36 of October’s Best New Young Adult Books

This month, you guys. THIS MONTH. Look, I try to not to make grand statements like “This is maybe the best YA publishing month of all time,” but you’ve got the returns of Anna-Marie McLemore, Nic Stone, Markus Zusak, Katherine Locke, Claire Legrand, Amy Rose Capetta, Destiny Soria, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and more, plus the very first collaboration between phenomena BFFs Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli, plus Tahereh Mafi’s National Book Award longlister, plus stellar new voices like Candice Montgomery and L.C. Rosen, plus a sequel to the excellent Beasts Made of Night and the finale to the fabulous Beyond the Red series, and, like…what else am I supposed to say? I can’t even do this month justice, especially when it comes to diverse lit, so let’s just get right to the books and you’ll see for yourself why it might be YA’s most epic month yet.

I, Claudia, by Mary McCoy (October 1)
Merecenary heroines are my jam, and so are history nerds, so I enjoyed the heck out of this newest YA by McCoy. It’s a brilliant take on I, Claudius, about a teen historian named Claudia whom no one expected to find in the wild world of student government at Imperial Day Academy. The honor council at IDA has always taken things too far for Claudia’s liking, and when she uncovers just how corrupt they truly are, she finds herself rising to power as a result. Control isn’t something she’d craved, and now that she has it, she isn’t quite sure how she feels about it—only that she knows she wants to use it for good. But IDA is a political mess, drama after drama that Claudia may or may not be equipped to handle. Does absolute power corrupt absolutely? Or can Claudia really make changes? And if she can, who’ll have to go down for her to do it?

After the Fire, by Will Hill (October 2)
I will fully cop to a major affinity for cult-centric literature, and believe me when I say this UK import stands with the best of them. It opens on seventeen-year-old Moonbeam running through the shambles of a life ablaze, the compound she called home burning to the ground and nearly everyone she knows dying around her. When she wakes in psychiatric care, it’s time to finally tell the story of living in the Lord’s Legion under Father John. Alternating between the present, where life consists of supervised social interaction with other survivors, spilling her guts, and worrying her actions are going to land her in prison, and the past, where stories of violence, betrayal, banishment, and torturous punishment abound, the novel employs meticulous pacing that renders it impossible to put down.

The Spy With the Red Balloon, by Katherine Locke (October 2)
You don’t need to have read Locke’s YA debut to pick up this second book set in the world of magic red balloons and time travel, but you won’t be sorry if you do. This historical fantasy is set in the final years of World War II and sees the Klein siblings—physics genius Ilse and her cautious older brother, Wolf—blackmailed into serving when they’re caught experimenting with the magic that runs through their blood. While Ilse remains in the U.S. to help develop the atomic bomb, Wolf is sent on a saboteur’s mission to Europe. But the keeper of his heart happens to be in Europe as well, and while Ilse struggles with both a cause she’s hesitant to serve and feelings for a girl she does not know how to handle, Wolf’s affections may be his downfall. When she’s accused of treason and his plane is shot down, both are in dire straits, with only their brains and blood magic to help them. If it sounds like this book might destroy you, like it did me, it probably will, but there’s something about the way Locke writes compelling characters and gorgeous rep that makes it worth the pain.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, by Mackenzi Lee (October 2)
You’ve already met and fallen in love with Felicity, Monty’s sister in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, and now the aroace aspiring doctor is getting a book of her own. She has returned to England determined to enroll in medical school, but her gender bars her from doing so. Then an opportunity to meet a doctor she idolizes opens up, and Felicity has to take it. Only problem? It’s in Germany, and she doesn’t have the funds to get there. When a solution presents itself in the form of a mysterious young woman who promises to pay Felicity’s way so long as Felicity permits the woman to accompany her disguised as a maid, Felicity accepts the deal against her better judgment. And when she finds out exactly who it is she has smuggled along, it’s the beginning of yet another border-hopping quest I for one can’t wait for.

On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden (October 2)
This beautiful graphic novel by the author of the acclaimed Spinning tells the story of Mia, the newest member of an all-female-or-nonbinary space crew that rebuilds beautiful, broken structures. As she gets to know her new crew mates, we get flashbacks to her time at boarding school, where she fell in love with Grace. It’s because of Grace that Mia has joined the crew, hoping their newest mission can be to help her find the girl she lost.

The Rising Gold, by Ava Jae (October 2)
One of my favorite sci-fi trilogies, beginning with Beyond the Red, comes to a close with Eros and Kora back in power, whether anyone wants them there or not. The people of Safara need rule and guidance, and the two royals are determined to give them everything they’ve got. But there are no easy choices for either of them, and one of Kora’s leads to potentially mortal danger for someone she loves.

Grim Lovelies, by Megan Shepherd (October 2)
Anouk isn’t human, though she’d love to be among the fancy Pretties, able to enjoy a glamorous life and fall in love to her heart’s content. But instead, she’s a Beastie, an animal enchanted into the form of a human girl, stuck in a Parisian prison serving the witch who created her. Then the witch is found dead, and Anouk is accused of killing her. With no choice but to run from the underground magical society that seeks to punish her for a crime she didn’t commit, Anouk must work together with her fellow Beasties to find the true culprit…and they’ve only got three days to do it. After that, the spell that keeps them human will fade, and they’ll go back to their animal existence. But if they succeed, the rewards might extend beyond their wildest dreams.

Sawkill Girls, by Claire Legrand (October 2)
Legrand only just released the New York Times–bestselling Furyborn, and she’s already back with this terrifying read, perfect for Halloween month. Marion, Val, and Zoey are the Sawkill Girls, each wildly different but all living on Sawkill Rock, an island where girls have been disappearing since before they were born. Marion is the newest, having just moved with her family after her father’s death to work in Val’s home. Val and Zoey aren’t friends, to say the least, but Zoey’s got plenty of other stuff on her mind, including the fact that one of her closest friends is one of the disappeared. The three of them may be an unlikely trio, but someone’s gotta fight the monster who’s ruining their lives, and it might as well be a group of kickass girls.

Damsel, by Elana K. Arnold (October 2)
Everyone knows that when the king dies, his son must go out and slay a dragon so he can rescue a damsel in distress and make her his princess. Everyone, that is, except Ama, who has no recollection of her time with the dragon or anything that came before, and doesn’t know what to make of the fact that she has awoken in Prince Emory’s arms and is now to be taken as his bride. What sounds like a fairy tale turns into anything but, and even fantastical legends hold their own dark secrets in this subversive take that is trademark Arnold.

Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor (October 2)
Sarai and Laszlo have changed drastically. With one a god, the other a ghost, and both held hostage by Minya as part of her revenge against Weep, they’ve never felt more powerless. Laszlo can save Sarai, but at what cost? And what exactly can Sarai do now, as the Muse of Nightmares? Mysteries abound, a new enemy shows its face, and the question of the whereabouts of the thousands of children born in the citadel nursery looms large in this high-stakes sequel to Printz Honoree Strange the Dreamer.

The Perfect Candidate, by Peter Stone (October 2)
Political intrigue is at the literal top of my readerly wishlist right now, and this contemporary thriller about a congressional intern embroiled in a scandal involving his boss hit the spot. Cameron Carter has landed his dream internship following his deceased mother’s footsteps into the government, and best of all is the fact that his congressman is from the same small California town Cameron is desperate to escape. He’s even found a coworker-slash-mentor he actually likes…one who wants his help uncovering a dark truth. But she never gets a chance to speak to him further before she’s found dead of a car accident. When he’s approached by a stranger who convinces him to look further into Ariel’s death, it sends him down a spiral of conspiracy theories, blackmail, and an offer he can’t refuse.

A Map of Days, by Ransom Riggs (October 2)
Jacob Portman is back in this fourth Miss Peregrine novel from bestseller Riggs, and though he’s returned to Florida, things aren’t quite how they were. How could they be when he’s now accompanied by Emma, Miss Peregrine, and all their peculiar friends? Everyone’s doing their best to look like your average beach-going Floridian, helped along by normalling lessons, but when a subterranean bunker is discovered and attributed to Jacob’s grandfather, Abe, Jacob’s life turns upside-down all over again. Who was Abe, and just how peculiar was he? And who does that mean Jacob was even before all this began?

Hearts Unbroken, by Cynthia Leitich Smith (October 9)
Louise Wolfe is absolutely done with her boyfriend after he trashes Native people right in front of her; who needs that mess, especially in her senior year? She’s got the newspaper to focus on, and it’s there that she’s paired up with new photojournalist Joey Kairouz to cover the story of backlash against a new, more inclusive school production of The Wizard of Oz. It’s a personal issue for Lou for several reasons, not least of which is that her little brother is in the cast. When sparks fly between Lou and Joey as they work together on the story, it seems like romance might be in the cards after all, if she learns to trust another boy to respect who she is.

The Devil’s Thief, by Lisa Maxwell (October 9)
The sequel to the New York Times–bestselling The Last Magician finds Esta still reeling from the murder of her parents and the dangers she discovered within the all-important Book of Mysteries. If the Book isn’t the answer to freeing the Mageus from the Order, then its power, now living inside Harte, will have to do, and they’ll have to bind the power using four elemental stones that’ll take journeys to find. But leaving the city is eye-opening in ways they never imagined, and the quests to get the stones may be more than they can handle while enemies continue to arise.

What if it’s Us?, by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (October 9)
It brings me so much joy to report that this book is exactly as smart, cute, fun, romantic, and generally delightful as you want it to be. Speaking as a huge fan of both authors, they are fully in their element here, balancing Albertalli’s exuberant, inexperienced, nervous Arthur and Silvera’s heartbroken and cynical but deep-down-hopeful Ben. Their romance isn’t an easy one; despite the perfection of their post office meet-cute, what follows isn’t quite as neat. It takes some guts, some friends, and some borderline stalkerishness for them to find each other again, and once they do, they still have to deal with Arthur’s jealousy, Ben’s baggage, and both of their struggles to communicate. But even when you want to shake them both, you have to be grateful for a book that shows how instant chemistry is only step one in a winding road, and relationships take work and compromise. My favorite part, though, is how present and important their other friendships are throughout the novel. But then, what else would you expect from this collaboration between besties?

Blanca & Roja, by Anna-Marie McLemore (October 9)
It’s wild to think that McLemore only started publishing a few years ago, as her stunning magical realism romances have come to feel like a staple of queer YA. This newest puts a twist on an old favorite, queering up “Snow White and Rose Red” and mashing it with a little Swan Lake for a story about two sisters who are the ultimate rivals: their family’s bond with the swans in the woods means their ultimate destiny is for one sister to remain a girl and the other to become a swan forever. Then two local boys get pulled in (though one isn’t in fact a boy—hooray for the rise of genderqueer love interests in 2018 YA), and suddenly everything is upside-down and what the future will hold for each of the four remains to be seen. It sounds incredible, but let’s be real: I’d read McLemore’s grocery list, and it’d probably make me cry.

Odd One Out, by Nic Stone (October 9)
The New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin returns with the love triangle of my dreams in her sophomore novel about the complex relationships among three teens. Coop should theoretically be brokenhearted over being dumped, but he’s not…because he’s in love with his best friend, Jupiter. But Jupe is a lesbian, and when new girl Rae enters the picture, Coop’s forced to watch as she steals the heart of the girl of his dreams. But maybe things aren’t quite that cut and dried? Because Jupe is still spending nights cuddling with Coop. And is Rae even into girls? Because while she kinda seems into Jupiter, she definitely seems into Coop, too. And yeah, okay, maybe that’s feeling a little reciprocal, somewhere in the mess of Coop’s heart. There are no easy paths in this triangle, and there are no easy paths for any of the main characters’ internal journeys, either. It’s a coming-of-age novel in the truest sense, told from three different perspectives that don’t alternate but each get to share a part of the story.

Beneath the Citadel, by Destiny Soria (October 9)
Cassa and her friends may appear to be doomed in the opening pages of Soria’s sophomore novel, but underestimating them will land you in serious trouble, as everyone else in this engaging, inclusive novel can attest. In a city governed by a staunch belief in “infalling prophecies,” rebellion has destroyed everything Cassa holds dear—except her ex-boyfriend, the charismatic Evander; Evander’s sister, the serious and determined Alys; and Newt, who’s full of surprises for a quiet boy who only seems to fall in line. When the foursome escapes their death sentence, only to end up facing a legendary prophet who begs for their help in finding his freedom, deciding how to proceed seems impossible. But that’s nothing compared to having to determine who they can trust, especially when they’re at risk of losing everyone left who matters. If “friends on a quest” fantasies are your fave like they are mine, don’t miss this one!

Dear Evan Hansen: the Novel, by Val Emmich (October 9)
On the advice of his therapist, Evan Hansen writes himself letters to help cope with his anxiety. When one that was never meant to be seen is found on Connor Murphy after he dies by suicide, a lie Evan never meant to tell has everyone believing they were secretly best friends. For Evan, who’s no longer invisible to his crush or anyone else, it’s a balm to the social anxiety that’s been ruining his life, especially since Connor’s family has taken him in and allowed the presence of their son’s “best friend” to help heal them. But all it would take is one person finding out the truth for everything to come crumbling down. Based on the hit Broadway musical, this YA novelization also gets plenty of shoutouts in What If it’s Us?, releasing the same day, so check out both for a truly perfect pairing.

Light Years, by Kass Morgan (October 9)
If you’ve been dying for a new sci-fi series from the author of The 100, the wait is finally over! Meet your four new faves at the Quatra Fleet Academy: pilot Vesper, who has ambitions of becoming a captain; Cormak, who’ll do anything to escape his old life; incoming cadet Arran, who’s not only done being a misfit but has found love in a very unexpected place; and Orelia…whose presence is not gonna be welcome when they find out she’s actually there on a spy mission. The school has only recently opened its doors to members from all planets, thanks to a mysterious attack they need all hands on deck to solve, and despite their conflicting backgrounds, these four will have to work together. And would it really be a Kass Morgan series if there weren’t some Feelings on the line?

Bridge of Clay, by Markus Zusak (October 9)
Internationally renowned author Zusak returns for the first time in thirteen years with a multigenerational saga about five brothers tasked with raising each other after their father disappears. Chronicling their parents’ histories, their lives on their own, and how their lives changed yet again when the father who abandoned them returns, this is a story of secrets, grief, murder, guilt, and kinship.

Zenith Dream, by F.T. Lukens (October 11)
The third book in the gay sci-fi trilogy that kicked off with The Star Host has Ren waking up from his life-threatening injury on the Star Stream only to discover Asher is gone, disappeared with the Phoenix Corps (who happens to think Ren is dead). In order to find Asher, he’ll need the crew for one last mission to help them reunite, free Liam, and get rid of the corps for good. But escape isn’t so easy with war coming, which means Ren has to make a choice that will define his future.

Home and Away, by Candice Montgomery (October 16)
You know those YA voices that just catch you by the throat and refuse to let you go for a few hundred pages? That’s Tasia Quirk, aka Taze, heroine of Montgomery’s debut novel about a girl who discovers her birth father not only isn’t who she thought he was, but isn’t even the race she thought he was. Learning she was lied to and that her father’s white throws the football player for a loop, and pushes her to get out of the world she knows and learn more about the one she never got a chance to.

Crown of Thunder, by Tochi Onyebuchi (October 16)
Have I mentioned recently how Beasts Made of Night is one of the coolest and most unique and criminally underread fantasies in YA? Yes? Don’t care, because I’m gonna do it again, since you still have a couple of weeks to catch up before this sequel releases. Join us as we revisit Taj on his journey west out of Kos, heavily burdened with the knowledge that he’ll have to go back eventually. When he and Aliya finally reach Arzu’s ancestors’ village, home to sin-eaters who share Taj’s ability, he learns more not just about his special magic but about the different kinds of people who wield it. Meanwhile, Aliya has her own issues as working to uncover the secret behind Karima’s magic saps her health, and learning why puts her in the path of a calling she doesn’t want to heed. The clock is ticking down to the end of their visit, and threats are closing in all around them. Can they make it back and defeat the enemy once and for all?

Easy Prey, by Catherine Lo (October 16)
Lo’s debut, How it Ends, happens to be one of my favorite depictions of anxiety in YA, so I’m thrilled to see her not only return but do so with another of my favorite contemporary subgenres: mystery. When a teacher’s explicit pics go viral, all fingers point to three possibilities for the culprit who leaked them: overachieving tech brain Mouse, who’d do absolutely anything to get away from his father and land at MIT; Drew, whose athletic skills and good looks could charm the photographic pants off anyone, as he’s proven before; and Jenna, who has been on the receiving end of this sort of cyberbullying before, and is determined to see justice before she graduates. None of the three will fess up, but somebody’s gotta be guilty…

A Very Large Expanse of Sea, by Tahereh Mafi (October 16)
Mafi may be best known for her fantasy books, but trust me when I say you won’t forget her very first contemporary fiction novel, which was recently longlisted for the National Book Award. It’s set in 2002, a year after 9/11 has rocked the world. Shirin is getting used to moving around and used to the Islamophobia about as much as anyone can get used to such things, but for the first time, she’s finding things that crack the shell she formed around herself. One of those things is breakdancing, a hobby that has always intrigued her but that she’s stepping up several notches with the aid of her brother and his friends. The other is Ocean, the perplexing boy who rarely says the right thing but genuinely wants to get to know her and admires who she is. Can Shirin let her walls down to let in some joy?

Imagine Us Happy, by Jennifer Yu (October 23)
Depression consumes far more of Stella’s life than she’d like, as does getting through high school with her GPA, two close friendships, and sanity in the face of her parents’ fighting intact. Then she meets a boy named Kevin who makes her feel better understood than she ever has. But the more time she spends with him, the more she lets everything else she’s been struggling to juggle slide…and the more she sees that his issues run every bit as deep as hers. She’ll need to figure out what’s worth keeping together and what she needs to let go of in order to survive.

An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason, by Virginia Boecker (October 23)
Boecker takes the Shakespearean novel to new heights in her newest, which stars Lady Katherine, a girl whose father has been executed for the treasonous crime of practicing Catholicism under the reign of Elizabeth I. But it turns out that’s not all he was guilty of; he’d also been planning said queen’s assassination. And now that Katherine has lost her father, there’s only one thing left to do: carry out the assassination he never got to complete. When an opportunity presents itself in the form of a new Shakespeare play to be performed in front of the queen, Katherine knows she must land a role to carry out her plans. But she isn’t the only one with plotting on the brain; Toby, a spy for the queen, is the brains behind the performance, which is actually a plot to find and destroy rebels of the crown. If that weren’t complicated enough, the two are cast opposite each other as leads, and suddenly, all the Shakespearean hallmarks of secret identities, dangerous betrayals, and forbidden love become all too real, and all too dangerous.

The Light Between Worlds, by Laura E. Weymouth (October 23)
It has been six years since the Hapwell siblings were swept off to the Narnia-esque Woodlands while their home city of London burned in World War II. Now, they’re back in the very same England they left, six years older in Woodlands time but having aged at all in Earth time. Elder sister Phillipa wants to put the Woodlands behind them and go back to living life in the real world, as does brother Jamie. But Ev is desperate to return to the Woodlands, and when she disappears, her siblings are left to wonder if she has in fact found her way back.

One Giant Leap, by Heather Kaczynski (October 23)
As we saw in Dare Mighty Things, it was Cassandra Gupta’s dream to travel in space, and she was chosen to be the youngest member of a top-secret mission. But she couldn’t have expected what awaited her after leaving Earth, couldn’t have known she and her crew would end up in an alien war, running the risk of becoming collateral damage. They were just supposed to do reconnaissance; instead, the number one mission is now survival. But Cassie knows she has to act to use the information she has to stop the war from destroying Earth. The only question is who she can trust to help her.

The Brilliant Death, by Amy Rose Capetta (October 30)
This Italian-inspired fantasy stars a demi-girl named Teodora who possesses the power to turn enemies into objects, something no one believes is real, since no one believes in the existence of stregas, or magic users. But with Teo’s father at death’s door after a political assassination attempt, it takes another strega journeying with her to save her father’s life. See, Teo must travel as a boy, and Cielo, a genderfluid strega who shifts effortlessly between male and female, is the only person who can help her. But Cielo teaches her some things about who she really is inside, too. Between uncovering truths about her identity and quietly falling for Cielo, Teo’s got her hands full. And then there’s that whole “deadly mission of grave importance that grows increasingly more threatening” thing to contend with…

Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts), by L.C. Rosen (October 30)
I love this book so much, especially for all the ways it made me think “I cannot believe this got published as YA.” Jack is proud of his sexuality and the fact that he likes to have fun; so what if it inspires some rumors? He does insist on privacy when he agrees to write a sex advice column for his best friend, publishing it under the pseudonym Jack of Hearts. But there’s someone who knows exactly who he is, and that someone is blackmailing him in the creepiest of fashions, threatening not just him but his friends. Interspersed with Jack trying to get to the bottom of the mystery is the column itself, in which he dispels advice that’s helpful, kind, supportive, and blunt on everything from “how to” to “I don’t want to.” This is among the best sex ed I’ve seen in YA fiction, while never failing to feel authentic, and it tackles the issue of gay fetishization in a way I’ve never seen.

This is Kind of an Epic Love Story, by Kheryn Callender (October 30)
After the beauty that was Callender’s middle grade book, Hurricane Child, I had to read their next book ASAP, and oh my lord is it incredibly freaking cute and has realistic sex on the page and disability rep. (Love interest Oliver James is Hard of Hearing.) This second-chance romance brings Oliver James back to Nathan just as the latter is being crushed by the weight of his feelings for his ex-girlfriend and best friend, Florence. Yeah, Florence cheated on him with another girl, but that doesn’t make the feelings shut off. But it doesn’t seem like his feelings for Oliver James have really shut off either, even though those definitely should; if Ollie didn’t like Nathan kissing him back when they were friends the first time around, he’s certainly not gonna like it now that he’s got a boyfriend back home. But what if Ollie’s worth the potential heartbreak? What if, after everything, they’re kind of an epic love story?

Where She Fell, by Kaitlin Ward (October 30)
Ward’s forever bringing the perfect October reads, whether it’s a creeptastic apocalypse or a cultish contemporary, so it’s fitting that her newest is about a girl named Eliza who falls into the legendary swamp near her house during an ill-advised experiment with her friends and finds herself in a wild underground world. Beneath the earth are caves, creepy creatures, giant bugs, and a whole society that the budding geologist in her knows should be impossible. Slowly but surely, Eliza must gather the strength to dig her way out, all the while leading the group she’ll need to help her.

Salt, by Hannah Moskowitz (October 30)
Indi and his siblings’ lives are spent sailing the Mediterranean to hunt down monsters, and frankly, it’s not really his jam. But he loves his siblings, and when he finds the journal his parents left behind before vanishing at sea, and sees that it contains directions to a possible treasure, he wonders if maybe this one last hunt can be a path for all of them out of this life for good.

This Cruel Design, by Emily Suvada (October 30)
How do you follow up a debut as intense as This Mortal Coil? With a sequel that brings back new cases of the virus even after Cat thinks it has been eradicated. Sure, she’s tired as all hell and already working her butt off to figure out how to stop Lachlan’s reprogramming plan, but nothing’s going according to her wishes, and joining up with Cartaxus to find Lachlan and fix the vaccine they’d thought was foolproof is now her only shot. Their hunt for him leads to Entropia, a desert city full of genehackers…and possibly the key to Cat’s past.

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