Teen Readers Share the Last Books They Loved: Artistic Creation, Life on the Inside, and a Painter’s Story in Verse

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.

Blood Water Paint, by Joy McCollough
This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s a moving, heartbreaking masterpiece of a story about Artemisia Gentileschi, a 17th-century Italian painter who is raped by her painting teacher, all told in verse. The poetry in this book is feminist and gorgeously written, and will inspire everyone who has or has not been in the same position as Artemisia. The book is interspersed with chapters detailing the powerful stories of the women in Artemisia’s two most famous paintings: Judith and Susanna. Blood Water Paint paints a story of three talented, strong women whose stories have been forgotten by society, and is so important, especially now in the midst of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements. This is a life-changing book, and one that needs to be read by everyone.

–Ava M. is a teenage blogger, reader, and writer who drinks too much tea and eats too much chocolate.

#Prettyboy Must Die, by Kimberly Reid
Peter Smith is an ordinary student at Carlisle Academy…or is he? Undercover at a Colorado prep school, Peter’s true identity as a teenage CIA agent could be blown after a student snaps a picture of him and sets it free on the internet with the caption “see #prettyboy run.” The post goes viral, and soon Carlisle Academy is invaded by Ukrainian criminals looking to find and kill Peter. He must fight back against these rebels and save his love interest, Katie, along with his best friend, Bunker. This book was inspired by the 2014 internet sensation “Alex from Target,” and presents an interesting take on the world of viral media. I was intrigued by the characters and dialogue of this book. Bunker had an interesting backstory, and Katie is presented as more than just a love interest, but rather a powerful and intelligent young woman. #Prettyboy Must Die was a quick read, but entertained me on every page with witty dialogue and samplings from nearly every genre—humor, espionage, romance, and more. For fans of Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, #Prettyboy Must Die is the perfect read for anyone looking for a story of twists, action, and the internet.

–Ellie T. is a Ravenclaw, an avid reader, and an excessive listener of Broadway musical soundtracks. When she’s not reading or talking about books, you can find her binge-watching shows like ArrowGilmore Girls, and The Office.

The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton
Where do I even begin?

Dhonielle Clayton has created a world that blurs the line between dangerous and beautiful. The stunning prose and dedication to worldbuilding is a testament to her talent as a writer. From the first page, Clayton creates a world so mysterious and inviting it feels as if she herself is a Belle.

Along with the worldbuilding and immaculate prose, she also creates characters that stay in your mind days after reading. Camellia, the heroine of this story, is one of the best YA heroines I’ve seen in years. She’s resilient and unwavering in her faith in herself and in others. She wants to make everyone feel beautiful inside and out, but her innocence holds her back at times. Her curiosity is one of her most admirable traits, and she’s never afraid to voice her opinions.

–Tatiana J. is a teenaged reader who always carries a book around and constantly has her headphones in. She is also intersectional feminist who spends her time uplifting black and brown women. She also spends way too much time listening to KPop and playing video games.

The Romantics, by Leah Konen
Some people spend the month of February searching for a significant other. I spent the month of February searching for the perfect romance novel. The perfect romance novel might not exist, but The Romantics comes pretty close. I mean, what better book is there to read during the month of love than one literally narrated by Love itself?

Gael Brennan is a textbook Romantic. He wants to believe in true love more than anything, but after having his heart broken, Gael is having a hard time believing in love at all. Luckily, Love still believes in him, because Gael is dangerously close to falling for the wrong person, and its going to take a lot of work to stop him.

This unconventional romance novel is equal parts heartwarming and hilarious, and sure to make even the most cynical of cynics believe in the power of Love.

–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.

Everless, by Sara Holland
We’ve all watched an eccentric movie director shout “time is money!” at a terrified assistant in a TV show, or read a YA in which a stressed out student laments the fact that they cannot “buy more time” (or in my case have actually done the lamenting). But for the people of Sempera, these common cliches are a grisly reality. Forced to bleed out their years to fund the glittery lives of their elite, they’re living in a kingdom where the unequal distribution of wealth is literally killing its citizens—and no one despises this system more than Jules Ember. When Jules finds her father’s days are literally numbered, she must serve those responsible if she’s going to have a chance to stop the clock. “O. M. Alchemy!”: this is an actual quote from me after finishing Everless, because sometimes books require wild exclamations to truly articulate their wonderfulness. With strong female characters and friendships, intriguing mythology, and plot twists (oh my!), this is a masterfully written fantasy debut about finding your fate, and I promise it will not be a waste of your precious time.

Maddie M., 18, loves feminism and golden retrievers. She also got way too invested in Olympic figure skating this year for someone who follows a total of zero sports (go Team USA and Virtue/Moir!).

Highly Illogical Behavior, by John Corey Whaley
Whaley’s latest focuses on sixteen-year-old Solomon Reed, who has agoraphobia and hasn’t stepped outside in three years. Soon, a former classmate, Lisa, shows up, determined to become his friend. Her plan is to cure him, write about it for her college essay, and get into her dream college. As Solomon opens up to her and her boyfriend, Clark, the trio forms an unusual friendship. I found each character to be unique and flawed in a way that made the book a joy to read. The growth Solomon makes over the course of the story is inspiring and heartwarming and funny and hard to forget. Whaley’s portrayal of teenage mental illness is skillful and sensitive, creating a story that will stick with me for a long time.

Naomi N. is a book-loving and sleep-lacking 16-year-old who can’t quite seem to find enough hours in the day and might need an additional bookshelf in the near future.  

The Serpent’s Secret, by Sayantani DasGupta
This is a middle-grade fantasy novel about a 12-year-old, Kiranmala, who is living her everyday life in New Jersey until her parents are taken and she finds out she’s a real Indian princess and gets swept up in a fantasy world. This novel is the perfect combination of everything a reader could possibly want in a novel. DasGupta keeps the reader grounded in this fantastical tale by creating a realistic cast of characters and relationships. The worldbuilding in this novel is, without a doubt, its best asset, the ideal combination of Bengali culture, fantasy, and actual scientific elements. Most importantly, this novel is going to be revolutionary for so many Indian kids in the world who are finally going to get to see themselves in a story.

I am not someone who loves middle-grade books or fantasy—young adult contemporary is where my heart lies—but DasGupta managed to create a novel I love not in spite of those elements, but because of those elements. It deserves all the success it could possibly receive.

–Kav is a 16-year-old booktuber and cohost of Prideathon and Book Bound Society who loves media, books, and social justice. They are frequently active on Twitter and YouTube talking about a combination of book-related and social justice–related topics.

Autoboyography, by Christina Lauren
Autoboyography captures both the thrill and heartache of falling hopelessly in love in a moving narrative about faith, sexuality, and family. Though Tanner’s parents are supportive of his bisexuality, they’re concerned about his attraction to Sebastian, a devout Mormon. Yet, despite their differences, Tanner and Sebastian build an undeniable connection, and their relationship unfolds in a series of heart-wrenching events. They’re two remarkably charming young adults struggling to balance their emotions with the expectations of their loved ones. In the process, they slowly reveal their vulnerabilities, to the world and to each other. Witnessing Sebastian’s struggle to navigate his faith and sexuality is absolutely heartbreaking. And as Tanner’s feelings for Sebastian become clearer, he pushes his family and friends away. In these details, the novel captures how consuming love is, which raises the question of whether or not it’s worth the heartache.

–Nicole S., 17, is currently navigating the world of standardized testing, but she’s excited to embark on a new journey with great books, soulful music, and a pen in her hand. When she’s not hitting the books, you may find her cooking, reading (for fun!), or playing the ukulele.

Defy the Stars, by Claudia Gray
A soldier meets a machine in space that she’s been told to hate her entire life. What could go wrong? Turns out, a lot. Defy the Stars is the story of Noemi and Abel, sworn enemies who come to understand the other side isn’t so bad as they traipse across the universe on a clock ticking down to destruction. She is a soldier from the planet Genesis, which split from Earth years ago in a disagreement over the role of technology in their lives. He is the most advanced android ever created. Together they are a fearsome pair to behold. Good science fiction to me inhabits the Goldilocks zone of plausibility, and this book does so magnificently. Abel is advanced beyond all currently known AI technologies, but not so far that it seems too wild to imagine. Genesis’ split from Earth is similarly fleshed out in a way where I can see exactly what went wrong and how our current world could turn into the world in this book. This level of relatability is tantalizingly balanced with futuristic embellishments, and combined with discussions about the autonomy of androids and the barrier between humanity and technology, resulting in a gripping, thought-provoking, and altogether fun read.

–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.

Nexus, by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti
The Zeroes trilogy comes to an explosive end in Nexus. After the events of Swarm, the Zeroes are splintered. Nate is in prison, Thibault beyond reach, and the group is on the run from the entire country. But the team’s goals can’t end at just clearing their names. There are other Zeroes in the world. Many more. And the world is catching on. A breaking point is near, and the Zeroes need to be there when it comes.

I started screaming when I finally got my hands on this book, and honestly? I haven’t really stopped since. Each book has expanded the scope of the series, and Nexus takes the story to a global scale, giving us a look at what a world full of Zeroes could look like. Each character is given their own foil, someone who runs counter to their own powers and sense of identity. But rather than spend the whole book clashing, they’re allowed to sharpen each other into wiser, more self-assured people. The series climax offers both explosive action and emotional catharsis, as our conceptions of ideology, identity, and community are put to the ultimate test. I’d say I want more, but I don’t know how anything could possibly beat this.

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

Eliza and Her Monsters, by Francesca Zappia
Eliza loves drawing so much she creates her own wildly popular web series. And when Wallace, a fan fic writer and huge fan of the series, comes to her school, she’s introduced to life on the other side of the screen. As a Webtoons and manga reader, I loved seeing the creation side of webcomics through Eliza’s eyes. I also enjoyed Eliza and Wallace’s very loving and tender romance. This book really emphasizes the idea that artists of any type can make a living out of their work. Eliza made money off of merch. Wallace was getting somewhere with his writing. It makes me, as a designer, happy and hopeful.

–I’m Wren L., your friend who likes anime and books. I’m a word nerd, a language lover. I’m a huge fan of fantasy and science fiction. My favorite authors are V.E. Schwab, Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera, and Leigh Bardugo. I’m a graphic designer who is still learning about graphics. But my favorite color scheme consists of anything and everything pastel. It’s so soothing.

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor
Akata Witch is a masterful fantasy story about a twelve-year-old Igbo girl named Sunny Nwazue. Sunny was born in the United States to Nigerian parents, but she moved back to Nigeria when she was nine. When she discovers she is a Leopard Person, her world grows. It expands into
something beautiful and powerful but also dangerous and scary. As a Leopard Person, she has special abilities and is part of a community that cares more about knowledge than power and wealth. However, evil forces are at work in the world, and she and her friends must help to stop them. Akata Witch is vibrant and awe-inspiring. Okorafor weaves words into stories, characters, and a vivid world full of depth and complexity. The book is like nothing I’ve ever read, but it also feels almost familiar. It drew me in, leaving me both unable to stop reading and unwilling to abandon the people and places that now feel like my friends.

–Ian L. is a seventeen-year-old human who is terrified of growing up but is, unfortunately, doing so anyway.

Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
On a scale of Iron Man action figures to Dr. Pepper, this book is an exciting existential crisis. It was well worth the wait of five years after the heartbreak of The Fault in our Stars. Best friends Aza and Daisy are complex, well-rounded characters whose feelings are not only tangible but relatable. I found myself agreeing and sympathizing with many of Aza’s thoughts and fears, while relating to Daisy’s love of fanfiction and Applebee’s. This book was a perfect balance of funny and serious that kept me hooked until the last page. I absolutely adore John Green for always being able to get me to question my existence. Not only that, but his writing never fails to evoke overwhelming feelings. I recommend this book to anyone and everyone because it’s simply amazing.

–Kaitlin D., 16, self-proclaimed bibliophile, hardcore selfie taker, and lover of the oxford comma. Secretly a superhero. May have taken a bite out of the moon. Current status: Trapped in a romance novel. 

Shop all Books for Teens >

Follow B&N Teen Blog