We asked 17 of our favorite YA authors to help us navigate this year’s crop of brilliant YA books. Here are just a few of their personal must-reads…
Asking an avid reader to pick a favorite book of the year is like asking a mom to pick a favorite child, so I have to share my top three each in contemporary fiction and fantasy. First up is Emergency Contact by Mary Choi. It was hilarious and irreverent and unlike anything I’ve ever read. Equally beloved were A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi and the magnificent The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. All three of these books stayed with me, and I find myself gifting them over and over. In fantasy, I revisited Mariko and her fierce strength in Smoke in the Sun, the gripping sequel to Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh. Another sequel that stole hours of my sleep was Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor. Last, I got lost in the stunning and dangerous world of The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton.
–Sabaa Tahir, A Reaper at the Gates
I have read some excellent books in 2018—Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd, Blanca & Roja by Anne-Marie McLemore, Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor. It’s no coincidence that my favorite titles are either fantasies or fairy tale retellings. Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver is both. I adored Novik’s Uprooted, with its twist on Polish folktales, and Spinning Silver is just as unique, complex, and brilliant. It is an epic, magical, wintry book, perfect for the season. Pour yourself a cup of steaming hot chocolate, grab a scarf and a pair of fingerless gloves, and curl up next to the fire. This is the fantasy to get you through the long, dark nights.
–April Genevieve Tucholke, The Boneless Mercies
There were so many amazing debuts written by beautiful brown girls this year. One of my favorites was A Girl Like That, by Tanaz Bhathena. Told in alternating perspectives, the story pieces together the truth about Zarin, a troublemaker with secrets, and Porus, the boy she died with. Tanaz has crafted an artful story that stuck with me long after I read the last page. Another favorite was Aminah Mae Safi’s Not the Girls You’re Looking For. Aminah is one of my favorite new auto-buy writers because she creates layered stories with wit and class, a combination that stems from pure talent. In her debut, Amina tells the story of Lulu, a truly flawed yet lovable heroine, who crushes on boys and hurts her friends and family. She then has to fix it all when she takes a hard look at her life and realizes her mistakes. Tanaz and Amina are definitely writers to watch out for in 2019. I can’t wait to read more of their stories.
–Nisha Sharma, My So-Called Bollywood Life
I love books all over the map, but I’m always drawn to ones that prove smart, substantial narratives that push against the status quo can be found in any genre and style. These picks cover three of my perennial favorites: fantasy, witches, and feminist rom-coms. Heidi Heilig’s For a Muse of Fire is a blazing invention, a book that promises a lot and delivers even more. Heilig’s ability to tell stories that are both epic and nuanced is on full display. Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson is your hilarious best friend who can also do magic. Mila Flores sneaks her way past any defenses and into your heart, all while practicing some light necromancy. If you love romcoms but not the patriarchy, you need Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy, which brings Hollywood, nerd humor, and romance together in an Irish setting; it will have you watching the movie version in your head and cheering for every kiss.
–Amy Rose Capetta, This Brilliant Death
This was a good year for YA. In no particular order, some of my favorites this year were Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert (thoughtful story about complicated family and romantic relationships, TM Brandy Colbert), Sadie by Courtney Summers (a road trip fueled by vengeance documented by a podcast!), Save the Date, by Morgan Matson (giant family wedding weekend full of hijinks in the Matson-verse), Not the Girls You’re Looking For (the joys and complexities of female friendships by fresh debut voice!), Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor (gorgeous, scream-inducing conclusion to Strange the Dreamer by one of my fave writers), The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas (chilling and twisty thriller that starts with many dead cheerleaders) The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding (summer rom-com about two fashionable girls set in my hometown LA), and Nightingale by Amy Lukavics (a feminist horror story set in a 1950s asylum omg). We’re living in a golden age, my friends. Well, for books, anyway.
–Maurene Goo, The Way You Make Me Feel
My favorite books are the ones that catch me by surprise, and there were a few releases in 2018 that did just that. The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, with its seductive world and clever plot twists honestly made me fall in love with YA fantasy all over again. Sadie by Courtney Summers was the dark, soul-crushing read I couldn’t stop thinking about for weeks. I was literally having dreams about it each night and it has really stayed with me. Blood Water Paint by Joy McCollough is an incredibly inspiring novel in verse that had me weeping into my pillow in the best way. It left me feeling really empowered and that’s not something I find often in a book. And one of the most fun reads of the year for me was Shea Earnshaw’s atmospheric, witchy book The Wicked Deep. I actually read twice because it was such a lovely escape.
–Adrienne Young, Sky in the Deep
I almost never have a single favorite book in a year, and I truly loved many of 2018’s phenomenal books. But this year Elana K. Arnold’s masterful Damsel easily took the top spot. In fact, it’s now one of my favorite books of all time, one I’ll surely reread again and again. Equal parts white-hot feminist rage and gorgeously crafted fairy tale, it’s the perfect book for when you want to burn it all down, but also want to be inspired to build something powerful and new. It’s a tale as old as time, and yet, refined in the fire of Arnold’s prodigious talent, it’s something completely new.
–Joy McCullough, Blood Water Paint
I loved: Melissa Albert’s unforgettably inventive, sharply written and truly exciting debut, The Hazel Wood (and am eagerly awaiting its sequel). Rebecca Barrow’s This is What it Feels Like, a ferocious, heartwarming testament to the power of female friendship. Brandy Colbert’s Finding Yvonne, a brave, timely, and gorgeously written novel about family, Somaiya Daud’s Mirage, a captivating and magnetic debut with beautiful writing, fantastic worldbuilding and complex and memorable characters. Laurie Devore’s Winner Take All, a compulsively readable and fearless examination of female ambition. Maurene Goo’s The Way You Make Me Feel, a big-hearted, funny, charismatic book that deserves all the attention it’s been getting. Veronica Roth’s The Fates Divide, a clever, exhilarating, and richly realized conclusion to the Carve the Mark series, with the scope and thrills of the Star Wars movies. Tiffany Schmidt’s Bookish Boyfriends, a swoonily romantic and uproariously funny tale of love and books. Nova Ren Suma’s A Room Away from the Wolves, an eerie, perfect, ingenious, and masterfully crafted story. And finally, Kaitlin Ward’s Where She Fell, a smart, thrilling page-turner exploring anxiety and toxic friendships through the lens of a chilling survival narrative set way underground.
–Courtney Summers, Sadie
Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree isn’t an easy read, but it was the most powerful novel I read in 2018. Its nameless narrator is a girl living in a Nigerian village who has worked hard in school because she hopes to someday attend university. But all that changes when her and several other girls in her village are captured by Boko Haram, a terrorist group, in the middle of the night. In order to survive, she must comply with her captors’ radical beliefs while hoping to be rescued. The book was based on true events, when, in 2014, 276 Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped by the extremist terrorist organization Boko Haram. The chapters are short yet compelling. Nwaubani’s prose is both haunting and heartbreaking, weaving a masterfully complex story of survival against all odds.
–Farrah Penn, Twelve Steps to Normal
You know that moment in The Good Place where Tahani is looking at Kamilah’s circles art and all of her feelings toward her sister make a huge shift? Imagine that heart-stopping moment in the lovingly crafted prose of Anna-Marie McLemore.
Blanca & Roja (that’s Blanca Y Roja, not Blanca and Roja) is a story I first saw as a Post-It read over Anna-Marie’s shoulder that said “cranberries.” Little did I know that what she was orchestrating was a fairy tale about sisterhood, spells, evil swans, the myth of being hard to love, bears, companionship in all its forms, and, of course, cranberries. It’s not just one of my favorite books of this year. It’s one of my favorite books of all time.
–Lily Anderson, Undead Girl Gang
I loved a great many books this year. The following are just a few! Heidi Heilig’s For a Muse of Fire is a tale of revolution and forbidden magic about a girl with a dangerous proclivity for infusing puppets with the souls of the dead. Adib Khorram’s Darius the Great is Not Okay is heartwarming, insightful, and a debut novel that starts off at warp 9 about a boy who goes to Iran in search of family and finds so much more. Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton is an elegant fairy tale about three teens who uncover truths about their own hearts as they explore the mystery of their town’s deal with the devil. Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson, in which a small-town witch tries to bring her best friend back from the dead and accidentally brings a few extras along, was the witchy girl squad zombie book I’ve needed in my life. And finally, Megan Bannen’s The Bird and the Blade, about a slave girl who finds herself at the center of a struggle between two kingdoms, is utterly, perfectly devastating.
–Natalie C. Parker, Seafire
This was such a fabulous year for books! I loved The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (though it came out in December, I didn’t get my hands on it until January). It embodies the best of crossover fantasy with lush worldbuilding and careful storytelling that very much put me in mind of fantasy classics like Tamora Pierce and Sherwood Smith. Vasilisa is a heroine easy to root for, both clever and compassionate. Her interiority, the way she treads the line between the new and old worlds, and her struggles with the expectations placed on girls while trying to find herself has been a joy to watch and I can’t wait for the series finale this January. The Fates Divide, the conclusion to Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark duology, also released this year, and it was everything I’d hoped for in a space opera: distinct planets, complicated politics, and family. Cyra and Akos are the starcrossed lovers I want to read about ad infinitum, and the series has such distinct settings that feature anything from ice flowers to glowing beetles.
–Somaiya Daud, Mirage
I read some gorgeous speculative fiction right at the beginning of this year—Beneath the Haunting Sea by Joanna Meyer is perfect for the teenage high fantasy lover in your life with its lush, Tolkienesque mythology and brooding island setting. After that I read a book that’s technically billed as an adult but has a protagonist in her late teens and is a great cross under candidate for the older YA reader—MEM by Bethany Morrow is a smart, incisive sci-fi look at autonomy and what makes us whole and individual, all set against the unique backdrop of 1920s Montreal. MEM was definitely the 2018 read I can’t stop thinking about. Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough ripped my heart out—it’s such a timely story, told in spare, aching verse. I read and loved a handful of contemporaries too—Fat Girl on a Plane by Kelly DeVos, Your Destination is on the Left by Lauren Spieller, and American Panda by Gloria Chao all charmed me in different ways.
–Laura Weymouth, The Light Between Worlds
I read a LOT of books in 2018, and I’ve been blown away by the general feeling that YA is killing it right now. A few titles hit me harder than most, though, and I still can’t stop thinking about them. Anna-Marie McLemore continues to craft some of the most ambitious and gorgeous prose in the whole genre, and I devoured Blanca & Roja in just a couple sittings. It’s such a spellbinding reimagining of a familiar story because the end result is so unlike anything I’ve ever read. I continue to be captivated by the world of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. In particular, she managed to write a fast-paced fantasy that was still lush, nuanced, and complicated, and I’m in love with what she has to say of the world. And I honestly cannot say enough positive things about Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. The book broke my heart, made me bawl on an airplane, and is hands-down one of the most impressive debuts in 2018.
–Mark Oshiro, Anger Is a Gift
What a fabulous year it’s been for books! In no particular order, my favorites include: 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario, a verse novel which follows a Chinese American senior who writes college essays for her classmates. Raw, real, and messy in the best way, Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera is about a Puerto Rican lesbian learning to embrace herself. I devoured this one in two sittings and loved the openness about women’s bodies and its encouragement to ask questions; Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, which made me cry because it captured pieces of my life I didn’t realize others understood; The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold, with clever, funny, gorgeous writing with fully fleshed out characters you fall for from the first page. And a favorite I read in 2018 that technically releases January 15 of 2019 is Rachel Lynn Solomon’s Our Year of Maybe, which beautifully explores the aftermath of a kidney transplant between best friends. I still find myself thinking about Sophie and Peter and that ending!
–Gloria Chao, American Panda
The last two years I have devoured And I Darken and Now I Rise as soon as they’ve come out, so I was beyond excited to get my hands on Bright We Burn, the final book in Kiersten White’s brilliant, genderbent Vlad the Impaler series. Lada is such an unforgettable heroine and getting to see her grow into her full, unapologetically fierce self has been an utter joy to experience. The world is also so lovingly researched that the line between real history and Kiersten’s imagination ceases to exist altogether. It’s the kind of series that defies categorizing in the best possible way—not quite fantasy, not quite historical. It is its own gem of a thing, and I’ve never read anything quite like it.
Laura Sebastian, Ash Princess
Kevin: Hello book fans! This is Kevin and Reggie coming to you live from Bijan’s head in Here to Stay. And boy, were there some great contemporary realistic YA books to come out in 2018, Reggie.
Reggie: There sure were, Kevin. My TBR shelf is still piling up with great books from 2018, but here are some picks that really got the ball rolling. Let’s go to the highlight reel!
Kevin: You’ll see this book on a lot of “Best Of” lists, and rightfully so, it’s our first-round pick: Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. Some lady named Sara Farizan said “Darius the Great is not just okay—he’s wonderful. A story about learning who you are, who you want to be, and how family will always be there. No matter how great the physical or emotional distance.” Sounds like a winning endorsement to me!
Reggie: For fans of books interested in social equity and speaking out for yourself, your friends, and your community, book fans should check out Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles and Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro.
Kevin: Let’s not forget about fans of romance and humor with books like The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding, Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann, This is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender, and Ship It by Britta Lundin.
Reggie: A book that is near and dear to us that we think should be on everyone’s reading list is Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein. It’s a book about getting over a breakup by using a scientific pheromone concoction, but it’s also a book about grief, figuring out next steps in life, and it’s a slam-dunk for YA romance fans.
Kevin: Well it looks like there were a lot of great reads that came out this year, but if we keep going we’re going to be here until the NBA playoffs. We can’t wait to see what’s next for YA in 2019 and wish you all a happy reading season.
–Sara Farizan, Here to Stay