I know, I know, this is a lot of books to anticipate this highly, but can I help it that the month is jam-packed with some of the most fun, beach-read-perfect work YA has ever seen? Or some of the most hard-hitting, nuanced, and thoughtful? This May is full of five-star reads, and though it may take some serious speed-reading to catch up on all of them, it’s wildly worth it.
Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now, by Dana L. Davis (May 1)
When Tiffany’s mother dies and her grandmother can’t raise her, the secret of her paternity is revealed, along with the fact that she’s off to live with her father now. But there’s still so much more she doesn’t know about the life that awaits her: the fact that she has four half-sisters no one told her about, along with a white stepmother, or that they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, or that there’ll be strict rules that clash with Tiffany’s most basic needs, or that they’re tremendously loaded. The trade-off? She’s got a secret they don’t know either: he might not be her real father. In a week, she’ll know the truth, but what else might she learn or reveal in that time and how will it affect who she wants her dad to be? This debut grabbed me from the very beginning, and kept the hits coming till the very end.
9 Days and 9 Nights, by Katie Cotugno (May 1)
I am an ardent fan of Cotugno’s and her deft hand with explorations of the moral gray zone, especially in 99 Days. So color me all shades of thrilled that we get to revisit those characters in this sequel that again follows Molly Barlow, this time all the way across the Atlantic, where the now-college student is on a romantic vacation with her boyfriend, Ian. Andwho should pop up on a vacation alongside her but Gabe, who’s with his girlfriend, Sadie. But oh, just seeing her ex isn’t enough; Ian has to go ahead and invite him and Sadie to join them in Ireland. Molly and Gabe know they can’t tell their significant others he truth about their history together, but 9 days and 9 nights is an awfully long time to keep a secret, especially when your heart refuses to cooperate with your head.
Ship It, by Britta Lundin (May 1)
I love everything about the sound of this book, from the way it tackles shipping, fandom, and queerbaiting to the adorable romance suggested by the cover that finds its way into all the drama. At the heart of the story is Claire, a notorious superfan who causes a stir when she asks Forest, an actor on the show, if a romantic romance between the two male leads (one of whom he portrays) is canon. His displeased response goes viral, and in order to save face, she’s invited to join to join the cast on tour. With her fighting to make her ship a thing and Forest fighting against it so he isn’t pigeonholed into something he doesn’t wanna be, drama abounds at con after con. But so does a potential new ship: one featuring Claire and Tess, the cute fan artist who just keeps showing up…
Tradition, by Brendan Kiely (May 1)
Fullbrook Academy may be an elite prep school, but that doesn’t mean it’s every student’s dream. Jules has had enough of the toxic masculinity and rape culture that hang over every hallway, and for that matter, so has Jamie, who has the weight of his scholarship and parents’ expectations on his shoulders. Neither has the respect for the school’s obsession with “tradition” that they’re supposed to; they know exactly what insidious ugliness hides behind that word. But are they strong enough and brave enough to call it out for what it is, if it means putting all their work on the line and placing their respective futures in jeopardy?
Bookish Boyfriends, by Tiffany Schmidt (May 1)
Romance is Merrilee’s passion, especially in novels; after all, the real thing seems a whole lot harder to come by when boys fail to live up to love interests of legend. But real life love suddenly gets a lot more possible when she, her sister, and her best friend all transfer to Hero High, where she meets Monroe, who just might be the Romeo she has been seeking forever…at least until his constant texts and overbearing presence make her question whether he (or Romeo) is really the perfect guy after all. But if Monroe isn’t The Guy, and Romeo isn’t The Hero, then who is? And exactly what is Merri in for at Hero High? This is the first in an adorable romance series perfect for younger teens from an author who also happens to have a great backlist.
Royals, by Rachel Hawkins (May 1)
Royal wedding obsessives looking for their next fix are in luck: Hawkins’ new contemporary romance has it allll with an heir to spare. Daisy Winters isn’t interested in the spotlight, but when your sister’s marrying the prince of Scotland, you don’t really get a choice, especially when your ex is an attention-seeking jerk. Shuttled off to live among the royals for the summer, she could not be more pissed that the perfect summer she’d intended to spend with her best friend has been ripped away. But at least royal life is anything but boring; the Wreckers, a group of posh party boys led by younger prince Sebastian sees to that. Daisy is quickly swept up in their antics, the cameras, and Miles, Sebastian’s best friend and the mildest of the gang, more intent on keeping Seb out of trouble than making headlines himself. He’s been charged with turning Daisy into the lady they all need her to be. But Daisy has other ideas…
Brightly Burning, by Alexa Donne (May 1)
What more could you need to hear about this book than that it’s Jane Eyre set in space?? When Stella becomes a governess on private ship the Rochester, it lifts her out of poverty, but brings with it a brand-new set of problems. Like, that the ship is haunted. Or possibly involved in a massive conspiracy. Luckily, Captain Hugo is there to focus her mind and her heart on more…pleasant things. But as Stella realizes he might be the biggest mystery on a ship that’s full of them, she’ll have to make a major choice about her own path.
August and Everything After, by Jen Doktorski (May 1)
The final straw was getting caught with a teacher, but that was nowhere near Quinn’s worst moment; that would be when her best friend, Lynn, was killed before her eyes. Now Quinn is living with her aunt by the Jersey Shore, spending a summer away from everything: her angry mother, Lynn’s parents, her own guilt. And that’s where she meets Malcolm. Wrestling with his own demons, he’s currently in recovery for a painkiller addiction that stemmed from the accident that killed his bandmates. But Malcolm’s also trying to put himself back together, and as he gets ready to embark on a solo career, he enlists Quinn as his drummer, and they find they make some seriously beautiful music together. But with both of them on shaky ground, hitting that perfect note may not be enough. There’s a rare, appreciated, gentle teardown of the compulsive caretaker expectation placed on women in this deceptively light-looking romantic contemporary that helps it stand out from the pack, but it’s also a solid choice for a summery beach read.
Everywhere You Want to Be, by Christina June (May 1)
June took on Cinderella in her sweet debut, It Started With Goodbye, and now she’s back revamping Little Red Riding Hood for the modern age, set in New York City. Matilda Castillo is a good, rule-abiding girl, but rules mean nothing against the promise of a summer dance program in NYC. Tilly’s almost lost the ability to dance once, and she isn’t doing it again, not even if she’s already committed to Georgetown. When her mother finally lets her go, it’s under two conditions: she’ll visit her grandmother in Jersey, and she’ll make good on her promise to go to college at summer’s end. Tilly’s not quite ready to abandon her goals, though, and she dedicates her summer to turning dance into a career. New friends, possible new love, and a determined rival are all to be found along her path, and at the end, she’ll have a life-changing choice to make.
Puddin’, by Julie Murphy (May 8)
This companion to the New York Times–bestselling Dumplin‘ reunites us with Millie Michalchuk, a fat girl who is tired of fat camp. This year, she’s going to spend time chasing her dream of becoming a newscaster instead. (And, okay, also to finally kiss the boy she’s been crushing on.) Making friends with the pretty and popular Callie Reyes isn’t exactly an agenda item, but somehow, that’s exactly what happens, surprising everyone, and the two of them most of all.
Undead Girl Gang, by Lily Anderson (May 8)
Zombie books aren’t usually my jam, but if anyone could rock my world with a uniquely smart, funny, and touching one, it’s Anderson. Her newest smart and sassy heroine is Mila, a Wiccan girl with an attitude who gets by just fine in life thanks to her best friend, Riley. Then Riley’s found drowned, and when two of the school’s mean girls are also found dead, it’s ruled a suicide pact, something Mila knows way better than to believe. She’s determined to get to the truth and get Riley back, even if just for a short while. But when her spell brings Riley back from the dead, she isn’t alone; popular June and Dayton have come back with her, and none of them know what really happened to them. They’ve got seven days to figure it out before all three girls die again for good, and Mila’s on the job…if she doesn’t bury June and Dayton (again) first.
The Girl in the Grove, by Eric Smith (May 8)
This novel by one of our own features some highly relevant and seriously underdone-in-YA themes. For one thing, Leila’s a foster kid who has recently been adopted into a loving family. (Pause to mention that if you haven’t yet check out Smith’s adoption-themed anthology, Welcome Home, you must.) For another, she has seasonal affective disorder, something many experience and few see written about, ever. And finally, Leila’s an environmental activist, passionate about saving our Earth and doing her part by monitoring the Urban Ecovists message board with Sarika, her best friend, whom she met in a group home. It’s to Sarika that Leila reveals she’s been hearing voices; something’s calling out to her from the grove at Fairmount Park. When she finally follows them, it’s the beginning of wild new discoveries for Leila about the park itself, the mythical creatures who reside there, and her own personal history.
Valley Girls, by Sarah Nicole Lemon (May 8)
You know the joy of reading a book where it’s an author realllllly knows what she’s talking about? That’s exactly the vibe in Lemon’s sophomore, about a girl named Rilla who has been sent to live with her park ranger sister in Yosemite in lieu of going to juvie. There, she’s expected to straighten out and fly right, putting her studies back on track and staying out of trouble. But Rilla attracts trouble like a flame draws moths, and if she’s gonna shed it, she’s gonna need a real goal. Enter the new group of friends she makes, all serious and talented climbers who are thankfully down to take a newbie under their wing. It’s a love-hate relationship for Rilla, who’s both struggling to feel like she fits with this elite, athletic group and also loving the rush that comes with her increasing accomplishments. Unfortunately, her sister isn’t quite as excited about Rilla’s new hobby, and whether or not Rilla knows it, she owes her sister everything.
The Foreseeable Future, by Emily Adrian (May 8)
Rejoice, ye who are always on the lookout for YAs with nontraditional post–high school paths: Adrian’s sophomore novel has a protagonist who’s defying her scholarly parents’ college plans for her in favor of working the night shift at a nursing home in order to save up money and move to Seattle, her dream city. Also on the nursing home night shift? Seth, who makes Audrey wonder if moving is really what she wants. But then Audrey goes viral, thanks to a video of her saving Seth’s ex’s life, and it puts Seattle very much within reach. Which means Audrey has to make a choice: stay for the boy? Or leave for the dream?
The Way You Make Me Feel, by Maurene Goo (May 8)
After my complete and total adoration for Goo’s last contemporary romance, I Believe in a Thing Called Love, wild horses couldn’t keep me from snatching this one up on release day. It stars a prankster named Clara whose punishment for a joke gone too far is to spend the summer working on her dad’s food truck, made even worse by the fact that her new coworker is boring, uptight classmate Rose. But the longer she spends out there, the more she realizes Rose isn’t so bad…and neither is taking part in her dad’s business…and neither is the cute boy who’s crushing on her. But if all these feelings are changing and Clara is evolving, does that mean she’s leaving the old her behind?
Lifeline, by Abbey Lee Nash (May 8)
Substance abuse is a highly underdone topic in YA, especially where opiates are involved, so I jumped on the chance to read Nash’s debut, which kicks off the night lacrosse star Eli Ross overdoses on heroin alone in his car, and takes place over the twenty-eight days of his time in rehab. It’s a straightforward unfolding of denial, anger, longing, and therapy from there, crafted with skillful read-in-one-sitting pacing and pulling no punches on the emotional overload of the journey to recovery. I’ll admit to having had my own wariness about the presence of a romance in this setting, but I needn’t have been; Nash knows exactly what she’s doing here, and it’s clear on every page. One of the best small-press gems I’ve read in a long time.
Hardcover $15.99 | $19.99
War Storm, by Victoria Aveyard (May 15)
The end has arrived! Few series have exploded onto the scene the way Aveyard’s did with debut Red Queen, and from the minute we met Mare, Cal, and the rest of the bloody gang, we’ve been breathlessly counting down the minutes until this conclusion. Mare’s tired of leaving herself open to betrayal; her heart is officially closed. Her focus needs to be on overthrowing Norta and finally achieving freedom for all. But she can’t do it on her own, and trusting Cal may be her only choice. Who will survive when forces clash, and who will have their freedom? And when all is said and done, who will Mare be?
My So-Called Bollywood Life, by Nisha Sharma (May 15)
Winnie and Raj’s romance is supposed to be fated, but when he cheats on her and confesses to not sharing her dream of creating Bollywood movies, she knows it’s really over, no matter what the pandit said. To make matters worse, she’s booted from the school film festival. The only bright spot is that her new job lands her right near Dev, a dreamy fellow film lover who may not be in Winnie’s star chart but is definitely in her thoughts. Is it possible her fate lies elsewhere? Or does following her heart mean walking away from guaranteed happiness?
The Accidental Bad Girl, by Maxine Kaplan (May 15)
The cute cover and sweet title did nothing to prepare me for the fact that this is a fast-paced mystery-thriller and the wildest ride a YA has taken me on in years, all within the privileged druggie teen underworld of Brooklyn and wrapped around a feminist evolution that eviscerates sex-shaming, rape culture, and drug-fueled assault. It opens as Kendall is caught hooking up with her best friend’s ex, which results in her being completely socially ostracized. Of course, that means she has no one to turn to when she’s attacked by a stranger and wrongly accused of a drug theft…except for fellow outcasts who jump down the rabbit hole with her for twist after twist.
Nothing Happened, by Molly Booth (May 15)
Shakespeare takes on the absolute cutest summer camp twist in this contemporary take on Much Ado About Nothing that follows staff members at Camp Dogberry as they navigate life, love, rumors, feuds, nostalgia, and, of course, their actual responsibilities. Bee and Ben are struggling to overcome the hookup that never was, and the fact that they totally want each other now, even if they won’t admit it. Hana and Claudia are falling for each other, but gaydar-less John is determined to tear them apart. Everything is a mess, and they’ve only got the length of the summer to make things right.
We Are All that’s Left, by Carrie Arcos (May 15)
Zara and Nadja may be mother and daughter, but connecting seems to escape them both. Zara’s tired of being left in the dark about Nadja’s childhood in Bosnia, and Nadja doesn’t understand Zara’s passion for photography. Then their lives are literally blown apart, by a bomb that leaves Nadja in a coma and Zara with PTSD, waiting for her mother to wake up and filled with questions. It helps to meet Joseph, who’s full of thoughts on life and faith and also has someone in the hospital: his grandmother. What sounds really excellent about this story is that it alternates perspectives between Zara’s modern-day experiences and Nadja’s childhood in war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina, a perspective that feels very fresh in YA.
Out of the Blue, by Sophie Cameron (May 15)
Everything in Jaya’s life is terrible right now, from her mother’s death to her father’s consuming obsession with the angelic “Beings” that keep falling from the sky. Then he moves Jaya and her little sister to Edinburgh, where he suspects the next one will land…and it turns out he’s right. After Jaya witnesses not only its fall but its survival, she decides to take care of the Being along with Allie and Callum, twins she meets who protest against the way obsession with the Beings has turned into cult activity. It’s while taking care of Teacake that Jaya begins falling hard for Allie, despite the fact that technically, she’s still got a girlfriend. There are a lot of emotions to parse through, truths to deal with, and miracles to witness in this highly lauded debut.
Love and Other Carnivorous Plants, by Florence Gonsalves (May 15)
Danny’s freshman year at Harvard wasn’t kind to her. She’s failing, she’s losing her BFF, and she’s generally becoming unmoored. The one thing that draws her in is a girl she met in eating disorder rehab, a connection that makes her feel like she’s finally getting back on her feet. But a tragic event blows all that apart, and it will take all the strength she possesses to pick up the pieces if she wants a future.
Girl Made of Stars, by Ashley Herring Blake (May 15)
I feel no hesitation in stating that this is one of the best contemporary YAs of the year, and it’s only increased in its relevance since I first read it. One facet of the #MeToo conversation that rarely gets touched on is what happens when the accused is someone you love—and the accuser, too. That’s the situation for Mara when her beloved twin brother, Owen, is accused by her best friend, Hannah. Meanwhile, there’s Charlie, Mara’s ex-girlfriend and the third in her best friend trio with Hannah, who has her own things to figure out, leaving Mara wondering where the two of them stand. As relationships change, new facts come to light, and true natures reveal themselves, Mara, Charlie, and Hannah must find their places in the world and with each other as they fight for justice and validation. This book is nuanced and well crafted, and doesn’t dance around the important issues. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
All of This is True, by Lygia Day Peñaflor (May 15)
This sophomore novel is a meta mindscrew of the highest order, and story aside, there’s something intoxicating about imagining the writing process alone. Using a creative mix of narrative and media, it tells the story of a group of friends who’ve all fallen for Undertow, the astonishing literary debut by hot young author Fatima Ro, and what happens when they live their dream of getting close to her. Fatima is a pro at drawing out their secrets, and there’s nothing they won’t share with her in an effort to claim just a little of her fame and charisma. But we all know authors are never to be trusted with your secrets (right?), and they’re stunned to find that in her sophomore novel (see? meta), she has laid all their secrets bare, using them to fuel the plot of her novel. But they weren’t little secrets, and one of them being lands one of the teens in a coma. Now, as his friends wait for him to wake up, the truths they’ve shared and lived slowly unfold in this addictive examination of human behavior and the quest for absolution.
From Twinkle, With Love, by Sandhya Menon (May 22)
One of my most highly awaited books in the history of ever, Menon’s followup to her bestselling debut, When Dimple Met Rishi, promises to be full of all the humor, heart, and heat that made her first entry into YA so damn good. Twinkle’s dying for an audience for her movies, and she finally gets a shot at one when Sahil Roy asks her to direct one for an upcoming festival. Twinkle’s thrilled at the shot to both show off her work and get close to her longtime crush, Neil, who happens to be Sahil’s twin. When she starts getting mysterious emails from “N,” she’s confident it means things with Neil have truly clicked. Unfortunately, spending time with nerdy but adorable Sahil has made her heart jump ship, and now he’s the twin she wants. Can she make all her dreams come true, even the ones she never saw coming?
The Brightsiders, by Jen Wilde (May 22)
Every now and again, I read something by an author and think, “Thank God this person decided to write books for teens.” I had that exact experience reading Wilde’s sophomore novel, a wildly fun take on stardom starring a bisexual drummer named Emmy whose world is ripped apart by paparazzi when she’s caught on a bad night. Now she needs some time out of the spotlight, and her wonderful bandmates are more than happy to keep her company. Only problem? One of those bandmates is Alfie, and Emmy can’t stop making out with him when she’s supposed to be staying under the radar. Possibly problematic for Emmy; definitely fun for romance-loving readers, especially ones who’ll be thrilled to see a confidently genderqueer love interest.
Anger is a Gift, by Mark Oshiro (May 22)
Oshiro’s hard-hitting, angry-making, tear-jerking, incredibly important debut is one of this year’s most major must-reads, especially if you love seeing the power of social justice in fiction. It stars Moss, whose father’s murder by the Oakland Police Department six years earlier has given him a panic disorder that makes crowds, attention, and the sight of the cops all tough to handle. But then he meets Javier, and it helps him feel a little bolder, at a time when having a voice feels more important than ever. But his activism really kicks in when the Oakland PD starts taking over his school, instituting metal detectors and “random” locker searches to the detriment of his fellow students. When things go further than he ever expected, Moss doesn’t know how to handle it. If he doesn’t want anxiety to take over his life again, he’ll have to channel his anger into something productive, no matter what the cost.
Monday’s Not Coming, by Tiffany Jackson (May 22)
You might still be recovering from Jackson’s explosive debut, Allegedly, but it’s time to snap out of it because she’s back with a sophomore whose title alone has made it one of the year’s most ominous reads. Claudia seems to be the only one who notices or cares that her best friend, Monday, isn’t showing up to school. The two are so attached Claudia barely knows how to survive high school without Monday at her side, but when she tries to get answers out of Monday’s family, she’s shocked to find it’s a dead end. How is it possible no one cares at all about Monday, and what didn’t she know about her best friend’s life? More importantly, will she ever see her again?
The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik, by David Arnold (May 22)
Bestselling author Arnold is one of the newest kings of YA quirk, and in case the name of his third book doesn’t give it away, he’s definitely coming back with another unique tale. This one stars Noah, a sixteen-year-old boy having visions after being hypnotized at a party—visions of a slightly altered universe with changes that may or may not be inconsequential. What does it mean that everyone is a little different from what he remembers? It’ll take a whole lot of self-reflection to find out.
Always Never Yours, by Emily Webberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka (May 22)
Megan can’t wait to direct the school play, Romeo & Juliet, and accept the tiny bit part she needs for her applications. But instead of getting to manage everything behind the scenes and fade into the background on stage, she’s cast as Juliet, much to her chagrin. Megan isn’t the star type, and she doesn’t particularly want to act opposite Tyler, either—it’s awkward enough that her ex is dating her best friend without having to kiss him for an audience. But then, being the girl the guy dates before he finds The One is exactly the role Megan’s used to; Tyler wasn’t the first, and she’s sure he won’t be the last. And that’s okay with Megan, who’s perfectly happy to have flings and hand them off. Right now, the guy she wants is stagehand Will, and the guy who can help her get him is Owen Okita. But a twist is coming, and soon it’ll be time for her to ditch the real-life role of Rosaline and accept that she’s meant to be a Juliet, both on- and offstage. Smart, Shakespearean, and packed with banter of the highest order, this book is a delight, and guaranteed to be one of my—and your—favorite rom-coms of the year.
Furyborn, by Claire Legrand (May 22)
The prolific Legrand’s Empirium trilogy follows two powerful girls living a thousand years apart and the links between them. Rielle is a girl possessed with extraordinary elemental magic that suggests she is one of the two prophesied queens—the heroic Sun Queen or the destructive Blood Queen. A millennium later, Rielle is the stuff of legend to bounty hunter Eliana, until her mother disappears and she joins up with rebels to get information and learns more about the battle at the heart of the empire than she ever bargained for.
Driving By Starlight, by Anat Derecine (May 22)
Leena and Mishie are sixteen-year-old best friends living in Saudi Arabia, feeling stifled by the laws that prevent them from dressing how they want, driving cars, and going to university. Leena acutely knows the consequences of disobedience—her own father is in prison for leading anti-government protests—but it doesn’t stop her from disguising herself as a boy in order to accompany her mother to run errands. Mishie, on the other hand, is the daughter of the minister of the interior, and flirts with both boys and danger as if she’s untouchable. Both have a lot to learn about freedom, trust, rebellion, and how to survive a culture that seeks to suppress them.
Hardcover $17.09 | $18.99
Legendary, by Stephanie Garber (May 29)
The sequel to the absolutely gorgeous Caraval is finally here, and Donatella Dragna and her sister Scarlett are both free…ish. They may have escaped their father and Scarlett’s arranged marriage, but Tella still owes her secret benefactor Caraval Master Legend’s real name. Unfortunately, she doesn’t actually know it, and the only way to learn it is to win Caraval. But she knows as well as anyone how dangerous the game is, and what she risks if she loses and cannot pay up what she owes. Then again, if she’s victorious, both Caraval and Legend might be lost for good.
Give Me Some Truth, by Eric Gansworth (May 29)
The author of the critically acclaimed If I Ever Get Out of Here returns with this contemp about Carson, a rising senior in high school who’s hoping that winning a Battle of the Bands, with its prize of a trip to New York City, will be the perfect way to get off the reservation and into a life of fame. But it’d probably help if he actually had a band. And if his brother hadn’t just been shot in a racist attack. Then there’s Maggi, who’s feeling similarly antsy about her life on the rez and the way it defines her art. She’s anxious to mix it up, be allowed to grow, and maybe even find love. It’s a complicated life for both of them, but together, they just might make it through and find a little of the happiness they both seek.
I Felt a Funeral in My Brain, by Will Walton (May 29)
Three years after Walton’s touching gay YA debut, Anything Could Happen, he has upped his game and shown serious range, returning with a prose-verse hybrid from the perspective of Avery, who’s laid up at his grandfather’s thanks to a car crash that damaged his patella. With his mother in rehab, his grandfather diabetic and dealing with his own alcohol issues, and the best friend he thought he’d be losing his virginity to putting the brakes on their sex pact, nothing is in Avery’s control right now. But he does have poetry, which he uses to express and explore himself as the world crumbles around him and he tries to figure out exactly who he is.