Young adult books from independent publishers are always among the most exciting, because they often come with so much more freedom to push boundaries and feature strong representation that others don’t. Smaller publishers provided some of my favorite books of 2016 (see: On the Edge of Gone, by Corinne Duyvis; The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie; Not Your Sidekick, by CB Lee; Labyrinth Lost, by Zoraida Córdova), and you can already see in our other preview posts that they’re doing some of the best and most interesting stuff of 2017 (see: Dreadnought, by April Daniels; Noteworthy, by Riley Redgate; History is All You Left Me, by Adam Silvera; How to Make a Wish, by Ashley Herring Blake). Here are 12 you may not see in every bookstore, but definitely want to see on your own shelves.
Island of Exiles, by Erica Cameron (February 7, Entangled Teen)
Shiara is an isolated desert in which dying young is the norm and the clan comes before all. A warrior, Khya has always abided by this…until it meant putting her brother in mortal danger. Now her home is unsafe, she’ll never join the council as she’d hoped, and the only person she can trust to help her save her family is her greatest rival, Tessen. But on a desert island, how far can you possibly run? And how long can Khya and Tessen possibly survive on their own?
Lessons in Falling, by Diana Gallagher (February 7, Spencer Hill Press)
Gymnastics were Savannah’s life, until she blew out her knee and killed her shot at a professional future. Now she’s abandoned them entirely, instead letting her best friend, Cassie, plan her social calendar and falling for Marcos, a boy neither of them ever saw coming. Then Cassie tries to kill herself, and the girl who returns from the hospital doesn’t like any of the ways Savannah is moving forward—not with Marcos, even though he saved Cassie’s life, or with her considering a return to gymnastics. Keeping Cassie happy is important to Savannah, especially now that she knows how much her best friend had been suffering in silence, but moving forward may just be impossible with Cassie at her side. If Hold Still meets Perfect Chemistry meets Tumbling sounds like your jam, pick this one up ASAP.
Ahgottahandleonit, by Donovan Mixon (February 14, Cinco Puntos Press)
Cinco Puntos Press has established itself as an indie publisher to watch for introducing killer voices into YA, with 2015 Morris Award winner Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, by Isabel Quintero, and 2017 nominee Rani Patel in Full Effect, by Sonia Patel. Now it’s introducing the voice of musician Donovan Mixon in a novel about an undiagnosed dyslexic Black teen living in Newark and navigating bullies and gangbangers, harsh family circumstances, and his academic struggles.
Ultimatum, by K.M. Walton (March 1, Sourcebooks)
Oscar and Vance may be brothers, but they couldn’t have less in common. Oscar is quiet, insular, passionate about drawing and classical music. Vance is one of the most popular guys at school and a lacrosse star with a promising future. But both are facing orphanhood as they keep watch together over their alcoholic father in his final days. Alternating between Oscar’s narration of the present and Vance’s of the three years from the accident that killed their mother until now, the book comes to a head with the brothers forced to figure out how to progress into the future when they’ve never been able to connect in the past.
Camp So-and-So, by Mary McCoy (March 1, Carolrhoda)
When twenty-five girls are invited to a lakeside retreat, they have no idea what they’re in for. Rivalries, curses, and deadly threats abound in this horror thriller by the author of YA noir Dead to Me, but the one thing that doesn’t? Adults to keep them safe. Each of the five cabins is plagued by its own dangerous issue, and the girls will have to work together not just to solve them but to survive.
What Girls Are Made Of, by Elana K. Arnold (April 1, Carolrhoda)
Nina’s mother has trained her well to know that love always comes with strings attached; anything professing to be unconditional is mere myth. But now Nina’s in love, and she’s determined to do anything possible to keep her guy. When it doesn’t work, and he breaks up with her, Nina is lost; what ever ensures love? Was her mother right that it’s never without its limits? Between her mother’s teachings of the saints who died for devotion and her volunteer work at a high-kill animal shelter, she’s getting some brutal, enlightening lessons on the subject.
Geekerella, by Ashley Poston (April 4, Quirk)
Danielle, aka Elle, is an orphan, stuck with a stepmother who hates her and two stepsisters who are no better. Her only respites are her job at a vegan food truck and the love she used to share with her dad for the show Starfield, which is finally returning in movie form. But when the leading role goes to a vapid teen TV star, Elle needs more than ever to connect with true fans. One stumbles upon her via text, and as the connection between them builds, so does Elle’s determination to get herself to the fan convention her dad founded…where anything can happen, including finding love in the most unexpected place. This charming and funny twist on Cinderella is the perfect YA fandom fairytale.
Sucktown, Alaska, by Craig Dirkes (May 1, Switch Press)
Confession: any YA set in Alaska automatically jumps onto my to-read list. This one stars Eddie, an 18-year-old boy who’s looking for an adventure and a second chance, and finds potential for both in remote Kusko, Alaska, where he has secured a job as a journalist. But when his new home doesn’t quite live up to expectations, Eddie gets even more desperate to get out than he’d been to get in. Too bad he can’t afford to leave. At least not without getting up to some serious no-good to buy his way out…
Girl Out of Water, by Laura Silverman (May 1, Sourcebooks)
Anise can’t wait for summer with her friends, their final one spent surfing together before their lives begin splitting off for good. Then her aunt’s accident forces Anise’s father to move to Nebraska for the summer to care for her kids, bringing Anise with him, no matter what she wants. But leaving surfing, her best friends, and the guy who was maybe turning into more than a friend turns out not to be so bad when she replaces them with skateboarding, bonding with family, and Lincoln, a hot boarder who easily steals her heart. The girl has definitely been taken out of Santa Cruz, but how much of Santa Cruz has been taken out of the girl?
Girl on the Verge, by Pintip Dunn (June 27, Kensington)
It’s hard for Kanchana to feel like she fits in, being a Thai girl in a predominantly white Kansan school and neighborhood, but it’s not like she’s looking to seamlessly blend; she just wants to find a way to balance her two cultures. When her mother takes in a girl named Shelly, Kan feels she has finally found her calling in helping the newbie fit in. But her desire to balance straddling two worlds and her aim to help Shelly fit in collide when Shelly gets a little too close to Kan’s life, coveting everything she has and trying to step into her shoes, and leaving Kan to examine exactly who Shelly is, what that means for her, and what it means for her future.