As a primarily contemporary reader, nothing excites me on the eve of a new year like the promise of new stories of brutal realism, light romance, psychological thrill rides, and everything in between. Being that contemporary is my absolute favorite genre, my “must-read” list is far longer than this, but apparently it’s frowned upon to put 200 books in one blog post, so make sure you’re checking out all the other 2016 preview posts for info on some of my absolute favorite 2016 contemps, from Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin, to Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo, to The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, to—oh, right, frowned upon. In that case, please content yourself with these mere 25 insta-buys from the first half of 2016!
See all 2016 previews here.
Thicker Than Water, by Kelly Fiore (January 5)
You wouldn’t know it from her considerably lighter first two books, but Kelly Fiore’s got one hell of a dark side, and it’s a thing of beauty. CeCe Price has been arrested for the murder of her brother, Cyrus, but the case is far more complicated than anyone knows. After all, those prosecuting her have no idea what it’s like to watch their brother devolve into a prescription drug habit. They have no idea what it’s like to try to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. They don’t realize she was desperately trying to help. And they definitely don’t realize her own pain is tearing her apart. Despite the prevalent abuse of prescription drugs among teens, Fiore’s YA is the first I’ve seen tackle it with this strength and honesty. A must-read, especially for fans of Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything.
Firsts, by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn (January 5)
Mercedes wants to ensure that girls have the magical first-time experience she herself didn’t have, but her methods…are a little controversial: she’ll offer herself up as a hands-on instructor, as long as the guys promise they’ll give their girlfriends a spectacular night with what they’ve learned under her tutelage. Of course, this isn’t exactly the kind of service that comes without its problems, and my favorite thing about Flynn’s debut is the way we get to see all the different kinds of relationships that result and a plethora of different ways we see the nights with these guys can go wrong, without it ever feeling like a collection of cautionary tales. This is unquestionably one of the boldest YA debuts I’ve ever read, and I zipped through it so fast, I’m already due for a reread.
Other Broken Things, by C. Desir (January 12)
Desir (Fault Line, Bleed Like Me) isn’t one to shy away from dark, difficult, realistic topics, and her third book is no exception. Natalie may not think she has a problem with alcohol, but the court disagrees. Unfortunately, that leaves Nat with a whole new problem—her old friends have no interest in a girl who doesn’t drink anymore, thanks to mandated AA meetings. Enter Joe, another recovering alcoholic who’s twice her age and understands the need for a distraction at any cost. Follow up Natalie’s rocky road to recover with Desir’s second offering this year, Love Blind, coauthored with Jolene Perry (Has to Be Love), about a girl with degenerative vision and her budding relationship with a shy musician.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E. K. Johnston (March 15)
I can never resist a book with Veronica Mars in the comparison titles, and this one also has blurbs from two of my favorite contemporary authors—Courtney Summers and Tess Sharpe—behind it. Not to mention that Johnston’s debut, The Story of Owen, was a finalist for the Morris Award, the Los Angeles Times Prize for Young Adult Literature, and the Kirkus Prize. This time around, the story is of Hermione, a cheer captain whose summer at training camp ends in her being drugged and raped. Now, she’s trying to survive the aftermath, but even surrounded by a supportive community—the kind we know to be all too rare, and a counterpoint to, say, All the Rage—it’ll take strength in its many different forms for her to move forward.
Wink Poppy Midnight, by April Genevieve Tucholke (March 22)
Technically, one can read Tucholke’s chilling and lovely psychological thriller as stepping into a paranormal space, but whether or not you’d call it contemporary, there’s no arguing it as highly anticipated. I have to admit I’m often skeptical of lofty comparison titles such as We Were Liars, but despite very different voices and perspectives here, Lockhart’s New York Times bestseller is absolutely the first book that came to mind while reading. Tucholke’s memorable characters similarly play with the boundaries between heroism and villainy, criminal and victim, and it’s no surprise the author of gothic YA Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and editor of Slasher Girls & Monster Boys nails the vibe of encroaching darkness from page one.
This is Where the World Ends, by Amy Zhang (March 22)
Janie and Micah are best friends, even if they don’t let the outside world know it. It just works better that way. But it means no one really knows how to handle Micah when he wakes up in the hospital to learn that Janie is gone and so are most of his memories. As Micah’s narration works backward to recall what happened in the days prior, particularly at the bonfire that burned down Janie’s house, Janie’s works forward, from two months earlier, to show how everything from the point when her family moved to a different neighborhood from his onward—and the people who filled her life in Micah’s absence—contributed to where she is now. Not gonna lie, dear reader: I cried. And you probably will, too.
When We Collided, by Emery Lord (April 5)
If you’re a contemporary romance fan, you’re undoubtedly already familiar with Lord’s magical skill at writing great friendships and swoonworthy romances (and if not, pick up Open Road Summer and The Start of Me and You immediately), but her newest installment adds a sensitive and nuanced depiction of mental illness as well. Jonah already sees it at home, in his mother, who has been battling depression since the death of his father, but when Vivi moves to town, she seems exactly like the injection of fun and life his family needs. What he doesn’t realize at first is she has mental health issues of her own, and they just may push them both over the edge.
Gena/Finn, by Kat Helgeson and Hannah Moskowitz (April 5)
Helgeson’s debut, coauthored with the prolific Moskowitz (Not Otherwise Specified, A History of Glitter and Blood), introduces us to Gena and Finn, two girls in different life stages (uniquely old for YA, at 18 and 22 respectively), brought together by fandom for a TV show called Up Below. While their shared love is what initially bonds them, it doesn’t take long for them to click in every other way, baring their souls to each other about their lives and loves and worlds beyond the screen. But the closer they get, the more complicated things become, especially for Finn and the boyfriend she lives with. Though this one definitely kicks up some emotional landmines, it’ll also make you legit lol, hard.
The Darkest Corners, by Kara Thomas (April 19)
Thomas had already cemented herself as one of my favorite YA mystery authors with Prep School Confidential (written as Kara Taylor), but her April release is a whole other level. Tessa’s back in Fayette to say a final goodbye, but her old hometown is every bit as full of demons as when she left. New mysteries tie in with old ones, no truth is absolute, and if you think you’ve guessed what’s going on, prepare to be wrong and wrong and wrong again. You know those books for which you have no choice but to sacrifice a night’s sleep to finish? Welcome this one to that pile with open arms.
The Last Boy and Girl in the World, by Siobhan Vivian (April 26)
The author of The List and Burn for Burn (with Jenny Han) returns with a YA novel taking place on the precipice of the future. What would you prioritize if the world as you knew it was ending? That’s the predicament Keeley and her friends are in as their town slides underwater. As everyone else parties on the last traces of Aberdeen, Keeley embarks on her #1 mission: going for the guy she’s been in love with forever.
The Blood Between Us, by Zac Brewer (May 3)
New York Times-best selling Brewer returns with a creeptastic-sounding chiller about ties that bind…a little too tightly. There’s never been much love lost between Adrien and Grace, the most competitive of siblings. So when their parents—Grace’s biological, Adrien’s adoptive—are killed in a fire, there’s nothing to keep them together. Only after years do they reunite, at the very boarding school at which their parents used to teach. Being back around familiar people unsettles Adrien, but none so much as his own sister, who’s harboring some secrets of her own. Secrets that may change everything. Secrets that may even be deadly.
Suffer Love, by Ashley Herring Blake (May 3)
Hayden and Sam both know what it’s like to have a parent’s affair tear their lives apart, but what only Sam knows is that the affair in question was between his and Hayden’s parents; to Hayden, Sam’s just the cute guy she’s falling for. Hard. Which is what allows her to enter his life, become close with her sister, and give him her heart even after she thought her belief in true love had been killed off for good. But with this kind of betrayal and secrecy between them, is there really any hope? Blake’s debut shines in its reflection of two different experiences of living under the shadow of marital infidelity, and the ways it tears families apart.
If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo (May 3)
You know when a book is so necessary, you feel a palpable desperation for it to be good, so much so that even if it wholly disappoints in execution, people kinda sweep that under the rug? I cannot even tell you how thankful I am that this book was not that. Necessary? Yes. But Russo’s debut is also straight-up excellent, from the dedication to the author’s note to the actual story, about a transgender girl named Amanda who has just moved in with her father after being attacked in her hometown forces her to leave. For Amanda, it’s an opportunity to start over where no one but her dad has ever known her as Andrew, and the move most certainly agrees with her: she makes new friends in no time, and it gives her and her father a chance to get to know each other again. But she also falls in love, which is something she never expected to happen, has no idea how to handle, and just may spell her downfall.
Even if the Sky Falls, by Mia Garcia (May 10)
A whirlwind romance taking place over 24 hours, set in New Orleans? Hello, my weak spots! Julie needs a change, and what better way to gain new perspective than to head to New Orleans to help rebuild houses? But her new youth group-mates don’t quite provide the distraction she needs, leading Julie to seek a guaranteed escape: Mid-Summer Mardi Gras. There, she meets Miles, a musician with his own reason for needing an escape. Over the course of the night, the two delight in all the city has to offer…and in each other. But the blissful distraction is short-lived when a hurricane heads in their direction.
Wild Swans, by Jessica Spotswood (May 1)
Spotswood came onto the YA scene with the Cahill Witch Chronicles historical fantasy trilogy, and her first contemporary novel definitely has her continuing the theme of complicated family dynamics. Ivy’s looking forward to finally having a chilled-out summer, unburdened by expectations that she live up to the legacy/curse (depends who you ask) of the Milbourn women. But when the mother who left her as a child returns home—with two kids—Ivy will have to reexamine all the lies that built up her up until now, the secrets that define her family, and how to function when it turns out the people closest to you are the ones who’ve been keeping you from the truth.
The Unexpected Everything, by Morgan Matson (May 3)
Between the fact that Matson only seems to get better with each book (her 2013 YA, Since You’ve Been Gone, is my personal favorite of hers) and my desire for more books featuring politician’s daughters spurred on by the excellent The Right Side of Wrong, by Jenn Marie Thorne, this book is a no-brainer addition to my 2016 reading list. Andie’s got a plan for her summer, just as she does for everything in life. But when it falls apart thanks to a political scandal, and she ends up spending the summer living with the last person she ever wanted to—her own father—all her carefully laid plans take turns for the unexpected, including the one she had for her heart.
Hardcover $17.99 | $19.99
Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, edited by Stephanie Perkins (May 17)
Love stories about love? How about twelve of them, all in one book, and edited by the mistress of contemporary YA romance herself? Whether you were dying for a summer version of My True Love Gave to Me or the magic of a Perkins-edited YA romance anthology is totally new to you, how can you possibly pass up stories by Veronica Roth (Divergent), Brandy Colbert (Pointe), Nina LaCour (Everything Leads to You), Lev Grossman (The Magicians), Leigh Bardugo (Six of Crows), Tim Federle (Better Nate Than Ever), and more? (Trick question: you can’t. Get it.)
Girl Against the Universe, by Paula Stokes (May 17)
People might think Maguire’s lucky to have walked away from the accident that killed her father, brother, and uncle without a scratch, but she feels like a nonstop harbinger of doom. Terrible things happen in her presence, and the only way to avoid hurting more people is keep herself locked in her room. But then she meets aspiring tennis star Jordy, who’s convinced he’s lucky enough to cover them both—he just needs Maguire to open up and let someone else in for the first time since she closed herself off for good. Fans of Stokes’ debut, The Art of Lainey, won’t want to miss her second romantic contemporary, even with its darker touch.
Please Don’t Tell, by Laura Tims (May 24)
As an unabashed fan of twisted YA thrillers, I’m always on the lookout for the promise of great new voices that can keep me guessing, and this debut’s been on my radar forever. Joy doesn’t really know what happened the night Adam was killed, but she knows he deserved it after what he did to her twin sister. She’s also pretty sure she’s responsible, but only one person knows for sure…at least if the blackmail notes she’s receiving are to be believed. Now Joy has no choice but to reveal the dark secrets that plague her hometown, or risk her crime being exposed. Tims’ debut promises some serious moral gray-itude, which is my favorite kind of ‘tude.
Wanderlost, by Jen Malone (May 31)
Malone is a MG-YA double threat, and much as I’ve adored her books in both categories, as a travel junkie, this is probably my most highly anticipated of all. Aubree’s ready for a chilled-out summer at home in Ohio, until she finds herself taking over her sister’s job as a tour guide…in Europe. Things fall apart almost immediately, and when the tour company owner’s son comes along for the ride and steals Aubree’s heart, keeping up the ruse of being her own sister becomes the hardest challenge of all.
You Know Me Well, by Nina LaCour and David Levithan (June 7)
What do you get when two masters of contemporary YA come together to coauthor a single novel? I cannot wait to find out. In their first collaboration, LaCour and Levithan bring together two classmates who don’t know each other at all but bond one night when they run into each other unexpectedly. This isn’t a romance between the two—Kate’s enamored with a girl she was finally supposed to meet in person, and Mark is in love with his best friend, who may or may not reciprocate—but a tale of that amazing insta-friend-chemistry that may only happen once in a lifetime.
Tumbling, by Caela Carter (June 7)
Carter’s written two fave YAs for me so far, but her third’s the one I feel like I’ve been waiting for my whole life. (Or at least since Make It or Break It got canceled.) Five girls. One goal. Grace, Leigh, Camille, Wilhemina, and Monica are all gymnasts and Olympic hopefuls, but with dreams that lofty comes pressure to match—pressure that means keeping secrets to protect themselves and those they love, pressure to do dangerous things to come out on top, and pressure to please everyone around them, even if that means putting themselves last.
The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love, by Sarvenaz Tash (June 14)
If this book wasn’t already on my auto-read list for the title and cover, the fact that Three Day Summer was a personal favorite of 2015 would’ve done it; if anyone can turn a short-term event into a hilarious setting for a great YA romance, it’s Tash. Graham’s got a plan to make this year’s Comic-Con one his best friend, Roxanne, will never forget…and it involves confessing his love. But another con-goer may steal her heart first, and that’s just one problem in a long line of plans gone awry.
Run, by Kody Keplinger (June 28)
I’m psyched enough to see a friendship book from the author of The Duff, but so many excitement bonus points for it being her first book with a blind main character. Bo’s a wild girl who does her own thing and whose parents couldn’t care less what she’s up to. Agnes is legally blind, and has parents who practically keep her prisoner in an attempt to keep her “safe” from the outside world. Despite their differences, the two become best friends…which means when Bo comes to Agnes one night on the run from the cops and asks her to leave town at her side, Agnes agrees, and the two head off on a hell of an adventure, complete with a whole lot of law-breaking.
A World Without You, by Beth Revis (July 19)
It’s pretty likely you know Revis from her New York Times bestselling sci-fi, but 2016 brings her first contemporary YA offering, and I for one cannot wait. Bo is a 17-year-old boy with delusions he has the power to travel through time, and even when his parents sent him to a school for troubled youth, he’s convinced they’ve sent him to The Academy, a school for kids with superpowers. There, he falls in love with Sofia, who suffers from deep depression. But when she’s claimed by her disease, Bo’s downward spiral to “save” her may take him past the point of being able to save himself.