As the real world further devolves into chaos and concern, it’s only natural we turn to books for escape (and reflection, always). If you’re like me, though, you’re having a hard time focusing. The answer, of course, lies in finding those reads that offer up a truthful, riveting voice—one that makes it impossible to put the book down, even as the internet delivers its endless blows. Gathered here are just a smattering of those books, the ones where the voice grabs hold of you and won’t let go, no matter how many times you read them.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas’s much lauded debut, already a New York Times bestseller list staple, stirred up interest because of its super-timely pitch: it has been dubbed the Black Lives Matter movement in novel form. But if people come for the politics, they stay for the voice. The book follows 16-year-old Starr Carter, a singularly riveting narrator, caught between two cultures—that of her posh prep school, and of her decidedly working class, gang-wrecked neighborhood—as her whole world implodes. The voice here is punchy and matter of fact as she builds her world (full of fascinating, deftly developed characters) and watches it shattered to bits when she witnesses the murder of her old friend Khalil by a cop in a traffic stop gone awry.
A Crown of Wishes, by Roshani Chokshi
Chokshi’s recent companion to her stunning debut, The Star-Touched Queen, offers up voice for days. It’s in the gorgeous, haunting worldbuilding, the push-pull romance, and the fun and feisty Gauri, a princess with a mission. But her delicious turns of phrase are what really keep you flipping pages: you’ll want to drink them up like ambrosia stolen from a mean god. Like this one: “In that moment, he looked like mischief and midnight, like a temptation that always slipped away too fast and left you, at once, relieved and disappointed.”
The Sky Is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: fans loved Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun. If you haven’t read her beautiful, wistful, devastating debut, put it on the top of your TBR list right this second. The grief is palpable from page one of this mournful, melodic tale, which follows Lennie, whose life has come to a standstill after the sudden death of her older sister, Bailey. The only thing sort of keeping her afloat: a fling with the dead girl’s also-mourning boyfriend, Toby. But then Lenny pretty much trips over Joe, a wide-smiled, heart-thumping boy who just might offer true love—if only she could get herself together enough to grab it.
Born Confused, by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Desai Hidier’s debut novel is more than fifteen years old, but it still holds up today. Born Confused tells the tale of New Jersey–born Dimple Lala, a teen who is floundering and frustrated, as many are, but also grappling with the dramas and dilemmas of embracing her Indian identity—one that seems to fit her white, often appropriative best friend, Gwyn, better. Dimple would rather just hide behind her camera…until she meets the charming DJ Karsh, who gives both girls a crash course on culture before an inevitable triangle upends everything. Desai Hidier, a musician, weaves memory and melody into the book, offering a unique, fascinating rhythm that will keep you flipping pages. “Life viewed from nine different camera angles, life played at nine tempos. Mixed, montaged, multiple.”
The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli
Fans of Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda are already well enamored by the voice (and grace!) of our beloved Becky Albertalli, who has said more than once that her beloved creation, Simon, is pretty much her. But if it’s possible, Molly Peskin-Suso, the heroine of Albertalli’s sophomore effort, is even more her! And readers will be thrilled, because Upside is chock full of fun, pithy dialogue and unexpected characters, none more so than sunny but self-deprecating Molly, a twin who has never really touched puppy love, let alone true love, while her sister seems to fall at every corner. Albertalli’s Molly is fat, funny, Jewish, and achingly honest, a startling voice that will no doubt proudly claim her place next to Simon on your bookshelf.
The Sun Is Also A Star, by Nicola Yoon
One of the best books of last year, the National Book Award–longlisted Sun—Yoon’s follow-up to the bestselling Everything, Everything—accomplishes no easy feat. Not only is it a swoony, whirlwind, trippy romance that winds its way through New York City, it has got voice for years, and manages to express it through two equally compelling narrators. This he said/she said romance documents the slow and swift unfolding of real love over the course of twenty-four action- and emotion-packed hours. Straight-laced, science-oriented Natasha has a lot on her mind the day she meets heart-on-his-sleeve Daniel. But their connection is one that can’t be denied. Be forewarned: once you pick up this book, you will devour it in a single sitting.