Teen Readers Share the Last Book They Loved: Cold Cases, Not so Plain Janes, and (Urban) Legendary Girls

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.

My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton
We all know the tale of Jane Eyre: a poor orphan gal lands a gig as a governess at the mysterious Thornfield Hall, and falls for the tall, brooding Mr. Rochester—who’s definitely hiding something, by the way (spoiler alert: check his attic). But where there’s a Jane, there’s a new story to gain, and our trusted Lady Janies are back to retell us exactly what went down. And their version involves seeing dead people. So yes, Jane Eyre does set off for Thornfield, but this time she’s accompanied by Charlotte Brontë and a ghost hunter of average height. To no one’s surprise, plenty of antics and adventure ensue, and perhaps our plainest of Janes finds out she’s not so plain after all. I have been patiently waiting for My Plain Jane since loving Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton’s first Lady Janie installment, and our trio of talented tale tellers did not disappoint. My Plain Jane was a quirky, lighthearted beacon of fun. With plenty of smart interjections from our authors, loads of lovable characters, and ghosts to boot, this book is far from plain.

–Maddie M’s, 19, favorite Jane is Jane Bennet (and her namesake Jane Austen, of course!). She loves Remus Lupin, Queer Eye, and singing along (albeit not very well) to the Mamma Mia soundtrack.

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, by Seanan McGuire
There are a thousand ways to speak of her: the girl in the diner, the phantom prom date, the girl in the green silk gown. But before all that, she is Rose Marshall, sweet sixteen forever. And she’s back. After her last race against Bobby Cross, the man who wants her soul to fuel his eternal youth, Rose is trying to calm down. She’s got an old lover, new wheels, and a good afterlife. But when Bobby comes crashing in with his latest grab at her soul, Rose is left alone, unarmed, and far too alive for anyone’s liking. Being alive is terrible. Being without her usual set of powers and allies while Bobby is gunning for her is worse. And in desperation, Rose has to go to further than any ghost of the American roads should go.

The fun thing about a Seanan McGuire book is that no matter the subject, you always fall in love with it. The picture she paints of American roadside culture is a love letter to the adventurous soul, a warm hug to wanderlust, and a hot meal for anyone who knows the waitress at the diner is a bit more than human. You feel nostalgic for times that never were and impatient for experiences you won’t have for years.

But until they do…well. There’s some perfectly good reading to be done.

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

Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson
The literary game is certainly afoot in Truly Devious, a YA mystery book by crime aficionado and immensely skilled author Maureen Johnson. Stevie Bell has a passion for mystery. Reading it, watching it, studying it—she craves all things puzzling and mysterious. And she may have a chance to put her crime skills to use, as she is accepted into the prestigious Ellingham Academy. A school founded for the most brilliant of students by a wealthy philanthropist back in the 1920s, Ellingham Academy home to Stevie and her classmates as well as to the decades-old mystery of the Ellingham kidnapping and murder by a criminal who went by the name Truly Devious. Intent on solving the cold case as a school project, Stevie explores the grounds and history of the school. But her desire to solve crime becomes all too real after she uncovers the body of a fellow student. Could Truly Devious have struck again? Readers can only hope to find out all the thrilling details of the crimes of Ellingham as they quickly page through this masterpiece and eagerly anticipate the upcoming sequel. This was honestly one of the best books I have read all year. Each page was a whirlwind of stunningly crafted sentences and breathtaking character development. Each new detail turned the story from another mystery novel into a new classic with the capacity to be held in the same esteem as Agatha Christie’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mystery masterpieces. No reader will be disappointed after consuming this jaw-dropping adventure of Stevie Bell and the crimes of Truly Devious!

–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.

Caraval, by Stephanie Garber
Caraval was a wild ride of colorful emotions, mystery, and magic. Scarlett Dragna, a conservative girl who has never seen anything beyond her island home, finds herself pulled into the game of Caraval, created by a man named Legend. Attending the audience-driven performance has been Scarlett’s dream since childhood, but when she finally gets the opportunity to participate, it’s at great risk. Defying her dangerous father, Scarlett and her sister, Tella, journey to Caraval with secretive sailor Julian. When Tella becomes the target of the game, Scarlett uncovers dark truths about the nature of Caraval. As I read, I was enthralled by the incredible worldbuilding Garber accomplished in this novel. No character lacked intrigue, no matter how minor, and every scene was magic-infused. I quickly found myself emotionally invested in the book. When Scarlett was scared, I felt fear in my own chest, and when she was filled with awe at the sight of Caraval, I was as well. A young woman’s quest to find her sister quickly became a journey of her own discovery and power (magical or not).

–Naomi N. is a 17-year-old with a bookshelf that’s never quite large enough and a reading list that only ever seems to get longer. Apart from reading, she spends her free time writing, bullet journaling, listening to movie soundtracks, and trying to catch up on sleep.

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang
Prince Sebastian of Brussels is on the hunt for a wife. Well, his parents are, anyway. He’s too busy trying to keep his second life a secret—his life as the Lady Cristallia, a mysterious young woman in glamorous dresses. If anyone discovers his alter ego, he fears he’ll be disowned. When Sebastian meets Frances, a young seamstress struggling to get by, he recruits her to work for him, though he conceals his face and lets her believe he is a woman. When she finds out his secret, however, she joins his team and creates show-stopping dresses for Lady Cristallia.

This graphic novel sucked me in and warmed my heart in the best possible way. It drew me in from page one with magnificent yet simple art, the timeless yet modern culture of royalty and family, and the diversity of the characters involved. From there, it swept me away with sweet, kind characters, incredible fashion, and the fumbling innocence of self-discovery. The Prince and the Dressmaker is a story of teenagers finding out who they are one misstep at a time. It’s a story of compassion, of understanding, of secret-keeping and sharing who we are on the inside with the people we trust. It’s the lighthearted, beautiful story that queer teens need—nothing angsty or upsetting, just fantasy and friendship and innocent romance. I highly recommend it.

Jamie R., 14, is an avid reader, writer, and Broadway fan. She can often be found reading, singing, or memorizing lines, though usually the first two are done when she should be doing the third.

Sweet Black Waves, by Kristina Pérez
A heart wrenching retelling of Tristian and Iseult, Sweet Black Waves is an epic romantic fantasy that will have you begging for more as you read the last page. Branwen, Iseult’s lady-in-waiting and best friend, shines as the main character who unknowingly saves the life of her people’s mortal enemy Prince Tristian. She is soon torn between hatred and love for Tristian, as his people killed her parents years ago. She soon learns nothing is ever easy when it comes to love, especially when magic gets involved. Branwen struggles to fulfill her duty to her people and help the one she truly loves, all while trying to finally put an end to the tragic history between the two sides for good. If you love romance and angst, this is one for you, especially if you’re a fan of the enemies to lovers trope. Sweet Black Waves is a gem you don’t wanna miss!

–Tatiana J. is a teenaged reader who always carries a book around and constantly has her headphones in. She is also an 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.

Ramona Blue, by Julie Murphy
Ramona Blue has all the elements of a beach read: swimming pools, summer flings, and a splash of romance. To this setting, Julie Murphy adds a twist on the classic “boy next door” trope. Ramona, fresh out of a fling with a girl named Grace, is glad to spend the remainder of her summer with Freddie, a childhood friend who recently returned to Eulogy, Mississippi. Together they take road trips, go to the movies, and frequent the local swimming pool as if no time has passed. Though Freddie’s feelings for Ramona are crystal clear, Ramona has trouble deciphering hers for him; she can’t help but question if a relationship with Freddie would negate her sexuality. I appreciated how honest her narrative was when she was navigating these feelings. Through Ramona’s voice, Murphy perfectly captures the struggle of finding your identity. This candor, in addition to Ramona’s many admirable qualities, was why I found myself rooting for her throughout the novel. Not only is she diligent, compassionate, and selfless, but she’s also fiercely devoted to her family. Fair warning, though: if you’re considering Ramona Blue for your next beach read, be sure to pack some tissues!

–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.

From Twinkle, with Love, by Sandhya Menon
Twinkle Mehra wants to inspire the world with her stories, just like the female filmmakers she writes to in her journal. But how can she inspire anyone when she spends most of her life feeling totally invisible? Twinkle feels like a groundling in a world full of silk feathered hats. She’s convinced the key to rising above her grounding status lies in dating Neil Roy, a boy so popular he could make her be seen. When Neil’s twin brother, Sahil, a total film geek, asks Twinkle to help him make a movie for an upcoming festival, she jumps at the chance. It seems like the perfect opportunity to showcase her skills as a director, and hopefully get closer to Neil as she does. Twinkle is far from perfect, but she is real, and her imperfections make her a relatable character. I cared about her struggles and her dreams because we share them both.

I’ve always been a lover of books, but about a year ago I became obsessed with video editing. From Twinkle, With Love is the perfect intersection of the two. Filmmaking is Twinkle’s ultimate passion, but for me it’s simply something new and fun to explore, so I wasn’t expecting to relate to her in such a profound way. But the way film is discussed in this book goes beyond the medium itself. The way Twinkle feels about her art, and the message she wants to put out into the world, is exactly the way I feel about mine. Whether its a book, a movie, or a three-hundred-word book review, I want my art to help bring people together and make them happy.

I’d like to thank Sandhya Menon for writing a story that touched me so deeply. She has truly mastered the art of happiness.

–Evalyn H., 17, loves Disney movies, marching band, and the smell of new books. She can often be found with video camera in hand, scream singing to musicals, and crying over fictional characters.

Darius the Great is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram
Rarely do I find books that take me away completely because of how much I relate to them. Darius the Great is Not Okay is one such book, an ode to anyone who has ever felt like they don’t fit in or they’re not enough. It’s a tribute to anyone who has ever gone through depression, diagnosed or not, to all those who have yearned for a friend at any time in their life. When Darius goes on a journey—both the literal one to Iran and the metaphorical one of his self discovery—you feel everything he feels, and will be taken along on his heartwarming rollercoaster of a story.

Darius might not work for everyone: it’s written in a way that is very fourth wall breaking; it’s almost as if I saw visuals with Darius’ voiceover in the background. Darius himself is a cinnamon roll you can’t help but love, and his relationship with his father is a poignant part of the story. The book made me cry out loud in a lot of places, maybe owing to the personal connection I have with it. It is a beautiful and realistic take on mental health and self-identity that will appeal to all those fans of Aristotle and Dante.

–Mishma N., die-hard fan of Victoria Schwab, lover of villains and antiheroes, old movies and a capella covers, dreams of working in publishing and opening a bookstore in the future.

Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler
A box of knickknacks. A short-lived romance. A realistic depiction of the life of a teenage girl. What do all of these things have in common? They are central to Daniel Handler’s novel Why We Broke Up, an unapologetically honest and raw account of a failed high school relationship. The book follows Min and Ed’s unlikely romance, and each chapter is centered around a different keepsake object, from a bottle cap to a protractor. Each carries with it another memory, another moment, another reason why they broke up. One of the triumphs of the novel is Handler’s artful character construction. Min and Ed’s relationship has a refreshing authenticity to it, as they are not perfect for each other—they come from different social groups and have vastly different worldviews. Handler uses their struggle to stay together to turn the trope of instalove on its head and show readers the nostalgic kind of beauty that can be found in failed relationships. Handler’s prose ranges from observant to witty to poetic; at times I was laughing out loud, but at other points there were tears in my eyes. This book is not just for readers of romance. Why We Broke Up is for those who seek emotion and depth in the content they read, who want to immerse themselves in detailed prose and artfully constructed characters—I encourage everyone to read it.

–Emma B., 17, loves literature, creative writing, gel pens, Breaking Bad, and the music of Taylor Swift. She is a Ravenclaw and a friend to all dogs.

The Realm of Possibility, by David Levithan
On a scale of cigarettes to Claddagh rings this book is not forever but for now.

Told from the perspectives of twenty different high school students, this book perfectly captures the complex relationships in a high school and the quirks that make every student both unique and a part of something more. My favorites of the twenty were definitely Jed and Daniel, on the cusp of their first anniversary. Not only did their story resonate with me as a young, broke high school student, but I was captivated by the capacity of their love and the depth at which their feelings resided. It’s been a while since a book has made me so happy I cried, but Jed definitely did. I normally don’t read very much poetry; in fact, when I bought this book I had no idea it was written in verse, but I found myself really enjoying the style of writing. Levithan does it again, giving me a new perspective on my life and introducing me to new ideas.

I would recommend this book to high school students, lovers of poetry, and anyone who understands the overwhelming odds that lead to right now.

–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. 

Running With Lions, by Julian Winters
Running with Lions is a YA contemporary that features a supportive soccer team and an adorable male romance. Our main character, Sebastian, is a lively bisexual teen dealing with body image issues, and our love interest, Emir, is a Muslim British-Pakistani gay outcast who is brutally honest about the realities of how he grew up. This novel also features a supportive soccer team “family” and really puts an emphasis on Sebastian’s love of the sport, a refreshing narrative that few young-adult novels contain.

A casually diverse novel, Running With Lions also features a badass female side character and multiple queer side characters and characters of color. Furthermore, the depiction of the soccer team, a true band of brothers, is one of the few realistic portrayals of male teens I’ve read. The complicated romance—friends-to-enemies-to-lovers—was perfectly executed, and the connection between Sebastian and Emir is very obviously true love. AnCharlie’s experience as a genderqueer teen was the best representation I have ever seen for that identity.

Running With Lions is a novel full of many heartbreaking truths and necessary narratives.

–Kav is a 16-year old booktuber and cohost of 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.

Obsidio, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
We return to the world of the Illuminae Group with the finale of the attack on Kerenza VI. As Kady, Ezra, and the rest of the Illuminae and Gemina crew fly back to Kerenza, trouble boils on the surface. Asha Grant, Kady’s cousin, is part of the local resistance against the BeiTech troops, who has just reunited with her ex-boyfriend Rhys, a member of the BeiTech team. Long stranded on Kerenza, BeiTech is about to leave Kerenza behind forever, killing the survivors in their wake. As the Mao gets closer to Kerenza, time is running out for Asha and the rest of the Kerenza survivors to break free of their captors. I adore the Illuminae Files. The story is told through nontraditional methods, including chat logs and schematics and notes written on scraps of paper. In this book we finally find out who was writing all of the recaps of the video files. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised, but it still was hilarious knowing who. The character of Asha Grant is awesome: defiant and badass, smart and quick on her feet. All of the female main characters in the series are strong, independent women, and I just love it. The plot was also amazing, full of tension and moments of will they, won’t they. My favorite scene was when the “Cleverest Mouse” makes her appearance on the surface. It was heartbreaking and beautiful and a summation of how war can change people.

–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.

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