Some of the books I read when I was a teenager, some I've read for the first time more recently, and some are beloved both now and then. Some I've listed the entire series, sometimes I've listed only the first book in the series, because I am also noticing the first book in a series is often the best, even if the rest of the series is still worth reading.
My favorite YA and teen books:
All books by Tamora Pierce. I haven't read most of these since high school, maybe my first year of college, but I remember them as being awesome. Think the Song of the Lioness series. Page-turning fantasies set in alternate realms, knights, mages, magic. What makes these books truly stand out (for me, at least) are the heroines and the feminist themes. In the Song of the Lioness, a girl disguises herself as a boy to train as a knight. What is more, Tamora Pierce does not shy away from sex like most YA novels do.
Celine by Brock Cole. Celine is a painter trying to survive high school. She is quirky and clever, and I laughed really hard while reading this book. It's gotten a string of awards, including an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.
Sunshine by Robin McKinley. I debated putting this book on the list, not because I don't adore it, but because I wasn't sure if it was considered YA. It was originally marketed for adults, but we just got at work we just got in a glittery copy aimed at teens. So. This is one of the few wholly and truly good vampire books out there. It's similar to the Sookie Stackhouse books (y'know, True Blood). The protag works in a cafe, there are were-animals, etc. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Charlaine Harris read Sunshine before she wrote her own series. The difference is that Sunshine is actually good. It's actually well-written.
I like Sunshine, beyond things like good plot and interesting characters, because it doesn't fall into the cliched tropes that most in the vampire genre do, and the heroine is someone a feminist could actually support. Vampires are not sexualized and romanticized, but nor are they merely blood-thirsty monsters. The protagonist does not fall in love with a vampire, nor does she become a vampire. Romance is not at all a main plotline, you could barely even call it a sub-plotline, but the protagonist owns and is comfortable with her sexuality in a way even few modern heroines are.
Robin McKinley's other books, specifically aimed at teens, are all good, too.
The Pagan Chronicles by Catherine Jinks. A historical series set in medieval times. The sarcastic sixteen-year-old Pagan Kidrouk becomes the squire of a Templar Knight. I read these in high school, and I remember the primary qualities of the books being hilarity, but as the series went on, there were surprisingly heart-wrenching moments.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Duh.
All books by John Green. Paper Towns, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, The Fault in Our Stars. John Green's books have a mix of pop culture and high brow allusions, humor and elegance. Green exceeds at creating entertainment studded with poignant observations of what it means to be human. Be prepared to laugh out loud, and with his latest book, to cry.
All books by Dianna Wynne Jones. Especially Howl's Moving Castle, the Dalemark Quartet, and Deep Secret. Jones was the sort of author who was quietly subversive, blending zany new elements of fantasy with more traditional fantasy without giving into certain negative cultural norms. For instance, it was not unusual for her to have heroines that could fully hold their own. There were no off-to-the-side Hermiones nor modern-damsels-in-distress like Bella of Twilight. Another example is that her books neither danced around nor romanticized sex.
The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison. These books are flat-out funny. Also rather British. I read them both in high school and in present day. They are mainly about a girl and boyfriends and school and all those teenagery things. I don't know what to say about them that could fully convince you of how great and hilarious these books are and how much I heart them.
That's probably a long enough list for now. Here are a few honorable mention roughly in descending order: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud.
What are your favorite YA? Any recommendations?