ninth-grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one “winner” remains. The elimination contest becomes the ultimate in must-see reality television.

Sound familiar?

Like The Hunger Games, Battle Royale started as a book and was later adapted into a film, but it’s the manga series that I would urge you to read.

The difference between the two is that Battle Royale is unflinchingly brutal. Seriously, it’s incredibly graphic, and not for the faint of heart.

You know … how a contest about murdering teenagers would actually be.

But, more importantly, it’s incredibly, surprisingly poignant. I’ve read very little that has even come close to touching it.


Got any ideas?

Let me know some of your own “If you don’t like this, try this” suggestions in the comments.

2 thoughts on “If You Didn’t Like This, Try This (YA Edition)

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