Sometimes when I’m perusing my Goodreads account (hi, let’s be friends there), I see all these great books I read that I feel like went under the radar hardcore or were SUPER popular when they published but I hear NOTHING about now– which is something that’s bound to happen with SO many new books coming out per year. AND I WANT TO TALK ABOUT THESE UNDERRATED HIDDEN GEM YA BOOKS.
I also feel like some of them were before the big YA-boom that happened outside of our YA community space so maybe people didn’t get a chance to discover them or they were just hidden gems in general.
So I decided to take a trip down memory lane and share some of these fantastic books you may have missed over the years whether it’s because you are newer to the YA book scene, they went under your radar or they were on your TBR but you never got to them.
Or maybe you haven’t missed these books because you have been ON TOP OF THINGS when it comes to your YA reading through the years and, in that case, let’s reminisce about great books and convince people in the comments to read them!
[Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links which means that if you click on a link and purchase something I’ve talked about or recommended, I’ll receive a very small percentage of the sale. Please see my disclosure policy for more info.
I included books that were published up through 2014 — will probably eventually add more as years go on.
So let’s get on with these hidden gem YA book:
1. The Body Finder series by Kimberly Derting: If you like some supernatural mysteries, this series was super fun following along with a teen who can hear the echoes of the dead and tries to solve their murders.
2. Summers At Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn: OH MY GOOOOODNESS. I randomly found this book while perusing at the library, recognized the name of the author as I know people who love her adult stuff and it sounded really good so I picked it up. ONE OF MY ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOKS. A charming YA fantasy that just makes me so happy when I think about it.
3. Moonglass by Jessi Kirby: Jessi Kirby is one of the most underrated contemporary YA authors around. I love her books so much and her debut was so wonderful. I also highly recommend her other books that I’ve read: Golden, In Honor and Things We Know By Heart. A beautiful and raw story about a daughter trying to gain closure related to her mother’s death when she was a child as she and her father move back to the beach town where he and her mother grew up and met. Beach life, new friends, cute lifeguards keep Anna busy but can it distract her from the family secrets lingering in her new town?
4. Bunheads by Sophie Flack: If you love all things dance and ballet, this one is more of a quiet contemporary YA about a nineteen year old ballerina in a super prestigious and competitive ballet company. Her whole life has been devoted and she’s been used to juggling everything else in life around it…until she meets Jacob and gets a taste for the freedom outside of a life of professional ballet which makes her question if this is what she really wants for her life. The ballet descriptions are so vivid and transports you right into this world of competitive ballet!
5. Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White: If you are in the mood for a STANDALONE fantasy, check this one out! I LOVED IT! Magic! Great setting! Banter! Snark! It’s wonderful!
6. Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez: A beautifully written novel about a gifted teen musician and her upward climb to success and unlikely romance that could ruin it all. I seriously don’t understand how this book didn’t get more popular back when it came out!
7. Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley: OH THIS BOOK! It makes me irrationally mad that more people haven’t read it. It blew me away…like way more than I thought it would! I was physically squeezing this book so hard while reading it because I was having such a visceral response to what is happening to the main character. The main character, on a dare from her older brother who has since passed away, enrolls in the military school her brothers went to when they announce that they will be accepting females. Being part of the first class of female recruits when a lot of people are NOT okay with the idea makes it a hostile climate for heroine Sam and her fellow female recruits and I FELT IT. It actually surprised me with how intense it all was. But lemme tell you the #girlpower feels are strong here and I was ACTUALLY fistpumping and cheering while reading. Sam is a badass — especially mentally with what she endures.
8. Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid: I feel like this one was really popular in the book community before it came out (HUGE promo at Book Expo that year) and then when it did come out but then I didn’t see much love for it outside of that. I LOVED this book so much. Like SO MUCH. Let’s Get Lost is told from the perspective of four teens who all encounter Leila, a girl on her own journey, in places along her road trip. They all have their separate life happenings and hurts and somehow Leila winds up in their life at the right moment as she’s driving across the United States. I found myself desperate to know why Leila’s journey was so important and loved watching how Leila would get entangled in each person’s individual affairs. It wasn’t what I expected by the end! Definitely pick it up if you like John Green’s stuff!
9. Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley: This book was soooo suspenseful and quite a page-turner. It’s about a girl who finds herself outside of her home, to the surprise of her parents, who inform her that she’s been missing for 3 years. Her last memory was from when she was 13. The mystery of what happened in the last 3 years is SUPER compelling and the main character’s story is harrowing and intense.
10. Pointe by Brandy Colbert: Oh this book was so hard to read at times! It deals with a kidnapping, depression, eating disorder and a whole bunch of other things that made my heart hurt and made me feel raw emotion. It’s definitely an intense and gritty sort of read dealing with some heavy topics.
11. The Boy In the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds: Jason Reynolds is super popular yet I feel like this book is super under the radar. It’s definitely a slower, quieter novel but oh my heart it’s so wonderful.
12. Behind The Scenes by Dahlia Adler: An addictive and enjoyable read with a fun Hollywood setting and a VERY shippable romance aka normal girl falls for the hot co-star on her bff’s new teen show who ends up being her faux boyfriend in a publicity stunt. A great beach read!! Dahlia’s books are so underrated!! I’m OBSESSED with her book Just Visiting (not published before 2014 for the purposes for my post) and her amazing romance series set in college.
In The After by Demitria Lunetta: A post-apocalyptic survival story filled to the brim with action and twists and turns. Could not put it down!
Vixen by Jillian Larkin: This was a fun series set in the 1920’s full of flappers and gangsters and speakeasies and glamour.
Life By Committee by Corey Ann Haydu: I get sad that this has a lower average rating on Goodreads because I LOVED this book and I’m sad that it didn’t click for others the way it did for me! If you like messy and imperfect and flawed characters (like for real) you NEED this book in your life!! I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH!!
Send Me A Sign by Tiffany Schmidt: Get the tissues ready for this one!! This story about a girl who finds out she has leukemia and tries to hide it from all her friends nearly broke my heart.
Shade by Jeri Smith Ready: If you love paranormal romance, this is a series that just went absolutely under the radar!
Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard: Ahhh I love this contemporary YA so much. If you love travel, get this one!! Traveling through Central America with Bria was amazing & I loved the romance!
I’ll Be There by Holly Goldburg Sloan: This book is so beautiful and such a testament to how we all are so interconnected and weave through one anothers lives making varying degrees of impressions. I just loved the little vignettes of many people’s lives that were used to tell this story of Sam and Emily.
The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna: This book is such an underrated YA sci-fi gem!! The Lost Girl takes place in the future when scientists (the Weavers) have perfected a way to make an “echo” or copy of somebody that would take the place of the original human being, or the “other” as they are referred to, in the event that the “Other” died. The practice is not widely accepted in some countries and is against the law in many others so the echos have to be hidden. The echo’s life is devoted to studying their Others life so intently that, if something happened, they’d be able to take their place seamlessly. The main character gets to fulfill her duty when her Other dies and well…you can imagine it’s not that easy for her or the family/friends to accept.
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Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Keuhnert: A really fantastic book– raw, gritty and powerful in both its story and the emotional impact it had on me as it weaved together this story of family, heartbreak, losing control and then making the choice to regain control amidst the chaos. If you don’t mind a gritty and darker book, this one is for you!
The Walled City by Ryan Graudin: I was so fascinated with this premise especially once I learned it was based on a real thing! I was absolutely transported to the dark, dangerous streets of the walled city and the fear and the danger the characters were experiencing were also mine to bear as I was reading. I could feel the danger lurking, the hopeless/despair and the suffocating nature of the city. Really vivid setting and quite a page-turner!
A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty: SUCH AN UNDERRATED FANTASY. Very quirky, imaginative and different from most of the fantasy I see out/read! It’s so WEIRD and strange…but like in a good way? Step into the Kingdom of Cello, y’all!
Speechless by Hannah Harrington: Speechless breathes new life into the “mean girl fall from grace” plot with the way it seamlessly explores the many facets of high school experience — the fickle nature of popularity and social status, the damage of gossip, the beginnings of finding yourself in an atmosphere that wants everyone to be the same, etc. –and tackles it at a level that goes beyond the superficial surface of it all. Really loved watching the main character, Chelsea, grow after her sharing of a secret really harmed someone.
The Book Of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler: I’m obsessed with Sarah Ockler’s books and think she truly should be more popular and I always make sure people who love Sarah Dessen read her! This one really stuck with me. It is a beautifully bittersweet story full of unforgettable characters, a sweet romance and passages that begged to be dogeared. I’ve read a lot of books that deal with families in the midst of a crisis like an ill parent but none have been as poignant or special to me as Jude and Papi’s story. It was undoubtedly such an authentic look, through the eyes of a teenager who has to watch her dad fade away, at how a tragedy like that affects the whole family.
Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland: If you are looking for a good beach read, DO NOT LET THIS ESCAPE YOUR BEACH BAG THIS YEAR! It has a GREAT summer/beach vibe and I always do love that in a beach read but it also has a great romance along with good family and friend dynamics. It was a quick read that explored a few relationships — romance, a fractured friendship and a strained mother-daughter relationship — in a really great setting that will have you thirsting for your own summer romance in Nantucket.
Not A Drop To Drink by Mindy McGinnis: This one was pretty popular in the YA community when it came out but wish it gained even more traction! This gritty, bare bones survival story really captivated me!! It’s set in a world where water is a scarce commodity and if you have it…you protect it. I just loved how gritty it was and how it really delves into some grey morality issues when one is in survival mode. Really fantastic read!!
Where The Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller: Oh man do I love Trish’s books! In this one Trish Doller wrote a story that made my heart explode into pieces so small they shouldn’t have been able to been able to be put back together — but somehow she managed to put them back together with a moving story of family, second chances, love and facing your future despite your past. Callie’s whole childhood has been on the road with her mother after she left her father. After 10 years Callie is sent to live with her dad and his new family after Callie’s mom gets arrested for kidnapping. Callie is thrust back into this town she doesn’t remember, a dad she barely knows and a big Greek family she never got to know and she struggles to fit into it all, have a relationship with her dad and let herself love.
What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton: This was such a hard read about a girl who endures something terrible at the hand of seemingly charming guy she meets that she can’t fully remember and explores how she processes and deals with this life-altering event that makes her shut down, withdraw from her previous life and not tell anyone. (TW for sexual assault/rape)
Friday Never Leaving by Vikki Wakefield: Friday Never Leaving was such a gem and I wish it got more love here in the States when it got published (I think it’s way more popular in Australia where it was first published). Oh man. You need to meet Friday Brown and the street kids she meets on her way to finding where she belongs after the death of her mother and learns how family/home/belonging can mean different things.
Brazen by Katherine Longshore: Brazen was an addictive romp through King Henry VIII’s court during the time of Anne Boleyn’s reign as Queen told through the eyes of Mary Howard. Scandal, romance and drama! If you loved Reign, you need this book in your life!
Something Real by Heather Demetrios: I’ll be honest, my FAVE book from this author is I’ll Meet You There but I really LOVED this one so much. Like, so much. I thought it would be a fun story about a family who is a famous reality show family but it was SO MUCH MORE.
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Have you read any of these? What are some YA books published pre-2014 that you think *I* might have missed and would love?
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