Young Adult (YA) books have been in an incredible renaissance for the last few years, which only seems to be growing. Powerful topics like police brutality, Black Lives Matter, representation of disability, and more are now featured on the shelves, something that would have been a rare sight even 5-10 years ago. However, with so many excellent novels being published, it’s no surprise that some books are overlooked. The marketing budget, movie adaptations, etc. all contribute to highly varying levels of publicity. While there’s nothing wrong with high-budget books that make the bestseller list immediately (in fact, there’s often something very right with them!), there are a plethora of fantastic books that have been overshadowed. Here are some of them:
American Street by Ibi Zobai (contemporary)
Fabiola and her mother are leaving Haiti to live with her mom’s sister and daughters in Detroit. When Fabiola’s mom is detained along the way, Fabiola is forced to meet (for the first time in person) her relatives alone. While in Detroit, she realizes the famous American freedom isn’t all it promises, and she must adjust to her new surroundings that are confusing at best and dangerous at worst.
Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes (contemporary)
Those still looking for book recs from our mental health themed month should take a look at Stokes’ Girl Against the Universe, which tells the story of Maquire, a young woman with anxiety and PTSD who believes she is bad luck. This novel has one of the best depictions of therapy I’ve ever seen, and the hopeful message stays with you long after the last page.
The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati (contemporary)
Same as above, this is a great choice for mental health representation, specifically for bipolar disorder. Cath barely survived when Zero, the dark, depression side of her bipolar disorder, came, and she knows that no matter what she does, Zero is coming back for her. While she prepares for that day, she finds a new psychiatrist who makes her think of her mental illness in a way she never has before. She also discovers new relationships and connections that start to make her wonder if her way of preparing for Zero is really the best option.
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (contemporary)
There are a frightening number of nonprofits/organizations that aim to help others yet only focus on symptomatic issues or believe they know what certain groups need. While the majority mean well and sometimes do real good, this often puts marginalized voices to the side, being told what they need rather than being listened to. Watson focuses on a young African American woman, Jade, who has had “good opportunities” thrust upon her all her life. While some of these chances are helpful, some feel very demeaning, particularly like Women to Women, a program Jade gets invited to for ‘at-risk’ girls. Piecing me Together explores a side of a story we rarely here with a powerful voice.
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (magical realism)
Imagine making a wish on your Deathday to get rid of your magic…and accidentally sending your entire family to Los Lagos instead. Alex must travel to the dark, in-between land to rescue her family and learn to accept her own gifts.
Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley (alternate history/mystery)
I love reading regional authors (something shared with so many patrons). Hartley lives in Charlotte and has created a unique historical murder mystery series set in South Africa. The plot is layered, rich, and will keep you turning the pages.
I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (romance)
As a fan of Korean dramas, I adore this premise of a young Korean girl, great at school but terrible at romance, making a 12-step plan to love based on the K-dramas her father watches. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll finish with a smile on your face.
On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis (near future/possible pre-apocalypse)
I need so many more people to read this mind-blowing story of Denise, a young woman with autism, a drug-addicted mother, a missing sister, and little time to convince a generation ship leaving Earth to take her family with them and avoid possible death from the incoming comet.
Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson (mystery/suspense)
Tiffany Jackson delivers a powerful debut in a story about a girl accused of murdering a baby. Mary Addison lives in a group home after surviving years of jail, never daring to speak the truth about what happened. But when Mary becomes pregnant, suddenly Mary has something, someone, she wants to fight for. Navigating issues of racism, classism, sexism, and more, Allegedly is utterly haunting.
The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson (romance; Shakespeare retelling)
Much Ado About Nothing is my most beloved Shakespeare play (I even have a tattoo from it), so I approached this modern retelling with serious caution. In the end, the cautious was unnecessary, as Anderson took all the things I loved about the original (banter, female friendship, fun) and added nerd hilarity, a prestigious school battle for top rank, and more.
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith (time-travel/historical)
You know what I want more of? Angry girls in fiction. Smith’s Reiko is one of the best I’ve ever read. Angry doesn’t equal unsympathetic or even unlikable, as Rei demonstrates in her journey in modern day and 19th century Japan. I couldn’t put this one down, and this ferocious read deserves so much more attention than it has received.
As I Descended by Robin Talley (mystery/horror/Shakespeare retelling)
This is Talley’s first foray into horror and WOW does she nail it! As I Descended is a contemporary Macbeth retelling featuring two young women, Maria and Lily, the power couple at their boarding school that sits on the grounds of an old plantation. When the school’s rising star, Delilah, threatens to destroy the future they worked so hard to build, Maria and Lily unleash a power much darker than they expected. What ensues is an atmospheric thriller that will give you chills.
Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (historical fantasy)
Readers who understand the concept of platonic soulmates will devour this historical fantasy set in 1919 about two best friends, Ada and Corinne. Both have the power to create illusions through art, a power they use at night to perform at a club and during the day to con wealthy people out of riches to keep the club running. When a job goes wrong, it unleashes a series of disastrous and dangerous events where betrayal, heartache, and doom seem to find the two girls around every corner.
Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett (horror)
Does anyone not get creeped out when they see a massive field of cornstalks taller than most humans? I sure do. Even so, I picked up Liggett’s unique horror story about Ash who follows her disappeared mother to a spiritual commune in Kansas. Ash is haunted by memories of an ancestor from there, Katia, and worries she may share a worrisome fate in a town that seems too charming to be real.
Ashfall by Mike Mullin (survivalist/natural disaster)
I never knew I liked survivalist fiction until I read this trilogy by Mike Mullin. It begins by asking what would happen if the Yellowstone volcano fully erupted. Mullin somehow manages to make Alex’s journey to find his family (who had been visiting other family when the volcano erupted), stay alive, and meet a host of unique characters along the way fascinating (through all 3 books!).
Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh (prehistoric/Austen retelling)
There’s something comforting about slipping into a story retelling Pride and Prejudice…until that retelling ventures to prehistoric times and involves mammoth hunting. Julie Eshbaugh somehow manages to beautifully combine the primitive lives of prehistoric nomads with Austenian charms and a touch of dark mystery.
The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye (historical fantasy)
Mix Russian history, light touches of Cinderella, and a magic competition to the death, and you have the beginning of Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game series. This is perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, and Sarah J. Mass.
Shadow Run by AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller (scifi)
Out of all the books on this list, Shadow Run is the only one I haven’t read, but it’s eagerly awaiting me in my TBR pile. I’ve heard only phenomenal reviews for it, and I’m so excited for the new YA scifi we’ve been getting (see Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Illuminae by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, and the fabulous line of Star Wars books that have come out).