This is one of the best book months YA’s had in a long time, in my opinion, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s as diverse as three seasons of Degrassi combined. Oh, and as you might notice, it’s chock full of National Book Award longlisters, too. From magical realism examining fluid sexuality and dark secrets to verse set over the course of a single minute of life-changing decision, this is definitely the month to make some more space on your shelves.
The Uncrossing, by Melissa Eastlake (October 2)
I’d say this is the gay retelling of Rapunzel you never knew you needed, but who didn’t know they needed that? Uncrossing curses is Luke’s Thing, but when he uncovers the first one he can’t break while working for one of the families that control all of New York’s magic, he’ll discover there’s an even greater challenge behind it: Jeremy. Jeremy has been in love with Luke forever, but as the scion of the family that employs Luke, he’s utterly off limits. The fact that he’s now tied to the curse makes him seem even more impossible. Can the two find love if Luke can’t solve the unsolvable?
Wild Beauty, by Anna-Marie McLemore (October 3)
If you’re looking for the most beautifully lyrical author writing YA right now, allow me to submit for your consideration magical realism mistress Anna-Marie McLemore, who’s back with her third title in the genre, and second featuring queer characters aplenty. (Including a spectacular one that just might named for yours truly.) This gorgeous tale follows cursed Nomeolvides girl Estrella and her four cousins (in keeping with every generation’s having exactly five female cousins), all of whom possess the ability to create a different kind of one of the lush, beautiful blooms that blankets La Pradera, the estate on which they live, serve, and dwell in the knowledge that anyone they romantically love is doomed to disappear. When the cousins realize they’re all in love with the same girl, the ritual they do to ensure her protection produces a boy who’s clearly from another age—a boy they can only assume must be the returned love doomed centuries earlier by another cursed relative. After all, he has no idea where he came from or even what his name is. But as he and Estrella begin to fall for each other, the truth about who he is and what that means for the Nomeolvides family and La Pradera comes to an ugly light.
Far From the Tree, by Robin Benway (October 3)
Benway’s career has been a really fun one to follow, beginning with the hilarious Audrey, Wait! and making its way toward what I think might be her best yet (and the National Book Award committee seems inclined to agree), even though it did make me break out the tissues something fierce. When Grace gives her baby up for adoption, it pushes her to further inquire about her own, and that’s when she learns she has two siblings she’d never known: fierce, anxious Maya, who lives with her adoptive parents and the biological daughter they hadn’t thought they could have; and haunted, cynical Joaquin, a foster kid who’s been burned by the system too many times and struggles to trust that he’s adoptable at all, even when it’s laid out on the table just as he’s about to age out. Alternating between their three perspectives as they come to know each other and forge the family wrought by their shared bloodline, the book follows their journeys to more deeply understand love, trust, family, bonding, and where they came from.
Top Ten, by Katie Cotugno (October 3)
One of my favorite instabuy authors returns with book number four, this one about polar-opposite best friends Gabby and Ryan, who have to decide where they stand when they cross the romantic line on graduation night. After years of making top ten lists together being one of their favorite shared hobbies, Gabby takes the time to make the most important one of all: the top ten moments of their friendship, which include fights and making up, being there for each other through breakups, her anxiety clashing with his popularity, and everything in between. It’s a fitting coda to Cotugno’s quartet of standalones (her next full-length novel, 9 Days and 9 Nights, is a sequel to 99 Days), which have all explored different intersections of romance and friendship, and it also happens to be one of my favorite reads of the fall.
That Inevitable Victorian Thing, by E.K. Johnston (October 3)
Imagine a world that is both Victorian and near-future, rife with courtship assisted by an online dating of sorts…except the profiles are DNA chips. Imagine the British Empire never fell, but rather embraced the citizens of its far-flung colonies, and married its citizens rather than maintaining a royal lineage roughly the shade of skim milk. Can’t quite picture it? That’s what the imaginative, genre-jumping brain of New York Times bestseller E.K. Johnston is for. The story centers around three characters living in a near future in which DNA plays a vital role in making ideal matches for everyone, commoner and royal alike. Margaret is the latter (the crown princess, to be exact), although she’s determined no one know it when she joins the Toronto social season and meets Helena Marcus and August Callaghan, who have quietly promised each other a future. Margaret’s presence pleasantly shakes things up, and the friends enjoy a wonderful summer together. But Margaret isn’t the only one keeping a secret, and those harbored by both Helena and August could have lasting consequences.
Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor (October 3)
In Akata Witch, American-born Nigerian albino Sunny began developing her magical powers with the help of the Leopard Society. Now her connection to her spirit face has been severed, and the mystery of why that didn’t kill her may indicate a frightening reality. She and her friends will have to take a dangerous journey to get it back…and prevent the world’s destruction. This sequel by the award-winning Okorafor has been years in the making, and it was undoubtedly worth the wait.
27 Hours, by Tristina Wright (October 3)
Wright’s inclusive sci-fi debut takes readers to a far-away moon with a seemingly endless battle between human colonists and native monsters. Amid them are four teens desperate to end the conflict who only have 27 hours—one night—to do it, and potentially destroy humanity in the process. Meanwhile, complicated romances abound among the group, upping the personal stakes every step of the way.
Among the Red Stars, by Gwen C. Katz (October 3)
All Valka wants is to be a fighter pilot in the Russian army, but it’s not in the cards for a teenage girl…until her very own idol creates an all-female regiment of bombers, and Valka eagerly signs up. As she goes through grueling training and faces close calls with her cousin and the NKVD, she learns more and more what it means to fear, to love, and to sacrifice. Through it all, she writes letters with Pasha, the childhood friend she slowly realizes has become something different along the way. He himself is on the front lines, telling stories of watching his fellow soldiers die right in front of his face. When their experiences collide, Valka will have to make a major choice that defines what kind of soldier, and what kind of comrade, she intends to be.
Not Your Villain, by CB Lee (October 5)
Lee’s seriously fun and inclusive superhero series Sidekick Squad returns from the perspective of Bells, a Black trans boy with the superpower to change his appearance (hence his superhero name of Chameleon) and the need to keep his training a secret. But when the secrecy blows up in his face and he learns he isn’t the only one who’s been hiding things relating to meta-humanity, he and his friends will be forced on a dangerous journey to find the Resistance fighting the corrupt League of Heroes. Oh, and while Bells is trying save his family, friends, powers, and humanity in general, he’s also trying to figure out how to tell his best friend, Emma, that he’s been in love with her since he was five. You know, typical high school problems. And I’m not saying this book made me tear up repeatedly, including once on the subway, because Lee is just that good at writing inclusive representation you literally glow at imagining queer teens of color reading, but that is exactly what I am saying.
This Darkness Mine, by Mindy McGinnis (October 10)
If you didn’t know how hard McGinnis could hit, you probably learned it from her Female of the Species, which basically took a bat to readers’ emotions and left everyone in tatters. Now that you’ve had time to recover, welcome to her next weapon of mass destruction, a Fight Club-esque psychological thriller about a girl whose inexplicable attraction to a new guy leads her to learn that she absorbed a twin in her womb, which may or may not (because really, how could it??) explain unsettling gaps in her memory.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, by Julie C. Dao (October 10)
Dao’s vividly drawn, bold-as-hell debut is one of the most compelling books I’ve read in a while. Fans of the royally and powerfully ambitious antiheroines of Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns and Marie Lu’s The Young Elites would do well to (cautiously) cozy up to Xifeng, a beautiful but relatively destitute girl whose abusive aunt has foretold in the cards is destined for life in the Imperial Palace. Taking her future into her own hands, she escapes toward the palace with the boy she loves, but her determination to achieve the throne means even he is not guaranteed her loyalty. The closer Xifeng gets, the more she realizes she’s willing to sacrifice and destroy in order to get what she wants, to the point even she fears her own darkness. Will she restrain herself and settle down before things go too far? Or will you get obscenely sucked into this book (like I did) as Xifeng falls deeper and deeper into the black hole of ambition and the idea of boundaries becomes a laughable concept?
Dare Mighty Things, by Heather Kaczynski (October 10)
It’s one thing to have a YA about a girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut. It’s another to have a YA about a girl who dreams of an astronaut but can’t because it’s the year 2043 and NASA no longer sends humans into space. Except secretly, they’re planning to do just that, and Cassandra might be the perfect candidate for the job, if only she can beat out the competition. But when the competition turns into new friendships, and she realizes the mission has a hidden agenda to it, suddenly her endeavor no longer seems as exciting as it once did, or as safe.
The Memory Trees, by Kali Wallace (October 10)
Wallace debuted in early 2016 with a super voice-y and thoughtful paranormal that made her an instant must read, so how can you not wanna dive right in to her sophomore effort, about a girl revisiting the history of a family feud and struggling to understand the death of her sister by returning to the scene of her childhood? Mystery, memory, and endurance abound as being in the old apple orchard begins to revive Sorrow’s recollections and answer some long-held questions.
All the Wind in the World, by Samantha Mabry (October 10)
The first thing I will tell you about this book is that when I had a newborn and was desperate for sleep wherever I could get it, this book made me stay up for hours after I should’ve put it down, because it’s just that compelling. I’d be mad at it if it weren’t so good, honestly, and seeing it longlisted for the National Book Award made me feel slightly better about my choices. In Mabry’s sophomore novel, Sarah Jac and James are working the fields in a near future where water is a most precious commodity. Though the two are falling deeply in love, they pretend to be cousins for their own safety, even after a deadly accident drives them to escape to The Real Marvelous, a supposedly cursed ranch. But their pretense combines with their methods of survival in a way that threatens their love and happiness for good.
Gray Wolf Island, by Tracey Neithercott (October 10)
Ruby’s sister gave her one mission upon her death: that Ruby go hunting on Gray Wolf Island and solve the mystery of whether a treasure in fact lies there, using nothing but a poem as her treasure map. There, she makes friends who each have their own curious backgrounds, and who’ll have to share their secrets if they’re going to reach their final destination. But Ruby holds her own secret close to the vest for a reason, and she doesn’t want to lose the new friends in her life by revealing it, even if that means she fails in her quest.
Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green (October 10)
It’s tough for any author to set up higher expectations than Green, whose books have probably collectively spent more time on bestseller lists than the Bible would have in the mid-fifteenth century, but readers all over the world await his newest contemporary YA (and first since The Fault in Our Stars), about a sixteen-year-old girl named Aza who sneakily pursues a mystery that comes with a big cash reward by befriending the son of the fugitive billionaire.
Echo After Echo, by Amy Rose Capetta (October 10)
This is probably the book I’ve been raving about for the longest stretch of 2017, and it’s a relief on my whole system that it’s finally here for general consumption. When Zara secures the role of a lifetime to play Echo at the Aurelia Theater, it’s a dream come true, even when the director secures a promise from her that she’ll remain wholly focused on the role. Of course, she has no idea at the time that she’s going to fall for Eli, the lighting assistant. Or that deaths will befall the theater, making everyone fear for themselves and suspect each other. Everyone seems to be keeping secrets, and as she finds love in Eli’s tattooed arms, she’s no exception. But who’s the keeper of the deadliest secret of all?
The Nowhere Girls, by Amy Reed (October 10)
When new girl in town, Grace, hears that the teenage girl who used to occupy her home was run out of town after making an accusation of gang rape, she’s furious about the justice Lucy never got. Together with two other girls at school, who are touched by Lucy’s story for different reasons, she decides it’s time to fight back. They form a group in the name of resistance, and rally the other girls at school to rebel against sexism and misogyny, withhold sex, and protect their own. Reed is no stranger to strong, powerful, fearless but vulnerable narratives telling the stories of those often cast aside by society, and her newest is potentially her best yet.
Brooding YA Hero, by Carrie DiRisio (October 17)
What started as a satirical Twitter account has now taken on a full-formed persona in the form of Broody McHottiepants, aka your favorite book boyfriend, who’s on a mission to help you become a main character as awesome as he is. While gently poking fun at some of YA’s more omnipresent and egregious (but still often beloved) tropes, this humorous debut is a particularly delightful read for prolific readers of the category.
Dear Martin, by Nic Stone (October 17)
Stone’s powerful debut is as close to required reading as it gets in today’s climate, following a Black teen boy named Justyce, who’s struggling to align himself with Dr. King’s messages after getting wrongfully cuffed by the cops while doing a good deed. Suddenly he’s more acutely aware of how rare his skin color is at his posh private school, and how few people around him understand what it’s like to grow up ostensibly doing everything right and have it feel erased in an instant. He begins writing to Dr. King in the form of a journal in an effort to wrap his head around where he fits in this world, but when cop-driven tragedy strikes even harder, Justyce just may hit his breaking point.
The Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds (October 17)
There’s not a lot I can say about Reynolds that you can’t guess from his being a National Book Award finalist and that, in the month before this book releases, he’s had two different books debut on the New York Times bestseller list. (And no, it’s not his first year hitting either.) Reynolds is a powerhouse, and that’s every bit as evident in his newest, a novel in verse that takes place over the sixty seconds Will spends in the elevator with a gun tucked into his waistband, en route to avenging his brother’s murder.
A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo (October 17)
If you thought you knew the Morris Award-nominated Lo from her previous titles, think again: her newest takes a hard right from her SFF roots and jumps into twisted psychological thriller territory. (But, thankfully, it’s still totally queer.) Jess might be in love with her best friend, Angie, but no one’s ever gonna see it, because no one ever really sees Jess at all. Angie’s getting together with privileged boarding school girl Margot, though? That’s out there for everyone to see. And so is Jess’s fight with Margot’s friend, Ryan, which lands her as a suspect in his disappearance. But as the investigation heats up, nothing is quite what it seems, and if you think you know exactly what went down, ha! Keep reading.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika L. Sánchez (October 17)
National Book Award longlister alert! And for a debut, no less. No one had expectations of Julia as long as her sister, Olga, was around. Now Olga’s gone, killed in a tragic accident, and it’s as if every single flaw Julia has ever possessed is in high relief. But Julia’s quickly learning something her parents don’t know: Olga wasn’t the perfect Mexican daughter either. The further Julia digs into her life, the more she realizes there’s a lot she never knew about the sister she recently lost. And it might take a trip back to their roots for Julia to find herself again. If you loved the Morris Award-winning Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, this similarly honest, authentic, sharp-tongued coming-of-age debut is not to be missed.
Like Water, by Rebecca Podos (October 17)
I’m a huge fan of Podos’s debut, The Mystery of Hollow Places, and on the surface, it would seem these books have nothing in common: the first is a mystery in which a girl searches for her mother, and this newest is about a girl whose plans to get out of her small town are thwarted when her father is diagnosed with Huntington’s, leaving her to discover new love and her bisexuality as she redraws her existence. But once again, Podos sparkles in her familial dynamics, and particularly in her depiction of the paternal presence in a teen girl’s life. (Also, both books are really good.)
Calling My Name, by Liara Tamani (October 24)
The beautiful vignettes that make up Tamani’s debut would seem too short to hold in all the effervescence of its narrator; Houston-dwelling teen Taja seems to feel so much, she practically bursts out of her skin and off the page. Whether she’s examining her own faith and relationship with God, or falling head over heels into love and sexuality, Taja is a coming-of-age heroine in the truest sense, letting readers experience every sense right along with her in this gorgeously written first novel.
Bad Girls With Perfect Faces, by Lynn Weingarten (October 31)
After the incredibly twisted glory that was New York Times-bestselling novel Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls, Weingarten jumped onto my “Must Read Whatever She Writes Next” list. If possible, her newest sounds even more deliciously twisted. Sasha’s pissed when her best friend, Xavier, goes back to his cheating ex-girlfriend, and she knows the only way to set him free is to expose Ivy for who she is. But when her plot to pose as a guy online and flirt with Ivy goes horribly wrong, she’ll have to face the darkness inside her and just how harmful she can be.
Beasts Made of Night, by Tochi Onyebuchi (October 31)
This critically acclaimed debut Nigerian-inspired YA fantasy stars Taj, an aki, i.e. a sin-eater, tasked with killing the deadly sin-beasts formed by the act of corrupt mages drawing sin from a person. He’s mostly cool with it, but that was before he was given the job of eating a sin of the king. When the task nearly kills him, he’s forced into the king’s service, where he uncovers a deadly plot that threatens to destroy the princess he’s come to love. Magic, religion, love, and socioeconomic disparity are but a few of the things explored in one of the most exciting and nuanced fantasy debuts to hit YA in years.