There’s something especially delightful about young adult novels, especially in times like these: times of stress, pain, and mental exhaustion. Given its younger audience, YA can feel a little softer around the edges, even as it tackles difficult topics like police brutality, as Christina Hammonds Reed does in The Black Kids; or abusive, suffocating households, as Yamile Saied Méndez does in Furia. By listing a few of our favorite YA titles each month, we can read through them all and find hope for the future.
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In The Black Kids, Ashley, a Black teenager, struggles to navigate the changes in Los Angeles amid increasing racial tensions following the 1992 beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department and the subsequent riots. It’s far from a light read, but it’s a memorable one that zooms into the ways that young people, especially young Black people, are forced to not only learn about but experience racism. Christina Hammond Reed’s book feels especially relevant given our current political climate and might help adults better understand how young people might be feeling amid our current racial uprising.
The Tech sisters have a million questions about dating and romance. Their strict parents have implemented one major rule about their love lives: no dating in high school. This changes when the older sisters challenge the rule, after which younger sister Winnie also gets the chance to date. Of course there’s a catch, and it drives the story into the classic faux-dating romance, with Winnie’s mom being the one who picks who she can date—and deciding to set Winnie up with her nemesis. Dating Makes Perfect is a fun, Thai, #OwnVoices, enemies-to-lovers romantic comedy.
Evie Jones wants to be a star, and there’s one woman she needs to make that happen: Gigi, her grandmother, who’s known to the broader world as the famous Evelyn Conaway. Evie’s path to fame should be easier than it is for most aspiring celebrities, but Gigi has stepped out of the spotlight and built a new life that she isn’t interested in sharing with the public; but now she’s even missing in action from that. With help from Milo Williams, the last person to see Gigi, Evie sets out to find her grandmother and claim the fame she so deeply craves. Instead, Evie ends up finding herself—and love–along the way. Now That I’ve Found You is a light, fun, and quick read that centers around Black teens having a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Those of us who dream of spending our days among books will find joy in Recommended for You, a light read that explores the feud between two booksellers. Shoshanna Greenberg and Jake Kaplan, who work together at an indie book store, Once Upon, are pitted against each other in an attempt to win a holiday bonus. Though Shoshanna has worked at Once Upon far longer than Jake, she wonders why he is so good at encouraging customers to grab another book or two. His ability to sell books at a rapid rate infuriates Shoshanna, and though they hardly know each other, their judgments are swift and become the undercurrent of their rivalry. Their frustration soon gives way to softer feelings as their competition allows them to learn more about each other.
Cemetery Boys, one of the most anticipated releases of the fall, helps readers see queerness and masculinity through the lens of its trans protagonist, Yadriel, who’s attemptingto solve the murder of his cousin in order to prove his masculinity to his Latinx family. Releasing his cousin’s ghost is key to solving the murder, but the mission goes haywire and Yadriel accidentally unleashes the ghost of Julian Diaz, his school’s resident bad boy—and someone Yadriel begins falling for.
Henri Haltiwanger is a charmer; it’s one of his best traits, which helps him navigate being a first-generation Haitian son. But there’s one person he can’t charm: the nerdy Corinne Troy, who’s too busy focusing on her post-high-school goals to be worried about him. But when Corinne realizes that her smart-girl exterior isn’t enough to get her into her dream school, she enlists Henri to help her become more interesting. As the two work together to change Corinne’s image, they realize that they have more in common than they might have guessed. Charming as a Verb is a relatable, honest novel about the way that stereotypes and endless pressure about who they should be hurts young people.
Sources Say is a revealing read that brings the stress of election season to a smaller context: a high school. High-school student council elections are never much to write home about, except when they come with a heavy dose of drama—and nothing says drama like two exes running against each other to become class president. Angeline and Leo compete to lead their class while also reeling from their recent breakup. At the same time, dueling school newspapers are fighting to uncover the real story in a high school plagued by rumors and secrets. It’s an election that’ll leave you curious and invested—a nice, brief break from our own terrifying, stressful election season.
Furia will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to follow their own dreams amid parental expectations and societal pressures. In Argentina, Camila Hassan is struggling to balance the judgment and, at times, abuse from her parents with her secret dream of becoming a soccer star. As if that wasn’t enough, her first love, Diego, has returned to their hometown, and he’s nothing but a distraction. So why can’t she stop thinking about him? It’s up to Camila to discover who she really is—and what she’s willing to give up to pursue her dreams.
Enchanted Jones has one big dream: to become a singer. But she’s overwhelmed with loneliness when her family moves to the suburbs, where she’s the only Black girl in her high school. It seems like there’s finally something good coming her way when she meets iconic artist Korey Fields; her dream is so close she can taste it. But everything changes when she wakes up one morning with Fields’s blood on her hands, and no answers about who killed him. Grown is a thriller that forces us to face the abusive relationships that have been allowed in the music industry for far too long.
Alice Dyson has heard the rumors about Teddy Taualai: He’s a bad boy who isn’t worth her time or energy. She’s smart and she’s so focused on her future that she doesn’t have many friends or a life outside of her academics; all of the time she doesn’t spend studying she spends with her best friend May. But when Teddy sets his sights on Alice and a moment between them goes viral, people begin looking at Alice the way they used to look at Teddy, and she’s coming to learn just how rapidly rumors—even those that are untrue—spread.
An artful novel, Each of Us a Desert will be adored by fans of Larissa Lai and Carmen Maria Machado, given its lyricism and exploration of difficult experiences. The story follows Xochital, a 16-year-old living in a small village. She has a challenging role in her community that requires her to support her neighbors through difficult times; the ritual is painful and exhausting. Eventually, she finds herself escaping her own life in favor of a new, more hopeful alternative with Emilia, the daughter of the town’s violent mayor. A fantasy, Each of Us a Desert explores power, magic, and what it means to pine for freedom.
Nina LaCour is known for artful, boundary-challenging works like Hold Still (2009) and We Are Okay (2017) that meditate on difficult emotions like grief and trauma. In Watch Over Me, her latest YA novel, LaCour introduces readers to Mila, a high-school graduate who ages out of the foster-care system and moves to a farm where she yearns to start a new life. But there is more to be found at the farm than meets the eye, and as she builds relationships with the other traumatized young adults at the farm, she’s forced to dredge up her own pain, and face it head-on.
Surrender Your Sons is a dark thriller that’s definitely not for everyone. It takes place at a conversion-therapy camp and follows Conner Major, a high schooler who comes out to his religious mother and is shipped off to a remote island filled with other gay teens. Surrender Your Sons isn’t interested in softening the pain and trauma of conversion therapy; rather, it heightens the terror of it all by building a horrifying landscape where danger lurks around every single corner. There’s a glimmer of hope, though: Conner is going to escape, and he’s planning something big with the rest of the teens to fight back against the violent mission of the oppressive adults charged with their “care.”