Teen Readers Share the Last Book They Loved: Treasonous Magic, Viking Girls, and the End of Death

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.

Down and Across, by Arvin Ahmadi
Scott has never really finished any project he’s started, and his summer internship is no exception. His father’s always telling him he needs to be more committed, but he just can’t seem to make himself stick to anything. When Scott hears about a Georgetown professor’s research on “grit”—the quality that allows people to remain committed to a goal even in the face of obstacles—he’s determined to meet the professor so she can tell him how he can find some grit of his own. This journey leads him to Fiora, a girl who designs her own crossword puzzles and will change his life forever. I don’t like novels that follow a cookie-cutter mold, and this novel is completely original. Its characters are quirky and unique, they all feel like real people and they make decisions and mistakes that real people would make. Following Scott along his journey, with all its twists and turns, is incredibly exciting and even motivating. I put this book down wanting to find the things that made me gritty, and it will do the same for you. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever felt confused about their goals in life or longed to find their path (which I believe is just about everyone).

Eileen M., 18, is a lover of books, coffee, and Notre Dame football. In her spare time, she can be found playing clarinet or obsessing over her latest read.

The Vanishing Stair, By Maureen Johnson
After a fellow classmate at Ellingham Academy died mysteriously and suddenly, Stevie was yanked from the only place she had ever considered home. Determined to solve the mystery she left behind, Stevie enacts a plan that convinces her parents to let her go back to the academy. Once she has successfully resettled in her home away from home, Stevie begins investigating both the death of her classmate and the cold case of the Ellingham kidnapping and murder—an unsolved mystery from decades ago. But when another classmate turns up missing and maybe murdered, Stevie knows her time is running out. While simultaneously dealing with problems like a cute yet confusing boy, friends, and school, Stevie works feverishly to uncover the villain that has caused so much chaos to her Ellingham Academy. Unlike other mystery novels of its kind, The Vanishing Stair is told in a unique voice that flashes between present-day Stevie and witnesses to the Ellingham cold case. Maureen Johnson manages to capture the essence of a teenager while applying a certain maturity to the YA mystery genre. Her storytelling is enrapturing and will force readers to hang on tightly to every last word while breathlessly attempting to solve the mystery.

–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.

Descendant of the Crane, by Joan He
A tightly plotted fantasy with jaw-dropping twists, He’s debut follows Princess Hesina of Yan, who has just become queen after what she believes was her father’s murder. But investigating the suspicious circumstances comes with a cost, namely the use of treasonous magic from a soothsayer. Hesina must navigate both her own personal investigation and the political games inside the imperial court and outside with the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a. Solving her father’s murder might come at too high of a cost, and Hesina will have to decide how far she’ll go for justice in this spellbinding novel.

Nothing I say will do this book justice. It’s not just good in a technical sense—tight plotting, rich worldbuilding, fantastic buildup to the twists—it’s also just a great story. Its themes are relatable on multiple levels, from the way the characters are pressed to make difficult decisions to how it analyzes the moral grayness of loyalty. Even more than this, Descendant of the Crane is a book about a girl with the weight of the world on her shoulders. A book about a girl who’s trying to manage the hundreds of things around her, and slowly breaking beneath the weight of her responsibilities. This makes it a bit of a tearjerker (I cried. Multiple times.) as well as an extremely relatable story to anyone who has experienced that suffocating pressure. If you’re looking for a book that doesn’t hold back on the twists, a book with a lush world and an even lusher story, a book with characters whose pain you feel in yourself, I would wholeheartedly recommend this marvelous debut. I absolutely devoured it.

–Vicky C., 17, has finally gotten her college decisions (accepted!), but is still waiting for her Hogwarts letter. Both to celebrate and to fill up the time it takes for her misguided owl to find its way back to her, she likes to lose herself in a good book (or three).

Bloodwitch, by Susan Dennard
College is wondrous—not only do you have the freedom to take ferociously focused courses, but also the opportunity to meet people who love watching Pride and Prejudice while knitting just as much as you do (the 2005 one is better, if mostly because of the hand thing). My biggest complaint, however, is that college came between myself and Bloodwitch (by the spectacular Susan Dennard), and is the reason I am just now devouring it in March. But my goodness, was it worth the essay-test-internship-application-repeat wait. The third installment of the enchanting Witchlands series follows Aeduan, our friendly neighborhood bloodwitch, and his struggle to negotiate the threads of past, duty, and heart. Dennard is a masterful weaverwitch, a puppeteer of words—the complexity of her lore, her plots, her world is astounding. I have fallen in love with her characters, and I swell with pride each time one of them blooms with newfound growth (those character arcs though!!). My heart thread burns bright for this series, and I can’t wait to see who’s story will be-witch us next.

–Maddie M., 19, loves Anastasia the Musical, corgi mixes, and pink lemonade. Her sweet tooth is legendary, and she can’t pick a favorite Queer Eye member, don’t make her.

We Set the Dark on Fire, by Tehlor Kay Mejia
This a stunning opener to a thrilling young-adult duology is dedicated to the strength of women in an unjust society. Mejia’s debut follows the journey of our main character, Dani Vargas, an empowered young women who has to navigate a corrupt system and decide whether to stand up when placed in a position that allows her to have that power.

In my eyes, We Set the Dark on Fire is a love letter to the power of girls, particularly the girls whose stories rarely get told—girls of color, queer girls, and queer girls of color. Mejia builds a dystopian world not too far from our own, even including questions of immigration and building a wall to separate two territories. But throughout her exploration of very real issues, Mejia also dedicates a significant portion of the novel to a beautifully constructed slow-burn romance between the two leading ladies and develops both characters individually as well as together. This is the type of novel that will stay with the reader for months to come—quite literally, I read this novel over a month ago—especially with the cliffhanger at the end that will leave the reader on the edge of their seat in anticipation for the duology’s conclusion.

–Kav is a 17-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.

The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried, by Shaun David Hutchinson
Hutchinson’s latest novel has captured my heart in a way I’m really glad I didn’t see coming. A year ago, Dino and July were best friends, until they weren’t. A week ago, July was alive, until she wasn’t. Twenty minutes ago, July was a corpse on the slab. And now she’s not.

Dino doesn’t know why July’s alive again, but he’s determined to figure it out before he ends up killing her himself. July doesn’t get why Dino is so determined to bury her, and she won’t stop until she finds out. Their history is long, and complicated, and messy, and they’re going to need to settle one matter before they settle the other.

Hutchinson’s strength, in my eyes, is taking such a large concept then hyper-focusing on one small aspect, which is where the emotional core lies. Yes, people are no longer dying, what the hell is happening, everything is scary, but look how it affects these two teenagers who need to accept that they were kinda shitty growing up and deal with their accumulated resentments. It’s personal, it’s real, it’s so so good.

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

Warrior of the Wild, by Tricia Levenseller
Seeking to prove that she deserves her place as her father’s heir, Rasmira has spent the past ten years training to become the smartest, fastest, strongest warrior in her village. When a betrayal from those closest to her causes Rasmira to fail her coming of age trial, she finds herself banished to an unforgiving wilderness. The only way she can earn back her place in the village is to kill the powerful god that has plagued her people for as long as anyone can remember.

Tricia Levenseller’s Warrior of the Wild is an absolutely fascinating viking-inspired fantasy. Personally, when I hear the word “viking” I get this automatic mental image of a big manly man with a beard. Levenseller took that image, flipped it on its head, and made something amazing. We live in a society that often equates strength with masculinity. By putting a teenage girl into a stereotypically masculine society Levenseller is able to really explore the concept of strength. As Rasmira’s perception of the world around her changes, she is forced to grapple with her own perception of what is means to be strong and a woman.

–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.

On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas
Brianna’s father, Lawless, was going to be a hip-hop sensation. Her mother was going to finish college, her big brother Trey was going to go to grad school, her aunt ‘Pooh’ was going to get her act together, and Bri was going to be the next big thing in rap. But her daddy got shot right when his career was about to begin, her mother had to drop out with two kids to take care of, Trey had to give up grad school to get a job and support his family, and Pooh has no intention of leaving her dangerous life behind. But maybe there’s still a chance for Bri.

When she gets the opportunity to compete in a freestyle battle at the most famous underground rap spot around, The Ring, Bri decides she won’t throw away her chance at making herself heard and known. She goes into The Ring—and wins. Suddenly, her rhymes are everywhere, she feels visible at her bougie (read: mostly white) school, and she might just have a chance to make it big after all. But when some of her lyrics get misconstrued, and she has a bad run-in with school security, Bri’s fame turns to infamy. One thing’s for sure in all of this chaos, though: she’s on the come up. And you can’t stop her (nope, nope). On the Come Up got me out of a reading slump. The fast-paced story, relatable characters, and flawless rhymes blend perfectly to create this brilliant look at the black experience and what it truly means to find success. Thomas, bestselling author of The Hate U Give, has truly hit it out of the park once more.

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.

Leah on the Offbeat, by Becky Albertalli
Leah on the Offbeat is a romantic comedy for the ages. I was rooting for Leah from the very start of the novel. She’s a humble, witty, compassionate friend who has never seemed to enjoy the spotlight. Yet, from her love of drumming to her passion for drawing, Leah is a remarkably talented teenager. While pursuing these passions, she’s also balancing the stressful (college applications!) and the exciting (prom!) aspects of senior year. Through this narrative, Albertalli accurately captures the emotions and experiences of adolescence as if she were a teenager herself.

As her story progresses, readers also learn Leah has feelings for one member of her friend group. However, to avoid rocking the boat, she grapples with her emotions alone. No one—not even her best friend, Simon—is aware of how she feels. In fact, her friends don’t even know she identifies as bisexual. I love that this novel lent a voice to an underrepresented narrator. With this highly anticipated sequel, Albertalli proves again that “everyone deserves a great love story.”

–Nicole S., 17, is currently navigating the college application process, 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.

Only a Breath Apart, by Katie McGarry
On a scale of fireflies to first kisses, this book is a jam packed emotional rollercoaster of excitement and tears.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Katie McGarry and her fantastic writing. It’s always so vivid with incredible imagery, and this book is no different. I was able to put myself in Scarlett’s painful flats and Jesse’s muddy boots, feeling the land breathe beneath them and seeing the stars stretched out like
a blanket above them. My heart hurts so badly for both of them who have experienced physical abuse and are just trying to overcome it and move on with their lives together. I was honestly expecting a soft, lighthearted book but this was the complete opposite and I found myself crying through most of it.
McGarry has yet again successfully written beautifully strong characters who don’t fold in the face of adversity and hardship but work to overcome it and prove they are stronger together than apart. I would recommend this book to fans of romance and farm life, nature lovers everywhere, and people who love to stop and look at the stars.

–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.

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