Contemporary is my favorite genre in part for all its possibilities. In any given list of contemporary greats, including this one, there can be romantic comedies, thrillers, stories of perseverance in the face of an adverse world, explorations of real-life issues, and settings that can be wildly true to where you grew up or a fascinating window into somewhere else or anything in between. This list has it all and then some, including mystery, murder, mayhem, making out, mind games, mental health, and even making the world a better place.
For even more amazing contemps, make sure you check out our LGBTQAP previews for books like Death Prefers Blondes, by Caleb Roehrig (January 29), and Tell Me How You Really Feel, by Aminah Mae Safi (June 11); our debut preview for books including The Field Guide to the American Teenager, by Ben Philippe (January 8), and I Love You So Mochi, by Sarah Kuhn (May 28); our Sophomores post for titles including Two Can Keep a Secret, by Karen McManus (January 8), and On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas (February 5), and our upcoming Indies post for the likes of When the Truth Unravels, by RuthAnne Snow (January 8), and The Truth About Leaving, by Natalie Blitt (January 22)!
Famous in a Small Town, by Emma Mills (January 15)
Mills has written some of my absolute favorite contemporaries in recent years, with the perfect blend of friendship, humor, heart, romance, and a main character with book smarts who’s still kind of working out the whole “relationships with humans” thing. Her newest is every bit as banterrific as we’ve come to expect, with main character Sophie picking her way through the tricky art of fundraising her school marching band’s way to the Rose Parade, regardless of how impossible her goals may be, while also proving that, while Mills continues to deliver all the stuff I love, she still has plenty of surprises up her sleeve.
The Birds, the Bees, and You, and Me, by Olivia Hinebaugh (January 22)
Sex ed goes rogue in this bold, informative, and empowering debut about a girl who takes matters into her own hands when she observes firsthand how her school is being failed by abstinence-only education. Lacey may never have been kissed, but that doesn’t mean she thinks it’s acceptable not to know basic information about contraceptives and STIs. Between her firmly supportive mother, aspirations to go to nursing school, and internship with a doula, she’s got plenty of knowledge to give out—and give it out she does, no matter where she has to hide, where she has to store those condoms, or how much trouble she gets in. Meanwhile, she’s also doing some hands-on learning with her new guy, who unfortunately has to remain just as much a secret.
Spin, by Lamar Giles (January 29)
Giles is one of the freshest and most fun thriller authors in YA, and his newest might be my favorite yet. Paris Secord, aka DJ ParSec, has been killed, and everyone wants answers. That includes her former best friends, Kya and Fuse, the two people who found her body that night. It also includes ParSec Nation, Paris’s rabidly devoted group of loyal fans whose darker contingent leaps on Kya and Fuse—far from friends themselves—when some ill-advised social media sniping suggests they’ve got blood on their hands. Now it isn’t just curiosity driving them to find the killer; it’s saving their own lives.
That’s Not What I Heard, by Stephanie Kate Strohm (January 29)
Strohm is not only a personal favorite, she’s wildly prolific, having just released her last title just two months before this one. No matter, as I will gladly buy whatever she’s selling, including this newest about an entire school up in arms as rumors of a breakup between Kimberly Landis-Lilley and Teddy Lin spread through the halls like wildfire, with even the teachers taking sides in the he said/she said/everyone-seems-to-have-said.
A Danger to Herself and Others, by Alyssa Sheinmel (February 5)
I’m always down for good new mental health fiction, and between Sheinmel’s history of writing it and the rare setting of an institution, this one is high on my radar. Hannah knows everyone will eventually realize institutionalizing her was a mistake, that she absolutely did not purposely hurt her roommate at her summer program. It’s fine; she’ll wait it out with good behavior and whatnot, and get her freedom back in time to enjoy her senior year with everyone else. But then the one person who can force Hannah to confront what she’s doing in the institution shows up, forcing her to consider whether it’s really a mistake after all.
The Black Coats, by Colleen Oakes (February 12)
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?
Watch Us Rise, by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagen (February 12)
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.
Sorry Not Sorry, by Jaime Reed (February 26)
Friendship between teen girls can be complicated enough, but when it turns out you’re the only one who can save your best friend-turned-enemy? Whole new levels. That’s the situation Janelle is in when her ex-bestie Alyssa collapses and it turns out Janelle’s got exactly what she needs. But with the distance between them as Janelle moved toward social justice and activism and Alyssa became a full-on Mean Girl, Janelle’s not sure she wants to be mending any fences, whether or not she steps in. Is the friendship they once had worth saving?
If You’re Out There, by Kate Loutzenhiser (March 5)
I honestly can’t imagine a comp title that would’ve landed a book on my to-read list faster than hearing something is a YA version of Where Did You Go, Bernadette? I snatched up Loutzenhiser’s debut ASAP and promptly fell head over butt into the mystery of Priya’s sudden ghosting of narrator Zan. Everyone thinks Zan should get over the fact that Priya completely cut off communication when she moved, but she can’t; no friendship that close can just vaporize. And when little things start not adding up, the mystery only intensifies, sending Zan on a mission of epic proportions.
Barely Missing Everything, by Matt Mendez (March 5)
This powerful new debut stars Juan, a basketball player who’s counting on a scholarship to get himself out of El Paso and away from his mom’s boyfriends. Replace basketball with filmmaking, and his best friend, JD, has similar plans. Then both of their lives blow up, with an injury and a police run-in sidelining Juan. Oh, and there’s the small matter of finding out the father he’d been told was dead actually isn’t…yet. With nothing left to lose, Juan and JD head out on a forbidden road trip that’ll make the perfect documentary for JD’s film school applications: to meet Juan’s dad on Death Row.
Heroine, by Mindy McGinnis (March 12)
If any author has proven you can’t guess how far she’ll go when it comes to tearing her characters and their worlds apart, it’s McGinnis, so how can you not drop everything to read this newest, centered on America’s opioid crisis? When Mickey gets injured right before softball season, she goes to drastic measures to keep herself in the game, desperate to maintain her catcher spot and take her team to a major milestone. But as the pressure mounts and the painkillers become impossible for her to live without, she’ll have to get her addiction under control or risk losing everything.
Night Music, by Jenn Marie Thorne (March 19)
Classical music has always ruled Ruby’s life, until her audition for a prestigious music school goes horribly wrong and it becomes clear performance isn’t in her future—even if her father happens to be on the faculty at said school. But when her father takes on the brilliant and wildly talented Oliver, who has already made a name for himself on YouTube and has no shortage of confidence in his skills, it’s clear there’s something in music that still makes Ruby feel alive. With so much to prove to the world and to themselves, following their hearts may be a dangerous gamble, no matter how beautiful the music they make together.
Forward Me Back to You, by Mitali Perkins (April 2)
Bringing one of the most unique storylines to this season, Perkins newest stars teen jujitsu champ Katina (aka, Kat) and Indian adoptee Robin, both struggling with their pasts. When they meet on a summer service trip in Kolkata where they’re working with victims of human trafficking, the growing connection between them proves an important ingredient in their respective journeys of healing from the past and moving into the future.
In the Key of Nira Ghani, by Natasha Deen (April 9)
Nira Ghani hates being the only brown girl in a sea of white kids at her high school, and her Guayanese parents can’t begin to understand what she’s going through. They also can’t understand that she wants to be a musician, not a doctor or scientist. If she’s going to prove to them she’s talented enough to pursue music for real, her school’s jazz auditions are the place to do it. On top of that pressure, friendship dynamics seem to be shifting all around Nira, confusing her as to what’s real and who really has her best interests at heart. With music as her emotional safety net, the idea of her parents taking it away from her is unthinkable. But it turns out she has plenty to learn about them, too.
Serious Moonlight, by Jenn Bennett (April 16)
Jenn Bennett’s contemporary romances are perpetually my most anticipated books in any given year, so of course I’m all over this one between book-loving Birdie and charismatic Daniel, who meet when they end up working at the same Seattle hotel. Birdie’s used to being insular and living in the pages of her novels, especially thanks to her strict upbringing, so she looks forward to the change to get out of her shell at her new job. Thankfully, Daniel is the perfect guide to getting out there, but when he drags them into a mystery, has he gone too far out there? And have her feelings joined him?
Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak, by Adi Alsaid (April 30)
Lu’s supposed to be writing a column about love and relationships, but it’s hard to write about matters of the heart when yours has just been shattered, even if your job and scholarship are on the line. Her best friend, Pete, thinks he has the perfect solution: write through it, baring her soul on the page for her readers. But Lu’s got a better idea: write about another couple doing the pre-college breakup thing. Cal and Iris have a different approach, having pushed their breakup to the end of summer rather than the beginning, and it’s making Lu crave more information. Have Cal and Iris made a mistake, or has Lu? Are they prolonging heartbreak, or love? Lu only has the summer to figure it out and save her future…and maybe her heart, too. I love the authentic way Alsaid writes teens, and after how much I loved his most recent title, I am so thrilled to see him back here.
Hearts Made for Breaking, by Jen Klein (April 30)
Another contemp YA romance favorite, Klein’s back with a How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days–esque story about a girl named Lark who’s the queen of smooth breakups. But what some see as a skill, her best friends, Cooper and Katie, see as a depressing missed opportunity. With no risk comes no reward, and doesn’t Lark want to experience real love, and even the real heartbreak that accompanies it? To get them off her back, Lark agrees to date Andy, a challenging guy she would never go for under normal circumstances. Like, sure, whatever. But what happens when Andy’s an outlier in more ways than one?
Somewhere Only We Know, by Maurene Goo (May 7)
After having to wait a minute between Goo’s freshman and sophomore novels, I’m wildly grateful to be getting a new rom-com from her every year that always manages to be one of my absolute favorites. This one teams up a K-pop star named Lucky with Jack, the intrepid tabloid reporter assigned to the very same hotel she’s staying in, resulting in a meet-cute of epic proportions, thanks in part to the fact that he doesn’t know who she is when they meet.
Hope and Other Punchlines, by Julie Buxbaum (May 7)
Rom-coms and thrillers are my main jams within the subgenres of contemporary, but some authors just break your heart way too well to ignore, and bestseller Buxbaum is up there with the best. Abbi Hope Goldstein is beter known as Baby Hope, that girl from the famous photo taken on 9/11, sporting a birthday crown and holding a balloon as the South Tower collapses behind her. But it’s been fifteen years since that photo was taken, and for the big 1-7, she’s treating herself to a summer of anonymity as a day camp counselor a few towns over, surrounded by little kids who’ve never heard of her. But Noah has definitely heard of Baby Hope; 9/11 tore his world apart. And when he meets Abbi at Knights Day Camp, he’s sure it was fate. Abbi isn’t, but when questions about that famous photo come to light, the two will work together to answer them, even if they don’t like what they learn.
There’s Something About Sweetie, by Sandhya Menon (May 14)
Menon’s rom-coms are absolute instabuys for me; her smart and funny characters full of charm and personality are just impossible for me to ignore, and the covers make sure I know exactly how good a time I’m in for. Her newest guaranteed-to-make-you-smile tale stars the titular Sweetie, a fat Indian American track athlete determined to show the world her size isn’t a negative, and Ashish, who’s so miserable in breakup recovery that he lets his parents set him up, dating contract and all. It’s a recipe for unexpected, uninvited, but oh so charming love, and I am here for it.
Symptoms of a Heartbreak, by Sona Charaipotra (May 21)
This is B&N Teen’s very own Sona Charaipotra’s first solo novel, and as a huge fan of both Tiny Pretty Things and Doogie Howser, I could not be more excited for this contemporary about an Indian American girl who happens to be the youngest doctor in America. Saira’s days are hard enough, proving she deserves to wear the same white coat as all the adult doctors around her, which include her mother. But when she falls for a teen cancer patient, she puts her career on the line in order to take a chance at saving him.
The Boy Next Story, by Tiffany Schmidt (May 21)
The second title in the Bookish Boyfriends series turns its eyes to Little Women, inspiring the story of a girl named Rory, who likes a boy named Toby…who likes Rory’s sister, Merrilee, who’s dating Toby’s friend Fielding. Never a dull romantic moment at Reginald R. Hero High, home to a thousand launched literary fantasies! Or, you know, at least two, with more to come. Either way, this is the perfect series for literary romance lovers, especially those who love their lit on the lighter side.
Virtually Yours, by Sarvenaz Tash (June 4)
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?
The Rest of the Story, by Sarah Dessen (June 4)
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.
When the Ground is Hard, by Malla Nunn (June 4)
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.
I’ll Never Tell, by Abigail Haas (June 4)
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?
Patron Saints of Nothing, by Randy Ribay (June 18)
Ribay’s third novel’s cover radiates power, but that’s nothing compared to what’s promised by its premise. The entirety of Jay Reguero’s plans for his final semester of high school is to play video games, until he learns his Filipino cousin Jun was a victim of President Duterte’s war on drugs. No one else in the family wants to discuss it, but Jay needs to find the truth behind his cousin’s murder, even if it means traveling to the Philippines to get it. He isn’t at all prepared for what he learns there, especially the fact that Jay himself had his own part in Jun’s death.
Better Than the Best Plan, by Lauren Morrill (June 25)
Maritza, aka Ritzy, has the summer all figured out. Her mom may have disappeared on her, but she’s got a job and friends and she knows how to take care of herself. Then her solo living situation is discovered, and because she’s just seventeen, she’s placed into foster care…with the very same woman who fostered her when she was an infant. Turns out, Kristin is as good a mom now as Ritzy imagines she was then, and Ritzy is surrounded by the promises of what her life could’ve been if her bio mom had never taken her back. There’d be this gorgeous house, this adorable boy next door…it’s a dream. But can it be her reality? And what’s more, should it be?
Call It What You Want, by Brigid Kemmerer (June 25)
Kemmerer is in rare form these days, publishing a solid contemporary every year alongside the fantasies that made her name. This year you can find her on the fantasy shelves in January with A Curse so Dark and Lonely, and opening up the summer with her third contemporary, about Rob and Megan, two teens whose lives have been blown apart. Rob was popular until his father was caught embezzling; now he’s an outcast who has to take care of his father after a suicide attempt on top of everything else. Megan has a secret she’s keeping from everyone about how she stays on top, but when her own sister falters in an unmissable way, her own mistake might be too much to keep to herself. Neither knows how to open up to anyone else anymore, but when they’re paired together for a school project, they might finally learn.