We’re closing out another year of fabulous YA lit, full of breakout debuts, devastating contemporary, series starters that left us breathless, mega huggable romcoms, intoxicating fantasy visions, and more more more! Here are fifty of the YA books we can’t/won’t/don’t stop talking about in 2018.
Leaving out some favorites that appear below (Legendary, Sadie, A Reaper at the Gates, What If It’s Us…), the books I can’t stop talking about this year include: Tahereh Mafi’s A Very Large Expanse of Sea, a bristling, gimlet-eyed book of Islamophobia, breakdancing, and lightning-strike first love; Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious, a cold-case thriller running along two timelines that left me ON TENTERHOOKS (what are tenterhooks?) waiting for the sequel; Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact, the hilarious, device-enabled misfit love story of my dreams; Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince, an ugly-gorgeous faerie tale of hate-turned-deeply troubling fascination; Muse of Nightmares, Laini Taylor’s achingly poetic, breathlessly plotted sequel to Strange the Dreamer; April Genevieve Tucholke’s The Boneless Mercies, a feat of generous, feminist storytelling that implies an untold tale in every rock and tree; Jimmy Cajoleas’s The Good Demon, a magical, mood-drenched southern tale of love and possession; David Arnold’s gloriously rule-breaking oddball The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik; Laura E. Weymouth’s The Light Between Worlds, a heart-tugging portal fantasy meant for everyone whose heart broke for Susan Pevensie (and wondered at the Pevensie children’s oddly chill response to being repeatedly kicked out of fairyland); and Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After, a heartbreaking family history discovered through meltingly surreal vignettes.
Also all the books I’m forgetting about that will haunt me tonight (literally??) when I lie in bed trying to sleep.
What a great year for books! 2018 brought me a lot of faves, from really emotional, nuanced, thoughtful, and culturally strong contemporaries like Home and Away by Candice Montgomery; Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert, Darius the Great is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram, A Girl Like That, by Tanaz Bhathena, and Monday’s Not Coming, by Tiffany Jackson, to epic, multilayered fantasy like Girls of Paper and Fire, by Natasha Ngan, Bruja Born, by Zoraida Cordova; and The Hazel Wood, by our very own Melissa Albert, to delightful lighter romances like Always Never Yours, by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka, This is Kind of an Epic Love Story, by Kheryn Callender, and The Way You Make Me Feel, by Maurene Goo, to really brilliant and creative usages of history in Pulp, by Robin Talley, and The Spy with the Red Balloon, by Katherine Locke. It’s impossible for me to pick a single favorite, but Sadie, by Courtney Summers, Girl Made of Stars, by Ashley Herring Blake, Jack of Hearts (and other parts), by L.C. Rosen, Blood Water Paint, by Joy McCullough, and Final Draft, by Riley Redgate are the ones that’ve clung to my heart the hardest. They all have honesty, courage, and difficult choices at their forefronts, and examine the ways in which voices are silenced by those who should be caring for them the loudest. If that’s not something most if not all of us could use more of in 2018, I don’t know what is.
This year has been a stellar one for YA fiction. Three of my favorites this year: the decidedly adorable he said-he said missed connections comedy What If It’s Us, by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, Maurene Goo’s delicious food truck romp The Way You Make Me Feel, and Nisha Sharma’s funny and fumbling My So-Called Bollywood Life, which came complete with a Shah Rukh Khan cameo. All of these books herald the return of the romantic comedy to YA, and it’s about damn time! If you’re looking for fun, delicious, sweet, and salty reads that will satisfy the cravings for Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, these three will definitely hit the spot. If you’re looking for something a bit more action-packed, this was also the year for stunning, sharp-edged fantasy, from sinisterly sweet The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton (not that I’m biased or anything!), to Justina Ireland’s Civil War reimagining Dread Nation, which is so rich and detailed, with profound implications.
Tiffany Jackson’s Monday’s Not Coming follows Claudia, the only person who notices her best friend, Monday Charles, is missing. Weeks go by, and Claudia knows Monday must be in trouble. But when she goes to her house, no one will give her any answers—not even Monday’s mother or sisters—so Claudia takes matters into her own hands to dig deeper. Jackson is an expert at weaving a complex narrative through honest and tight prose. It is a mirror to our society, confronting a terrible question: how can a teenage girl vanish without anyone noticing she’s gone? Thrilling until the very last page, this novel will break your heart. Natalie C. Parker’s Seafire has it all—a girl gang, the open seas, and revenge. Caledonia is the captain of the Mors Navis, crewed by girls she has to care for, feed, and lead to war. They come from all over the globe, but each girl has one thing in common: their hatred of terrible warlord Aric Athair and his army of Bullets. When a Bullet defects and ends up on her ship, Caledonia wants nothing more than to kill him. But this boy might be the key to taking down the enemy once and for all. Seafire is a fast-paced adventure that sets sail and doesn’t stop. It is fierce, intersectionally feminist, and a testament to the strength of what girls can do when they empower each other.
2018 has presented me with such a wide range of new faves–from Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Picture Us in the Light, which still leaves me breathless and reeling thinking about it, to Mark Oshiro’s Anger is A Gift, with the sheer power in its pages. Reading David Arnold’s The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik is a fascinating philosophical experience, and Adib Khorram’s Darius the Great is Not Okay and Akemi Dawn Bowman’s Summer Bird Blue are intensely emotional ones. Courtney Summers’ Sadie packs a huge gut punch, as do Juleah del Rosario’s incredible 500 Words or Less, Tanaz Bhathena’s A Girl Like That, and Joy McCullough’s Blood Water Paint. The sheer joy that erupts from reading Julian Winters’ Running With Lions is beautiful, and Maurene Goo’s The Way You Make Me Feel contains the greatest YA dad of all time. And Amy Rose Capetta’s The Brilliant Death provides some of the most beautiful depictions of gender feels I’ve ever seen put into words.
This year, what I wanted out of a book was highly specific: angry, active, persistent, and difficult girls. The YA book sphere did not disappoint, which makes picking favorites tricky. There was Legendary, Stephanie Garber’s follow-up to Caraval, which transferred its attention from Scarlett Dragna to her daring sister, Donatella, while keeping its tone of glittering, beautiful malevolence. Meanwhile, the twin furies of Laia, the slave-turned-rebel, and Helene, the reluctant Blood Shrike, propelled Sabaa Tahir’s A Reaper at the Gates, the third book in her Ember quartet, to a dramatic (and traumatic) climax. And let’s not forget Tess of the Road, a story rooted in the world of Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina and squarely focused on the titular Tess, Seraphina’s impetuous, strong-willed hurricane of a half-sister. Three very different books that all share two characteristics: characters who defy expectations and fantasies that hit you right in the feels.
It’s not often I can say I had an absolute favorite book of the year. While there are plenty of books I read and loved in 2018, only one absolutely blew me out of the water: Courtney Summers’ Sadie. This contemporary YA novel alternates between the first-person narration of Sadie, who is hunting down the man who murdered her sister, and transcripts of The Girls podcast, which begins a year after Sadie’s own disappearance, in an attempt to find her. I don’t use the phrase “unputdownable” lightly—but from the moment I started, I needed to know what happened to Sadie and her sister. Exquisitely written, Sadie is incredible: angry, fast-paced, with plot twists that literally left me gasping. Do yourself a favor and read it now if you haven’t. Why are you still reading this blurb? Sadie is one of the best YA books I’ve ever read. Go, go read it. The rest of this post will be here when you come back.
If you love magical realism, first love, and/or birdwatching, Katrina Leno’s Summer of Salt is the book for you. Everyone on the tiny island of By-the-Sea knows the Fernweh women are magic, even if they don’t admit it. Georgina Fernweh has spent her entire life on the island, helping her mother and twin sister Mary run the local inn and waiting for her own version of the Fernweh magic to arrive. But the deadline of her eighteenth birthday is approaching, and it’s starting to look like Georgina might not have a gift. To make things worse, the mysterious, ancient bird that draws visitors to the island every summer is missing, and its disappearance might have something to do with the secrets Mary’s been keeping. Luckily, Georgina has a distraction: she’s falling fast for the beautiful, magnetic Prue, who’s staying at the inn with her bird fanatic brother. Somehow capturing all the adorably sweet feelings of a crush set against the backdrop of a vaguely creepy island and an even creepier mystery, Summer of Salt is a must-read.
My favorite part of the end of the year is reflecting on the amazing books I’ve read over the last 300+ days. Jessica Leake’s historical fantasy, Beyond a Darkened Shore, took my breath away with its forbidden romance, Ireland setting, and infusion of mythology. Julie Murphy’s companion to Dumplin’, Puddin’, had me rolling on the floor in giggles as often as it had me tearing up. Pride, by Ibi Zoboi, brought a creative and important retelling of Pride & Prejudice to the table with discussions of gentrification, race, gender, and more. C.J. Redwine’s The Traitor Prince, the third companion in the Ravenspire series, also gave an old story a new look by retelling “The Prince and the Pauper.” Holly Black offered a roguish and deceitful faery tale with The Cruel Prince. Lastly, I’m sure we’ve all read Courtney Summer’s blockbuster thriller Sadie, right? If not (*gasp*), you’ll want to grab this one ASAP for its brutal emotional punch and clever inclusion of a true crime podcast.