Youth Novels is the debut album by Swedish recording artist Lykke Li, released on 30 January 2008 on her own label, the EMI-distributed LL Recordings. It was entirely produced by Björn Yttling of Swedish indie rock trio Peter Bjorn and John and co-produced by Lasse Mårtén. The video for the single "I'm Good, I'm Gone" was featured as the Music Video of the Week on the US iTunes Store for the week of 14 October 2008, while the song "Dance, Dance, Dance" was featured as the Single of the Week on the French and Australian iTunes Stores for the same week.
Youth Novels received general acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 75, based on 27 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews". Jon Lusk of BBC Music raved that "this solid debut album lives up to the promising groundwork", adding that Li "sings her catchy pop confections in a breathy, girlish voice that falls somewhere between her angst-filled compatriot Stina Nordenstam on effective anti-depressants and the candy-flavoured bleat of Altered Images' Clare Grogan." Alex Denney of Drowned in Sound praised it as "a twinkle-toed debut that dares to suggest what others can only make tediously plain, and leaves us in the rarely-enjoyed position of actually wanting more."PopMatters's Adrien Begrand called it "extraordinary" and wrote that "Lykke Li and Yttling have created a surprisingly stark-sounding album, an enticing blend of Robyn's unpretentious dance-pop and El Perro del Mar's introspection and tenderness. For a record whose thematic center is the hormonally-enhanced, bipolar passion of one's teenage years, it's remarkably mature-sounding."The Times critic Tom Gatti noted that Yttling gave Youth Novels the same treatment as to Peter Bjorn and John's song "Young Folks", saying he "[weaves] Lykke Li's girlish, wistful songs of young love and loss into bright pocket symphonies."
The Independent's Simon Price opined that "[w]hen she sings, Lykke recalls Björk at her least screechy and Saint Etienne at their most reflective, but on the spoken word-interludes 'Melodies & Desires' and 'This Trumpet in My Head', she combines the sense of wonder of Jarvis Cocker with the tear-choked restraint of The Shangri-Las. Another quality consignment of delicious Scandipop." In a review for The A.V. Club, Vadim Rizov characterised Youth Novels as "all teasing and heartbreak, with production [...] that plays on empty spaces as much as well-chosen backing", commending Li for "adeptly [straddling] the line between instant gratification and minimalist smarts." Killian Fox of The Observer commented that "[t]he coquettish charm of her voice, tinged with shyness, is brilliantly offset by Björn Yttling's skeletal productions, which create great pop momentum out of the slightest effects", concluding that "[t]he lyrics lack focus at times but this is a winning debut." Greg Cochrane of the NME rated the album eight out of ten, calling it "[s]imple but sensational". K. Ross Hoffman of Allmusic wrote, "Brimming with ideas but understated, even tentative in executing them, and big on hooks but nervously intimate in presentation, Youth Novels is a curious, decidedly unorthodox but endearing record. Both youthful and novel [...] it's hard to pigeonhole but refreshingly easy to enjoy."
Joe Gross of Spin stated that "[h]er voice is mousy, the low end juicy, the melodies sketchy, the choruses huge", but found that "[s]he should lose the spoken-word bits, though; they don't even work for her goddess Madonna." Stephen M. Deusner of Paste wrote that "Li writes hooks that come out of nowhere and verses that knot around sexual and emotional bruises, grafting pop-R&B melodies onto spartan arrangements that suggest French yé-yé attitude, American hip-hop beats and Euro-dance production." Tom Ewing of Pitchfork Media expressed, "At its frequent best, the record manages to sketch out widescreen hit songs with a remarkable economy of means. At its more occasional worst, the tracks feel frustratingly underthought." Will Hermes of Rolling Stone felt that Li's "frosty squeak is a limited instrument, but she works it, mixing adorable playground scats with spoken-word whispers and parched coos that barely sketch her sugary melodies. The arrangements also dress simple tunes in surprising ways, with odd choral bits and percolating percussion webs that should tease movement from even reluctant hips." Ben Urdang of musicOMH remarked that "[a] high standard is maintained throughout the possibly over-generous 14 tracks, but it's not quite enough. Too many of the songs pass by without grabbing you and making you love them. It's ultimately a bit ineffectual."The Guardian's Maddy Costa claimed that the song "Tonight" "shows what she is capable of: underscored by a melancholy piano, she is darkly seductive", but "[a]fter that has passed, the album just gets increasingly cloying."
Spin placed the album at number thirty-six on its list of The 40 Best Albums of 2008, with critic Barry Walters stating that "studio finesse from Björn Yttling [...] brings out both in an unconventionally stark yet nuanced debut that complements Li's pop instincts and complicates even her most straightforward serenades."Q magazine ranked it number thirty-seven on its list of The 50 Best Albums of 2008. PopMatters named it the fortieth best album of 2008, and writer Michael Keefe commented that "[w]ith Youth Novels, Li has sifted her way down to the core elements of modern music and built her own enigmatic, yet highly accessible, vision for the future." Sean Adams of Drowned in Sound included the album at number forty-one on his list of the year's top fifty albums.Youth Novels appeared at number forty-four on NME's Top 50 Albums of 2008. Pitchfork Media listed it at forty-five on its list of The 50 Best Albums of 2008, and the website's Jessica Suarez wrote that "[u]nlike a lot of young adults, [...] Li expertly uses melodies, desires, and just a few drum beats to try and express what she's feeling, and she invites us to follow along as she sorts through it all."Paste named it the forty-sixth album of the year and referred to Li as "the hook heavy, Euro-dance infused soul sister to friend El Perro del Mar's lo-fi anthems."
The album earned Li five nominations for the 2009 Swedish Grammis, including Album of the Year, Female Artist of the Year, Live Act of the Year, Composer of the Year (with Yttling) and Lyricist of the Year. The same year, she won the P3 Guld award for Newcomer of the Year and was nominated for Pop Artist of the Year.
In Li's native Sweden, Youth Novels debuted and peaked at number three on the Swedish Albums Chart for the week of 7 February 2008, behind Johnny Logan & Friends' The Irish Connection and Van Morrison's Still on Top – The Greatest Hits. It spent twenty non-consecutive weeks altogether on the chart, including four re-entries in 2008 and one on 30 January 2009. Additionally, it became the ninetieth best-selling album of 2008 in Sweden. The album charted for a sole week in both the United Kingdom and Ireland, reaching numbers 112 and seventy-five, respectively. In continental Europe, Youth Novels reached number thirty-six in Norway, number fifty-six in Belgium, number seventy-five in the Netherlands and number 143 in France. It also peaked at number eighteen on Billboard's Top Heatseekers in the United States, and at number seven on Australia's similar Hitseekers Albums Chart. As of February 2011, the album has sold 65,000 copies in the US.