Teen Readers Share the Last Book They Loved: Devil’s Deals, Resourceful Girls, and Cracked Fantasy Lands

Meet the Young Adults, the B&N Teen Blog’s swat team of awesome teenaged bloggers. YA literature is a strange and wonderful landscape of books that should be read by everybody, but each month we highlight the perspective of teens reading the best of the best books written for and about them. Check back monthly to see what they’re recommending next, and read previous installments here

Nyxia, by Scott Reintgen
Nyxia is a new, diverse YA sci-fi set in space centering around a Black teenager named Emmett, who, along with nine other teenagers from across the globe, is chosen for a mission to a new planet called Eden. Their goal: harvest a precious material known as nyxia. In return, they will get unimaginable riches and fame. There’s one catch: Not everyone who was selected for the mission will actually make it to the planet, and each teenager has to fight for their spot—and for the money that comes with it. As the group travels to Eden and goes through brutal training to prepare for the planet, tension rises among the teenagers, and Emmett starts to realize the company directing the mission is hiding something. Speaking as someone who normally doesn’t reach for sci-fi, I was shocked by how much I enjoyed this book. It’s a fast-paced, brilliant exploration of new ideas in YA, and is a fantastic start to a trilogy that will earn its place on readers’ favorites shelves next to books like The Hunger Games and Illuminae.

–Ava M. is a teenaged book blogger, reader, and writer of YA. She is an intersectional feminist and advocate for diversity, and drinks a lot of tea. She likes organized bookshelves and reads too many fantasy novels.

Wicked Like a Wildfire, by Lana Popović
Wicked Like a Wildfire is just saturated in descriptions of colors and shapes and smells and sounds and perhaps it’s because I love metaphorically shiny things but I just wanted to melt at the technicolor realness of everything in this book. It feels like when you look at enhanced computer wallpaper stock photos and you think about how everything just seems to pop so much more than real life, except you’re getting the sensory deluge in your brain, and boy was I a fan of it. This is a book that tells a tale about witches and death and the lengths to which people will go to get what they want. Iris and Malina are twins living in a small town tucked away in Montenegro. Every women in their family has what’s called the gleam, a magical ability to manipulate sensory perception, and it turns out Iris and Malina haven’t been told the full story about their powers. The book follows them as they uncover the secrets behind the witches’ history while racing against the clock to save their ailing mother. It’s not a “keep you on the edge frightened” kind of book, but you’ll want to keep reading it nonetheless because of the sheer addictiveness of the prose. Truly a wonderful novel.

–Kelvin L., 18, is a figure skater and audiobook lover and thinks teleportation is the most useful superpower. He is definitively a Ravenclaw, a water type Moroi (who secretly wants to be fire type), and an Erudite; he cannot see Hollowgasts and would 100% not survive the Hunger Games.

What to Say Next, by Julie Buxbaum
Kit is known at school as the girl whose dad was killed in a car accident, and because of that, she is treated as fragile and different. David, a genius with autism, has always been different. From day one of school David has been teased and has sat alone at his lunch table. That is until one day, sick of being avoided and craving authenticity, Kit sits next to David at lunch, sparking a new and exciting friendship for the both of them. These newfound friends quickly discover the importance of their relationship. Kit helps David navigate the confusing world of high school, and David helps Kit investigate her Dad’s death. Their friendship is threatened, however, as David’s private notebook is stolen and revealed to the school, and as emotional facts about Kit’s Dad’s death come into light. In a story told in alternating narration between Kit and David, Buxbaum constructs a powerful, diverse, and witty tale of loss and friendship conveying the unique voices of both in a way that is strikingly similar to the inner monologue of a real life high schooler. I read this book in one sitting because it was so gripping and honest. I could not put it down and loved every word of Julie’s authentic and endearing writing.

–Ellie T., 17, spends the majority of her time doing homework, or reading and buying YA books. When she’s not doing that you can find her binge-watching Netflix or singing off-key to Hamilton.

The Hearts We Sold, by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Sixteen-year-old Dee Moreno used to believe in fairytales, but after years of living in an abusive home she doesn’t have time for stories anymore. When her boarding school scholarship is revoked, she has one year to figure out a way to pay for tuition on her own. There’s no way her parents will pay for it, and she can’t ask to use her savings for fear of her father’s drunken temper. Desperate not to return home, Dee decides to make a deal with a demon.

Usually demons deal in limbs—for the simple price of an arm or leg, you can have any wish granted—but Dee’s demon deals in something a little different. In order to get the money she needs, Dee must rent out her heart.

The Hearts We Sold is a beautifully written story about love, family, and sacrifice. Its uniquely intriguing blend of paranormal, sci-fi, and romance makes it pretty much impossible to put down.

–Evalyn H., 16, loves scented candles, Broadway musicals, and strong female characters. She can usually be found hoarding books, struggling with character development, or daydreaming about having a pet dragon. 

Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray
One day in the not-so-far future, a plane full of teen beauty queens crash lands on a deserted island, with only sparkles, lipstick, and feminine hygiene products to save them. The premise of Beauty Queens sounds a lot like a work of classic literature, in which (spoiler alert) a group of boys ends up butchering each other and behaving like barbarians—severed pig heads and all. This occurs as a result of a society that over-idolizes masculinity in men; so how might our ladies fare after growing up in a world where they, these “beauty queens,” are treated as the epitome of all a woman should strive for? Well, unlike their male counterparts, they unite and “not only survive, but thrive,” overcoming any obstacle they encounter (whether that be snakes, society’s expectations, or lady hair removal). Throw in heaps of clever humor, a secret arms deal, and some bodacious pirates, and you have my perfect satire. I cannot stop recommending this book, because it’s not only massively enjoyable, but it tackles every prevalent topic imaginable in a refreshingly smart manner. As the island days stretch on, we watch the girls begin to own their true natures, becoming the women they choose to be. And that’s the heart of this novel: the choosing. The empowerment that comes from the ability to be who you are, whether that’s a comic-book superhero, a pirate queen, or a rocker of high heels and polka dots. In the words of Miss Texas, Taylor Renee Krystal Hawkins (probably): “Miss Teen Dreamers, go read Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens or die trying.”

–Maddie M, 18, is a Ravenpuff and a feminist and has a waffle addiction that rivals Leslie Knope’s.

The Arsonist, by Stephanie Oakes
This book is one of the most unique I’ve read in a long time. A mix of quirky and intense, The Arsonist is the perfect read for someone looking for a different kind of YA book. Told through a series of letters, the novel follows Molly, who doesn’t believe her mother is dead; Pepper, who knows his mother is dead because of the effect it has had on his father; and Ava, who has death chasing after her, as they embark on intertwined adventures. With quips that’ll have you laughing out loud and a plot that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat, The Arsonist is definitely worth the read.

–Katelyn L., 15, loves all genres of books, has too many unread ones on her shelf, and desperately wishes for more time to read.

The Possible, by Tara Altebrando
What if your mother, a criminal facing life in prison, has powers you never dared imagine sharing? Kaylee’s birth mother, Crystal, has been in prison since Kaylee was four years old, convicted of killing Jack, Kaylee’s newborn baby brother. Some say she’s a psychopath, others that she’s a monster. Many, though, look to the legends of Crystal’s strange behavior as a teenage girl, when rumor had it she was telekinetic.

Thirteen years later, Kaylee lives happily with her adoptive parents, whom she adores. She has best friends, a crush, and a lifeguard job at the local country club. She hasn’t thought about Crystal in thirteen years—until Liana shows up at her front door. Liana is the creator of a famous podcast called The Possible, discussing cold cases and murders. Fascinated by the story of Crystal and her supposed telekinetic ability, Liana has made her the subject of season two. She arrives with one request: for Kaylee to tell her story.

Things begin slowly at first, with Kaylee hesitantly offering an interview to the woman. Eventually, things snowball out of her control. Liana is prying for more and more information, new memories of the fateful day when Jack died are surfacing, and to top it all off, Kaylee is beginning to wonder if her mother’s “gift” was passed down to her. Bad things are starting to happen to people who get in her way, too many to be a coincidence. Faced with so much confusion, Kaylee doesn’t know to whom to turn—except her mother. In a world of shifting oddities, only one thing is certain: if you believe it hard enough, anything is possible.

This book swept me away, to be honest. It was lovely and cleverly written, packed with just enough plot twists to keep you guessing until the end. I hope you’ll love it as much as I did, or maybe even more. Hey, it’s possible.

Jamie R., 14, is a book lover and avid writer with a passion for theatre. You can always find her either reading or singing, sometimes both at the same time!

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares, by Krystal Sutherland
A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is a hilarious, unforgettable story that offers a little something for everyone. Though I was expecting a lighthearted romance, Sutherland’s novel is a thrilling murder-mystery, an action-packed adventure, and a journey of self-discovery centered around complex family dynamics. After Esther Solar’s grandfather met Death, their family was cursed with phobias that eventually result in their demise. Her father is agoraphobic, her brother is terrified of the dark, and her mother will do anything to ward off bad luck. Sadly, though their love runs deep, it is evident that their personal fears have driven them apart. Meanwhile, Esther believes she has found a loophole for herself. She compiles a list of (potential) worst nightmares—including lobsters, geese, and cornfields—because according to her, a fear cannot develop into a phobia if you avoid facing that fear. With that plan, Esther prepares to live a lobster-less, geese-less, “fearless” life. However, her plans come to a halt when Jonah Smallwood pickpockets his way into her life, forcing her to confront her fears and the truth. Has Esther conquered the curse or has she allowed fear to conquer her?

–Nicole S., 16, loves books, biology, and Italian food. Her life goal is to reach five feet in height.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, by F.C. Yee
Genie Lo is tall, and that’s because she’s secretly a magical figure from Chinese mythology. Because her existence is a homing beacon for demons, they’re being summoned from every corner of Diyu, Chinese mythology’s Hell. For example, the Monkey King of legend, Sun Wukong, known as Quentin Sun to humans, is drawn to her in more ways than one. Genie is enlisted by the Jade Emperor to send all of these demons back to Diyu. If only college applications were this easy. This book is full of action. I was on the edge of my seat, my heart pounding as I read. I wanted to know more about the demon-killing mission and Genie and Quentin’s relationship. Genie is a tall, hilariously angry character who always goes over the top. Even though I am Chinese, I didn’t know about the Journey to the East story, so this was a great introduction to it. I definitely want to read more about the Monkey King and Xuanzang’s adventures.

Hiya, I’m Wren L., the weirdo who watches anime and obsesses over fictional characters. Currently hiding in my hoodie.

In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan
Thirteen-year-old Elliot has always been an outsider, but when a strange (and obviously shady) lady makes him an offer, he finds himself in the Borderlands, a world of honorable warriors, beautiful elves, and magical creatures. Here, Elliot has a chance to see wonders, do the impossible, to become a hero.

Too bad this world is seemingly run by lunatics.

In Other Lands follows Elliot, a grumpy nerd; Serene, a badass warrior elf; and Luke, the classic golden boy, over the course of five years as they grow, define themselves, and just maybe manage to end centuries of war and bring peace to the Borderlands. And meet mermaids. Because mermaids.

This book. Good god, I have never read such a beautiful and hilarious deconstruction of popular fantasy. I honestly don’t know what the best part is. There’s Elliot’s narration, which makes you shake with laughter with his wit and then brings you to tears as he struggles to find love and family, two things he never truly had. There’s Serene’s brutal honesty and her clashes with human culture (and there’s Elvish culture itself, which honestly needs a book of its own). And of course there’s Luke’s struggle between his innate desire to protect his friends and dealing with the fact that his friends are maniacs with a penchant for insane plots. Their chemistry is the focus of the story around which everything revolves, and I honestly wish we had an entire series more of them.

–Assaf T., 17, likes his books very interesting and very heavy, because exercise isn’t as fun but is still important.

Kissing Max Holden, by Katy Upperman
On a scale of cheating to the boy next door, this book is true love. My love for it kicked in after the first chapter, as Jill grew into a fiery main character I absolutely adore and can look up to, and I learned to love Max for the adorable mess he is.

The author built an incredible cast of relatable characters I was constantly cheering for. Every single one of them was unique in their imperfections, driving the plot naturally and in a way that didn’t feel forced. I love Katy Upperman’s incredible ability to take anything, whether it be describing a character or a mood or a setting, and compare it to food. I truly felt I was in baker extraordinaire Jill’s shoes. I spent the majority of this book flipping between hungry and eating my feelings.

I would recommend it to people who enjoy baking, best childhood friends, romance, cute pirate neighbors, and everything in between.

Kaitlin D., 15, professional procrastinator and self-proclaimed bibliophile. Lives in the pantry. May have taken a bite out of the moon.

Not Otherwise Specifiedby Hannah Moskowitz
Too often, marginalized characters are defined solely by the ways they are marginalized. Etta, the protagonist in Not Otherwise Specified, isn’t defined by anyone but herself. She is complicated, passionate, and unabashedly authentic. As she auditions for a prestigious theatre school and recovers from an eating disorder, she learns more about herself and what is truly important to her. Not Otherwise Specified is a hopeful story of a teenaged girl fighting hard for what she wants and getting it. With its beautifully diverse characters and stream-of-consciousness narration, this book is sure to stay in the minds of its readers long after they finish it.

–Ian L., 17, has a million projects to finish and a million books to start. They can usually be found doing something other than what they are supposed to be doing and having miniature existential crises.

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