As the conversation about diversifying our shelves (and the publishing industry as a whole) continues, it’s three steps forward, and two steps back. (See the still startling and disappointing numbers from the annual Lee & Low diversity in publishing survey, which reads quite bleak for 2018.) But more and more (and more, please!), publishers, editors and, perhaps most importantly, readers are championing writers who are writing from their own experience and marginalizations—or #ownvoices, as the term was coined by author Corinne Duvyis. While the term has been coopted and fallen somewhat out of favor, there’s still something special and astounding, really, about people finally being able to speak for themselves. So we at B&N Teen are super excited to present 25 of our most anticipated diverse reads of 2019.
But honestly—and finally!—we’re just scratching the surface here. There are about a hundred other #ownvoices titles that were totally worthy of this list—and you’ll find some of them, like Opposite of Always by Justin Reynolds; Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno; There’s Something About Sweetie, by Sandhya Menon; Birthday, by Meredith Russo; and my very own, Symptoms of a Heartbreak (May 21!), on our other comprehensive roundups of this years most anticipated titles from January through June, with more to come this summer.
What are you waiting for?
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Black Enough, edited by Ibi Zoboi (January 8)
This unique, engaging, and very necessary anthology, curated and edited by Ibi Zoboi—the author of American Street and Pride—features an all-star lineup of black YA authors, including Renée Watson, Tracey Baptiste, Dhonielle Clayton, Rita Williams-Garcia, Jason Reynolds, Lamar Giles, Brandy Colbert, Justina Ireland, Nic Stone, and Varian Johnson (whose story gives the collection its title), each contributing a stunning story that examines the concept of blackness in today’s America.
Spin, by Lamar Giles (January 29)
Perhaps the most infuriatingly underrated writer in modern YA—get on this, people!—Giles is back with another fast-paced page-turning thriller, this one centering on Kya and Fuse, an odd couple set on solving the mysterious murder of their pal, DJ Paris Secord, who was found dead on her turntables. While police quickly shut down the investigation, Kya and Fuse—and the ParSec fandom—won’t let this murder remain a mystery. But as the pair uncover seamy secrets and lies, are they putting their own lives at risk? Music, mayhem, murder: what’s not to love?
On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas (February 5)
Let’s face it, Angie’s sophomore effort is pretty much the most anticipated release of 2019, which is no small pressure. But we know she’s gonna knock it out, and we can’t wait to witness it. For one thing, On the Come Up draws from Angie’s own experiences in the world of hip-hop. And she has said that protagonist Bri is even more beloved to her than The Hate U Give’s Starr Carter. Fighting words for most readers, but we know she’ll live up to our great expectations.
The Weight of Our Sky, by Hanna Alkaf (February 5)
Alkaf’s fast-paced debut takes us into the burning streets of Kuala Lumpur in 1969, as riots engulf the Malaysian city. Mel, a sixteen-year-old everyteen (and Beatles fan!), must fight for her life as she navigates the chaos in the city—and in her head, where OCD reigns in the form of a djinn bent on destroying all in its path. Alkaf’s writing is both unflinching and generous, setting a stage where casual violence and unexpected kindness hold hands.
Watch Us Rise, by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan (February 12)
Watson has long been a voice to follow in YA, with her thoughtful and provocative storytelling in titles including Piecing Me Together and This Side of Home. Her latest, a collaboration with poet Ellen Hagen, follows BFFs Jasmine and Chelsea as they found a Women’s Rights Club at their progressive New York City high school, making waves both online and IRL. But when the trolls come calling and things begin to simmer, the school’s principal shuts down the club—but Jasmine and Chelsea won’t let their voices be silenced.
We Set the Dark on Fire, by Tehlor Kay Mejia (Feb 26)
Action, intrigue, politics, and forbidden romance? Yes, please! Daniela Vargas never expected to fall in love. Especially not with her biggest rival. Not when her whole life is a lie, and she must fight so hard to keep her secrets from coming loose. Not when everything—everything—is at stake. But the heart wants what it wants, and in the world of Medio, that might just spell death. Especially when her secrets entangle her with the likes of La Voz, a rebel group threatening to take down the system.
The Everlasting Rose, by Dhonielle Clayton (March 5)
Maybe I’m biased, but Clayton’s stunning fantasy debut, The Belles, was a glittering jewel box of a book, with something deeply sinister lurking behind the glam of Orléans’ lush world, where beauty is everything and attaining it just might kill you. The girl knows how to work a cliffhanger, too, so if you read the first book, you’ve probably already preordered this sequel. If not, well, buy both together and you’re in for a binge-worthy treat.
Internment, by Samira Ahmed (March 19)
Set in the near future, one all too close to actual reality these days, Internment centers on everygirl Layla Amin, Chicago-born and bred, whose world falls apart as the government begins detaining and interring Muslims and others the new wave of government deems problematic. Will she and her family survive life at the camp? And can the smallest spark ignite a revolution? Harrowing, horrifying, and decidedly uncomfortable, the book is nonetheless riveting and necessary.
Forward Me Back to You, by Mitali Perkins (April 2)
Perkins’ layered and lovely You Bring the Distant Near, which spanned the globe and three generations, was nominated for a National Book Award last year, and this follow-up is sure to cement her already storied space in the YA canon. When Robin and Kat meet on a summer service trip in Kolkata, where they’re helping survivors of human trafficking, they’re both hiding secrets. But working together to help others might just be what saves them both.
In the Key of Nira Ghani, by Natasha Deen (April 9)
Chiming in with a voice rarely heard in YA, Deen brings us Nira Ghani, a Guyanese girl navigating the rough waters of high school and trying to figure herself out. She wants to be a musician, but her parents want her to focus on the practical. She has a crush on pal Noah, but she doesn’t know how to make her move. Her cousin Farah is smarter, prettier, more popular—and just a bit competitive. But worst of all, her nemesis (in band and in life) Mackenzie is trying to steal away her BFF Emily. All of that seems like nothing, though, when spilled family secrets threaten to take their toll.
The Tiger at Midnight, by Swati Teerdhala (April 23)
Yes, Esha’s the Viper, a famed assassin. But this time she was framed. And yes, Kunal is the general’s nephew, charged with avenging his uncle’s murder. But when this game of cat and mouse sparks fire, both are at risk of burning. High adventure, rich worldbuilding based in Indian myth and legend, and a bantering hate-to-love dual narrative that crackles with energy combine in a fantasy that will have fans of Renée Ahdieh and Sabaa Tahir begging for the sequel.
Somewhere Only We Know, by Maurene Goo (May 7)
More rom-com fun from your fave (and mine!) Maurene Goo. This time, with K-Pop! Lucky is K-Pop’s biggest and brightest, and she’s basking in the afterglow of a stadium set to 10,000 screaming fans. Now she’s stateside, ready for her first big Tonight Show slot, and all she wants is a hamburger. Cue the meet-cute. Jack’s on assignment, set to stalk a K-Pop star, but when he meets the girl in slippers, he can’t help but fall. Will the pair’s love connection last when they find out the truth—about themselves and each other?
With the Fire On High, by Elizabeth Acevedo (May 7)
Last year, Acevedo made her mark with stunning, National Book Award–winning novel in verse, The Poet X (READ IT NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY). This year, she’s turning up the heat with Fire, which follows Emoni Santiago as she balances school, caring for her young daughter Emma, and helping her ailing abuela. The place she feels most at home is the kitchen, and though she dreams of becoming a chef, Emoni’s got her hands full. Can she do what she needs to and still make room for big dreams? Acevedo’s work has a such a rhythm and flow, an ease of storytelling and character building. Plus: All the food, please!
Love from A to Z, by S.K. Ali (May 7)
S.K. Ali is back with her follow-up to the stunning Saints and Misfits—and you will not be disappointed. In Love, Zayneb and Adam connect over the concept of marvels and oddities, meeting in Doha, Qatar, where both land after things in their everyday life begin to unravel—she thanks to a suspension from school for confronting a racist teacher, he with his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis coupled with the grief of losing his mother. Can they share the burdens they carry, and maybe, together, begin to heal?
The Candle and the Flame, by Nafiza Azad (May 14)
Can I just say this is the djinn fantasy I have been waiting for my whole life? Bold, rich, evocative, and simmering with sinister intensity, Azad’s debut marks the arrival of a VOICE. Noor was a Silk Road city pulsating with energy, where tribes of djinn and humans coexisted, until slaughter left it a shell. When the knife falls again, fierce, restless Fatima finds herself forever changed, and as she enters the fray between djinn and humans, she realizes she might be the key to brokering an uneasy peace.
Brave Face, by Shaun David Hutchinson (May 21)
Hutchinson is known for thoughtful high-concept work like We Are the Ants, The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, and The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza. In this memoir, though, he lays it bare, unraveling his life as a queer kid with severe depression at 19 in his usual unflinching, understated storytelling. A very necessary story, well told.
Let Me Hear A Rhyme, by Tiffany D. Jackson (May 21)
Tiffany Jackson is a wonder. Her work in Allegedly and Monday’s Not Coming is astounding and challenging, so the bar is set way high for her latest, Let Me Hear a Rhyme, set in old school ’90s Brooklyn. When their friend Steph is killed, pals Jarrell and Quadir refuse to let his legacy die. So, along with Steph’s sister, Jasmine, they resurrect his voice and his music as the mysterious Architect, hoping to put the money from selling tapes toward solving Steph’s murder. But things take a dark turn, because secrets have a way of spilling. Meaty and page-turning, with Steph’s lyrics (penned by Malik Sharif) making him a voice in the story.
I Love You So Mochi, by Sarah Kuhn (May 28)
From the author of the much-loved Heroine Complex romance series comes this YA debut about Kimi Nakamura, a fashion-focused teen who spends too much time creating styles for her shop Kimi’s Originals and too little time on her fine arts portfolio for college—at least according to her mom. When the bickering gets too intense, Kim accepts an invitation from her estranged grandparents to go explore Kyoto for the summer, and there, along with unexpected romance, she discovers a lot about herself (and her mom, too). A sweet, delicious rom-com.
I Wish You All the Best, by Mason Deaver (May 28)
Kicked out of the house when they come out to their parents as nonbinary, Ben DeBacker finds themselves the new kid in school, trying to keep a low profile and just get through it. That is, until they meet firecracker Nathan Allan, who adopts Ben as his pet cause—and their burgeoning friendship develops into first love. An enby, #ownvoices love story, Wish is at once groundbreaking and entirely relatable.
Like A Love Story, by Abdi Nazemian (June 4)
It’s New York City, 1989, and the world is on the verge. Reza just landed in the city from Iran, and his life is one big secret: he’s gay, nobody knows, and all he’s seen of that world is headlines about gay men dying of AIDS. Then he meets Judy, a wannabe fashion designer, and they start dating. That is, until Judy introduces Reza to her BFF Art, their school’s only out and proud kid, who spends his days photographing gay men with AIDS to document the crisis. As the triangle shifts and splinters, someone—everyone—is going to get hurt. But will the pain be worth it? Like Nazemian’s debut, The Authentics, this book beautifully renders a specific moment in time while somehow managing to be timeless.
Tell Me How You Really Feel, by Aminah Mae Safi (June 11)
Sana Khan is perfect: a cheerleader, straight A student, the classic overachiever. That’s why she should totally star in Rachel Recht’s senior film project. Right? The only problem? They hate each other, after a romantic misunderstanding that led to disaster. But they can’t deny the spark between them. YA rom-com goodness from the effervescent Aminah Mae Safi, starring two opposites-attract female protags in a hate-to-love story.
The Grief Keeper, by Alexandra Villasante (June 11)
The timeliness of this story is startling, but that’s not the only thing that makes it a must-read. Marisol is on the run for her life, having left her native El Salvador as a refugee heading for the American border. See, her brother was murdered, and it’s all her fault, because she made the mistake of falling for Liliana knowing it could be the thing that ended everything. But her dreams of becoming an American are shattered as she and her sister arrive, battered and bruised, at the border. Their request for asylum is hardly likely to be granted—but there is an if. If she will become a grief keeper, taking the trauma and sadness of others into her own body, then maybe they can stay. But Marisol hardly understands what she’s committing to, and her own grief might just be big enough to swallow her whole.
Patron Saints of Nothing, by Randy Ribay (June 18)
Jay is whiling away the summer days before heading off to UMichigan in the fall. Then his cousin Jun is murdered by the Durerte regime in the Philippines, and his whole world is toppled. He decides to head to the Philippines to find out what happened, and discovers sides of the story (and of himself) that he couldn’t even fathom before. A true coming of age story, one that grapples with dictatorship, drug abuse, immigrant identity, and the flaws of family with a deft, understated, and devastating touch.
All of Us With Wings, by Michelle Ruiz Kiel (June 18)
A trippy, #ownvoices contemporary fantasy, Wings follows seventeen-year-old San Francisco street kid Xochi, who finds family as the nanny to genius tween Pallas, the child of rockstars who live a wild, free lifestyle in one of the city’s storied Victorians. On the night of the Vernal Equinox, as a rager thrums below, Xochi and Pallas preform a ritual that accidentally summons the ancient waterbabies, bent on righting the wrongs of Xochi’s past—at any cost.
Wicked Fox, by Kat Cho (June 25)
In the delightful Cho’s debut, a contemporary fantasy based on ancient Korean mythology, a teen girl shapeshifts into a nine-tailed fox, a gumiho, who eats the souls of men to survive. So you can see why falling in love for the first time just might be a problem. Oops.