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13 Nostalgic YA Books from the Early 2000s

by Abby Montanez
ya books of the early 2000s

Young-adult literature has always been popular, but it was really at its peak from 2000 to 2010. So much so, Amazon Books named it the YA Decade. That just so happens to be when I was growing up, which is maybe why I gravitated towards that genre (and still do as an adult). The characters were close to my age, experiencing the same phase of life at what felt like the same time. Not only did YA lit confirm my love of reading, but it’s also the reason I became a writer in the first place. Let’s take a little trip down memory lane with these nostalgic YA books from the early 2000s. Shall we? 

Now, we’re all familiar with the “Hunger Games” trilogy and the “Twilight” saga—or have at least seen the movie adaptations. But the early 2000s also brought us heavy YA hitters like John Green and Sarah Dessen. In case you’re thinking you’re *too old* to indulge in these reads now, who said they can’t be equally beloved by all generations? Yes, I picked up many of these titles as a teen. But certain YA books from the early 2000s have stayed with me for a lifetime. Here are a few from my collection. 

1. “This Lullaby” by Sarah Dessen 

In true Sarah Dessen fashion, “This Lullaby” is a love story at its core. But, flawed protagonist Remy Starr has always had her doubts. Maybe that’s because her mom is on her fifth husband and her brother’s recent engagement. That is, until a potential new romantic interest pops into the picture. Can goofy, impulsive rock band musician Dexter restore her faith in functional relationships? 

2. “Looking for Alaska” by John Green 

It took 14 years for John Green’s 2005 novel “Looking for Alaska” to get a Hulu series. And that might be the first frame of reference for younger generations. Although the story is the same, I still find that Green’s words in comparison to his TV/film adaptations hit harder on the page. 

It’s a rather tragic story that Miles “Pudge” Halter tells of his time at an Alabama boarding school. A girl, unsurprisingly, is at the heart of his problems but if it’s a love story you’re looking for, you won’t find it here. “Looking for Alaska” deals with heavy themes—albeit in a humorous way—such as death, grief, independence and mental illness. That being said, it’s still one of my favorite YA books from the early 2000s.

3. “Twenty Boy Summer” by Sarah Ockler

The beaches of Zanzibar Bay, California set the stage for Sarah Ockler’s “Twenty Boy Summer.” Anna tags along on a vacation with her best friend Frankie and her family, who are hoping this trip gives a sense of normalcy following the passing of their son just one year ago. Frankie and Anna figure if they meet one boy a day, their odds of having a summer fling are stacked. However, Anna is still caught up in thinking about what could’ve been, since she was secretly dating Frankie’s brother before his death. 

4. “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Highly popularized by the 2008 movie starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” is the OG young adult indie romance. During a night out in the city, a chance encounter brings Nick and Norah together. However, Nick is still hung up on his ex and Norah is practically babysitting her drunk best friend. A quick turn of events and the two end up on an accidental first date that’s chock full of adventure. 

5. “When It Happens” by Susane Colasanti 

Do you know who loves a book that switches viewpoints? This girl. “When It Happens” is a young adult romance told from the dual perspectives of Sara and Tobey—two high school seniors living in New Jersey (Colasanti grew up in Somerset County). In a classic tale of boy likes girl, but said girl likes another boy, the book follows the growing relationship between Tobey and Sara. But does first love always end so sweet? You’ll have to read to find out. 

6. “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman 

Grab the tissues because the plot of “If I Stay” is straight-up devastating. And if you’ve seen the 2014 adaptation starring Chloë Grace Moretz, you know what I’m talking about. 17-year-old Mia has it all until a serious car crash involving her family occurs. Mia ends up in a coma, but her level of consciousness continues to go in and out. Just earlier that day, the biggest decisions in her life were choosing between her boyfriend and a music career. But now, she has to make the biggest choice of all—life or death.

7. “Perfect You” by Elizabeth Scott

Things go from bad to worse for leading character Kate Brown. Her home life is deteriorating, her friend group is shrinking and it’s hard to tell if the boy she likes even likes her back. There’s a lot that’s up in the air until the very end, which can make this feel like a frustrating read. But, if you into the anti-hero type, then “Perfect You” might be perfect for you. 

8. “Just Listen” by Sarah Dessen

Annabel Greene has gone through some hard times, and she’s buried them deep, deep inside herself. Even as readers, we’re not totally clued in on the secrets eating away at her. Then high school “bad boy” Owen Armstrong comes along and becomes her shoulder to lean on. Through their relationship, we’re able to get some clarity on the turmoil in Annabel’s life. For Dessen, “Just Listen” is a darker read dealing with themes such as sexual assault, depression and eating disorders.

9. “Take Me There” by Susane Colasanti 

“Take Me There” reminds me of the “Something Borrowed” novel by Emily Giffin. Or the 2011 movie version of it at least, starring Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin. Main characters James, Nicole and Rihannon are in quite a complicated place when we first meet them. James is in love with Rhiannon, but she thinks they’re better off as friends and wants to get back with her ex. Nicole’s ex wants her back, but she’s into someone else. The book takes place over one (albeit eventful) week and is told from each of the three character’s perspectives. 

10. “An Abundance of Katherines” by John Green 

Colin Singleton has been dumped 19 times, all by girls named Katherine. Talk about having a type, am I right? This rejection leads the former child prodigy to create a mathematical theorem entitled, “Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability,” which he believes will forecast the future of any relationship. This is, however, just a small piece of the book. The main storyline follows Colin and his best friend Hassan on a road trip through rural Tennesse that’s full of self-discovery, *actual* discovery and reinvention. 

11. “Waiting for You” by Susane Colasanti 

Ever have that moment when you realize that what you want most in life is already staring you in the face? Yeah, this book’s main character Marisa can relate. Her nerdy next-door neighbor Nash has been in love with her for years, but how long will it take her to notice? And will her current relationship with handsome, big-shot Derek convince her that life isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be?

12. “Along for the Ride” by Sarah Dessen 

If you’re in the market for YA books from the early 2000s or just a late summer beach read, pick up Dessen’s “Along for the Ride.” The author’s ninth novel was the first book she wrote post-partum, which explains why the protagonist Auden endures chronic sleepless nights. After relocating for the summer to a small beach town in North Carolina, Auden meets former bike jumper, Eli, who helps her tap into her inner child. As a perfectionist and avid student, Auden soon realizes all that she’s been missing out on, including first love.

13. “Paper Towns” by John Green

I never thought that I would find maps as interesting as John Green made them out to be. So much so, I might’ve gotten a “Paper Towns” tattoo. But I digress. This adrenaline-filled novel starts off by following the misadventures of Quentin “Q” Jacobsen and his neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman. The two were once childhood friends, but reconnect for one night to pull off the ultimate revenge prank. Then, Margo disappears and Quentin launches a full-on investigation. Forcing his friends to follow a series of clues that he believes were left for him, it begs the questions, does Margo actually want to be found?

Are there any YA books from the early 2000s that you would add to this list? Let us know below. 

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