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Ask the Strategist: What Are the Best YA Novels for 11-Year-Olds?

Get your 11-year-old to read as much as Matilda. Photo: TriStar Pictures

In our advice column, Ask the Strategist, we take your most burning shopping questions and scour friends, call up experts, and draw from personal experience to answer them. As always, please comment with one of your own — we’re here to help.

Question: I need a very personal gifting recommendation! A list of trendy YA novels for my 11-year-old cousin. What’s out there?

For this journey into the world of young-adult fiction, I got in touch with Kat Rosenfield, a YA author who wrote an amazing deep dive into niche YA Twitter drama for Vulture. She responded that she’s not so attuned to what’s on the shelves these days and instead connected us with Melissa Albert, another YA author and an editor at Barnes & Noble Teens, “who really knows her stuff.”

Kat did leave us with one tip, though: 11 is a bit younger than YA is actually intended for, “not that that’s really a barrier for precocious kids who like to read, but might get some parents in a twist depending on what’s in the book.” Which is perhaps why this is actually a great little, secretly subversive, gift to get from an older cousin.

Then Melissa came through with some very specific and helpful recommendations.


“I’d start with Adam Rex’s brilliantly funny, deeply magical, age-appropriately complex Cold Cereal saga! It’s amazing.”

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is pretty damn irresistible for a magic-loving 11-year-old.”

“The same goes for Laura Ruby’s slightly harder-edged, steampunk-tinged York (first in a series).” Gotta love steampunk for the kiddies.

“Tracey Baptiste’s mystical, gently spooky The Jumbies is equally excellent.”

These aren’t exactly new YA, but “Louis Sachar’s Wayside School books and Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me should also be on every 11-year-old’s shelves.” Can’t go wrong with the classics.

For feminists (and future feminists)

We’ve also previously published a whole post about young-adult books for stoking the feminist fire. Below are a few of our favorites, taken from there.

Young Meg Murry fights against forces of darkness to save her younger brother and her dad in this sci-fi kids’ classic that introduced concepts of quantum physics to a mass youth audience. Spoiler: She’s really good at math, too.

This best-selling series taught girls they could run their own businesses using their individual talents — and that a group of women united were more powerful than one alone. Begin with the one that started them all: From Kristy’s Great Idea to the world’s ears.

This book began as a TEDx Talk, and it’s as appropriate a refresher for your grandma as it is for your teenage niece (or nephew). Adichie, a novelist, uses her personal experience growing up in Nigeria as a branching-off point to share universal truths in this slight (in size) but inherently weighty work.

Jensen gathers the work of 44 writers, dancers, actors, and artists in this collection of writing and art “about everything from body positivity to romance to gender identity to intersectionality to the greatest girl friendships in fiction.” Contributors to this feminist-power tome include Mindy Kaling, Malinda Lo, Wendy Davis, and Roxane Gay.

We’d love to hear from you. If you have any burning questions, please leave them for us in the comments.

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It’s a surprisingly subversive gift.