Once upon a time, in days gone by, while I was still doing high school, I read books that interested me while they still interested me. There were times I actually read hyped books before the hype died down. Crazy, right? So here are 7 YA series I actually read all of.
1. Inkworld by Cornelia Funke (English translation 2005-2008)
As a kid, I imagined characters leaping out of the TV into my living room. Particularly the ones that scared me. Like the wizened old hag the Evil Queen from Snow White turned into. So I was completely enchanted with the concept of Inkheart, wherein things from books can be read into our world, and things from our world transported to the book, or ink, world. I was somewhat late to the party on this one, given the fact that I watched the movie before I read the books. But the hype of the movie was still recent when I read the books in 2011. The concepts are beautiful and the writing poignant in translation. Despite being marketed towards pre- or early-teen readers, these are bricks of books with complex plots, characters, and content that can capture any imagination, and things take a dark turn in the final one, Inkdeath. I had a crush on Paul Bettany as the craven fire-eater Dustfinger in the movie, and can honestly say it has not subsided significantly. The second book, Inkspell, which focuses largely on Dustfinger’s return to the Inkworld and the love of his life Roxane, remains my favourite of the trilogy.
2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008-2010)
This definitive YA dystopian trilogy still holds its place as an original, relevant spin on politics, media, and the efficacy of shock value. The first person present narration is not my favourite perspective choice, given its logical impossibility, its matter-of-fact tone (because Katniss), and the rash of imitators it produced. But for all that, I applaud Collins for using the perspective to deliver some of the most gasp-inducing plot twists I’ve read, as well as for sticking to the narration she chose for the entirety of the trilogy. Many a series I’ve read that starts off with first person entirely for the first book or couple of books, then starts to include third person scenes when the narrator is not present, or first person narration from a different character’s point of view. Collins never did that, and I respect the commitment. A friend’s bookclub introduced me to this one, and here, nine years later, another friend’s virtual bookclub is reminding me that I should be reading A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. I have yet to acquire said book, let alone read the first five chapters as we were supposed to by August.
3. Maximum Ride by James Patterson (2005-2015)
2011 must have been the year I decided to read all the books that had been on my radar for a while and interested me, because I started Maximum Ride that year, too. Technically, I read the first book the previous year, because a girl in my cabin at camp brought the graphic novels with her, but I only got into the series after deciding to check the novels out from my library. Though campy as can be, the Flock, consisting of five winged teenagers and children, had some good times dodging the shady, unethical Institute who experimented on them and the nefarious, werewolfy Erasers sent to snuff them out. The first person narration in this series is lighthearted and comic in tone, fitting with the personality of Max, the girl who leads the Flock. But the series is also one of the offenders I mentioned earlier that in later books starts to include other perspectives, and third person narration. In fact, this nine book series underwent a few strange changes of direction, because I think Patterson originally only meant it to be a trilogy but couldn’t refuse keeping it going after its popularity. The next several books suddenly swerved in focus from the survival of the flock to the survival of the planet. The eighth book, Nevermore, was meant to be the final book in the series, but the ending must not have been satisfying enough (or the publisher thought they could make more money) and Maximum Ride Forever came out less than two years later. Though, I must admit, I was far more satisfied with the second ending, so stretching it a bit was a sound choice.
4. The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini (2003-2011)
I read this in 2012, after having seen the movie and being told all the how-it-should-have-ended type details from a friend of mine who had read the series. And the books sounded way better. I though the movie mediocre, cringy in places, but cool because of its concepts—and can we stop and appreciate Garret Hedlund as Murtagh? But when I read Eragon I was blown away by how much better it was than that disgrace of an adaptation. The dragon riders, the magic, the backstory, the journey… the herbalist Angela and her werecat: everything was so much richer. Even the dialogue. If the movie had literally quoted the book’s dialogue word for word, they would have had ten times the quality of script they had. Though slogging through the increasingly long third and fourth books was a chore that I loudly complained about, I respect Paolini for coming up with a taxing magic system, a political climate, well thought-out battle strategies, and a variety of cultures. I still maintain that the books would have benefitted by having a more ruthless editor to axe some scenes and put a check on Paolini’s attempted Tolkien-esque style, but there is nothing lacking in the series as it is because it is so intricate an experience.
5. The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare (2007-2014)
It was Christmas break 2014: the year of the great mistake. After pushing myself to read 100 classics and literary masterpiece type books that year, I needed something easy to read. My oldest sister recommended these books to me and before I knew it, I had torn through the first three over the last week of the year. I enjoyed them. They are fast paced, full of quirky characters, dramatic fights, monsters, and romance galore. I took the conclusion of the first quest at the end of the third book as a fitting place to stop and take a break before I got kind of sick on the high calorie, low fibre snackishness of the series and, without really planning it that way, I didn’t pick up the last three books of the series until the next December. I know people have decried the series as a ripoff of Harry Potter because it started as Ginny/Draco fanfiction and the plots smack of Harry Potter, too, but I don’t know how serious that really is. Clare dresses her series up in completely different lore… which, arguably, could also be decried as Judeo-Christian fanfiction. I begin to see the trend. But, taken for what it is, and what I enjoyed it as—light entertainment of the TV variety, not super original but deriving inspiration from other successful concepts, not pretending to be anything but what it is—it has merit. And I have yet to find a funnier running joke throughout an entire series than the revolving door of awful names for Simon’s band. And how satisfying was it when he dubbed it the Mortal Instruments right at the end? Classic.
6. The Maze Runner by James Dashner (2009-2011)
I watched the movie when it came out, without having any prior knowledge what it was about and was really impressed by the daring and frantic portrayal of these kids without memories being trapped in a maze and terrorized by monstrous venomous creatures. I still stand by the first Maze Runner movie as an independently good movie, as well as a faithful adaptation. This time it was a friend’s sister who had read the books that told me all about how it should have gone, and I subsequently decided that I should read them. I read the first book in 2015, liked it, and then decided that I would continue reading the rest as I saw the movies. After The Scorch Trials movie came out, I got about a third of the way through the book before I started wondering where on earth the plot for the movie came from, because it definitely did not come from the book. Then, the great lull. I knew about page 250 in The Death Cure because I had seen pins on Pinterest about Newt, but I had decided to wait until the movie came out to read the book like I had the other two. I almost despaired of getting a third movie, because it was delayed so long due to an actor’s injury, and I thought maybe they would just scrap it. Fortunately, they did not. I watched the movie and was duly outraged that they’d butchered the events of page 250 so badly that I, who had never even read the book, knew it was not how things went. It took me a while to read the book after that, but when I finally did, I was sadly disappointed. Yes, page 250 was a tearjerker, but the rest of the book fell apart incoherently.
7. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (2012-2016)
I had my eye on this series for a long time before I finally dove into it. And I was not disappointed. The characters and the concepts are so great, magic is everywhere, and I love the understated tone of the writing. I read the first three books in quick succession in 2015, enjoying the depth and development of the characters and their burgeoning abilities. While waiting for final book to come out, I dipped into Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls series, but wasn’t as taken with the characters and concepts in it. In fact, I barely remember anything about it. The Raven King was a thundering conclusion to the Raven Cycle and is the next book of the series that I have to re-read as I slowly work my way through the books again. Stiefvater also released the first book of the Dreamer Trilogy, which is a spinoff series featuring Ronan and Adam, recently which I have yet to check out. So much to read, so little time.
So that’s my list of 7 better-known series I actually got into, which I figured I should write since I wrote a list of 7 popular YA series I never got into. Just because I had more time back then didn’t mean I had time for everything, apparently. Nor do any of us, so I hope my reviews of books and series help some of you out there get an idea of what will be worth your while.