This week’s YA books are all about intersectional feminism, whether in a modern high school or 1899 New York. Motivated by poverty, revenge, or dreams of a better life for themselves and their sisters, these young protagonists are not waiting for permission or forgiveness to improve their circumstances, and we’re definitely here for it. Rounding out the list is a trio of fantasy adventures and a Romeo-and-Juliet-style romance set in the world of comic books.
Watch Us Rise, by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan
Rare is the author who writes about self-empowerment and finding your voice as a teenage girl, and especially a Black teenage girl, with the skill and care that Watson does, and it has made her one of my absolute favorite instabuy authors (and a New York Times bestseller). In her third YA, she’s partnered up with poet Ellen Hagen to bring us the story of teen activist best friends Jasmine and Chelsea, who start a Women’s Rights Club at their high school and make waves when they post their work online. When trolls inevitably target their increasingly popular club, Jasmine and Chelsea refuse to be silenced, no matter the risk.
The Black Coats, by Colleen Oakes
There’s just something so compelling about an all-female revenge squad story, and I’m hyped for this one, about a girl named Thea who joins an established vigilante group after her cousin Natalie’s killer goes free. Thea wants revenge so badly she can taste it, but life in the Black Coats isn’t quite what she imagined it would be, and their methods cross a line that even Thea in her deepest grief will not. She wants justice, yes, but at any cost?
Bloodwitch, by Susan Dennard
Dennard’s fourth installment of her Witchlands series (I’m including the standalone Sightwitch here because of course I am!) focuses on Bloodwitch Aeduan. Dennard slays it with multiple character POVs and a deep dive into the fantasy world readers know and love. Raiders are converging on a monastery that must be protected, and the unlikely trio of Aeduan, Iseult, and the magical Owl are its best chance at surviving the coming horde. But in order to complete their task, Aeduan must face the ghosts of his past…including his own father.
Comics Will Break Your Heart, by Faith Erin Hicks
Eisner-winning graphic novelist Hicks (Friends With Boys, and the forthcoming Pumpkinheads with Rainbow Rowell) uses her comics background to perfect effect in her first prose book. Miriam is “geek royalty” considering her grandfather created the insanely popular TomorrowMen series. One problem: Granddad sold the rights to his co-creator back in the 1960s, and Miriam’s family hasn’t seen a penny of their rightful fortune. When an intriguing, “terribly cute” tourist enters the Emporium of Wonders comic shop where Miriam works, she finds herself giving him major heart-eyes, until she discovers who he is: the filthy rich grandson of the co-creator who took Miriam’s grandfather for all he was worth. Will love conquer all, or is their romance doomed to crash and burn before it begins?
The Triumphant, by Lesley Livingston
The final book of The Valiant trilogy finds Celtic warrior Fallon, having survived her encounter with the Sons of Dis and the Amazons, turning her attention toward her beloved Cai, who’s been stripped of his rank as a Decurion and needs her help securing his freedom. And when Caesar himself, the man responsible for Cai and Fallon’s lives as gladiators, is murdered, Fallon’s allegiance shifts to that of Queen Cleopatra. Ancient Rome and Egypt come alive in this action-packed conclusion.
Nick and June Were Here, by Shalanda Stanley
Nick, an aspiring artist whose dad is in prison, and whose mom isn’t around, reluctantly enters the family business—stealing cars—to make ends meet for him and his aunt. Meanwhile, his best-friend-turned-girlfriend, June, yearns to escape her life in small-town Arkansas, but her schizophrenia has other plans. When Nick’s criminal behavior catches up to him, and June’s mental health takes a dangerous turn, the couple decides to skip town. But no amount of running will fix what’s hurting them until they confront the truth about themselves in this fraught and tender love story.
Crown of Feathers, by Nicki Pau Preto
It’s sister vs. sister in this fiery debut fantasy, book one in a new series about mythological Phoenix Riders. Sixteen years ago, the Riders were charged with treason for their part in a family battle for the throne. Now, two orphaned siblings, Veronyka and Val, are desperate to find some increasingly rare phoenix eggs and join the fight for their rights as animages—people with the magical ability to communicate with animals. A shocking betrayal forces Veronyka to shift course: disguising herself as a boy and joining an all-male squadron of Riders.
The Blood Spell, by C.J. Redwine
Each book in the Ravenspire series takes on a different fairytale, and this time, it’s Cinderella’s turn. Blue de la Cour has a secret: she can turn metal into gold, a gift she uses to help the city’s homeless. No one can know of the power she hides in her blood, and when her father is killed and an evil woman takes custody of Blue, it becomes more important than ever to keep her secrets under wraps. The only person who can help her is Kellan, Crown Prince of Balavata and greatest object of Blue’s disdain, but he’s back from boarding school and now in need of a bride. With darkness looming, their relationship changing, and disappearances haunting Balavata, the two must work together, no matter what it costs.
Awake in the World, by Jason Gurley (February 12)
In his YA debut, literary fantasy author Gurley (Eleanor; The Movement trilogy) tells the emotionally earnest story of two California teenagers who seem to inhabit different worlds. Down-on-his-luck, fatalistic Zach longs to pursue a life of art, but ever since his father drowned working on an oil rig off the coast, his family is counting on him to keep them afloat. Vanessa, whose father abandoned the family, plans to attend Cornell and study astronomy like her hero, Carl Sagan. When the two embark on a relationship, they want the best for each other—but will that be enough to make their dreams come true?
What Every Girl Should Know: Margaret Sanger’s Journey, by J. Albert Mann
In this look at the life and times of the young woman who grew up to found Planned Parenthood, readers will get to know Maggie Sanger via her fictional diary. In the late 1800s, Maggie came of age in a stifling factory town in upstate New York. As one of nearly a dozen children in a poor household, she was tasked with helping her ailing mother care for the rest of the brood, and it was assumed she would become a mother herself as swiftly as possible. But Maggie chafes against her mother’s perpetual pregnancies (18 in 22 years, which, take a moment to think about that) and lack of autonomy. She’s desperate to escape the poverty that has defined her existence and intends to become a doctor, which means rejecting the idea that motherhood or teaching are her only options. This is not an easy read, but it’s a necessary one.
Spectacle, by Jodie Lynn Zdrok
I Hunt Killers meets Belle Epoque with a supernatural twist in this dark, mesmerizing debut set in Victorian-era Paris. Nathalie Baudin has an unusual job for a sixteen-year-old girl, let alone a grown adult: she writes a daily newspaper column about the new arrivals at the morgue. When the body of a murder victim shows up, Nathalie is staggered by the visions that overtake her, plunging her into the mind of a serial murderer. She knows it’s only a matter of time before the killer strikes again, and though her abilities confound and disturb her, Nathalie must use them if she’s to unmask the villain and stop the horror.
The Sisterhood, by A.J. Grainger
In the aftermath of her sister Mella’s disappearance, Lil has been sleepwalking through life, until she rescues off the street a traumatized stranger with mysterious marks on her arm. The stranger has escaped from a cult called the Sisterhood of Light that depicts itself as a loving community but clearly has designs on the most vulnerable people it can find, which may include Mella. As with her previous thriller, Captive, about the kidnapped daughter of the British prime minister, Grainger delivers a twisty and suspenseful page-turner.