Every month feels like the best month ever for YA releases, but this time I really, seriously mean it: the sheer saturation of must-reads about to hit shelves is nigh overwhelming. Turn off your phone and climb into your fully-stocked blanket fort. It’s time to read.
Dumplin’, by Julie Murphy
Murphy’s sophomore novel is a sharp and funny rebel yell that’ll hook you from the killer cover to the last page. Put Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” on repeat and binge-read the story of Willowdean—known by her image-obsessed pageant judge mother as Dumplin’—and her complicated decision to enter the pageant, haters be damned. She’s a complex heroine, equal parts bravado and self-doubt, who accepts her identity as a fat girl but struggles to accept love when it finds her. In her efforts to take on the pageant industrial complex, she fights against becoming a symbol or an inspiration: she’s just herself, and that’s enough.
Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon
Yoon’s debut has a huge heart and vast emotional landscape, despite spending most of its pages within the walls of one house. There, 17-year-old Madeline lives with her mother behind air-tight doors, in sterilized air. She has a rare and deadly condition known as “bubble baby disease,” which essentially means she’s allergic to the world. But she’s not immune to longing for what she sees through the windows: seasons she’s cut off from, friends she can’t make…and the boy next door, with whom she begins a slow-blooming romance via instant message. But she quickly realizes there’s no such thing as “enough” when it comes to beginning to really live, and soon she’s taking risks that could prove fatal—or could expand her world beyond what she imagined possible.
Fans of the Impossible Life, by Kate Scelsa
Sebby and Mira are best friends and soul mates, clinging together in a world that continually disappoints them. Friendless Jeremy, traumatized after being outed by school bullies, can hardly believe his luck when they take him under their wing—and when Sebby maybe, possibly, starts becoming his boyfriend. But not all damage is created equal, and even Mira’s quicksand depression and Jeremy’s past can’t help them understand foster child Sebby’s hunger for annihilation, which threatens to tear their three-person world apart. Scelsa has created a gorgeous portrait of an all-consuming friendship touched by magic and ritual and mutual need. It’s told in alternating perspectives between the three friends, with dialogue so funny and true you’ll want to read it aloud.
Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
Bardugo’s new series starter takes place in the world of the Grisha trilogy, but you don’t need to know a thing about it to be instantly swept up into the tale of a crew of gifted thieves banding together to pull off an impossible heist. The supernaturally talented Grisha are hunted as abominations and used as slaves, and someone has created a drug that amplifies their abilities to a terrifying degree. In pursuit of a life-changing reward, Kaz, a brilliant criminal mastermind with a haunted past, pursues the creator of the drug right into the Ice Palace, the perilously well-protected heart of anti-Grisha sentiment. Each twist of the tale will leave you more astonished at what Bardugo, a near-supernatural storyteller, can pull off.
All-American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
In a chilling echo of the videos of police brutality and questionable arrests that have been surfacing online with horrific frequency, All-American Boys hinges on an encounter between a black teen and a white cop that ends in a videotaped assault. Varsity athlete Quinn is connected to both men: he’s a classmate of beaten teen Rashad, and the mentee of cop Paul, the older brother of his best friend. In a taut, topical tale cowritten by Reynolds and Kiely, respectively taking on the narration of Rashad and Quinn, the aftermath of that violence has a long-reaching impact on the teens, their school, and the entire community. This painful story, unflinchingly told, is a must-read for anyone who has watched with horror as name after name become posthumous hashtags.
I Crawl Through It, by A.S. King
King’s seventh novel might be her riskiest yet, a thrilling development for an author whose books have included a time-hopping pirate story of redemption and canine reincarnation and, most recently, a dsytopic feminist tale in which its heroine is granted the gift of foresight after drinking a dessicated bat. In I Crawl Through It four teens respond to the pressures of life at a school besieged by bomb threats and standardized tests in alternately surreal and bombastic ways—running away in an invisible helicopter, turning their body inside out. Reality runs together with metaphor slides into magical realism, in a challenging narrative colored by traumas both personal and cultural.
Untwine, by Edwidge Danticat
Danticat’s first YA novel centers on the unbreakable bond between Haitian American twins Giselle and Isabelle, born with their hands so tightly entwined a doctor had to surgically separate them. When the girls are teens, their parents’ rocky marriage and their own divergent interests threaten their connection—then a car accident kills Isabelle and leaves Giselle first in a coma, then trapped in a life that seems impossible without her other half. Danticat excels at painting the inner lives of, and bonds between, women, and Giselle’s journey through grief, survivor’s guilt, and even an eye-opening mystery compels with the beauty of its language and the depth of its emotional intelligence.
What We Saw, by Aaron Hartzler
Though its premise is sharply topical—an incapacitated girl is sexually assaulted at a party, and the resulting scandal and media circus turns the school into a battlefield and the town into a national cautionary tale—Hartzler’s fictional debut tells a more intimate story, that of a girl wrestling with the nature of truth and complicity, and having her eyes opened to the banality of evil. She’s not the girl who was attacked, but her life is still changed. Most students blame the victim, who drops out of school, and Kate struggles to reconcile what she knows about her friends with the people they reveal themselves to be when confronted with an atrocity. Ultimately Kate is forced to make a choice: turn a blind eye, or share what she knows.
The Scorpion Rules, by Erin Bow
Bow imagines a decimated future world in which wars over resources led to the uprising of Talis, a soulless yet folksy AI who took over the faltering planet and instated order via mass murder. Four centuries later, that order is kept in place by the revival of an old practice: the children of world powers are kept hostage till age 18 in a pastoral prison run by machines. If their parent regions declare or are drawn into war, their lives are forfeit. Princess Greta of Halifax is counting down the months to freedom, but always expecting a noble death, knowing her kingdom is on the brink of war with Cumberland. But when a general’s grandson arrives to take the place of an executed Cumberland hostage, he introduces fury and rebellion into their tightly controlled world.
Zeroes, by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti
Three authors weave a downbeat take on superheroes, in a world where powers don’t make you immune to trouble, they just lead you into more of it. The “zeroes” include Crash, who has the ability—and compulsion—to take down any kind of electronics with her mind, but who spends most of her life hiding from its disruptive pulse. Then there’s Scam, who uses something he calls “the Voice” to tell people what they want to hear, and nearly gets himself killed doing it. Bellwether can harness and direct the energies of a crowd, and Flicker, herself blind, can see through other people’s eyes. After a falling out, the crew reunites to save Scam from the latest disaster his Voice has talked him into, in the first book in a projected trilogy.
Tonight the Streets are Ours, by Leila Sales
In crisp, unsentimental prose, Sales introduces us to Arden, a good girl and fiercely loyal friend whose tendency toward self-sacrifice borders on martyrdom. When she discovers, by chance, a New York boy’s confessional blog, Tonight the Streets are Ours, she’s swept up into his story of epic love and heartbreak. And after suffering a humiliating emotional blow of her own, she sets off in reckless pursuit of the boy behind the blog. But what she finds on the other side of the screen is far more complicated than she could have imagined.
Dreamland, by Robert L. Anderson
Since the age of six, Dea has walked dreams. Led along by an object belonging to the dreamer, she breaks through their mental defenses and witnesses the dark and tangled visions of their unconscious minds. But there are rules, taught to her by her itinerant, dream-walking mother: don’t interfere, never let yourself be seen, and never, ever visit a dreamer’s mind more than once. When first love leads Dea to break the rules, the dreamland monsters her mother warned her against force their way into real life. And when the boundaries of her dream walks radically expand, Dea begins questioning whether dreamland is just as real as the world she knows.
Drift and Dagger, by Kendall Kulper
Mal is a “blank,” immune to magic in a world that runs on the stuff, and that fears and despises his kind. After being betrayed by his best friend, a witch in training, he flees the island that was his childhood home. Searching for a place he can belong, he joins forces with a Hunter of magical objects, who knows his secret and has the Silvertongue ability to talk anybody into anything. When they find themselves on the trail of the most powerful object of all—a knife with the ability to bleed magical power from anyone it’s used against—Mal seizes the opportunity to finally take his revenge. He’ll use it against the witch that stole his life from him, or die in its pursuit.
Blood and Salt, by Kim Liggett
“When you fall in love, you will carve out your heart and throw it into the deepest ocean. You’ll be all in—blood and salt.” Ashlyn’s mother says these words to her just before disappearing. Ash has long suffered the terrifying vision of a hanging dead girl who shares her face, which her mother wards her against with invisible tattoos. But the day her mother leaves town, the vision changes: Ash meets and speaks with Katia, a powerful sorceress with a strange agenda. With twin brother Rhys, she travels to the midwestern cornfield that hides within its boundaries the cultish community where their mother grew up. There Ash learns the twisted secrets behind her mom’s escape, and the truth of her own dark destiny. And she falls in love, with consequences as far-reaching as the prediction promised.
Beastly Bones, by William Ritter
In Jackaby, Abigail Rook, an intrepid escapee of the cookie-cutter wife life her parents had planned for her, meets and becomes the new assistant of the titular investigator, who specializes in both supernatural cases and pissing off the law. From their homebase of the 19th-century New England town of New Fiddleham, the pair put occult skills (Jackaby’s) and sharp intelligence (Abigail’s) to work in solving a string of brutal, mysterious murders. In follow-up Beastly Bones, the two set out on another murder investigation mixing magic, mischief, and good old-fashioned detective work, uncovering a foe even more terrifying than the one they chased down in Jackaby.
This Monstrous Thing, by Mackenzi Lee
Set in a steampunk version of early 19th-century Geneva, in which people with replacement clockwork parts, or “mechanicals,” encounter bigotry and fear, This Monstrous Thing is a reimagining of the story behind Frankenstein. Alasdair is a clockwork mechanic who works on mechanicals in secret—and unwisely uses his abilities to reanimate his dead brother, Oliver. When a book called Frankenstein is published, inflaming anti-mechanical sentiment and based too clearly on Alasdair’s secret, he knows his friend and confidante Mary Shelley is to blame.
Don’t Fail Me Now, by Una LaMarche
17-year-old Michelle is as much a parent as a sister to her two younger siblings, especially once their mother ends up in prison. When Leah, the half-sister she has never met, shows up with stepbrother Tim and the news that their shared absentee father is dying, the five set off from Baltimore to California to say goodbye. The trip is powered more by Michelle’s sheer grit and hunger for survival than by their junky station wagon, and the unlikely family both bonds and clashes on the road, riven by the divide between Leah’s life of suburban privilege and mixed-race Michelle’s inner-city Baltimore upbringing.
Honor Girl, by Maggie Thrash
Thrash’s graphic novel memoir takes us to the shores of Camp Bellflower, in which, during her 15th year and zillionth camp summer, she experienced a lightning-strike sexual awakening. Erin is a beautiful, untouchable camp counselor, Maggie a lovestruck camper who’s half-thrilled by her crush, half-terrified by the threat of social exile if her fellow campers discover she likes girls. Thrash captures the surreal highs of first love, coupled with the painful pressure to conform, through watercolored panels and evocative text.
Stand Off (Winger #2), by Andrew Smith
In Winger, boarding-school student Ryan Dean lost his friend to a brutal attack by anti-gay bigots. In Stand Off, he’s back for his senior year, struggling with panic attacks and the lingering sense that something horrible is just around the corner. In between rugby games and battling to move on from the past, Ryan grudgingly develops a friendship with his precocious roommate, a 12-year-old freshman with hangups of his own. Ryan’s narration is darkly hilarious and rife with oddball asides, and punctuated with the sketches and comic strips he creates to drown his grief and fear.
The Weight of Feathers, by Anna-Marie McLemore
The Palomas and the Corbeaus are rival families of traveling performers, the scaled Palomas taking to the water in mermaid shows, and the feathered Corbeaus to the treetops in aerial displays that transcend tightrope walking. Their hatred is underscored by the Palomas’ belief that even the touch of a Corbeau will pollute them with black magic. So when Cluck Corbeau saves Lace Paloma during a chemical storm, it leads to her exile from her family. After she’s forced to seek shelter with her enemies, her and Cluck’s love grows and their histories are told, in lush, magical-realistic language full of the French and Spanish influences of the two families’ backgrounds.