Welcome back, sophomores! We loved their first books, we’ve anxiously awaited their followups, and now they are magically almost here. While they’re dominated by contemporary (largely because this post is strictly for standalones; great in-series sophomore novels can be found as part of the upcoming sequels preview), they range from sweet summer romance to sweeping intergenerational, intercontinental tales and everything in between. So go on and support a favorite debut in the next step in their career, or find a new fave here and discover the book that came first!
For even more sophomore stars, check out the LGBTQAP preview for Summer Bird Blue by Morris Award finalist (for Starfish) Akemi Dawn Bowman; The Spy With the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke (The Girl With the Red Balloon); This is What it Feels Like, by Rebecca Barrow (You Don’t Know Me But I Know You); Beneath the Citadel, by Destiny Soria (Iron Cast); and Odd One Out by Nic Stone, author of the New York Times bestselling Dear Martin!
The Impossibility of Us, by Katy Upperman (July 31)
It’s always fabulous to be able to find a reliable new romance author for your beach bag, and Upperman’s been coming in hot, first with Kissing Max Holden and now with a quiet, complex romance about a girl named Elise who moves to be closer to her brother’s family after he’s killed in Afghanistan, only to fall in love with Mati, an Afghan boy who’s similarly new to the sleepy beach town. Elise is falling hard for Mati, but to her family, the fact of his being Afghan rips open the wounds they’re trying so hard to heal. Can Elise and Mati fight through it for the relationship they so strongly believe in?
The Last Best Story, by Maggie Lehrman (August 7)
Lehrman debuted with the magical The Cost of All Things, but she’s switching it up for straight-up contemporary in the story of Grant and Rose, two soon-to-be graduates experiencing the journey to the end in very different ways. Rose is ready to go. She’s tired of feeling ignored as a journalist (and so quits the paper) and tired of being overlooked by Grant (who happens to edit said paper). She is, however, ready to prom it up and kiss high school goodbye in all the right ways. Grant, in the meantime, is dreading leaving the paper behind, and utterly befuddled (and kind of pissed) that Rose has already done so. And he’s not feeling all that great about the fact that she brought another guy to prom, either. So what to do when the only tool in your arsenal is the power of the pen? You lure a girl back to her journalism roots for the story of a lifetime…and hope it’s got one hell of a happy ending for its reporters.
The Looking Glass, by Janet McNally (August 14)
I always get extra hyped for sophomores when I loved the author’s debut, and after Girls in the Moon, I can very safely say I’ve been dying for McNally’s next work, which again explores female familial relationships. Sylvie Blake and her sister, Julia, shared a favorite fairytale book, which they retitled Girls in Trouble. Then former ballerina Julia goes missing, following a post-injury pain pill overdose, and it seems like she‘s the girl in trouble—but is she? Sylvie doesn’t know whether her sister ran away or was taken against her will, but when their old fairytale book shows up with a list inside, suddenly hints of the tales the girls loved are everywhere, and she knows it’s time to go looking for her sister. With her best friend’s enigmatic brother along for the ride, Sylvie embarks on a journey to rescue Julia—or to learn whether she wants to be saved at all.
We Regret to Inform You, by Ariel Kaplan (August 21)
There’s no question that intellectualism simmers under Kaplan’s books; her debut, Grendel’s Guide to Love and War, is a freaking take on Beowulf. In her sophomore, she goes straight for the academic jugular with the story of a girl whose college applications should guarantee her admission to most if not all of her top choices, only to find herself rejected from even the safest of the safeties. Mischa knows something’s fishy here, and especially given all her single mother has sacrificed in order to get her the best education possible, she isn’t gonna take it lying down. She embarks on a quest to get to the bottom of what happened, and falls down a more messed-up rabbit hole than she ever imagined. But at least she isn’t doing it alone; she’s got her best friend, Nate, and a secret group of high school hackers helping her out, and they won’t rest until the truth comes to light. Yes, it’s as fun as it sounds, but it also has one of the best secondary casts, and especially love interests, I’ve read in a while.
To Be Honest, by Maggie Ann Martin (August 21)
Speaking of novels about college plans going awry, you’ll find just that in Martin’s debut, The Big F. Her sophomore, though, centers around a girl about to begin her senior year. And Savannah is not looking forward to it. She’s not ready for a year of living at home without her big sister/best friend, especially since her mother’s obsession with weight loss is only growing. Tired of being watched and pressured, Savannah needs to get out of her house and find someone to fill the hole left by her sister’s absence. And it’s at school where she meets George, a new kid who has his own issues and needs emotional support every bit as much as she does.
A Spark of White Fire, by Sangu Mandanna (September 4)
It has been six years since Mandanna stepped onto the YA scene, but The Lost Girl is the kind of debut that keeps people waiting ad infinitum to see what you’ve got next. Question asked and question answered: Mandanna is returning with guns blazing, and those guns are in outer freaking space. Inspired by Indian epic tale the Mahābhārata, this space opera centers around Esmae, who was abandoned by her cursed queen mother when she was just a baby and now yearns to return home to Kali. And there’s a chance—one she needs if she’s going to help her brother grab the throne back from the uncle who stole it. But that chance comes in the form of the King of Wychstar’s competition, the winning of which means being awarded an unparalleled spaceship, and no one’s going down without a fight.
Dream Country, by Shannon Gibney (September 11)
Gibney’s See No Color tackled transracial adoption and the great American pastime, and she has somehow managed to step it up tenfold with her ambitious and beautiful followup, an intergenerational epic about five members of a Liberian family that traces its path across time and the Atlantic. It opens on Kollie, who has been living in the U.S. for almost a decade but is still keenly aware of the divide between the African students and the African American ones at his school, not to mention the white students and staff. It’s the African boys who constantly live under the parental threat of being sent back, and when Kollie gets into a fight at school, that’s exactly what happens. Though it isn’t Kollie we see in Liberia next, but his grandfather, Togar, in Grand Bassa County in 1926. The journey continues back through American slavery, repatriation, and Liberian colonization before coming full circle to the future, clawing your heart through the dirt all along the way.
Pride, by Ibi Zoboi (September 18)
When your debut is a National Book Award finalist, and especially one as gorgeous as American Street, it’s pretty safe to say all eyes are on what you do next. So when what you do next is a kickass Afro-Latinx version of Pride & Prejudice set in Brooklyn, I think it’s safe to say we can all settle in for a long, beautiful instabuy career. (And indeed, Zoboi’s next project, the anthology Black Enough, is already available for preorder.) Zoboi’s Elizabeth Bennet is Zuri Benitez, a Haitian Dominican girl who’s sick of watching Bushwick fall prey to gentrification. Her rich new neighbors, the Darcys, sure as hell aren’t welcome, and she doesn’t particularly like the fact that her sister’s falling for one of them, either. But even more annoying is the younger brother, Darius, who seems to Zuri like a straight-up snob. Or is he? With so much going on around Zuri, Darius somehow becomes a guy she can actually talk to, someone who kinda gets her amid all the chaos. And whether or not you’re familiar with Austen, I think we can all see where this is going…and we like it very much.
Analee, in Real Life, by Janelle Milanes (September 18)
This sophomore by the author of The Victoria in My Head focuses on Cuban American Analee, who has been struggling with social anxiety ever since her mother passed away three years ago. The one place she can truly be herself? Playing her favorite video game as Kiri, a night elf hunter. (Relatable much?) But even her online world holds frustrating challenges. Like, how does she get up the nerve to tell the gaming buddy she’s never met in person that she thinks she’s falling for him? When an unlikely solution presents itself in the form of a lab partnership with one of the hottest and most popular guys at school, which becomes a jealousy-making fauxmance arrangement, Analee hopes it means she’ll finally learn how to approach romance with the guy she actually wants. But with all her experiences taking place in the worlds of make-believe, just how ready is Analee for the real world and everything that comes with it?
The Good Demon, by Jimmy Cajoleas (September 18)
Cajoleas is more of a sophobut (debumore?); this is his second book that technically falls under the realm of kidlit, but his debut, Goldeline, was for younger readers. In his first for teens, Cajoleas gives us the story of Clare, a girl who’d been demonically possessed since she was eight…until an exorcism took the demon, and Clare’s best friend, away. As you may have guessed from the title, Clare’s demon, Her, wasn’t exactly an unwelcome presence, and now all Clare wants is to get Her back. But the journey to find the demon she so deeply misses is a dark one, and so is the truth of the possession’s effect on Clare. What happens when a twisted friendship tale meets Gothic Horror? Wouldn’t you like to find out?
Easy Prey, by Catherine Lo (October 16)
Lo’s debut, How it Ends, happens to be one of my favorite depictions of anxiety in YA, so I’m thrilled to see her not only return but do so with another of my favorite contemporary subgenres: mystery. When a teacher’s explicit pics go viral, all fingers point to three possibilities for the culprit who leaked them: overachieving tech brain Mouse, who’d do absolutely anything to get away from his father and land at MIT; Drew, whose athletic skills and good looks could charm the photographic pants off anyone, as he’s proven before; and Jenna, who has been on the receiving end of this sort of cyberbullying before, and is determined to see justice before she graduates. None of the three will fess up, but somebody’s gotta be guilty…
The Resolutions, by Mia Garcia (November 13)
Garcia stormed (see what I did there?) into YA with Even if the Sky Falls, a contemporary romance set in New Orleans against the backdrop of a hurricane, and now she’s back with a story that has a painful background but just as much heart. Ryan, Nora, Lee, and Jess are inseparable best friends, and they all need some shaking up. Enter the resolutions: Jess has the brilliant idea that they assign each other New Year’s resolutions to get them out of their respective ruts and carry them into the future. But none of them expect how far they’ll be pulled out of their comfort zones, or what wonderful things they might find when they are. One especially lovely thing about this book is that all four characters are Latinx, and each one’s relationship with their culture and background and how they shape up to expectations of things like Spanish-speaking and being heterosexual consciously vary all around, making it a great exploration of far more than just friendship, family, and love. (It always happens that I learn a book is queer after the LGBTQAP preview goes up, so please do note that Ryan is gay and Nora is bi!)