Five Recent(ish) YA Novels to Read Instead of “Twilight”

First of all, this post is not about Twilight-shaming. If you love Twilight, your opinions are 100% valid.

This is also not about internalized misogyny disguised as pseudo-feminist moralizing. As I’ve discussed before, women and girls deserve far more credit for our ability to analyze and critique fiction than we are often given.

But I thought there might be several reasons someone might like a list like this, whether it’s the series’ harmful depictions of Indigenous people, or that you’re stuck in a Twilight reading loop and need to get out, or that you just want some more books that will give you similar *vibes* as Twilight. So here we go!

If you just really like vampires…

The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh

Remember when YA fiction was flooded with vampires–and vampire-adjacent paranormal creatures like werewolves, fallen angels, witches, and fae? (Actually, there are still a lot of fae, and witches didn’t really go away, either.) I kind of miss that.

We had The Vampire Diaries books, which were actually published over a decade before Twilight but saw a slight resurgence in popularity in Twilight‘s wake, and the Vampire Academy series, plus, they weren’t YA, but the Sookie Stackhouse books (on which the show TruBlood was based) started their run just two years before Twilight.

Well, guess what?

Vampires aren’t back, at least not in YA, but Renee Ahdieh can do what she wants so she’s writing YA vampire books! Published last year, The Beautiful takes place in 1870s New Orleans and the vampires in it are more Anne Rice than Stephenie Meyer. The heroine is a young woman of color, which is both amazing for representation and ups the stakes for the character in this setting.

This book, like all of Ahdieh’s work, is full of rich descriptions, compelling characters, and an immersive, fully-imagined setting. It really is a must-read if you like vampires, romance, and/or historical fiction even a little bit.

If you love the rainy PNW vibes…

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

I live in the Pacific Northwest (Tacoma! 253 for-evah! [I apologize for that]), and I can tell you that one of the most accurate things about Twilight is the weather. It’s almost always cloudy or rainy except for the few days of sun we get each year, but those sunny days are the most gloriously beautiful you’ll ever see.

The Wicked Deep takes place in a tiny town on the Oregon Coast in late spring, and it also gets the weather right. Penny, the protagonist, is always wearing her raincoat and boots to pilot her little motorboat across the channel to school.

This is also a ghost story, with witches and historical flashbacks–and I couldn’t quite get over the historical inaccuracy of witchcraft trials in Oregon in 1823; North America’s last recorded witchcraft convictions were in 1730, but it is what it is–so it also fits pretty nicely into that mid-to-late-2000s YA paranormal romance genre, but with a fresh, late-2010s perspective (it was published in 2018).

If you relate to Bella as an “oddball” or fish-out-of-water…

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

This is the oldest book on this list, published in 2011, and it may have even been a part of that initial “Twilight wave” in YA, though a later addition. I could see it being unfairly compared to Twilight upon its first release, because all YA fantasy was for quite awhile, but there’s a blurb from Ursula K. Le Guin on the cover, so maybe it escaped that fate.

Sunny, the protagonist and titular witch of Akata Witch, doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere. Born in NYC so “too American” for her friends in Nigeria, even though her family is Nigerian, she’s also albino, so can’t play soccer in the sun like she wants to. But then she discovers that her uniqueness doesn’t end there. Turns out, she has magical abilities…

Okorafor’s worldbuilding is astounding here, as always (read Binti next if you end up liking the Akata books), but what I find most compelling about this book is Sunny herself. She is #relatableAF (sorry, I’m just trying way too hard to relate to my mostly-Gen Z TikTok audience). Her humor, and her slight awkwardness at the beginning as she develops into a more confident character by the end, feel so real.

If you love a Gothic romance, or Girl-Meets-Monster love story…

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Listen, I love, love, LOVE a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling. I’ve read so many at this point that I actually have difficulty keeping the details of some of them separate in my mind. But from the first time I read Cruel Beauty, it has stood out to me more than almost any other version of this tale.

Part of that could be because I’ve met the author (and she’s an absolutely lovely person), but I also find Cruel Beauty to be unique in its almost spiritual take on the fairytale’s themes and message. “Beauty and the Beast” is about transformation, of the obvious, physical kind, of course, but also of the heart, mind, and soul; it is about redemption and forgiveness, and also beauty and love. Hodge’s book fully realizes those themes in natural, organic ways.

The world of the novel is reminiscent of maybe 17th or 18th century Western Europe, but with deeply rooted influence from Greek and Roman, as well as Germanic and Anglo-Saxon/Celtic folk mythology. It’s an interesting mix, and serves the story well. And the “beast” in this tale has much more in common with a vampire than the animalistic creature of the original story.

If you just want a fully immersive reading experience…

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

I don’t know about you, but when I first read Twilight, what drew me in wasn’t the plot, the vampire lore, the romance, or the prose (that should be no surprise), but Meyer’s ability to immerse the reader in her world. I can’t even fully explain it, but there’s something about the book that is so easy to escape into; Forks feels real (I mean, it is real, but you know what I mean).

It’s a reading experience that I’ve found to be pretty rare, but another book that gave me a similarly immersive escape was Roseanne A. Brown’s debut from earlier this year, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. Drawing inspiration from the cultures and folklore of Brown’s native Ghana, the world of this book is rich in detail and the characters are dynamic and supremely real-seeming.

There is also a pitch-perfect enemies-to-lovers romance, which has become one of my favorite tropes in all fiction, especially when done well (which this is). There’s a bit of necromancy here and there, ritualized fighting contests, and as if all of this were not inducement enough, just look at this gorgeous cover:

Have you been looking for a list like this, for whatever reason?

Are there any books you would add to this list? What books have you found give you a similar *vibe* to Twilight?

Have you read any of the books on my list? What did you think?

Let me know in the comments!


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