True fact: this is one of my favorite release days this year, combining feminist fantasy, brilliant sci-fi, psychological thrillers, emotional contemporary, and wonderful representation of all kinds. There are so many special books to be had here, including one of the best anthologies YA has ever seen, and you don’t want to miss a single one.
Mirage, by Somaiya Daud
It feels like it took forever to finally get to the wealth of gorgeous non-European-inspired fantasy and sci-fi we’ve been enjoying these last few years in YA, and this sci-fi debut is one of our very loveliest rewards for the wait. This Moroccan-inspired world is home to Amani, a girl who’s celebrating her majority night when the festivities are harshly interrupted and she’s kidnapped and brought to the royal palace of the Valthek. There, she learns she bears an uncanny resemblance to Princess Maram, and she’s to take her place at any appearances deemed too dangerous for Her Royal Highness. While Amani yearns to return home, all is not terrible about being in a princess’s shoes…especially when she’s falling for said princess’s fiancé. But nothing 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. As epic as the stakes are, my favorite part of this book is the way it operates within a conversation about colonization and how it affects culture, identity, language, and relationships.
The Second Life of Ava Rivers, by Faith Gardner
It has been twelve years since Vera’s twin, Ava, disappeared, and it has defined her life ever since. Investigations and media spotlights have made Vera’s life hellish and oppressive, but college–and the freedom from what home has become–is so close she can taste it. Then her sister reappears, and suddenly her family is back together, doing their best to make up for lost time. But Ava doesn’t want to talk about her kidnapper or the years they’ve all missed together, and she doesn’t seem to remember the time that came before it. How can they all move forward when so many questions remain?
Darius the Great is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram
Darius struggles with where and how he fits in his family, including a disinterested father, Persian mother, and sister who was taught fluent Farsi while he was not. So when his grandfather’s failing health has his family moving to Iran for the summer, Darius doesn’t know how he’s supposed to handle being in unfamiliar territory with them and the grandparents he has never even met in person. Then he meets sweet, fun, and loyal Sohrab, the first best friend he’s ever had, and for the first time has a sense of belonging with someone. But at the end of the summer, Sohrab will stay in Iran while Darius goes back to the States. This is a wonderful debut, full of nerdiness, great mental health rep, a beautiful friendship, and an unforgettable protagonist at the beginning stages of questioning his sexuality.
That’s Not What Happened, by Kody Keplinger
This unique take on the school shooting YA is set three years after the tragedy, and Lee is still trying to piece together exactly what happened. Here’s what she knows: Her best friend, Sarah, is dead. Lee is one of six surviving eyewitnesses, and she was holding Sarah’s hand when she died, so she knows Sarah didn’t die proclaiming her faith—but now there’s going to be a book, authored by Sarah’s parents, that will cement that false legend for good. Four of the other survivors are her best friends in the world (including Miles, who might be something else, too, if Lee can figure out how her complicated feelings fit in with her growing confidence in her asexual label and the coming end of high school), and Lee knows it’s time they finally used their voices to bring their real stories to light. But there’s another voice missing, a voice Lee’s starting to realize she should’ve listened to when she had the chance. A voice who might be the key to the truth, if only Lee can find her.
Seafire, by Natalie C. Parker
Feminist pirates take to the seas in this girl-fueled adventure helmed by Caledonia Styx, who made the mistake of trusting one of Aric Athair’s dangerous army of Bullets and will never, ever make that mistake again. Caledonia and her second-in-command, Pisces, lost everything years ago, but now they’re in charge, with the Mors Navis successfully keeping a fleet of over fifty girls and women alive on the high seas. When an attack brings back way too many memories of life-changing betrayal, she and Pisces clash over how to handle the Bullet who saved the latter’s life. But if trusting the Bullet might bring back the person Caledonia holds dearest in the world, does she really have a choice?
The Sacrifice Box, by Martin Stewart
If an ancient stone box sits in the forest and five teens aren’t daring enough to use it as a time capsule in 1982, will it still come looking for their blood four years later? Hadley, Lamb, Mack, Sep, and Arkle have no idea, because they did do that very ill-advised thing, and when one of them breaks one of the strict rules they placed on revisiting the box, all will have to pay. Their lives become suddenly, utterly terrifying, until they can figure out how to set things right.
Hidden Pieces, by Paula Stokes
Stokes danced between contemporary romance and high-stakes thrillers for a while, and this newest spins what could’ve been the former into a treacherous entry in the latter. It was bad enough that Embry hooked up with her best friend’s ex—but then the metaphorical heat between them quite literally led to a fire. That was before Embry helped a homeless man escape the flames no one knew she started, getting her labeled as a hero even though the truth about what she did is anything but heroic. It was also before she received a blackmail note, first in a collection of demands forcing her to make terrible choices in order to keep her secret. How far will she go to bury the truth?
Ruin of Stars, by Linsey Miller
Fierce was my obsession with Mask of Shadows, the opener to this duology about a genderfluid thief-turned-assassin on a quest for revenge, and seeing Sallot Leon again was everything I dreamed it would be. Sal has fought their way into the elite group of Queen’s assassins, and now it’s time to kill the three remaining people responsible for the obliteration of the Nacean people. But the identities of Risparian and Deadfall remain a mystery, and dark and deadly questions arise when an ear marked with runes is found. Who’s practicing magic and how? Why are children suddenly going missing? What if the villains are even closer than Sal ever dreamed? And what will they have to give up to take everybody else down?
Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft, edited by Tess Sharpe, Jessica Spotswood
Witches and Brujas bring on some spellbinding magic in this fantastic collection of witchcraft-themed stories by so many of my YA faves, including Lindsay Smith, Zoraida Córdova, Brandy Colbert, Anna-Marie McLemore, Elizabeth May, Emery Lord, Nova Ren Suma, Shveta Thakrar, Kate Hart, Brenna Yovanoff, Andrea Cremer, Robin Talley, notable upcoming debut Tehlor Kay Mejia, and the editors themselves. It’s a diverse collection to be sure, and with a dearth of witchy novels in YA’s recent years, a wildly welcome one that I hope will kickstart the next wave.