Our Most Anticipated Contemporary YA Novels of 2018: July to December

Contemporary YA may not have spaceships or witches, but it’s magical and powerful all the same. This fall’s collection is an unusually hardhitting bunch, taking on issues from captivity to statutory rape to Islamophobia and other bigotry to unwanted pregnancy to victims of terrorism, ensuring readers stay informed and empathetic during our increasingly challenging news cycle. But it’s not all serious; there’s always room for edge-of-your-seat thrillers, emotional coming-of-age stories, and heartmelting romance.
For more exciting contemps, make sure you’re checking out our other previews so you don’t miss Home and Away by Candice Montgomery; Odd One Out by Nic Stone; What if it’s Us?, by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera; Summer Bird Blue, by Akemi Dawn Bowman; The Resolutions, by Mia Garcia; Pride, by Ibi Zoboi; This is Kind of an Epic Love Story, by Kheryn Callender; and more!
See all 2018 previews here, and our January–June contemporary preview here.
Can we pause for a sec and establish how cool (no pun intended) it is to see a YA set in Siberia? Well, let’s back up to how Adrienne got there. Determined to get into her dream school and become a major journalist like her idol, she takes an opportunity that can’t possibly passed up to travel to the Russian wilderness and write an article. Doesn’t hurt that it’ll also enable her to prove to her stepfather once and for all that there’s no legendary family of hermits living there. Except…turns out there is, and when Adrienne gets completely stuck in the unforgiving wilds of Siberia, she’ll have to rely on them for her survival, no matter what it entails.

Things Jolie Needs to Do Before She Bites It, by Kerry Winfrey (July 10)
Jolie’s certain she wants to have her underbite fixed and hopefully put an end to her headaches and to her feeling unattractive. What she isn’t so certain about is that she’ll live through the procedure, or at least survive with all her senses intact. So she makes a list: everything she wants to do before her surgery, just in case she doesn’t make it through the other side. Number one? Kiss a boy. No, not just boy; the boy, aka, Noah Reed. But when her plan to get close to him backfires, and her heart manages to change course, too, Jolie’s list starts to look a whole lot different than she anticipated.

Wrong in All the Right Ways, by Tiffany Brownlee (July 17)
Not gonna lie, I get suuuper excited about modern retellings of classics. So clearly, I need this contemporary take on Wuthering Heights, in which a usually-in-control girl named Emma falls for the most forbidden guy of all: her foster brother. Taking the book into meta territory, Emma’s class just happens to be reading Wuthering Heights, and her assignment is to use Brontë’s style in epistolary fashion. Well, she’s got plenty of feelings to put in those letters, since she can’t exactly channel it anywhere else—not without blowing Dylan’s chances at getting adopted. But when they can’t control their feelings any longer, will it ruin both their futures for good?

The Cheerleaders, by Kara Thomas (July 31)
If you’re a fan of mysteries or thrillers and you haven’t read Kara Thomas yet, you’re in for the very best treat in the form of the rudest awakening. Her newest is set in Sunnybrook, a town that used to have cheerleaders…until two were killed in a car accident, two were murdered by a neighbor, and one died by suicide. You don’t maintain the squad after that; not unless you want to constantly be reminded of the dead and keep a painted target on the living. But it’s been five years, and now Sunnybrook High is looking to memorialize the cheerleaders who died. It’s a tricky situation for Monica, whose sister was the final cheerleader to die before the squad was disbanded. But that’s just the beginning. Soon, messed up things start happening to Monica, suggesting that whatever happened the first time around has only been lying dormant, and somehow, Monica’s at the center of its imminent return.

The Girl You Thought I Was, by Rebecca Phillips (July 31)
I love character-driven contemporaries, especially when they’ve got an angle I haven’t seen before, and Phillips nails that here in her novel about Morgan, a girl you might never guess is hiding her kleptomania. Even when she’s caught and sentenced to community service, Morgan does everything in her power to keep her indiscretions a secret, and it helps that the owner of the charity shop where she’s doing her volunteer hours is staying mum. But the owner’s nephew is a trickier person to navigate, since Morgan happens to be falling for him, and he happens to think she’s helping his aunt out of the goodness of her heart. She wants things with Eli to be real, and she wants that for her friendships, too. But can the relationships in her life last once people know the truth?

Finding Yvonne, by Brandy Colbert (August 7)
Multi-award-winning author Colbert returns with her third YA and continues to prove her skill at capturing and featuring all the little things that seem to fall through the cracks in the ways we talk about things. There are a bunch of YAs with main characters who are musical prodigies, but Yvonne is that rare one who isn’t one, who’s fallen out of love with what was supposed to be her future and doesn’t know how to handle it. What happens when your life just isn’t gonna look how you thought it would? When the guy may not be the guy, and your missing mother may be affecting you more than you thought, and you’re constantly learning new things about your pot-smoking, often-absent single father? When nothing’s quite what you thought but all the building blocks are there and it’s up to you to figure out how to use them to make your own yellow brick road, what do you build? This book explores all of that, while also putting it in the greater context of how much more complex these questions get for Black kids and especially for Black girls.

The Other Side of Lost, by Jessi Kirby (August 7)
Mari has worked hard to cultivate the perfect online persona, and she has thousands of fans to prove it. But when she breaks down and confesses it’s all a lie and her life is nowhere as perfect as the facade she’s been presenting, the backlash is quick and fierce. In need of some space away from her following, she decides to get back to nature and hike the John Muir Trail, something she and her late cousin, Bri, had planned to do together for their eighteenth birthday. It also happens to be the perfect way to honor her cousin and make up for the fact that Mari pushed her away as her own internet star rose. With Bri’s diary in hand and boots on her feet, Mari commences a journey both literal and metaphorical in the hopes of once again finding herself.

I mean, you can kinda tell by the title that this is gonna be hilarious, right? In this case, I will absolutely judge a book by its cover. It stars a boy named Michael, an atheist who finds himself in his own version of hell when a move puts him in Catholic school. But he’s surprised to find a girl who makes it all seem worth it, and just might share his beliefs (or lack thereof). Only it turns out she doesn’t: Lucy wants to be a priest. And she isn’t the only religious outcast at St. Clare; there’s also Pagan (Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheist) Eden, Jewish (and gay) Avi, and unique Unitarian Max. Together, they’re Heretics Anonymous, and Michael hopes to encourage the group to attack the school’s hypocrisies. But then things go too far, and Michael has to make a choice about what really stands for.

Sadie, by Courtney Summers (September 4)

“Surely Courtney Summers has reached her ultimate peak now,” you say as you read each one of her books, but no. She just keeps. Getting. Better. And if you’re overwhelmed by all the goodness on this list and don’t know where to start, well, I highly recommend not making this your first pick, only because readers have reported being unable to read anything else for at least a week. The story is framed in a podcast not unlike Serial, narrated by a guy named West McCray as he follows the case of Sadie, a girl who went missing after her little sister’s murder. The more he digs, the more heartrending the story gets, and the more likely it seems that Sadie is in danger. Meanwhile, readers also get the view through Sadie’s eyes as she makes her way on a quest for revenge, ready to lay everything on the line in order to get justice for Mattie.

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, by Adaubi Tricia Nwaubani and Viviana Mazza (September 4)
In this incredibly timely but rarely voiced-in-YA story, the protagonist is a Nigerian girl on the verge of a promising future when she’s kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram. Based on interviews with real girls who’ve lived this harrowing experience, author Nwaubani and journalist Mazza put together a beautiful and inspiring picture of a girl who loses everything and still strives to fight for her life and her dreams, even as she watches everything crumble around her, including her best friend.

Lily was twelve when Luke went away. Two years later, she can’t wait for him to see how she’s grown up. He does notice, and being fifteen years her senior doesn’t stop him from making a move. Lily’s thrilled to have finally drawn his attention, but her friends aren’t nearly as excited for her; they think a twenty-nine-year-old going for a fourteen-year-old is messed up. But Lily knows Luke, knows she can trust him and that what they have is real…right? Sones has never been one to shy away from uncomfortable subjects and tricky romantic feelings in her YA novels, and her newest sounds perfectly in her wheelhouse.

White As Silence, Red as Song, by Alessandro D’Avenia (September 4)
Billed as the Italian The Fault in Our Stars, this extremely successful debut is now being published in America for the first time. It centers around Leo, an average sixteen-year-old whose world is rocked by the appearance of a new philosophy teacher at school, who pushes him and his fellow students to follow their dreams. Leo’s dream is Beatrice, the redhead he’s been crushing on forever but been too scared to approach.

Here to Stay, by Sara Farizan (September 18)

It’s really hard for me to play it cool about Sara Farizan returning to YA novels, and I’m not even going to tryI am wildly excited to read her newest, about a boy named Bijan who unintentionally leaps into the spotlight by scoring a winning basket off the bench, earning the ire of an Islamophobic cyberbully who can’t handle Bijan’s newfound popularity. Though Bijan’s got the support of his friends and family, all he wants is for all of it to go away. But the cyberbully isn’t alone in his feelings, and Bijan may have no choice but to face his haters head on…if he can even be certain of who they all are.

American Road Trip, by Patrick Flores-Scott (September 18)
Teodoro “T” Avila seems to have everything, but his flawless life starts displaying some cracks when his brother, Manny, comes home from a tour in Iraq the summer before T’s senior year, wrecked by PTSD. Their sister, Xochitl, wants nothing more than to bring her family together again, and so she orchestrates a road trip for herself, T, and Manny, determined to reunite them. The novel follows the road trip from T’s perspective, exploring mental illness, coming of age, socioeconomic disparity, and falling in love.

500 Words or Less, by Juleah del Rosario (September 25)
I confess that I used to think novels in verse were Not For Me…until I read so many incredibly good ones that it became impossible to deny what a perfect medium they are for certain writers and stories. In this case, I’m psyched to get to know a brand-new one about Nic Chen, a girl who tries to mend the bad reputation she got for cheating on her boyfriend by writing admissions essays for her classmates. But fixing one kind of cheating with another starts to eat at Nic, forcing her to think about who she is and who she wants to be.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea, by Tahereh Mafi (October 2)
Just this side of the historical-contemporary boundary, Mafi’s first realistic novel is set in 2002, a year after 9/11 has rocked the world. Shirin is getting used to moving around and used to the Islamophobia about as much as anyone can get used to such things, but for the first time, she’s finding things that crack the shell she’s formed around herself. One of those things is breakdancing, a hobby that’s always intrigued her but which she’s now stepping up several notches with the aid of her brother and his friends. The other is Ocean, the perplexing boy who rarely says the right thing but genuinely wants to get to know her and admires who she is. Can Shirin let her walls down to let in some joy?

Hearts Unbroken, by Cynthia Leitich Smith (November 6)
It’s an excellent year for Native YA fiction, capped off by the return of Smith’s first since 2001’s Rain is Not My Indian Name. Louise Wolfe is absolutely done with her boyfriend after he trashes Native people right in front of her; who needs that mess, especially in her senior year? She’s got the newspaper to focus on, and it’s there that she’s paired up with new photojournalist Joey Kairouz to cover the story of backlash against a new, more inclusive school production of The Wizard of Oz. It’s a personal issue for Lou for several reasons, not least of which is that her little brother is in the cast. When sparks fly between Lou and Joey as they work together on the story, it seems like romance might be in the cards after all, if she learns to trust another boy to respect who she is.

Four Three Two One, by Courtney Stevens (November 13)

It’s been a year since Bus 21 blew up in New York City, but it’s never far from Golden “Go” Jennings’s mind. What sucks is that her boyfriend, Chandler, refuses to talk about it, and Go really, really needs to. So she comes up with a plan: go back to the City and meet up with Rudy and Caroline, the other two survivors, in order to view an art installation made of the burned bus remains and maybe get some sort of closure. But it isn’t that easy, not for any of them. Survivor’s guilt looms strong, as does the fact that Caroline kept her mouth shut that night when she really, really shouldn’t have and nineteen people ended up dead. And the fact that there were sparks between Go and Rudy the night before, even though she’s with Chandler. And the fact that Go and Chandler weren’t supposed to be there at all. None of them are really okay—but can they admit it? And get past it?

The Lying Woods, by Ashley Elston (November 13)
Having money is something Owen’s always been able to take for granted, until his mother reveals their wealth is a lie, and they’re living on embezzled money. What’s more, Owen’s father took off, leaving his wife and son to face the hate-filled victims of his fraud. It’s a one-two punch for Owen, who now has to return to Lake Cane from his New Orleans boarding school to face anger and threats from people he hasn’t had anything to do with in years. As things get increasingly scary for Owen and his mom, he decides the only way out is to dig into what really happened, which also means deciphering the puzzling note from his father sent just before he vanished, and facing both his past and his future.

Love a la Mode, by Stephanie Kate Strohm (November 27)
I’m an extremely well-documented fangirl of Strohm’s rom coms, and when you combine that love with the fact that her newest hits all my foodie book–loving buttons and is set in Paris, this is basically my perfect read. When Rosie Radeke is accepted to a celebrity chef’s culinary school in Paris, it should be an absolute dream come true. But the experience is an insecurity nightmare, and the more Rosie flounders in the kitchen, the more she wonders if she’s really in the right place. Henry Yi is struggling, too, not least because he’s got a serious thing for Rosie and is not enjoying watching her friendship with a bad-boy baker blossom. They’ve both got lots to prove, but the sweetest treat of all is the possibility that lies between them, if they can chill out long enough to see it.

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