With the great expanse of YA literature published each year, it’s no surprise not everyone hears about every single release. However, it also means some absolutely incredible books get slept on, and that’s what we’re hoping to help fix today. Here are thirty-three sensational books for you to add to your reading list, then throw at your friends when you’ve finished. Many of these have already been released in this, the year 2019, but I’ve also included a few hitting shelves in the weeks to come, so that together, we can make sure their buzz is a little louder.
The Beast Player, by Nahoko Uehashi
In Elin’s world, water serpents called the Toda make up the bulk of the kingdom’s army. Elin and her family are responsible for taking care of the Toda, but when some of them die under mysterious circumstances, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death. Sent away before her mother’s last breath, Elin discovers she has an ability to communicate with the magical creatures, and her compassion for the animals being used to fight battles makes for tricky politics. Originally published in 2006 in Japan, The Beast Player has already been adapted into both a manga series and an anime. If you want less romance and more water snakes in your YA, this is the book for you.
Spin, by Lamar Giles
Paris Secord must be spinning in her grave. I mean, before her death she was a DJ, so spinning is to be expected. But two of the people most affected by her passing—Fuse, head groupie, and Kya, pre-fame best friend—are accusing each other in the media of having something to do with her death. Into this gridlock of suspicion and sabotage, a tidbit of crucial information is thrown: Paris was on the verge of a major deal that would have exploded her into superstar status—and cause her to leave her old life far behind. As Kya and Fuse inch closer to the truth, they begin to see the deadly side of the DJ ParSec fandom, and approach a killer who has lined them up as the next targets.
The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me, by Olivia Hinebaugh
Sex. Ed. Revolution. Lacey Burke is a relatively under-the-radar music geek who follows the rules and adores her best friends, Theo and Evita. When she sees how her school’s abstinence-only sex ed curriculum is doing more to damage than educate, she decides to do something about it. From secret meetings in the bathroom to help spread wisdom (and contraception!), to helping out a pregnant teen, Lacey finds ways to aid her classmates with the full support of her mother. A wonderful, romantic, intersectional powerhouse of a book in a very cute package—it’s (s)excellent!
Inventing Victoria, by Tonya Bolden
I am always on the lookout for historical fiction with POC leads, as well as historical fiction set outside the WWII era. Luckily for me, this is both! Essie is a black girl living in 1880s Savannah, trapped between the life she wants, that feels unattainable, and the life she has, that feels unacceptable. Enter Dorcas, the most cultured (and richest) black woman Essie has ever encountered, who agrees to take Essie under her wing. With the help of a new wardrobe, etiquette lessons, and other education, Essie becomes Victoria. As she’s welcomed into Black high society in Washington, D.C., she has to determine whether the life she’s always dreamed of is truly worth the sacrifice.
The Deceivers, by Kristen Simmons
If you believe math is gibberish, think gym class is terrible, and find yourself daydreaming during biology, then head on over to Vale Hall, the school for aspiring con artists! You’ll be joined by Brynn, a girl trying to start over away from her mom’s drug lord boyfriend, who was recruited to the school for her habit of scamming rich kids out of their allowances. The mission of Vale Hall is to rid the city of corrupt officials, and Brynn’s first mark is the son of a senator. With subtle nods to Norse mythology, Simmons’ newest release is a fast-paced thrill that will keep you reading until you’re stuck with me, waiting for book two.
Death Prefers Blondes, by Caleb Roehrig
There are a few authors here that I’m mad I even have to include, because their books are so good and everyone should already know about them. Roehrig is one of those authors. In this drag-queen Hamlet heist story—yes, you read that correctly—no one would guess that Margo Manning, Hollywood socialite, is behind the biggest break-ins in the city. Or that she completes these heists with four accomplices, all in full drag. One day, her fence comes to her with an offer: a ridiculous amount of money for an impossible job. Roehrig’s newest book checks all the boxes: delightful to read, breathless energy, a drag queen named Liesl von Tramp, and a magnificent queer cast of characters.
The Weight of Our Sky, by Hanna Alkaf
Melati believes there’s a djinn inside of her. If she adheres to his rituals of tapping and counting, he’ll be satisfied and won’t hurt her mother. But something else is boiling far out of her control—the race riots of 1969 Kuala Lumpur, between the Chinese and the Malays. When tensions erupt, Melati and her mother are separated, and it will take every ounce of strength Melati has, as well as the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent, to reunite with her mom. This book is absolutely going to be in all of the Best of 2019 lists at the end of the year, and if it isn’t, the list author is lying to you.
The Beauty of the Moment, by Tanaz Bhathena
Is there anything more classic YA than a romance between a bad boy and an overachiever? Set in the same universe as Bhathena’s spectacular (and also underrated) A Girl Like That, The Beauty of the Moment follows Susan, the new girl in school and aforementioned overachiever, and Malcolm, the bad boy who began acting out after his mom’s death. Both of their families are falling apart—Susan’s parents are close to divorce and Malcolm’s dad is a known adulterer—but everything changes when they find each other. This beautiful book is great for fans of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before!
Sorry Not Sorry, by Jaime Reed
Friendship breakups can be harder than romantic breakups, and no one knows this better than Janelle and Alyssa. They used to be best friends, but that was before Alyssa took a spot as queen bee of the shallowest girls in school, and Janelle started striving to make a difference in her community. Everything changes when Alyssa collapses and is brought to the hospital, and the thing that could save her life is a new kidney—Janelle’s. A paperback original, this book is a perfect vacation pick: super easy to fit in a bag, and a super great read!
Immoral Code, by Lillian Clark
Bellamy is supposed to go to MIT, but the student loan all her plans hinged on was denied. The reason? Well, turns out that her estranged father is loaded. A new plan is hatched: steal just enough from dear old dad to make MIT a possibility again. To do this, it will take Bellamy’s entire friend group—Nari, a hacker; Keegan, Nari’s sweet boyfriend; Reese, an aroace visual artist; and Santiago, a future Olympic diving hopeful. But whether they succeed or fail, consequences lurk around every corner.
Dealing in Dreams, by Lilliam Rivera
I’m thrilled dystopian YA is making a comeback, especially in its current diverse and inventive incarnation. Rivera’s newest book is about Nalah, who heads up an all-girl crew called Las Mal Cridas in Mega City—and is tired of it. To get off of the streets and into Mega towers, the super exclusive living quarters few get to live in, she has to prove her loyalty. How? By crossing the border and finding the Ashé Ryders, a mysterious gang. If you’ve been looking for a powerful, Mad Max–esque dystopian, this one is what dreams are made of.
Small Town Hearts, by Lillie Vale
Small Town Hearts follows—try saying this five times fast—bi Busy Bean barista Babe. She’s just out of high school and lives in a snazzy lighthouse in a beach town in Maine, and her friend group is imploding! Not only that, but the universe tosses in her ex-girlfriend, back in town, and Levi, a cute artist who has decided to hang out at the coffee shop. Babe’s number one rule is to never fall for a summer boy, but with everything else in her life being thrown off, what’s one more adventure?
The Last 8, by Laura Pohl
Clover is all by herself, but it’s not by design. It’s because she’s the sole survivor—or so she believes—of an alien attack. It takes a strange radio message for her to discover there are other survivors, hiding out in the former Area 51. Clover’s ready to fight back, but the other members of the group would rather stay safe than be the heroes Clover expected. Then the discovery of a hidden spaceship throws everyone’s motives into question. Don’t be one of the last 8 people to pick up this book, especially if you love gasping out loud in public spaces.
Cold Day in the Sun, by Sara Biren
Holland is the only girl on her school’s hockey team, but she’d rather just be known as one part of the team than the girl. This becomes tough when her team is selected to be a part in HockeyFest, and she becomes the lead story. Not everyone is happy about it, but support comes from an unexpected source—Wes, their captain, who she sort of ends up falling for. If you’ve been looking for a new Miranda Kenneally–esque story, definitely pick this one up!
The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project, by Lenore Appelhans
One of my favorite things in the world is the subversion of expectations and tropes, so of course the newest Lenore Appelhans’ book landed on my reading pile. Set in TropeTown (a town where everyone has a stock role in books), it follows Riley, a Manic Pixie Dream Boy. Currently, he’s in group therapy for going off script, but he’s tired of performing the same cliché over and over again. And shortly after he meets a Manic Pixie Dream Girl named Zelda, they discover the Manic Pixie Dream Team might be terminated. It’s meta, it’s ridiculous, and it manages to explore the ways in which our stereotypical labels can restrain us.
The Dead Queens Club, by Hannah Capin
What if the story of Henry VIII was set in modern times? This was a question I never knew I needed answered before reading Capin’s fascinating take on the answer. The Dead Queens Club tells the story of a future ambassador, a Francophile, a Girl Scout, the new girl, the junior cheer captain, and the vice president of the debate club. What do they all have in common? They’ve dated jersey number 8—Henry. The story’s narrated by Cleves, Henry’s best friend, who dated him for about fifteen seconds before they both noped out. When girlfriends 2 and 5 turn up dead, it adds a thrilling twist to this genius modernization of the story of the man who literally broke religion in England because he was horny.
Our Year of Maybe, by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Sophie and Peter have been best friends forever, and Peter is everything to Sophie. As long as they’ve known each other, Peter has been on the kidney transplant list, so it seems that donating a kidney is an easy choice when she discovers she’s a match. But post-transplant, everything goes haywire. Sophie, who was crushing on Peter, discovers a distance between herself and Peter, who’s falling for a guitarist named Chase. Then something happens between them that morphs their relationship into something unrecognizable, leaving them to pick up the pieces. Or to decide if the pieces are even worth putting back together. If you’ve been thinking of maybe picking this up, change that maybe to a YES!
Forward Me Back to You, by Mitali Perkins
I discovered Mitali Perkins’ writing through her intergenerational masterpiece and National Book Award Finalist You Bring the Distant Near, and her newest release is just as gorgeous. Robin and Kat meet on a summer service trip to India, where Robin, adopted from Kolkata, is seeking a connection to his past, and Kat, the current teen jujitsu champion in Northern California, is seeking an escape from her past. The two develop an incredible friendship as they work with human trafficking survivors and try to confront their own pasts and futures.
That’s Not What I Heard, by Stephanie Kate Strohm
If you love contemporary YA but have yet to pick up a Stephanie Kate Strohm book, here’s a perfect opportunity to fix that. Phil Spooner just told Jess Howard that Kim and Teddy broke up. The Kim and Teddy. Jess, being Kim’s best friend, immediately told her boyfriend, Elvis, that they had to be on Kim’s side. Even though Elvis is Teddy’s best friend, and he’s extremely confused. Half of the cafeteria isn’t talking to Teddy, and even the teachers have taken sides! But what really happened between Kim and Teddy? Rumor has it that to find out, you should pick up this book.
White Rose, by Kip Wilson
So much of YA is about resistance, whether it’s resistance to change, parental expecations, or a larger culture or government. And Sophie Scholl is a historical figure who fits perfectly into YA, especially in the talented hands of debut author Kip Wilson. Using verse to tell her story, Wilson paints a portrait of Sophie and her brother Hans as they form the White Rose movement, a nonviolent resistance group in Nazi Germany. The White Rose group wrote and distributed anonymous letters, starting in Munich, until they were arrested for treason. It’s a gutting, important read that feels all too contemporary.
In the Key of Nira Ghani, by Natasha Deen
Nira’s Guyanese parents have plans for her—plans that certainly don’t involve her own dreams of becoming a musician. But when jazz band auditions are announced, she has to convince her parents to let her take her trusted trumpet, George, and try out. Not only that, but her crush, Noah; her competitive cousin Farah; and school mean girl, Mac, have suddenly inserted themselves into her friend group. A tender examination of the ways that family and social dynamics intersect, and the balancing act teens deal with on an everyday basis.
The Raven’s Tale, by Cat Winters
Nevermore need you wish for a YA book about young Edgar Allan Poe—it’s here! Edgar is counting down the days until he can escape his foster family to attend university and marry his beloved. Plans change when he’s visited by a Muse, a creature that leads Artists to disgrace. But Lenore is no ordinary Muse, and she wants to be seen. With a spectacular contribution to this, the year of Edgar Allan Poe YA (you also should preorder His Hideous Heart!), The Raven’s Tale is absolute poe-fection!
If I’m Being Honest, by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
In this contemporary take on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Cameron Bright is a bitch. The whole school thinks it, it’s not a secret. And it’s not a problem for Cameron, until she messes up in front of her crush, Andrew. To right this mistake, she takes inspiration from Will Shakes himself, and decided that, like Katherine in Shrew, she has to tame herself. It’s a good plan, and it starts with this: make amends with those she’s hurt. Even though she’s trying to impress Andrew, her plan leads her to Brendan, whom she gave a bad nickname to in middle school. And the closer they get, the more he learns about the real her, and the more she questions whether her reputation is worth the pain.
Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak, by Adi Alsaid
Lu works as a columnist at an online magazine—something crucial to her college scholarship. But she’s finding it hard to write after her longtime boyfriend breaks up with her the summer after senior year. Then her writer’s block ends when she meets Cal: see, Cal and his girlfriend, Iris, have scheduled their breakup for the end of the summer, since Iris does not want a long-distance relationship during college. Lu decides to write about their last months as a couple, and along the way discovers more about them and more about herself.
Love From A to Z, by S. K. Ali
Morris Award finalist S. K. Ali is back with her second book, which follows Adam, struggling with a recent, secret diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, and Zayneb, who just got suspended for confronting a teacher prejudiced against Muslims. She escapes to Qatar to stay with her aunt, and runs into Adam on the way. Both keep their thoughts written down in journals, and it’s a marvel and an oddity that they meet at all.
Her Royal Highness, by Rachel Hawkins
In this companion novel to Prince Charming (the book formerly known as Royals), Millie gets accepted to boarding school in Scotland. Which is great news, because her best friend/girlfriend-ish has been making out with someone else, and Millie wants to get as far away from her as possible. What’s less great news is that when she arrives, her new roommate turns out to be the princess of Scotland. And they hate each other. This queer royal romcom deserves a place on the throne, on your shelves, and in your heart.
Don’t Date Rosa Santos, by Nina Moreno
They say Rosa Santos is cursed, but if you ask her she feels more caught than cursed. There’s the family drama between her abuela, a healer beloved by the community, and her mother, who pops in and out of her life. There’s the town they live in, Port Coral, and the place her grandmother doesn’t talk about, Cuba. There’s the legend of her curse that says boys with boats are in for bad news if they date her. And there’s Alex, whose family owns the marina and who’s definitely going to complicate everything. If you want a Latinx Gilmore Girls in which the writing feels like a breeze of ocean air, you’re going to love this.
Keep This to Yourself, by Tom Ryan
If you enjoy screaming, then this is the book for you! It’s been a year since four people died at the hands of the Catalog Killer in the seaside town of Camera Cove. Mac just wants that whole summer to be behind him, but that’s hard since Connor, his best friend, was the killer’s final victim. What makes it harder is that he finds a message from Connor, and gets pulled back into the search for the elusive killer, whose identity might not be as random as once believed. Everyone is suspicious, and when Mac begins to sense someone following him, it becomes essential that he discover what truly happened a year ago.
Going Off Script, by Jen Wilde
Nothing could be better than an internship on your favorite show, right? But Bex quickly sours on hers when she realizes interning on Silver Falls has basically made her a walking coffee machine. Frustrated, she drafts a script of her own and shares it with the head writer, who then passes off the script as his own. What’s worse? He rewrites her lesbian character as straight. Bex has to juggle a new romance alongside a fight to keep her character’s identity intact.
Let Me Hear a Rhyme, by Tiffany D Jackson (May 21)
Jackson’s books are among the best in the entire YA canon, and if there’s any justice her third will break big when it comes out on May 21. Set in 1998, Let Me Hear a Rhyme is about the rise of a rap mixtape by a new artist called the Architect. But in reality, the Architect was a boy named Steph, killed before the tracks made it out of his bedroom. His two best friends, Quadir and Jarrell, along with his sister, Jasmine, come up with the Architect as a way to promote Steph’s music and legacy after his death—but the ruse becomes more complicated when a producer hears the tracks and wants in.
No Place Like Here, by Christina June (May 21)
Adding to June’s collection of delightful fairy tale–inspired contemporaries, No Place Like Here is a loose spin on the tale of Hansel and Gretel. After Ashlyn’s father is arrested and her mother enters rehab, she’s sent to work with an unknown cousin at a retreat in the middle of nowhere. Leaving scribbles everywhere she goes—which take the form of inspirational “breadcrumbs”—isn’t helping. It’s on her to determine whether to remain quiet, or to stand up for herself and find a way home.
I Love You So Mochi, by Sarah Kuhn (May 28)
Making a fashionable entrance near the end of our list is my current obsession. Kimi has been accepted to a fine art academy, which delights her mother. What does not delight her mother is the time Kimi spends making incredible outfits for her friends. When a letter arrives from her estranged grandparents, inviting her to spend spring break with them in Kyoto, Kimi throws herself into the trip, desperate for some space away from the tension. While in Kyoto, she crosses paths with Akira, who moonlights as a costumed mochi mascot. With its incredibly sweet love story and complicated family dynamics, Kuhn’s YA debut is a gorgeous piece of sunshine in book form.
The Kingdom, by Jess Rothenberg (May 28)
Welcome to The Kingdom(TM), an immersive fantasy theme park featuring huge castles, virtual dragons, formerly extinct species, and Fantasists—”princesses” who were engineered specifically for the park. Ana is one of seven, and she’s on trial for murdering a human: Owen, a park employee toward whom she had experienced some very human emotions. Throughout the trial, many questions emerge. Did she kill Owen? Can an android feel love—and rage? Will this book keep you up at night with these sorts of questions? (The answer to the last is a yes).