Politics have always played a huge role in YA, from royal fantasies to reproductive fiction to immigrant narratives to contemporary romances that beg for some sort of meeting across the aisle. Sometimes the politics are explicit and sometimes implicit, but there’s no question politics are as important and relevant for teens as they are for adults, whether or not you’ve hit voting age yet. You can find some great slightly older titles in the political field here and here, but these 2018 titles are at the top of our reading list right now.
The Perfect Candidate, by Peter Stone
Cameron Carter has landed his dream internship following his late mother’s footsteps into government, working for a congressman from the same small California town Cameron is desperate to escape. But when his office mentor, Ariel, asks him for help handling a secret, then is killed in a car accident before sharing the details, the summer quickly turns into a nightmare. Soon Cameron is approached by a stranger who convinces him to look further into Ariel’s death, and it sends him down a spiral of conspiracy theories, blackmail, and an offer he can’t refuse. This YA debut has all the twists and scandal you could ask for from a contemporary political thriller, written by a former congressional intern who’s no stranger to Capitol Hill.
Umbertouched, by Livia Blackburne
If you haven’t read the fabulous Rosemarked yet, you’ve gotta start there, but the good news is that the second you finish it, you’re gonna wanna trade a vital organ for the sequel—and ta da! Here it is! We’re back with plagued healer Zivah and tortured warrior Dineas, whose mission didn’t quite go as planned. Now they both have a lot to prove to their people, and not a lot of time in which to do it. Can they out the truth and save both the Dara and the Shahidi from oppression? This political fantasy explores nationalism, espionage, torture, medical ethics, and so many other relevant topics of politics in any time.
I, Claudia, by Mary McCoy
There’s a lot to be said for the importance of local politics, and in Claudia’s world, that means the student senate of Imperial Day Academy. The honor council at IDA has always taken things too far for teen historian 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 craved, and now that she has it, she isn’t quite sure how she feels about it—only 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?
Mirage, by Somaiya Daud
Colonialism and its effects on culture, identity, language, relationships, and respect of leadership are at the forefront of this Moroccan-inspired fantasy debut. Amani is celebrating her majority night when the festivities are harshly interrupted by agents of her people’s oppressors. She’s kidnapped, carried away to the royal palace of the Valthek. There, she learns she bears an uncanny resemblance to Princess Maram, and is to take her place at any appearances deemed too dangerous for Her Royal Highness. While Amani yearns to return home to her family, all is not terrible about being in a princess’s shoes…especially when said princess has a tempting fiancé. But no struggle compares to what Maram and her family will do if they find out Amani’s most dangerous secret: she has joined up with a rebellion designed to take them down.
Ruin of Stars, by Linsey Miller
Like Umbertouched, Ruin of Stars is a sequel that begs you read the first book first; in this case, the awesome Mask of Shadows. But expect far more relevant political discussion in this sequel, when it becomes clear that revenge isn’t the only driving force behind genderfluid thief Sal’s mission to infiltrate the queen’s elite assassin group and destroy those responsible for the obliteration of Sal’s people. Rather, they also desperately need to push back against the gender essentialism and heteronormativity of the old Erlend ways that threaten Sal’s identity and those like them. Sound familiar?