Now more than ever, our country—especially our youth—needs diverse voices. And this year, thanks to grassroots efforts by groups like We Need Diverse Books and a vocal contingent of readers who are demanding more books about marginalized people, #ownvoices were more important and more accessible than ever. While we’ve still got a long way to go, there were plenty of stellar #ownvoices reads released in 2016. This is list is a great place to start.
The Star-Touched Queen, by Roshani Chokshi
Chokshi’s gorgeous debut melds the Hades/Persephone myth with Indian folklore to create something lush, enchanting, and not just a little disturbing—my favorite character was Kamala, the flesh-eating sack-of-bones horse who loves, loves, loves the sound of her own voice. But in main character Maya, the Princess of Bharata, we have a feisty, occasionally foolish heroine who finds herself drawn to darkness. And who hasn’t been, on occasion? Look forward to the companion novel, 2016’s A Crown of Wishes, which follows Maya’s warrior sister, Gauri.
Outrun the Moon, by Stacey Lee
Lee made a name for herself in YA historical fiction with the stunning Under A Painted Sky, and she doesn’t disappoint with her equally strong sophomore effort, Outrun the Moon. It’s set in early 20th-century San Francisco, just before the great earthquake of 1906 shook up California—and protagonist Mercy Wong’s entire world. Wong, marked by her prominent “bossy cheeks” and determined to break out of the poverty of Chinatown via a prep school scholarship, is an outcast at school. But when disaster strikes, she’s forced to work with the very people who cast her aside to save the day.
The Girl From Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig
The amazing Heilig’s fast-paced, delicious, and dizzying Girl combines three of my favorites concepts: pirates, time travel, and enchanted, unreliable maps. Throw in swashbuckling, swoonworthy Nix, a hapa heroine who’s got a sailor’s soul and a motherless child’s angst (and perhaps bipolar disorder, too, though it’s never defined on the page), and you’re in for a wild ride. She’ll take you from modern-day New York to 19th-century Hawaii—and everywhere in between. Sequel The Ship Beyond Time hits shelves in February, so you might as well pre-order it now.
If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo
New girl Amanda Hardy just wants to fit in. But she quickly finds herself smitten with sweet, easygoing Grant, and she knows that falling in love—as normal and true as it may be for most teens—will unravel the world she has worked so hard to build. Because at her old school, Amanda was Andrew, and that shadow threatens a darkness that could upend her new life. Told from the perspectives of Andrew and Amanda, of past and present, this fast-paced page-turner tells the tale of one transsexual teen’s journey—including bullying, violence, self-discovery and love—as she explores who she really is.
When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna Marie McLemore
Moody and evocative, Anna Marie McLemore’s sophomore effort is as stunning as her 2015 debut, The Weight of Feathers, and takes her magical storytelling even further. Moon follows the star-crossed, thorny love story between Miel, the girl who grows roses from her arms, and Sam, the boy who loves her. Sam has secrets of his own, ones Miel keeps and protects, but how long can the two outcasts, bound together by love and fate, stay together when the world—and particularly the witchy Bonner sisters—conspires to tear them apart?
Labyrinth Lost, by Zoraida Córdova
Cordova’s first book in her Brooklyn Bruja series creates its own rich, heady magic, one that will leave you wanting to explore your own. Alex Moritz wants nothing to do with magic, even though she’s a super-powered encantrix. But when she tries to rid herself of it for good (with the help of a brujo named Nova Santiago), she accidentally banishes her family to the in-between world of Los Lagos. Now she and Novo (and her BFF Rishi) must join forces to get them back, and the journey might just force her to get comfortable with who she really is.
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A Torch Against the Night, by Sabaa Tahir
Tahir’s follow-up to the riveting An Ember in the Ashes doesn’t suffer from sequel syndrome. If anything, the dark and disturbing world she has created for Laia and Elias feels truer than ever. The pair is on the run after the Fourth Trial, and more determined than ever to free her brother, who’s being held at the Kauf, the Empire’s most secure prison. But enemies abound—including new Blood Shrike Helene—and the two will be lucky to escape with their lives. Fast-paced, furious, and deeply resonant, this is one you won’t be able to put down.
The Sun Is Also A Star, by Nicola Yoon
Those who loved Yoon’s 2015 debut, Everything, Everything, are in for an even bigger treat with Sun, which offers up more angst, quirks, and romance. Told alternately by Natasha, a Jamaican immigrant about to be deported, and Daniel, the Korean American boy smitten with her, it offers a slice of life romp through New York as two very different teens fall hard and fast. The chemistry between the pair is explosive, as much as Natasha tries to explain it all away with with her scientific frame of mind. Like Everything, Everything, Sun is headed to the big screen soon.
Lucy and Linh, by Alice Pung
What does it feel like to be neither here nor there? It’s that in between that’s explored in this beautiful debut, described as Mean Girls meets Lord of the Flies in a prep school confidential. Australian Chinese teen Lucy has earned her ride to a prestigious academy, one worlds away from her formerly mundane suburban existence. Writing letters to Linh is her last link to that old life—one she’s outgrowing (or is she?) even if she’ll never quite fit into her new one.
Of Fire And Stars, by Audrey Coulthurst
Like many a YA heroine, Denna is a coddled princess who has been betrothed to a Prince who offers a fair alliance in exchange for her hand. But unlike every other posh, protected princess, Denna’s hiding a few secrets. The first? Well, she might just have an affinity for fire that could burn her whole life down. The second might be even more scandalous, as she finds herself falling for exactly the wrong person—the sister of her charming prince, of course—when an assassination leaves the entire kingdom reeling and trying to find its footing.