Teens Share the Last Book They Loved: Meet-Cutes, Virtual Worlds, and Binding the Souls of the Dead

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.

The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan
After her mother’s unexpected suicide, Leigh finds herself searching for answers. What made her mother forget how to be happy? Why did she feel she needed to take her own life? Was there anything Leigh could have done to save her? Consumed by grief, Leigh is visited by a beautiful red bird she believes is her mother, telling her to uncover the secrets of the past. In order to do that, Leigh must travel to Taiwan to meet the maternal grandparents her mother never wanted her to know.

The Astonishing Color of After touches on such sensitive subject matter I was afraid it would come off as offensive or preachy. Mental illness and suicide are real issues that have caused immeasurable suffering. There aren’t many authors who could’ve taken all that pain and turned it into something amazing, but Emily X. R. Pan did just that. This wonderfully written novel broke my heart and then reassembled the pieces into something beautiful. It has been a very long time since I read a book that touched me so profoundly.

–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.

What If It’s Us, by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
I am fairly certain many YA readers’ dreams came true when Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera announced that they were collaborating. The premise of What If It’s Us immediately hooked me, and I am thrilled to say it was everything I was hoping for and more. Ben is a thoughtful realist fresh off a breakup, while Arthur is a caring, Broadway-loving romantic. Their meet cute was absolutely adorable, but my favorite aspect of the novel was how they mature as the story unfolds. In order to develop a relationship from their initial attraction, the two learn to communicate and respect each other’s perspectives. This portrayal of a healthy relationship touches upon real challenges one may face when opening up to another person. Through this narrative, the authors capture the nuances of universal human experiences while preserving teen voices. Needless to say, by its captivating conclusion, What If It’s Us will leave readers aching for another Becky-Adam collaboration.

–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.

For a Muse of Fire, by Heidi Heilig
Jetta has one big trade secret: the reason her family is famed for their shadow playing abilities is because she sees dead people. Literally. It’s skill that could get her imprisoned in a country under colonial rule, and Jetta knows the consequences of someone finding
out she can control souls. But what happens when using her power becomes her family’s key to survival? For a Muse of Fire
is a firecracker of a fantasy novel. With a fierce main character, a whirlwind plot, and an intricate world, it masterfully delivers on all accounts. Additionally, I loved Heilig’s decision to set facets of reality against a backdrop of mysticism. Her main character is bipolar, and her mental health journey is an important part of the plot, and her world is one struggling under the effects of colonialism. A luminous tale you’ll want to burn through in one sitting, For a Muse of Fire truly is a bright heaven of invention.

–Maddie M, 19, has a passion for sea otters and waffles. Her favorite Shakespeare play is either A Midsummer Night’s Dream
or King Lear, and she stands with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

Mirage, by Somaiya Daud
Mirage is a brutal and romantic fantasy that is one of my favorite books this year. Amani’s home planet has been colonized by the brutal Vathek. She dreams of her home before the occupation and clings to traditions they’re barely allowed to keep. When an important ceremony is interrupted by the Vathek, her life changes in a way she never imagined. She’s taken to the heir to the Vathek throne, cruel and cunning half Vathek Princess Maram, and forced to become her body double, necessary because of the people’s hatred of Maram. As Amani settles into the princess’s role and begins to fall for her fiancé, she realizes taking her place is easier said than done. Everything from the book’s beautiful descriptions to its characters and even the dust jacket made this one of the top books of 2018 for me.

–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.

The Edge of Everything, by Jeff Giles
This is a wonderfully crafted tale full of mystery, sacrifice, and plenty of laughs. Our protagonist, Zoe, meets X in the aftermath of a blizzard. A bounty hunter from the Lowlands, he disregards the rules of the hell that sent him in order to protect Zoe and her family. As Zoe and X’s worlds become clearer to each other, the realities of each seem to be pushing them apart. Their story is first and foremost a romance, but I enjoyed Giles’ novel for more than just its love story. The worldbuilding that went into X’s home was impressively immersive, as was slowly understanding X’s history and motivations. And Zoe is a hero in her own right—still grieving her father’s death in a caving accident, but maintaining grace, determination, and a sense of humor. The friendships and familial bonds in the novel were unique and well-developed, lending a deeper connection between readers and each character. In a perfect blend of the supernatural, romance, and humor, The Edge of Everything is hard to put down and even harder to forget.

–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.

Impostors, by Scott Westerfeld
Impostors takes us back to the familiar world of the Uglies, but not everything is as we left it. Years after the fall of the “pretty” regime—a world government that kept control by lobotomizing humanity into happy but vapid followers—independent city-states have become the norm. Heir to the city of Shreve is Rafia, media darling and proud representative of her father’s government and legacy.

This is the story of Frey, Rafia‘s twin sister who nobody knows exists. There’s many things the world doesn’t know about their family. But that’s about to change.

I love authors who can come back to an older story with something new. Impostors, while technically the fifth novel in the Uglies world, can also be read without any prior knowledge of the series. This is a story about secrets, and family, and how the two play against each other. It’s about taking action, because somebody has to. And it’s about finding yourself even when the world tries to insist it already has you figured out. It doesn’t matter if the book is set in the far-off future; there’s a taste of reality in it for every sort of reader.

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

Ten After Closing, by Jessica Bayliss
Ten minutes before closing, Scott’s day couldn’t get any worse. His girlfriend just broke up with him in the middle of his shift at Café Flores, he got in a fight with his abusive father, he broke his phone, and now he can’t go to one of the biggest parties of the year.
Ten minutes before closing Winny is ready to tell Scott her true feelings for him. But disaster strikes when, at ten minutes after closing, the employees and customers of Café Flores are trapped inside by a gunman holding them hostage. Over the next few hours, Scott, Winny, and the rest of the people stuck inside the café try to survive and find a way out. Ten After Closing was an interesting book. Told from the alternating perspective of Scott and Winny both before and after their lives are changed forever by a rage-filled gunman, this novel carefully examines how humans react in crises. The characters were diverse and struggled with both relatable and complex issues such as abusive parents, strict household rules, and high school dating drama. Jessica Bayliss brings a story of abuse, gun violence, drugs, destruction, and death to light in a fast-paced and mature manner. She doesn’t dance around the intense subjects that come up in this story, which makes this such a powerful novel.

–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.

Wildcard, by Marie Lu
Picking up after the shocking ending of its predecessor, this conclusion to the Warcross duology follow Emika Chen as she struggles to find the truth behind the mind-controlling NeuroLink algorithm. Caught between Hideo, the young inventor of the NeuroLink; the Blackcoats, a covert group of vigilantes with a dark secret; and her warcross team, the Phoenix Riders, Emika struggles with trust and reality in a race against the complete subjugation of the world. What makes this book stand out is the detailed thought that has gone into each character’s background. Wildcard is a testament to the power of purposeful character exposition in that the stories elicit an emotional connection regardless of your level of sympathy for the character, and the full picture is filled in over the course of the book, culminating in a spectacular finale that strips each character to their core. Say what you want about the limited action, the intimacy with which we get to understand the Phoenix Riders and the Blackcoats more than makes up for the subtlety and gloom. Also engaging with technology, privacy, and autonomy, Wildcard is a worthwhile read for fans of Warcross, Marie Lu, and sci-fi in general.

–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.

How the Light Gets In, by Melissa Volker
How the Light Gets In is a beautiful, moving work of modern fantasy that explores art, mental illness, and the ways in which two people can help mend the cracks in each other’s worlds. 

Wyatt is struggling, badly. He’s being harassed at school, his depression has gotten bad, and on top of everything else, he’s seeing cracks forming in his world. He feels completely alone, just him and his art, until one day he realizes he can enter into his art. That’s the day he learns he’s not so alone after all, because Ellie is in there with him. Ellie is struggling, too—she’s in a psychiatric hospital following a suicide attempt. She has been staring at her own colorless world, until Wyatt opens his art and she finds a place for herself. 

How the Light Gets In is elegant and rough at the same time, with sweeping portrayals of beautiful things but a hard, unflinching touch when it comes to discussions of mental illness and how it can affect the people around you. The characters are funny, flawed, caring, and real, the kind of people I could see myself being friends with. Every word in the book is meaningful in a different way, whether providing levity to a difficult situation or explaining just how difficult that situation is. 

The whole story is heartbreaking, uplifting, and raw, the kind of thing I finished in three days and thought about for three weeks. It’s a book for the kids of today, the kids who are seeing their worlds crack apart around them. It’s a book to remind you that, just maybe, you aren’t so alone after all.

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.

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