The most exciting thing about the New Year for me is that it’s the start of a whole new year of books. And as a teen librarian and former bookseller who is basically a walking encyclopedia of YA, I can tell you that 2020 has some of the most exciting and vibrant new releases that I’ve seen in my lifetime. From finding love while running rival henna businesses to Bolivian-inspired fantasies, here are 25 young-adult books coming in 2020 that everyone should know about.
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It’s 1935, and Alex Maki, a 10-year-old Japanese American, has become pen pals with Charlie, a girl in France. As they grow up and the world goes to war, they keep sending each other letters. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Alex’s life is uprooted—first to Manzanar and then to the U.S. Army. And in France, as the Nazis’ reach expands and the persecution of Jews increases, Charlie, who is Jewish, falls out of contact. This Light Between Us is an absolute must-read that will certainly be a favorite for both teens and their teachers.
If you enjoy This Light Between Us, then be sure to check out Traci Chee’s We Are Not Free.
Secret identities abound in this Bolivian-inspired debut fantasy. Ximena’s people, the Illustrians, were driven from La Ciudad when usurper Atoc used an ancient relic to summon ghosts. Craving revenge, Ximena stands in for the Condesa, the last remaining Illustrian royal, when Atoc demands the Condesa’s hand in marriage. Amid her search for Atoc’s deadly relic, Ximena uses her ability to spin thread from moonlight to weave messages in tapestries for the resistance.
For another secret identity fantasy, check out Linsey Miller’s Belle Révolte!
In this illustrated memoir, Robin is transplanted from Seoul to Huntsville, Alabama, in the 1990s when her mom announces she’s getting married. Robin is put in a new school, where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up, she isn’t fitting in with her new stepfamily. But everything changes when Robin’s mom enrolls her in a local comic drawing class.
A contemporary retelling of Macbeth from the point of view of the witches, Foul is Fair follows Elle after she and her friends crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The next night, the golden boys choose Elle as their next target, and she decides to seek revenge. She transfers to St. Andrew’s with a plot to destroy each boy and the school’s hierarchy, and discovers the perfect way in: an ambitious boy named Mack.
Audrey was recovering from spine surgery one year ago; now, she and her best friend, Emma, are on the U.S. gymnastics team. Then comes horrifying news about one of their coaches that could potentially tear the team apart. Break the Fall is a ripped-from-the-headlines story that treats the issue with the care it deserves, focuses on female friendship, and is so satisfying that I was sobbing by the end.
For more acrobatics, check out Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman.
We Unleash the Merciless Storm is the second book of a duology, so to avoid spoilers, I shall hype up We Set the Dark on Fire, arguably the best YA book released in 2019. In this dystopian fantasy world, girls at the Medio School for Girls are trained for one of two roles: running a husband’s household or raising his kids. The top student is Daniela, whose parents obtained forged identification papers for her so she could rise above her station. As she lives the life her parents risked so much for, she encounters a resistance group as well as the stunning co-wife she ends up falling for. This sensational series is a must read, and Mejia is poised to become one of YA’s biggest superstars.
Two years ago, one-third of the world’s population was wiped out in a misunderstanding between Earth and the invading Ilori aliens. Ellie lives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City, where creative expression, art, and books have been outlawed due to human emotions being deemed volatile. M0Rr1s was born in a lab, and should turn Ellie in when he discovers the secret library she keeps. But, instead, he keeps finding himself drawn to human music, and therefore to her, and desperately wants more. The two join up for the artsy human/alien road trip that dreams are made of!
Want more music? Try More Than Maybe by Erin Hahn. Want more aliens? Try Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland.
If you’ve been craving a contemporary retelling of Anna Karenina pitched as Gossip Girl meets Crazy Rich Asians, then you’re in luck! Anna K is at the top of her social circles and her boyfriend is perfect—and then she meets Alexia Vronsky, a playboy who falls hard for her. This book has a little bit of something for everyone—forbidden love, family drama, glitz, classic literature influence, and a large cast of characters you will care deeply about. Get on board this hype train early, because Anna K is being adapted into an HBO Max TV series.
Also make sure to check out Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen.
Named after an Octavia Butler quote (“In order to rise from its own ashes, a Phoenix first must burn”), Caldwell’s masterful anthology centers Black voices through a variety of speculative stories. The stellar lineup of storytellers includes National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo, We Need Diverse Books Chief Operating Officer Dhonielle Clayton, bestsellers Justina Ireland, Ibi Zoboi, and Danielle Paige, and more. Futuristic societies, witches, folktales retold—this YA anthology is one of the best I’ve ever seen (and Caldwell’s story is extraordinary).
Told in “then” and “now” timelines, When You Were Everything is the story of Cleo and Layla’s friendship falling apart and Cleo attempting to rebuild her life after losing the one person she shared everything with. Woodfolk is a masterful storyteller (she also has a story in A Phoenix First Must Burn) who’s able to portray Cleo and Layla’s toxic friendship without turning either character into a villain.
For another friendship breakup story, check out We Used to Be Friends by Amy Spalding.
In the present, aspiring art historian Khayyam Marquet is in Paris for a holiday with her professor parents. But with an iffy chance at her dream college and a messy/possibly over relationship at home, all she wants is to be back home. In the 19th century, Leila is a Muslim girl just trying to survive, her path possibly intersecting with that of Alexandre Dumas. With the help of one of Dumas’s descendants, Khayyam attempts to put the pieces of Leila’s life together.
Would you like even more Dumas content? Check out Tara Sim’s Scavenge the Stars, a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo.
Tarisai is sent by her mysterious mother, known only as The Lady, to the capital so that she can compete to be chosen as a member of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. Those who are picked are bonded to the other Council members through the Ray, a connection that Tarisai, who has never felt as if she belonged, craves. But The Lady has other ideas, including a wish that Tarsai is compelled to obey: kill the Crown Prince.
Seol, an orphan indentured to the police bureau, has to help the young inspector investigate the politically charged murder of a noblewoman. Seol and the inspector begin forming an unlikely friendship—until he becomes the prime murder suspect. June Hur’s debut will delight fans of Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series who have been craving more historical murder mysteries.
Looking for more excellent mystery debuts? Make sure to pick up All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban!
An original fairy tale inspired by the author’s Persian roots, Girl Serpent Thorn follows a princess cursed to be poison to the touch. There’s a demon residing in the dungeon below where she’s held who holds the answer to her freedom and a boy living above her who seems to understand her. If you love original, lyrical fairy tales, or books with gorgeous prose, you’ll want to preorder this one.
For another stunning fantasy, read A Song Below Water by Bethany C Morrow.
When Felix begins receiving transphobic messages from an anonymous student, he comes up with a revenge plan that involves catfishing his number one suspect. Felix’s plan quickly becomes complicated when it turns into a quasi love triangle. Kacen Callender’s second YA book is not only a wonderful contemporary, but also solidifies them as one of the most talented storytellers working today.
Nishat didn’t think her life could be more complicated after coming out to her parents. But then her childhood friend Flávia comes back in her life, just as a school competition invites the students to create their own businesses. Both girls choose to create henna businesses, and amid the stress of the competition, begin falling for each other.
We Are Not from Here follows three teens as they cross from Guatemala through Mexico, following the route of La Bestia, the perilous train system that might deliver them to a better life—if they’re lucky enough to survive the journey. Pulga has his dreams, Chico has his grief, Pequeña has her pride, and they all have one another. When the threats and dangers in the town they’ve grown up in become too great, they have no choice but to run.
If you’re looking for a spectacle of a read, look no further than Where Dreams Descend, which is so atmospheric you will feel like your world is sparkling. Pitched as Moulin Rouge meets The Phantom of the Opera, Angeles’s debut follows a showgirl, a magician, and the keeper of the club during the search for a new headliner of the Conquering Circus. Behind the scenes, though, an unseen danger is lurking.
Looking for another Phantom of the Opera-esque book? Check out Ruinsong by Julia Ember.
Kristina Forest, the author of my favorite 2019 YA rom-com (I Wanna Be Where You Are), returns with her sophomore novel. Evie’s movie career is seemingly ended by a friend’s betrayal, but she believes a public appearance with her famous grandma, Gigi, will help her return to the limelight. When Gigi disappears, Evie is forced to team up with the last person who saw her, a cute musician named Milo, to find her.
Looking for another book featuring a film star family member? Read White Fox by Sara Faring!
Liz is a Black girl living in a small, prom-obsessed midwestern town, and she’s always felt like she didn’t quite fit in. When the scholarship Liz was counting on to escape said town falls through, she’s reminded of her school’s scholarships for the prom king and queen. Though there’s nothing Liz wants to do less than run for prom queen, she enters the competition. It’s made slightly more bearable by Mack, the new girl in school, who, like Liz, feels like an outsider—until they both enter the race.
Desperate to prove to his family that he is a brujo, Yadriel, a transgender boy, attempts to summon the ghost of his murdered cousin to set it free. The ghost he summons, resident bad boy Julian, is determined to find out what happened to him before leaving. And the longer the two boys spend together, the less Yadriel wants Julian to leave. Thomas’s debut is magical, swoonworthy, and utterly charming.
Rosie is a popular fanfiction author who just lost her job at the grocery store. Vance is Hollywood royalty, currently starring in the reboot of the classic sci-fi series Starfield and hiding from the paparazzi. When their paths collide, Rosie gets a shot at saving money for school by cataloging the Starfield library at Vance’s house. It would be a dream come true if only Vance wasn’t such a jerk. This Beauty and the Beast retelling is the third in Poston’s Once Upon a Con series of geeky retellings, but you don’t have to have read the previous entries in order to read this one. (But you should because they’re a pure delight!)
For more Beauty and the Beast inspired stories, check out Poston’s Among the Beasts and Briars, Sandhya Menon’s Of Curses and Kisses, and Emma Theriault’s The Queen’s Council.
Skye is a fat girl who’s constantly been told what she shouldn’t do because of her size—wear bright colors, seek attention, or dance. But when Skye nails the audition for a televised competition looking for the next K-Pop star, she’s ready to break the rules that have been imposed on her due to her size. Not only does she have to deal with reality TV, but she’s also battling the highly fatphobic standards of the industry—and trying not to fall for a fellow competitor.
If you’re still in the K-Pop mood after finishing this one, check out Stephan Lee’s K-Pop Confidential.
Years ago, Flora stumbled upon a classmate’s body, and the failure of the police to catch the killer has haunted her ever since. Then she gets a midnight text from Ava, the girl who she once had a magical summer with and who never spoke to her again. Flora arrives—and accidentally ends up witnessing Ava’s death. And when her sleuthing leads to sinister threats from the killer, her choice becomes either giving up on justice for Ava, or risking her life for justice.
For more excellent thrillers, check out Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power and I Hope You’re Listening by Tom Ryan.
Taking place on election day, The Voting Booth is the newest book from Brandy Colbert, one of YA’s best writers. When Marva Sheridan sees Duke Crenshaw being turned away from their polling place, she decides to help him. After all, she’s spent the last few months registering voters and making sure that everyone’s vote will be counted, as they should be. And as they attempt to beat a rigged system—and find Marva’s cat—they begin to bond.
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