Teen Readers Share the Last Book They Loved: Staying In, Coming Out, and Rewriting History

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.

Tyler Johnson Was Here, by Jay Coles
Tyler Johnson Was Here is about Marvin Johnson, a black teen, whose twin brother Tyler Johnson is killed, a victim of police brutality. It tackles the importance of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, reminding the reader that though it is fiction, it is based on the truth of what black people in America have to endure.

I hated reading this book—I cried far more than I care to admit—but it’s easily one of my favorite novels of all time, and its emotional power is undeniable. Coles’ debut, it combines a riveting plot with well-developed characters, a beautiful romance with realistic writing, and I could not help but love every aspect of it. The emotional power of this novel is its biggest strength. The emotions Marvin feels as he loses his brother are ones the reader shares—I felt the same sadness, despair, and rage that he did.

Coles has changed my expectations of YA work going forward, and Tyler Johnson Was Here is a book I will remember vividly for years to come.

–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.

The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco
I want to live in this world. PERIOD. Never have I’ve read a book so dedicated to its world and worldbuilding. Rin Chupeco builds a wonderful high fantasy world straight from the start, full of ashas and monsters and the raising of the dead.

Tea is an amazing heroine from the very first page, as she unknowingly resurrects her beloved brother, who her left her side far too soon in her opinion. Then we are whisked away to the magical city of Ankyo, where we meet an amazing cast of character who help Tea in her journey to become a full-fledged asha. The book is told in two POVs: the past, in which Tea is just discovering her powers as a dark asha, and the present, where she talks with a young man exiled from his kingdom and tells him of her past as she sets in motion her plan to save her world from darkness.

I was amazed at how easily Chupeco switched between the past and present, giving little teases of how past Tea fell out of favor with the makeshift family she was just learning to love and accept. She goes from just discovering how powerful she can be, to relishing her frighteningly awesome powers. This book may seem daunting and slow, but in my humble opinion, Chupeco spins an amazing story set in a dangerous world filled with powerful women who deserve their own series! I just loved it, and I cannot wait to see the rest of this series that will hopefully follow up on that amazing ending. (I was dead on the floor after reading it)

–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.

Highly Illogical Behavior, by John Corey Whaley
Highly Illogical Behavior follows Solomon and Lisa, two young adults with vastly different interests, as they build a highly unconventional friendship. While Solomon, a self-professed agoraphobe, never wants to leave Upland, California, Lisa believes she is destined for something
greater, and that Woodlawn University (home to the nation’s second-best psychology program) is the first step toward that future. Lisa’s only obstacle is the essay she must write describing her experience with mental illness. After learning that Solomon has agoraphobia, she ambitiously resolves to “fix” him and make that process the subject of her essay. As she befriends the witty, Star Trek–loving agoraphobe, though, Lisa grows wary of the implications of her experiment. Despite her questionable motives, she projects a sense of loyalty that will allow readers to open up to her ambitious plan just as quickly as Solomon opens up his small world to her. In between playful banter, Munchkin tournaments, and chess games, the two develop a friendship only Whaley’s witty dialogue could capture. What results is a cautionary yet moving tale about truth, fear, and ambition.

–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.

The Radical Element, edited by Jessica Spotswood
If you’ve seen even one historical movie, you’ve likely noticed a distinct lack of women. On battlefields, in crowd scenes, and even in day to day life, in movies intended to be historically accurate, women make up a small portion of the onscreen population. This book and its predecessor, A Tyranny of Petticoats, endeavor to change that.

The Radical Element is an anthology by female YA authors, telling the stories of fictional women throughout history. It delves into the real struggles of femininity, without shaping it into something it isn’t. Its characters are white, black, Latina, Asian, and Jewish. They’re neurodivergent, transgender, gay, and determined. They’re blessed with the gift of magic, or maybe they aren’t, but they can work their own magic nonetheless.
In this book, you’ll find stories of a Jewish girl studying in secret, an American teenager who runs off to join the circus, a Mexican girl who uses glamours to become a Hollywood star, a Persian girl who joins a band, and so, so many more. Perhaps you will even find yourself.

The anthology is very well-written, containing a number of different styles that mesh well together. Each story is well-paced, fascinating, and, in its own way, relatable. Every girl has strived for success, recognition, and the ability to be who she truly is. Every young woman can recognize a kindred spirit—someone else fighting to make it to the top and come into herself. Within this book lie a dozen kindred spirits, and perhaps a story that looks a little like your own.

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.

Tyler Johnson Was Here, by Jay Coles
The best book I read this past month was Jay Coles’ recently released debut, Tyler Johnson Was Here. It follows the story of a Black teenager named Marvin after his brother goes missing at a party. Though that is the main plot of the story, it also features expertly crafted subplots about romance, friendship, family, and so much more. Marvin has two best friends who uplift and love him, and to see that support and care even in dark times is really important, especially because the characters feel like actual people you could meet. It’s a book that’ll make you laugh and cry in the same page, and leave you so full of emotion you won’t know what to do with yourself. If you liked The Hate U Give or Dear Martin, or even if you didn’t, you must check this masterpiece of a story out.

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

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han
In our lives, we are destined to have many unrequited relationships. While some allow time to dull their longing, Lara Jean Song Covey writes a letter to every boy she secretly loves as a way to get over them. In Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean’s life is turned upside down when her hatbox of letters to her old crushes is sent out and her past comes flooding into the present.

The remarkable thing about the plot of this book is that it is both completely believable yet never boring. Han is able to turn everyday events like making cupcakes or driving to a yard sale into engrossing scenes. And through Han’s amusing prose, Lara Jean is a character you find yourself fully invested in immediately. The novel is driven by realistic and likable characters, from Lara Jean’s fierce younger sister Kitty to Stormy, the dramatic lady Lara Jean spends time with at the nearby nursing home. From the very first page, the reader is whisked away into the world of Lara Jean, her sisters, and an array of handsome boys—you will end up hoping you will never have to leave the Covey house!

–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.

Not If I Save You First, by Ally Carter
This is another stunning read from Ally Carter. The hero of this story is Maddie, the daughter of a Secret Service agent and best friend to the president’s son, Logan—at least, she was six years ago. That was before Maddie’s father moved them to the Alaskan wilderness and Maddie stopped hearing from Logan. When Logan shows up, much to Maddie’s surprise (and anger, and indignation). She wants nothing to do with the first son. But when an attacker pushes Maddie down a cliff and takes off with Logan, Maddie knows she has to get to him before he encounters something even more dangerous. Maddie is a much-needed departure from the teenagers represented in many books. Frequently underestimated, she proves to be the smartest, deadliest, most resourceful character time and time again. And yet, she makes time to bedazzle her hatchet and worry about her hair, making her relatable while retaining her display of strength. Along with the unforgettable characters, the book’s complex plot and unfamiliar and intriguing setting make it an entirely new experience, supporting Carter standing out as one of my favorite YA authors.

–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.

To Kill a Kingdom, by Alexandra Christo
To Kill A Kingdom is an enthralling and fast-paced fantasy that screams “Slytherin.” With the classic trope of a forbidden romance, between a siren and a siren killer, this retelling of The Little Mermaid is just amazing. Lira is a perfect antiheroine and badass protagonist whose character arc is brilliant. As the deadly Prince’s Bane she is awe-inspiring, and when she’s transformed into a human, her sudden vulnerabilities make her so realistic and she gradually becomes close to your heart. Elian, with his love for the sea, loyalty to his crew, and thirst for adventure, will just make you fall in love. The writing is so crisp, and the story so eventful, that the whole book will keep you turning the pages, utterly hooked. Also a bonus is that the book is a standalone, so to all my fellow commitmentphobes who are horrible at following series—this book is perfect for you!

–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.

The Unlikelies, by Carrie Firestone
Sadie is prepared for a boring summer after her senior year: her best friend is going away to summer camp, she has no college plans, and most of her days will be spent working at a local farm stand. But her plans change after she heroically saves a baby girl put in danger by her aggressive father. News of her heroics spreads like wildfire, and Sadie is invited to a lunch to honor local teenage heroes. At the lunch she meets and bonds with four other honorees who, like Sadie, don’t think that what they did was all that heroic. Together the five teens decide to put some recently uncovered money, their free time, and internet troll slaying skills to use to spread goodness throughout their town and all over the electronic world.

The premise of this book is really inspirational. A group of teens who set aside their own issues to help others and right the wrongs in the world is something many of us can strive to be like. Carrie Firestone wrote this book in such a compelling manner, sprinkling in little side stories and subplots that reinforced the overarching theme of the novel. Sadie was such a captivating character, and the diversity of her, her family, and her friends was refreshing. This book is a perfect read for anyone looking to start their summer with good vibes!

–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.

Obsidio, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
It has been seven months since the initial assault on Kerenza, and our friendly planethood teenagers are ready to fight for their lives—again. With resources and patience levels depleting, the team has decided to make like Earthian Dorothy and go home. But, you guessed it, Beitech Industries has something else in mind. As a reviewer, I have a plethora of words and literary devices at my disposal when articulating thoughts on a book. However, every time I finish an installment in the Illuminae Files, my brain looks a lot like this: “AHHHH!!!” I am very pleased to announce that Obsidio, the third and final novel in Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s bestselling series, left me in this state. A thrilling space opera filled with high stakes and compelling characters, it is unputdownable. I remain in awe of the authors’ unique storytelling technique, their ability to craft tangible people through text chains and transcribed footage. But what makes me so over the moon for Obsidio is the message: no matter your age, you have the power to change the world (or take down a multifaceted billion-dollar company. The sky quite literally is the limit here). Beam yourself up to a bookstore (or library) asap and pick up Obsidio, because it truly is out of this world.

–Maddie M., 18, loves Nutella crepes, Jane Austen, and listening to original Broadway cast albums. Her Patronus is a nebelung cat, and she’s attending a women’s college next fall!


Leah on the Offbeat, by Becky Albertalli
I’m just becoming B&N Teen’s resident Simonverse fangirl, aren’t I? Becky Albertalli is at it again, this time with fantastic bisexual rep that manages to be both heart-wrenching and heartwarming. Last month the world was blessed with the release of Leah on the Offbeat. This fantastic sequel to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda turns the spotlight on Simon’s best friend, Leah Burke, everyone’s favorite snarky, bisexual drummer.

It’s the end of senior year, and Leah is starting to feel even more like the odd one out. She’s too self-conscious to step foot onstage, share her art with the world, or even come out to her openly gay best friend. While Simon and Nick are struggling to decide where to spend the next four years of their lives, Leah knows exactly where her future lies, only an hour and a half away from home at the University of Georgia. With Abby Suso, of all people.

But when Leah lets Abby convince her to go on a college tour of their own, she ends up with more than she bargained for. Now, with prom and college on the horizon, people are starting to crack under the stress, and if Leah isn’t careful she might not have a friend group to feel left out of anymore.

–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.

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