We Were Restless Things by Cole Nagamatsu boldly goes where YA rarely does–into fabulism, into difficult conversations about sexuality, and into visual narrative, all while slowly revealing the mysteries of the dangerous, sentient woods of Shivery, Minnesota. I love seeing fiction for young adults that treats them with respect, and this book honors the many wonders and troubles of learning to know oneself. The supernatural elements in this novel unite to create what we slowly understand to be a psychological landscape as much as a physical one.
Wilder Girls staggers into a lot of my favorite sub-genres and story elements. It’s a little bit of each from a sampler of dystopian sci-fi, body horror, climate fiction, and feminist fiction. It comes in with a strong concept, intriguing suspense, and a gripping setting. I think it’s a great book to help younger readers discover adult titles in the same territory, like Jeff VanDermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. For me, the high concept was the draw, the memorable world was engrossing, but the character dynamics took a backseat. Byatt’s perspective had me entirely captivated. Hetty’s I did not quite trust and, I suppose, that was part of the point. I do definitely want a vase filled with Raxter Irises, so that’s a testament to Power’s significant worldbuilding chops.
The Grace Year is powered by plot. This is a delightfully twisty and genuinely frightening plot for a YA title, and that makes it a rapid, careening ride. The character development and motivation is definitely a little more on the two-dimensional side, but for the younger reader who is looking for a thrill, this novel will deliver with its high-voltage mix of survival narrative, romance, mean girl comeuppance, and minor gore. This book would make a great stepping stone to The Handmaid’s Tale.
All the adventure and suspense of the high fantasy genre, swirling with Black power, magic, and rage. Tomi Adeyemi uses her book to address racism, oppression, and police brutality through the lens of an alternative ancient Nigeria where magic and might are currencies of power. A necessary YA parable for our times, with gorgeous imagery and memorable characters. Can’t wait for the film!
Like many YA novels, this one starts with a protagonist whose mother dies. But what makes this title stand apart is the way it lingers and sinks into the grief that actually accompanies such a monstrous loss. Grief is not an aspect of the plot line in Glasgow’s How to Make Friends with the Dark; rather, it is the plot line… the horrible, inescapable plot line that all of us must follow at one time or another. As such, it’s a painful read, but also a revelatory and important one. I applaud Glasgow for having the bravery to go here, in such a realistic and three-dimensional way. This book is about death and the aftermath–no sugared-over love story among the rubble, just the truth.
I was not prepared for everything that I got out of Marisha Pessl’s Neverworld Wake. It’s a genre-defying YA title, mostly realistic but somehow also mostly fantasy, a little sci-fi, a lot mystery, and just an extremely interesting ride. Pessl takes the concept of a time loop anomaly and applies it to a group of wealthy, privileged college kids who all have something to hide. When they get trapped together in a recurring day inside a kind of half-alive limbo with a ticking clock, all manner of possibilities provide themselves. It’s a thrilling and satisfyingly fun read. The plot is admirably complex, and will delight fans of unpredictable stories with larger than life characters. In other words, this book is like the hippest game of Clue ever played.
After the Fall is a gossipy YA read with a real beating heart behind it. The way that the narration plays with our perceptions of the characters ultimately reveals a criticism of stereotypes, a reminder that people are rarely what we think we know about them. I appreciate the way Hart refuses to shy away from edgier content–her treatment of sexual assault from multiple perspectives has important and strong messages for her young adult readers. This book could be the difference that makes a kid speak up about something important.
The best YA books capture what it really feels like to be young, and The Poet X does that with a hand so light you didn’t even know it touched you until you close the back cover. The book verges on metafiction, as it’s written in verse, essentially representing the notebook full of poems that the main character Xiomara carries with her everywhere as she comes into her artistic identity. Acevedo is so good at capturing the overwhelming crescendo of adolescence–suddenly we have to figure out about God and love and who our parents really are as people and what to do with an adult body and terror and pride and what we’re willing to risk ourselves for. Xiomara has all of that chaos right in front of her, and we get to ride along as she figures it all out, full of doubt but also full of power. A resounding celebration of the solace and strength that comes from writing.
A snackable YA read that serves up quirky characters and romantic chemistry with a side of complicated parental relationships. I appreciate the way that Choi represented the flow of modern relationships from digital to physical and back again. Wish we could have seen Penny confront her own insecurities and evasiveness a little but more without the romantic interest as the vehicle for it, but hey, it’s true to the genre. The thing I respect most about this book is the encouragement to be honest with another person about the big things that define yourself, to share, admit, disclose, and acknowledge rather than hiding it away.
I Am Still Alive is an incredible YA pick for the reader who loves tense action and adventure. The novel fits in the tradition of other classic survival writers like Jack London and Gary Paulsen, but with a whole new, fiercer twist. The 16-year-old heroine–who becomes stranded in the far northern Canadian wilderness on her own–is complicated and realistic, both naive and badass in believable ways. The things she has to learn and push through to try to survive evoke very visceral reactions. I was gasping! Marshall is absolutely brutal when it comes to envisioning the scenarios that can and do happen when humans are pitted against the physical and emotional trauma of survival situations. My heart was both broken and strengthened by the end. If you’re looking for a riveting read to tear through in a couple days, this is it.