New Releases: Secretive Friendships, Bold Blackmailers, and Confusing Attractions

I absolutely love this release day in all its glorious variety, from third installments in two of my favorite series in recent years to so many reads perfect for kicking off Pride month. There are both debuts and very familiar names aplenty. But today is truly ruled by sophomores, with no fewer than six jumping onto shelves today for the first time since they got into the wild world of young adult lit. It’s a bona fide buffet of goodness, so let’s get to it!

This Time Will Be Different, by Misa Sugiura
At the core of Sugiura’s powerful and nuanced sophomore novel is the history of Japanese internment in America and the ways in which white people continue to profit off of it generations later. CJ loves working at her family’s flower shop, partly because it means helping out her aunt Hannah and partly because it keeps her close to her family’s legacy; they owned the shop decades ago, then sold it for pennies on the dollar when they were shipped off to internment camps, and finally bought it back years later for an exorbitant price. But it’s bleeding money, and when her mother threatens to sell it to the very family who pulled it out from under them, CJ decides to take a stand against the people who have already taken so much. Between her David and Goliath battle, confusing romantic entanglements, her track record of succeeding at approximately nothing, and the shields on her heart, CJ threatens to crack under the pressure.

Kissing Ezra Holtz (and Other Things I Did for Science), by Brianna Shrum
Following up her similarly light, romantic, smart, and fun The Art of French Kissing is Shrum’s latest, which centers around classmates Amalia and Ezra, polar opposites paired up to work on an AP Psych project. When they find an old study that posits any two people can fall in love if they follow specific steps, they decide to give it a shot, pairing wildly different students to see if their project can conjure unexpected love. And it does! But they didn’t expect it to work on them, too….

The Rest of the Story, by Sarah Dessen
There is no bigger name in contemporary YA romance than Sarah Dessen, and news of a new book by her is always a Big Deal. This time around the star is Emma Saylor, a girl whose mom died when she was ten and who has been living with just her dad and their memories ever since. Then she learns she’ll be spending the summer at North Lake with her mother’s family, despite not having seen that side in years. When Emma arrives, she’s surprised to find North Lake isn’t exactly the community she imagined, and though it was once home to both her parents (her mother as a resident, her father as a summer tourist), they lived very different lives. Now Emma is, too—one as Emma, daughter to the wealthy guy who summered at a resort, and one as Saylor, granddaughter of a working-class family. And as Saylor, she means something to Roo, a boy who was once her childhood best friend, and is happy to help her piece together her past. But at some point, the summer will end, and she’ll have to decide which version of herself she’s meant to be.

Like a Love Story, by Abdi Nazemian
I adored Nazemian’s YA debut, The Authentics, but his sophomore is on a whole other level and immediately flew straight into the pantheon of my “must recommend this to everyone” books. Set in 1989 New York City amid the AIDS crisis, it’s a spectacular tribute to gay history and the perfect Pride Month read, following three best friends. There’s Reza, an Iranian boy who just moved with his mother to the city to live with his new stepfather and stepbrother, and is terrified of anyone finding out he’s gay. There’s Art, the only out-and-proud gay kid at his new school. And there’s Judy, who dates new boy Reza with no idea he’s gay like the AIDS-activist uncle she worships…and that the fact that he’s getting closer with Art means more than she thinks. Now Reza has to find a way to tell her the truth without breaking her heart, in a world that isn’t friendly to that truth.

I’ll Never Tell, by Abigail Haas
Take note in (metaphorical) big capital letters: this is a reissue of Dangerous Girls; it’s not a new Haas title. That said, if you haven’t read Dangerous Girls yet (or even if you have and just want to complete your Haas set), you are definitely gonna wanna grab this book, because it’s quite literally my favorite YA thriller. When Anna and her friends go on spring break to Aruba, their plans include sunning, swimming, and swilling drinks. But those plans go awry when Anna’s best friend, Elise, is found dead, and fingers point to Anna as the culprit. The only way to exonerate herself is to find out who really held the knife, but the more she digs, the worse the secrets and betrayal she uncovers. Can she save herself in time? Or will she lose both her best friend and her freedom?

War of the Bastards, by Andrew Shvarts
This is one of my favorite fantasy series because it’s just so much fun, but if you’re caught up, you know the ending of City of Bastards was intense. The third and final book picks up a year after the fall of Lightspire, with a usurper on the throne and Tilla and her friends relegated to the role of rebel fighters hiding in the outskirts. Everything looks to be utterly hopeless as the usurper’s power grows—until a raid results in the discovery of Lord Elric Kent, now a prisoner with revenge on the brain, and Syan See, a girl from the Red Wastes who possess an incredible magic, and brings word of a civilization in the Wastes that’s new to them all. The group heads out on a journey to find Syan’s people, who may offer their last hope for victory, but the trip itself proves to be its own kind of test.

All Eyes On Us, by Kit Frick
If you loved the mean girl thriller vibe of Frick’s debut, just you wait until you meet Amanda Kelly, who, along with her boyfriend, Carter Shaw, is poised to inherit, well, everything. That is, at least, until the texts show up—messages that seem to come from an admirer of Amanda’s but also aim to destroy her relationship and reveal her boyfriend to be a cheater. As it happens, the fact that he’s a cheater is well-known to Amanda, as it is to his other girlfriend, Rosalie. But Rosalie is deeply devoted to her girlfriend, using Carter as nothing more than a beard for her fundamentalist Christian parents to avoid ever being sent back to conversion therapy. Soon, the mysterious texter is trying to mess with both girls, but they’ve deeply underestimated how even women scorned will work together to take a blackmailer down. I will cop to not once but twice having thought “Well, the answer sure is obvious!” and having been completely wrong both times, so if whodunits (especially with queer relationships) are your jam, get this on your to-read list ASAP.

Virtually Yours, by Sarvenaz Tash
Tash is one of my favorite instabuy authors, bringing something fresh to the table every time with books I know without a doubt I would’ve loved when I was in high school. This time Tash transports us to the campus of NYU (go Violets!), where freshman Mariam has stayed solo for the five long months since Caleb broke up with her. With a coupon for a dating service on the verge of expiration, Mariam decides to take the plunge and gets matched. With Caleb. And also with her new best friend, Jeremy. Can her head, her heart, and her app all get on the same track?

Wild and Crooked, by Leah Thomas
Bless queer friendship novels, for they are far too rare and very special. You may know Thomas from her debut, Morris Award finalist Because You’ll Never Meet Me (which was also queer, by the way), and you’ll definitely want to get to know her newest, about a pansexual boy and a lesbian girl who form a deep bond of friendship amid their struggles. Kalyn feels like her life will forever be defined by the murder her father committed back in his own teen years; she even has to attend her small-town school under a pseudonym to hide their connection. The pseudonym allows her to make friends with Gus, similarly sick of being defined by something out of his control—in his case, cerebral palsy. And then there’s the fact that he’s the son of a guy murdered by Kalyn’s dad. When the truth about their fathers comes to light, and the events that took place come into question, their friendship is put to the ultimate test.

I Wanna Be Where You Are, by Kristina Forest
I am always so happy to find new rom com authors to love, and especially when they bring marginalized main characters who rarely get fluffy, happy endings to the table. Forest’s debut stars a ballerina named Chloe who’s forced to take some ill-advised action when her mother forbids her from applying to her dream dance conservatory. Her secret road trip to auditions is immediately crashed by her neighbor Eli (and his stinky dog), but there’s no time to waste fighting a blackmailer, and soon they’re off, ready for every adventure that comes their way. Probably.

The Beholder, by Anna Bright
Selah is the heiress to Potomac, and it’s been a calm life so far, full of reading fairy tales and crushing on her childhood friend, Peter, even though she should be searching for her perfect match. When Peter rejects her, Selah’s stepmother uses the opportunity to send her on a journey to find a way more politically savvy The One. Sailing on a ship called The Beholder across the Atlantic, Selah encounters all sorts of legends she’s only read about in stories, and ends up on a journey of dangers and surprises she could never have anticipated.

If It Makes You Happy, by Claire Kann
Do Kann’s books get the best cover models or what?? This one portrays Winnie, spending the perfect last summer before college working at her grandma’s 50’s-themed diner. Then she’s named Misty Haven’s Summer Queen, and she is not psyched; she doesn’t need the whole matchmaking mess that comes with it when she’s perfectly happy in her queerplatonic relationship. The whole thing is a whirlwind of photoshoots and engagements Winnie has no interest in, especially considering the attendant fatphobia and racism. But the biggest surprise of all may be her Summer King, an unwelcome intrusion into her ordered world who makes her feel romantic attraction for the first time. It’s going to be a major summer of learning and growth for Winnie, but it still has the potential to be the best summer yet in very unexpected ways.

When the Ground is Hard, by Malla Nunn
At Swazi boarding school Keziah Christian Academy, Adele and her best friend, Delia, are two of the most popular girls…until Delia drops her for a richer girl. That leaves Adele with rebellious outcast Lottie, who’s definitely not going to help her social standing. But the two girls end up bonding over a favorite book, and Adele both softens Lottie’s sharp edges and learns there are perks to bluntness, especially when you’re dealing with bigoted teachers. And when a boy goes missing, the two will have to make use of their newfound partnership and friendship to figure out what has gone down.

Not Your Backup, by CB Lee
I’m so happy to see Lee’s gloriously fun and inclusive Sidekick Squad return with its third book, this one centered around Emma Robledo, whom we last saw questioning her places on the aromantic and asexual spectra while doing the whole Fighting Powerful Corruption thing. Emma’s tired of people refusing to take her seriously because she’s the only one in the squad without powers; she knows she has plenty of natural strength. As the inevitable challenge between the Resistance and the League of Heroes nears, Emma has to figure out exactly where she belongs in this fight, even if it means taking control of the whole team.

Sorcery of Thorns, by Margaret Rogerson
Elisabeth was raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s great libraries, surrounded by magical grimoires that have the power to transform into ink-and-leather monsters. She knows as well as anyone just how evil sorcerers are. But when the library’s most dangerous grimoire is set free, Elisabeth’s desperate act to protect the kingdom implicates her in the crime, and she’s brought to justice. Her only option for help is Nathaniel Thorn, a sorcerer and her enemy. Together, they fall down the rabbit hole of an ancient conspiracy that proves Elisabeth’s world has been full of lies, and they’ll have to work together to ensure there’s future for the Great Libraries and the world as they know it.

Where I End and You Begin, by Preston Norton
Gender and sexuality confusion abound in this speculative novel about a boy named Ezra who badly wants to ask a girl named Imogen to the prom, only to find himself facing the misery that is her best friend, Wynonna. But Ezra’s problems get considerably bigger when an eclipse somehow leads to a full-on body swap between him and Imogen’s BFF, and now he and Wynonna are learning way more about each other than they’d ever cared to, including that Wynonna has a big ol’ crush on Ezra’s best friend, Holden. As Ezra and Wynonna cope with swaps that seem to be coming more and more frequently, they strike a deal—while in each other’s bodies, they’ll help each other with their romantic prospects. But doing so raises moral quandaries, endless embarrassments, and one big question for Ezra: why does he feel more comfortable as Wynonna than he does as himself?

Ordinary Girls, by Blair Thornburgh
This contemporary take on Sense and Sensibility stars the Blatchley sisters: quiet, contemplative Plum and, three years older, the dramatic Ginny. As their source of income unexpectedly runs dry, the girls face different but very real financial concerns, with fifteen-year-old Plum stressing about keeping their home while Ginny worries about paying for college. The hustle to make it all work is accompanied by secret relationships, questions about their family, and the sisters’ identities independent of each other in this smart and cerebral coming-of-age.

The Confusion of Laurel Graham, by Adrienne Kisner
Is there anything better than when the author of a queer YA debut returns the next year with another one, and you just know they’re gonna be filling your shelves with rainbows for years? I was overjoyed to learn that Kisner, author of the awesomely titled Dear Rachel Maddow, is returning with another queer girl book in 2019, this one about a girl who aspires to become a world-renowned nature photographer. Step one in Laurel’s plan (which includes crushing her fellow nature reserve volunteer, Risa) is to win a contest with Fauna magazine, a contest her grandmother placed in years ago. Her grandmother is her favorite partner in crime, and together, they make a fabulous bird discovery. But then gran is hit by a car, falling into a coma, and everything in Laurel’s world starts to fall apart.

Shadow & Flame, by Mindee Arnett
The closer in the duology that began with Onyx & Ivory again centers around Kate Brighton, aka the Wilder Queen, aka the one-time “Traitor Kate,” though no one would call her that after she has saved so many in the war between the magical wilders and the Rimish Empire. She doesn’t wanna be the Wilder Queen, either, but she has no choice—not so long as the illegitimate Rimish king, Edwin, sits on the throne. With war once again on the horizon, threats brewing, and armies rising, all Kate’s hope may fall on a prisoner slave named Clash who could be the key to ending the conflict for good.

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