How much do I love independent publishers? Let me count the ways, like how they often publish perspectives bigger publishers won’t, give chances to “weird” stories, and continue publishing genres others love to call dead. We always save the indies preview post for last, and it always leaves me with a special spark of joy, because while the publicity for these books may often be quieter, it doesn’t mean the characters and their stories are, and herein lie a bunch you are definitely gonna want to get to know.
For more exciting indies, check out our other previews for titles including Echo North, by JoAnna Meyer (January 15, Page Street); Out of Salem, by Hal Schrieve (March 5, Seven Stories Press); Descendant of the Crane, by Joan He (April 2, Albert Whitman); In the Neighborhood of True, by Susan Kaplan Carlton (April 9, Algonquin); Starworld, by Audrey Coulthurst and Paula Garner (April 16, Candlewick); Keep This to Yourself, by Tom Ryan (May 7, Albert Whitman); Not Your Backup, by C.B. Lee (June 4, Interlude Press); and All of Us with Wings, by Michell Ruiz Keil (June 18)!
When the Truth Unravels, by RuthAnne Snow (January 8, Sky Pony Press)
It’s been a month since Elin attempted suicide, and only her best friends—Jenna, Rosie, and Ket—know it. All they want is to put the past behind them and make prom great, especially if it’ll convince Elin everything will be okay. Then Elin disappears at prom, leaving her friends to figure out what happened. But they each have other prom drama to deal with, from blackmail to budding romance to…whatever it is that’s tearing Jenna apart. The friends will need to be there for both themselves and each other, which means finally coming clean about the secrets that lie between them. This book had me crying in public by the end, for its rare depiction of friends discussing mental health and illness honestly and openly. It’s a great read for fans of mean girl books, which I definitely am, but this particular treatment is what sets it apart.
The Art of Losing, by Lizzy Mason (February 19, SoHo Teen)
Mason debuts with a heartbreaking but hopeful bang, pulling out all the feels in this contemporary about a girl named Harley whose sister, Audrey, is in a coma following a car accident. But it was no ordinary accident—Harley’s boyfriend, Mike, was the one driving, and he wasn’t sober; he never is these days, it seems. And making matters even worse, Harley’d left her sister behind at the party after catching her and Mike hooking up. But how can Harley get mad when Audrey can’t remember what happened, and is just trying to relearn how to breathe and walk? Enter Raf, her childhood friend and next door neighbor who’s currently in recovery for his own alcoholism. Raf provides an ear, a shoulder, and, when Harley can’t help herself, a pair of lips. But with an ex in rehab, can she really get involved with another guy who has similar problems? Healing, recovery, and forgiveness all get nuanced takes in this debut.
Just for Clicks, by Kara McDowell (February 19, Amberjack)
I’ve been dying for a book about children of mommy bloggers, and this one seems to have been written just for me. (But you can read it, too, because I’m cool like that.) Poppy and Claire are twins and social media stars, though certainly not by choice; it’s their mother who made them famous, as the subjects of her mommy blog. But now that they’re teens, they’re expected to keep it up, staying in the spotlight and keeping their names on everybody’s lips. It comes with some cool perks, but the downsides are downright scary, and while Poppy’s into it, Claire has had enough. When she realizes exposing her mother’s past might be the key to her independence, she has to choose what she’s willing to risk to step out on her own.
The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project, by Lenore Appelhans (March 5, Carolrhoda)
Appelhans made her name in dystopian YA, so it’s exceptionally fun to see her taking on satirical contemporary. Her newest stars Riley, a Manic Pixie Dream Boy who lives in TropeTown, where everyone is a tropey novel character. When he steps outside his MPDB role, Riley’s sent to group therapy, and while he knows stepping back in line could get him released, he isn’t sure it’s worth it if that’s what it takes to be free. And it’s in therapy that he meets his MPDG counterpart, Zelda, and falls sublimely in love with the geek chic girl. But the two of them and the rest of the Manic Pixies need to find a way to break free, and they’ll need to uncover TropeTown’s dark secret to do it.
The Truth About Leaving, by Natalie Blitt (March 5, Amberjack)
Lucy is fresh off two different breakups: one with her boyfriend, Scott, and the one in which her mother has left their family in Chicago to pursue a career opportunity in Berkeley. Both required Lucy to give up pieces of herself, from her love of dance to the free time she has now ceded to babysitting her little brothers. But when a new kid named Dov transfers to her small school for senior year, he gives her some of herself back, including aspects she never knew she was missing. The two are assigned to work together on a poetry assignment, and as they bond over the lyrical language of Yehuda Amichai and e.e. cummings, they also learn there’s still joy out there for both of them. But how real can it get and how long can it last when Dov is headed back to Israel next year to begin mandatory army service? This contemporary romance is a great choice for teens who already have or want a special connection to Israel, or readers who just love reading about swoony love!
All the Walls of Belfast, by Sarah Carlson (March 12, Turner)
Set in post-conflict Belfast, this YA debut follows the alternating points of view of Fiona and Danny, two teens born in the same hospital who went on to live very different lives. While Danny stayed in his protestant neighborhood, Fiona and her mother fled to the United States when she was two. Fourteen years later, Danny’s neighborhood is separated from Fiona’s father’s Catholic one by a forty-foot peace wall. When they’re brought back together by their love of the same band, both feeling desperate to run away from their families, they must help each other to get on more stable tracks…if trauma from the past doesn’t tear them apart first.
Tinfoil Crowns, by Erin Jones (May 7, Flux)
Some books wait until the end to punch you in the gut. This one starts with the pain, introducing readers to Fit (do not call her Jessica) and her brother, Frankie, who were almost killed during their mother’s bout with postpartum psychosis. While Frankie is too young to remember it, Fit isn’t, and when her mother, River, is released from prison and returns to their lives, she can neither forgive nor forget. Thankfully, she has a distraction in the form of her vlog following, especially when an agent contacts her and blows up her career. But her past and present collide when fans connect her to the notorious crime that took place over a decade ago, and it’s looking like the only way to use her fame in order to escape from her past is to reconcile with the mother she hoped never to face again. The unusual inclusion of an adult POV (River’s) adds a really special touch here, and I’ll also note that this is another rainbow read; Fit is explicitly attracted to girls and guys, especially her best friend, Diamond.
Kissing Ezra Holtz (and Other Things I Did for Science), by Brianna Shrum (May 7, Sky Pony Press)
Speaking of books with bisexual female main characters, here’s another! (Which really should come to the surprise of no one if you’ve read Shrum’s adorable The Art of French Kissing, which had a bi boy love interest.) Lots of queer and Jewish rep can be found in Shrum’s latest, which centers around classmates Amalia and Ezra, polar opposites paired up to work on an AP Psych project. When they find an old study that posits any two people can fall in love if they follow specific steps, they decide to give it a shot, pairing wildly different students to see if their project can conjure unexpected love. And it does! But they didn’t expect it to work on them, too…
Bright Burning Stars, by A.K. Small (May 21, Algonquin)
Super intense books about female friendships and ballet are a unique YA niche that leads to amazing books, and this debut is the latest in the microgenre. Marine and Kate are best friends who’ve trained together at the Paris Opera Ballet School since they were kids. They’ve always had their eyes on the prize, but when a student’s body is found in the dorms just before their final year at school, it’s time to think about how far they’d go for the grandest prize of all: the opportunity to join the Opera’s corps de ballet, which selects only one girl. One thing that just might help is cozying up to the Demigod, aka the most talented boy at school, but as both girls do, the competition grows so fierce it just might tear them apart.
Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon, by Mary Fan (June 11, Page Street)
In an epic fantasy that comes out swinging, Anlei is chosen to be the bride of the powerful viceroy who saves her village, and knows she must accept in order to save her people. It’s part of the bargain they make—he marries a village girl, and they give him their sacred River Pearl in exchange for protection. Then a thief steals the enchanted pearl, throwing the plans off course and forcing Anlei to find the thief herself. But when she does, she discovers he needs the pearl, too, and together they quest into the Courts of Hell on a journey that opens her eyes to what’s really at stake.