14 Teen Readers Share the Last Book They Loved: Heartbreak, Elemental Magic, and Second First Impressions

Meet the Young Adults, the B&N Teen Blog’s swat team of awesome teenaged bloggers. YA literature is a strange and wonderful landscape of books that should be read by everybody, but each month we highlight the perspective of the teens reading the best of the best books written for and about them. Check back monthly to see what they’re recommending next, and read previous installments here

Far From You, by Tess Sharpe
The best book I read this past month is most definitely Far From You, by Tess Sharpe. It’s a YA contemporary that centers around a double murder mystery. It features a bisexual recovering drug addict protagonist with chronic pain, so if you’re looking to read more diversely, this is the book for you. It’s dark and brutal, but so beautiful and important, and I loved every page. Bisexual main characters are so rare. This is an amazing addition to the number we have in YA, and it’s also simply an incredible story. You will never predict anything that happens in this book, which keeps you flipping the pages frantically, wondering what will happen next. It will leave you breathless, crying, and wondering why you didn’t read the book sooner, so I highly, highly recommend it. I already know it is going to be one of my favorites of this year, and, truly, one of my favorite books ever.

–Ava M. is a teenage book blogger, reader, and writer of YA. She is an intersectional feminist and advocate for diversity, and drinks a lot of tea. She likes organized bookshelves and reads too many fantasy novels.

 

Windwitch, by Susan Dennard
Picking up right where Truthwitch left off, Windwitch is narrated on three different fronts. There’s Safi, who is stuck in pirate land with the Empress of Marstok and just wants to get back to Iseult. There’s Iseult, who finds herself teaming up with Aeduan the bloodwitch in an uneasy alliance. And finally there’s Prince Merik, who turns into death itself and vows to take back his throne from his sister Vivia, who’s battling a patriarchy and a magical secret and gets her own narration in this book. These are three seemingly separate stories that are tangled just enough that between sections you forget who the real enemies are and where the truly dangerous threats are planning on appearing. That is this book’s strength.

The writing, dialogue, and world building were of particular quality in Windwitch, and though I would like to have seen more witchery on display, the wildness of the politics and the rich descriptions of the diverse landscapes/settings each narrator sees were dizzying in their complexity. And once again, Iseult’s sass towards Aeduan was the highlight of the relationships in this book. I’m just waiting for them to realize that they’re perfect together, because let’s be honest, this ship NEEDS to sail.

This hotly anticipated sequel to Truthwitch has a gripping web of a story that, yes, is kind of all over the place and a bit difficult to follow, but is also packed with drama, suspense, and fun (tinged with darkness of course), and I couldn’t help but enjoy it.

–Kelvin L., 17, is a figure skater and audiobook lover and thinks teleportation is the most useful superpower. He is definitively a Ravenclaw, a water type Moroi (who secretly wants to be fire type), and an Erudite; he cannot see Hollowgasts and would 100% not survive the Hunger Games.

History Is All You Left Me, by Adam Silvera
I read Adam Silvera’s first novel, More Happy Than Not, last summer, and it broke me into a million pieces in the best way possible. Of course, I could not wait for Silvera’s second book, History is All You Left Me, to come out in January, and I bought it right away. I wasn’t sure whether it would live up to Silvera’s debut, but I had no cause for concern. History combines the artistic writing and insightful metaphors of More Happy Than Not with a very real and sobering portrayal of grief, mental illness, and heartbreak. The book alternates between the present day, when the narrator, Griffin, is mourning the loss of his ex-boyfriend, and their “history,” when they were first falling in love. This structure had my heart full with joy one minute and shattered the next. Somehow Silvera has mastered the ability of bringing the reality of hard times and complicated emotions into a YA world of idealized young romance while still preserving the magic of two people falling in love. If I thought I couldn’t love Silvera’s writing any more than I did after his debut, I was proven wrong by this book. History Is All You Left Me is absolutely a must read.

–Eileen M., 17, has many hobbies, which include playing clarinet, watching funny videos of cats, drinking tea, and reading (duh!).

Love and First Sight, by Josh Sundquist
A new school, new friends, and a new girl he likes: life couldn’t have changed more drastically for blind 16-year-old Will Porter. That is, until he’s offered an opportunity to take part in a surgery that could give him eyesight. Despite the possible dangers and chance of failure, Will decides to do the surgery, and it works! As he recovers from the surgery and begins the difficult process of learning to see, Will discovers the beauty of the world around him, and realizes no one told him his crush Cecily doesn’t follow the societal standards of beauty. Now, Will must not only struggle with learning what colors, shapes, and sizes are, but he also must struggle with the question of how beauty is defined. This book was incredibly interesting to read, as Sundquist describes the challenges, medically and emotionally speaking, that someone like Will would face. The quirky relatable characters combined with Sundquist’s humorous writing style made this book a quick and enjoyable read. And while it was subtly educational, it also made me see the world in a new light, and left me smiling and with a new appreciation for the beauty around me.

–Ellie T., 17, spends the majority of her time doing homework, or reading and buying YA books. When she is not doing that you can find her binge-watching Netflix or singing off-key to Hamilton.

Frostblood, by Elly Blake
This fantasy novel puts a fascinating twist on the era of kings and queens by throwing elemental powers into the mix. Intriguing and intense from the very start, Frostblood tells the tale of a nation being torn apart by fire and ice. A powerful heroine, with the help of a mysterious ice-wielder, must stop the king’s reign of terror and undertake a perilous journey to accomplish her task, filled with jail breaks, arena fighting, and scorching fire. This book’s constant action and high stakes will keep readers up all night, desperately binge-reading to the end. Any and all fantasy YA fans need this beautiful cover on their shelves.

–Katelyn L., 15, loves all genres of books, has too many unread ones on her shelf, and desperately wishes for more time to read.

Tell Me Three Things, by Julie Buxbaum
This is a teen romance that perhaps could only exist in the present day. Jessie, new to Wood Valley High School in LA, is contacted by someone calling themselves Somebody/Nobody. SN claims to want to help Jessie navigate her new obnoxious prep school, which he succeeds at doing, but Jessie’s curiosity about the truth behind SN is growing. That mystery, combined with missing her hometown Chicago, the loss of her mother, the addition of her stepfamily, and the almost unbelievably catty students at her new school make Jessie’s tale unique, hilariously relatable, and semi-tragic. The mysteries, revelations, and surprises will keep you interested and painfully invested until the very end.

Naomi N. is a YA-loving 15-year-old who spends her free time trying to decide what movie to watch, bullet journaling, resisting the urge to buy more books, and searching for new music to love. She hopes to fill her bookshelves and catch up on sleep in the near future.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, by Seanan McGuire
Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a fascinatingly charming exploration of magic in modern America. Jenna is the ghost of a Kentucky girl who died decades ago, now “living” in New York City and earning her way toward the afterlife by working at a suicide hotline. But the ghosts of New York are disappearing without a trace, and something must be done before the living begin to suffer the consequences. With the help of her deceased landlord and a corn witch of unknown age, Jenna is on the trail of whatever or whoever is putting the balance of the world—life versus death, magic versus mundane—in peril.

In McGuire’s world, magic lies between tradition and superstition, the wondrous hiding within the expected. This is one of those books that can convince you that magic CAN be real, if you just pay attention. The way the magical is made to integrate with the mundane to create its own little pocket of normality feels natural and familiar but is wholly unique. It’s sweet, it’s heartwarming and heart-crushing at the the same time, and I’m saddened to no end that it’s a standalone. Do yourself a favor and pick it up.

–Assaf T., 17, likes his books very interesting and very heavy, because exercise isn’t as fun but is still important.

Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard
For the past few months I’ve been struggling to find any good fantasy novels. I’d start a book and nothing about it would hook me and make me want to read more. Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard, didn’t just hook me, it swept me up into the action and left me breathless with every twist and turn of the plot. This dark dystopian fantasy drops the reader straight into the heart of a society divided by blood and controlled by fear. The book uses strong writing and beautiful imagery to explore the tangled web of lies and deceit that comes hand in hand with power. The story is so good Aveyard managed to sneak in a love triangle and I didn’t even mind.

Evalyn H., 15, loves fantasy novels, Disney movies, and snickerdoodle cookies. She is currently working on the third draft of a middle grade fantasy novel cowritten with her father.

Windwitch, by Susan Dennard
Susan Dennard’s Witchlands series is dynamic; full of political intrigue, female friendship, and distinct perspectives, and her second book, Windwitch, is a force to be reckoned with. Dennard tells the story of a vibrant, diverse cast of characters, and crafts a believable world by representing all different identities and races. Because each individual was well-rounded; grappling with their own mistakes and desires, I had a hard time choosing a favorite (though I will say I am partial towards strong female protagonists, and, trust me, this book does not lack in that regard). The novel’s magic is absolutely stunning, and it was fascinating to watch how each character shaped and was shaped by their witchary. Of the forms of magic, though, Iseult’s thread-witchary was my favorite, as it allowed us to tangibly understand the unique bonds made between humans. And that, for me, was best thing about Windwitch: the connections. At it’s core it is a novel about the relationships shared by people; how those bonds are created, how they are destroyed, how they are a driving force, and how they are a catalyst for growth. And when you pair this with a complex and clever plot, you get a novel that will certainly tug at your heart-threads.

–Maddie M, 17, is a Ravenpuff (half Ravenclaw, half Hufflepuff) who has a waffle addiction matching that of Leslie Knope’s. She’s more of a Jane Bennet, loves the color pink, and has a Scottish Terrier named Mickey.

Love and First Sight, by Josh Sundquist
Sixteen-year-old William Porter is one of the most adorably optimistic and funny guys I’ve ever read about. I love how Will is able to face and overcome obstacles in his life with a smile on his face. I absolutely adored this book because of how thought-provoking it was. Prior to reading this book, I had never imagined what it would be like not to have my sight, and Will’s blindness floored me. His inability to comprehend simple concepts like perspective and color shocked me. I have never given thought to how unforgiving the sighted world could be to the visually impaired. I also hadn’t realized how much we underestimate the blind. For someone who can see, Josh Sundquist has written an amazing novel that in my humble opinion does the blind justice. His writing is fabulous, both relatable and not at the same time. This book is definitely an important read and something that will stay on my shelf for years to come.

Kaitlin D., 14, professional procrastinator and self-proclaimed bibliophile. Lives in the pantry. May have taken a bite out of the moon.

Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys
With bestsellers like Girl in the Blue Coat, The Book Thief, and My Lady Jane, it has become increasingly evident that YA literature is a goldmine of historical fiction novels. Only recently did I discover the remarkable Ruta Sepetys and her novel, Salt to the Sea, in that goldmine. Sepetys’ third novel is a captivating, brutally heartbreaking story capturing World War II through four perspectives: a secretive Prussian soldier, a brave Polish teenager, a selfless Lithuanian nurse, and a haughty German sailor. Though they are vastly different in personality and background, all four share one common goal: to survive. However, missile strikes and air raids constantly remind them that Death never makes promises. Each character’s narrative is intriguing enough to stand alone, but Ruta Sepetys takes the four perspectives and masterfully crafts a seamless tale of sacrifice and hope. With vivid storytelling and witty characters, Salt to the Sea is not just a must-read, but also a definite reread.

–Nicole S., 15, loves books, people, and Italian food. Her life goal is to reach 5 feet in height.

Perfected, by Kate Jarvik Birch
We’ve all thought about what it would be like to be rich and pampered, and to possess no real world problems (except how you’re going to drape your princess gown across the chaise-lounge when you daintily sit down for afternoon tea, of course). Perfected is the captivating tale of Ella, the genetically engineered, flawless girl who is trained to lead the perfect life as a pet to the wealthy families of her world. However, as you probably guessed, things are not always ideal in Ella’s new adoptive family. With a shady old father running the mansion, a teenage heartthrob son, and a mysteriously vanishing pet to replace, what would anybody do? As things spiral from bad to worse, Ella is forced to consider what lies behind closed doors, and if the answer will drive her toward abandoning her utopian lifestyle. The constant action in every scene devours its readers, and will leave everyone with the question of what perfection really is.

–Madison O., 16, is a Gryffindor/Thunderbird, and a lover of puns, Disney movies, and chicken strips. She once accidentally spit in Kiera Cass’s hair during a Selection book signing.

Gemina, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
I have truly missed the world of The Illuminae Files. Gemina picks up with the Hypatia heading to the Heimdall Jump Station—but orders from the higher-ups don’t want the Hypatia to make it out alive. Heimdall is taken by armed killers, but Hypatia is still on its way. Who will win? Hanna, the plucky daughter of the man in charge, or the killers? Hanna is joined in her efforts to survive by another Heimdall survivor, Nik. He’s such a darling, so suave and funny. I was skeptical, at first, because he seemed like a copycat Ezra from Illuminae, but he became his own character. The action was gorgeous again—I would love to see Hanna fight, especially in low gravity. Wouldn’t that be cool? Hair floating around her head and punches being withheld because of gravity? Can someone please make this happen? I loved seeing Kady and Ezra again; they were truly why I loved the last book. They were dynamic and hilarious as always. Like Illuminae, Gemina has a great format, including Hanna’s funny and gorgeous drawings. Overall, another amazing chapter in this space saga.

Hiya, I’m Wren L., the weirdo who watches anime and obsesses over fictional characters. Currently hiding in my hoodie.

Wintersong, by S.Jae Jones
Labyrinth is one amazingly weird, gorgeously seductive movie, and as its retelling, Wintersong stayed true to those elements while delivering a beautifully written tale with unforgettable characters. The book is a treat for those who love their stories full of imagery and lush writing, and combined with stellar world building, unexpected twists, and a plot that keeps you on edge, the end product is spectacular. Liesl—our protagonist, whom I’ll call a perfect antiheroine—is extremely flawed and totally relatable. The journey we go through with her is dynamic, just like herself. The Goblin King dazzled, seduced, confused, and made me cry. Their romance was so bittersweet and so real. The limited but well portrayed minor characters added harmony to the perfect song that was the story. A little darker and more sinister than your regular YA fantasy, Wintersong reminded me of a seductive symphony, which I’ll definitely recommend to everyone who loves to get lost in an enticing and beautiful fantasy.

–Mishma N., die-hard fan of Victoria Schwab, lover of villains and antiheroes, old movies and a capella covers, dreams of working in publishing and opening a bookstore in the future.

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