22 of Our Most Anticipated Contemporary YAs of the Second Half of 2016

2016 contempsO contemporary YA, how I love thee! I love your angst, your romance, your banter, your thrill, your kissing, your exploration, your humor, and your doing all of it within settings we all know and live every day. Whether it’s a common story with a new voice or a wild new premise the likes of which YA has never seen, there’s always some magic to the fact that contemporary YA is grounded in reality. If you haven’t read all of the amazing contemporaries previewed in the first half of the year yet, you’re gonna wanna get on that ASAP. Because starting next month, there are a whole bunch of awesome new kids in town…

The Memory Book, by Lara Avery (July 5)
Sammie McCoy is a lot of things: a precocious debater. A beloved daughter. A fan of the hotness that is Stuart Shah. But she’s also dying, and that kinda throws a wrench in her college-bound dreams. Sammie has Niemann-Pick, a disease that gives her symptoms that’ll slowly wreck both the mind she prizes and the body that hasn’t experienced nearly enough. When her old crush returns to town and returns her affections, and her future as a college student is laid on the line, Sammie lives every minute as a girl with no time to waste and both everything and nothing to lose. But when it becomes increasingly clear the memories she’s amassing and recording now may be among her last, she has to figure out how she really wants to spend whatever’s left of her future…and with whom. Think Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon meets Jenny Downham’s Before I Die, with a thoroughly modern and memorable YA voice.

Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies, by Laura Stampler (July 19)
Having once been a magazine intern, I have a thorough appreciation for Stampler’s seriously fun How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days-ish debut about a girl who lands a killer internship at a teen mag, only to learn it’s their Dating Blogger position she has been slated for. Only problem? Harper doesn’t know the first thing about dating; she had to steal her best friend’s deepest, darkest secret for her application essay. But if there’s ever been a job to learn on, this is it, and as Harper meet-cutes all over Manhattan, she learns the ups and downs of romance, the magazine industry, and, oh yeah, appropriating her best friend’s life.

The Smaller Evil, by Stephanie Kuehn (August 2)
Arman’s entire life has been marked by the anxiety and chronic illness that make him “weak,” so when a pricey self-help retreat offers the opportunity to fix himself, he jumps in with both feet (and a wad of stolen cash). But the program isn’t anything like Arman imagined, and he never quite feels like he fits, or understands how he’s supposed to. It’s only the faith and encouragement of Beau, the leader, that convinces him he does. But when Beau disappears, and Arman is the only witness to foul play, he has to find the inner strength and self-reliance he has never truly possessed to extricate himself from the cult that would take him down.

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, by Jaye Robin Brown (August 30)
Both Joanna and her best friend are out and proud in Atlanta, but when Jo’s father’s second marriage pulls her out of town and away from Dana, she doesn’t realize just how much she’s leaving behind. Rome is a considerably less gay-friendly Georgia city, and her stepfamily isn’t exactly rocking the Pride flag on their front lawn. Instead, Jo’s father—an Evangelical radio preacher—asks her a favor: to go back into the closet, just for senior year. Jo has no interest in hiding, but she doesn’t want to rock the boat for her father, either, especially when behaving well means getting her own radio show—one that can help other teens deal with personal issues, such as being both religious and queer. But when she finds love unexpectedly in one of her new friends, a girl determined to be out now that she’s in a relationship, Georgia has to choose between her father’s heart and her own.

The Memory of Things, by Gae Polisner (September 6)
Just over the edge of historical, Polisner’s newest takes place on the morning of September 11, 2001, and centers around Kyle, a 16-year-old boy who has just watched the towers fall from the windows of nearby Stuyvesant High School. As he’s running home to the safety of Brooklyn, he comes upon a lost girl and decides to bring her home, and as their connection unfolds in the shadows of the dust-clouded sky, they help each other live through the pain of the day, the past, and the uncertain future.

The Last True Love Story, by Brendan Kiely (September 13)
It’s an epic road trip for the ages: Hendrix has promised to take his Alzheimer’s-stricken grandfather (aka, Gpa) across the country to visit the spot where he first kissed his wife before the disease destroys his memory entirely. Corrina needs a breather from home and the expectations and smothering of her adoptive parents, and some space to embrace the musician she’s meant to be. Together, they risk it all to escape one summer night—two kids, one senior citizen, and a dog, running off in a stolen car while parents, doctors, and the cops run hot on their heels. If nothing else, it’ll definitely be a trip to remember.

Going Geek, by Charlotte Huang (September 13)
Skylar was all set for senior year to be the best one yet; what could be better than living in an awesome dorm in your final year at boarding school, surrounded by your boyfriend and besties? But the living quarters she’d imagined don’t materialize; instead, Skylar finds herself living in a nerdy dorm of strangers…and maybe the boyfriend isn’t such a safe bet anymore either…and the besties? Not so much. Maybe living in social Siberia isn’t the worst thing for Skylar to learn exactly who she is and what she values after all.

Phantom Limbs, by Paula Garner (September 13)
Before the accident, Otis and Meg were inseparable. Afterward, his younger brother was gone, and soon Meg and her family were, too. In the three years since, Otis’s life has been dedicated to swimming and to Dara, his drill sergeant of a coach-slash-friend whose own swimming dreams were dashed when her arm was amputated. But now Meg’s back, and neither she nor Otis is prepared for how much the other has changed. Garner’s debut gently but deeply explores how loss and grief affect different people in different ways, and the strength it takes to live on through it.

Overdrive, by Dawn Ius (September 13)
Jules has been boosting cars for three years, but when she takes a job she knows she shouldn’t on the suggestion of her now-ex boyfriend, she skids hard into her first disaster. Getting caught means getting kicked out of her foster home, along with her little sister, forcing them to survive alone on the streets of Las Vegas—unless they can find some sort of fairy godparent to save them. Enter wildly rich Roger Montgomery, who’ll take both sisters in…at a hefty price. Jules has to steal seven of the rarest cars in the world, along with a crew of three other young criminals she has no reason to trust, and no option not to. Gone in Sixty Seconds meets Heist Society? Definitely a combination I’d run a red for. (Just kidding, I would never; I don’t have a license.)

Kids of Appetite, by David Arnold (September 20)
Vic has been waiting two years to scatter his father’s ashes, and with his mother on the verge of remarrying, now’s the perfect time to get the hell out of his house and do it. The only problem is that he hasn’t fully deciphered his father’s final note, which dictates where he’d like his remains to be spread. But when he meets Mad and the rest of her gang of mistreated, off-the-beaten-path friends, they welcome him into their strongly forged bond of friendship and vow to help him. Along their journey, stories unfold of abuse, neglect, escape, and salvation, and Mosquitoland‘s Arnold once again proves he has a way with character craft that’ll have you thinking about these kids long after you hit The End.

The Female of the Species, by Mindy McGinnis (September 20)
Alex doesn’t shy away from darkness or revenge; when her sister’s killer goes free, she goes right ahead and takes matters into her own hands. But her willingness to get blood on her hands means she doesn’t feel safe around those she’d never want to hurt, like Jack, who makes his interest in her known despite being able to get any girl and being her biggest competition for valedictorian; and Peekay (that’s short for Preacher’s Kid), who befriends Alex while working with her at the animal shelter. As she connects with other people, Alex starts to realize there’s more than darkness in her; there’s a real capacity for warmth. But then, who really knows what lurks inside anyone? Early reviews of this one are so good I actually stopped mid-blogging to pre-order it, and I gather that if you loved All the Rage as much as I did, you should, too.

This Adventure Ends, by Emma Mills (October 4)
I fall in like with a lot of YA main characters, but Sloane brought out some serious love in me. She’s not the best communicator and she’s pretty terrible at showing her emotions, but she can definitely stab a point across when she wants to. It’s her attitude that helps her fall in with a close-knit group at her new school, and particularly with the twins, social media star Vera and loyal, serious Gabe. The closer Sloane gets with the group, the more she unwittingly goes out of her way to cement her place among them, until she’s quite literally chasing the twins’ mother’s most meaningful legacy across the country. But for all the love in Sloane’s huge heart, it’s the simplest truths that still trip her up. Think a low-key The Secret History meets Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here, add a hilariously fanfic-obsessed author dad, and get this on your to-read list ASAP.

Last Seen Leaving, by Caleb Roehrig (October 4)
January’s missing, and it’s only natural the cops would turn to her boyfriend, Flynn, for answers. But Flynn isn’t January’s boyfriend anymore; not since she dumped him the week before for being more into guys than he is into her. He can’t exactly share that information right now, seeing as he’s still working out his sexuality and doesn’t need a news team and police force to know it. But January was also his best friend, and while he had nothing to do with her disappearance, he’s determined to find out who did. The more he digs, the more he discovers January wasn’t quite who he thought she was, and the tales she’s told about others are proving to be full of their own holes. Finding the truth about his ex-girlfriend means confronting the truth about himself, too, and Roehrig handles both beautifully in this killer debut thriller.

Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee, by Mary G. Thompson (October 11)
I’m genuinely sorry to inflict that beyond creepy cover on everyone, but…kinda makes you wanna read it all the more, doesn’t it? Six years ago, Amy and her cousin Dee were kidnapped, and now, she’s returning home alone. She tries to slip back into her normal life, but memories of what she has been through continue to haunt her, as does the fact that she can’t tell anyone what happened to Dee—she can’t reveal any secrets at all. As Amy tries to create some semblance of a future for herself while also struggling to deal with the past, she’ll have to decide whether holding everything close to the vest is truly helping, or whether it’s going to be the final straw in everything crumbling around her.

Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl, by Gretchen McNeil (October 18)
As senior year starts, Bea’s doing great by academic standards and she has got a new boyfriend, bringing her social circle up to a grand total of four people. Then Jesse drops her for the new girl, Toile, and with her best friends, Gabe and Spencer, already miserable from bullying, it looks like they’re in for a year of serious misery. But what good is being a math whiz if you can’t put your skills to some real-life applications? Enter Bea’s mathematically guided plan to social happiness in high school. Suddenly, Spencer’s a hot artist who knows how to use his skills to lure in the most popular girls in school, Gabe’s the walking gay stereotype everyone wants to be BFFs with, and Bea is Trixie, the ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl. But they can only keep up the facade for so long in this ode to trope subversion, and when everything falls apart, those first days of misery are gonna look like a cakewalk in comparison.

It’s Not Me, It’s You, by Stephanie Kate Strohm (October 25)
When perfect Avery Dennis is dumped right before prom, she can’t help reflecting on how she ended up single for such an important high school milestone. So when she’s assigned to work on an oral history for class, she decides it’s the perfect opportunity to dig deep into her own past to put one together on her romantic life, complete with testimonials from every ex. To truly nail the assignment, she has brought her uber-precise and focused lab partner, Hutch, along for the ride, but though they make a brilliant team in class, they’re a little slow in life to see the evidence that’s right in front of their faces. You know those books that just straight-up cause you to be an embarrassment when you read them in public, because you cannot stop laughing at every other word? For me, this one was such a killer, I’m just relieved I didn’t bring it on the subway.

The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon (November 1)
Natasha’s family is less than a day away from being deported to Jamaica. Daniel’s tired of being the responsible, practical son to Korean immigrant parents who expect him to embody the American Dream. When they see each other on a crowded New York City street, it feels like fate to two people who didn’t even know how badly they needed to be pulled out of their lives. Their draw to each other is fierce and instantaneous, and if anyone can deliver a swoontastic romance, it’s the author of Everything, Everything.

The Best Possible Answer, by E. Katherine Kottaras (November 1)
Viviana is a major overachiever who is not used to making mistakes, but she definitely chose the wrong guy. Now, sexy pictures of her are everywhere, just as her parents are splitting up, and everything in life feels like a disaster. Blissfully, a new job at the community pool is a place to start over with people who have no idea about her life Before, and it allows her to finally open up and have feelings for a guy again, too. Now that she’s completely free to be anyone she wants to be, it’s time for Viviana to examine exactly who that is.

You in Five Acts, by Una LaMarche (November 1)
Liv, Diego, Ethan, Dave, and Joy, are all students at a prestigious New York City performing arts school, working hard to make their respective dreams come true despite the odds stacked against them. It’s second semester senior year, and the pressure is on. But their creative futures aren’t all that are on their minds; romance looms large for several of them, and it has never been more imperative to make their moves. Get ready for some heartbreak, drama, and possibly some tears in this newest from the author of Like No Other.

All in Pieces, by Suzanne Young (November 8)
Officially, Savannah Sutton’s got “anger issues,” and they’ve landed her at Brooks Academy, an alternative high school-slash-temporary detention center. And school may be bad, but home’s far worse—her mom ran off, her dad’s an alcoholic, and Savannah alone is left to care for her disabled brother, Evan. But their aunt cares for Evan, too, and while Savannah deals with her new school and her ex-boyfriend’s hatred for being on the receiving end of those issues, their aunt is aiming for his custody. All she has on her side is Cameron, a new Brooks student who’s making his way through the walls she’s been working so hard to build. How can she possibly learn to trust and rely on someone else after everything she’s been through? And how can she afford not to?

This is Our Story, by Ashley Elston (November 15)
Man, I love terribly twisted narratives, and the “Five friends went out hunting but only four returned” premise of Elston’s newest pushes one of my absolute favorite buttons, especially since evidence points to one of the boys as the killer. None of the River Point Boys will rat, though, and the DA isn’t interested in making them do so—not when their families are the reason for his career. But Kate Marino is a seriously determined intern, and she has her own secret reasons for wanting to uncover the killer’s identity. The more she investigates, though, the more twisted the case becomes, and if she’s right that the death wasn’t an accident after all, hers might be next.

The Nerdy and the Dirty, by B.T. Gottfred (November 15)
Benedict knows he’s destined for more than his friendless, romance-less life has given him so far. Pen knows she’s lucky to have her boyfriend, Paul, despite his Catholic squirminess about sex, given that she’s such a horny “freak.” Benedict wants to be more normal, and she wants to be more honest, and when they end up staying at the same resort over break and getting to know each other a whole lot better, they realize it’s not about changing yourself to who you think you should be; it’s about finding the people who like you for exactly who you are. Gottfred’s sophomore YA is imminently readable, full of voice and character, and rife with welcome acknowledgment that girls are sexually minded, self-loving beings too, and that’s a damn fine thing.

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