There’s a lot coming at us this month: We’re losing an hour of daily sunlight, facing a stress-inducing election, enduring yet another month of the pandemic, and preparing for (hopefully) cooler weather. Time feels like it’s dragging, but somehow it’s also speeding along so rapidly that it feels as if we can’t catch our footing. Through it all though, I’ve found a lot of solace in books. This month’s YA BitchReads list includes books about everything from fake dating and a fictional Cuban bakery to Agnes Borinsky’s heart-wrenching debut about a trans teen finding community.
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Instant Karma follows Prudence, an A+ student and overachiever who sinks so far into her judgment of nearly everyone around her that she ends us developing a superpower: She can cast instant karma. Now Prudence has the ability to turn her judgments into decisive action. But when Prudence casts her spell on Quint, her nemesis, her newfound power teaches her more than she ever could have expected about what it means to be good and what it means to be bad.
On the surface, The Girl Who Wasn’t There is a thriller. The book follows Kasia, a chronically ill teen girl who’s often confined to her home. She believes it’s safer for her to stay inside, but her understanding of the world begins to unfurl when she becomes the sole witness of a kidnapping. Penny Joelson engages meaningfully with what it means to be constantly sick and offers a number of twists and turns that keeps audiences invested in Kasia’s story.
Do you miss traveling? Do you wish you could get whisked away on a surprise trip to a place you haven’t visited before? If you answered yes to both of these questions, then Love & Olives might give you that exact energy. Liv Varanakis hasn’t spent much time with her dad, so she’s surprised when her mom encourages her to accompany him to Santorini, Greece, to take part in a documentary he’s creating about Atlantis—an interest that both Liv and her father share. Santorini is beautiful, so of course, Liv gets sucked into the gorgeous views. However, Liv didn’t anticipate her father being so human or even needing her help to complete his project. At nearly 400 pages, Love & Olives this is a safe, welcome escape from our never-ending new reality. Best of all, there’s even more to dive into: You can either read Love & Olives as a standalone or read Love & Gelato and Love & Luck, the other two books in the series.
Books about fake dating—couples joining forces simply for convenience—always get my attention. Gloria Chao’s third novel introduces us to Chloe, an Asian American woman who decides to rent a boyfriend to appease her parents and stop them from pressuring her to accept a proposal from a sexist guy she’s just not that into. As Chloe begins dating her rented boyfriend, Drew, she realizes quickly that he’s more than just an object loaned out to her for money; he’s a person with a lot of conflicts of his own. Anyone who felt seen by To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before should give Rent a Boyfriend a read.
Felipe is enjoying his winter break because it’s one of the only times in which he’s able to be himself and pursue the activities he likes without being bullied by his schoolmates. But his plans go awry when his mom lets their neighbor’s son, Caio, crash at their house while his parents go on vacation. Two neighbors being thrown together for 15 days is awkward enough, but it’s even more awkward because Felipe is absolutely crushing on Caio. Newfound proximity deepens their relationship as both boys reckon with fatphobia, mental health, and homophobia in a way that feels natural rather than heavy-handed.
Laura Taylor Namey’s sophomore #OwnVoices novel follows Lila, a teen who works at her family’s Cuban bakery in Miami. She’s motivated and passionate, especially about her work with food, but her life falls apart when her abuela dies, her friendship with her BFF splinters, and she gets dumped. We’re instantly launched into the drama as Lila figures out how to mourn her lost relationships. Lila’s parents are so worried about her that they send her to England to stay with some family. Though leaving Miami makes Lila feel rightfully resentful, an adventure—and a new shot at love—might be what she needs to get back on her right track.
Lies Like Poison feels like a fairy tale: It follows four best friends—all of whom are queer—who would do anything for one another. When an instance of familial abuse throws Poppy, Lily, Raven, and Belladonna into a twisted nightmare, it forces them to decide how they will intervene. They decide that murder is their best option, but the plot goes amiss when only one of the four friends is arrested for the crime. A story about violence, secrecy, and queer family, Lies Like Poison is a rapid read that will transport readers to another world.
A debut from trans author Agnes Borinsky, Sasha Masha pairs questions about gender identity with questions about love. Alex doesn’t feel right as Alex and is secretly exploring their gender in secret, but when they fall for Andre, who is gay and proud of it, Alex begins to wonder if what feels so wrong is that Alex isn’t Alex at all. This isn’t a straightforward, clear-cut book about a teen who transitions. Rather, it’s a consideration of friendship, love, and identity, and a reminder that community doesn’t mean demanding that someone be queer or trans in any specific, easy-to-understand way; it means leaving room for struggle and for exploration. It means doing the work so that a kid like Sasha Masha can step into a queer community space and feel welcomed and safe.
Ruinsong is a sapphic, character-driven novel about magic and love. Cadence has access to powerful magic, so she serves the queen of the fictional kingdom of Bordea, a kingdom of darkness where the royals use torture and violence as a means of control. When a rebellion, led by Cadence’s childhood friend (and love interest), Remi, begins brewing in the kingdom, she’s forced to choose between her life as a royal and her love for Remi. The stakes are high for all involved and none more than for Cadence herself because if she fails the queen, she’ll be tortured herself.