The 10 best YA books of the year (and the decade)
The Best YA of 2019
EW books editor David Canfield and romance-YA columnist Maureen Lee Lenker break down their 10 favorite teen tales of the year.
10. Amelia Westlake Was Never Here by Erin Gough: Erin Gough gifts readers a social justice adventure with heart and humor in equal measure. Teacher's pet Harriet Price and anti-establishment artist Will Everhart team up to create the fictional Amelia Westlake, a high school hoax who speaks truth to power. In a time where hope can feel in short supply, it's a breath of fresh air to get a tale that examines privilege and how to foment meaningful change without ever losing sight of its own charms. —Maureen Lee Lenker
9. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas: How do you follow up (spoiler alert!) one of the best YA novels of the decade? Angie Thomas delivered a deeply moving sophomore novel in the form of On the Come Up, another coming of age tale set in the fictional, richly realized community of Garden Heights. Impressively, it's a different kind of novel from The Hate U Give, offering up a more prickly, outspoken protagonist whose impulsiveness could alienate readers, but never felt less than true. —David Canfield
8. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian: This lyrical, heartbreaking period piece finds a way to accessibly render the bleak milieu of late-'80s queer NYC for a younger audience, following a teen love triangle — an Iranian kid struggling with his sexuality, a young woman with a passion for fashion, and their school's only out-and-proud student — as they navigate adolescent dramas and the sweeping social movements sprouting around them. It's a lush, loving, wonderfully gay novel that finds poetry in authenticity. –DC
7. The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black: Can we talk about the ending of this trilogy yet? We'll play it safe and say that Holly Black's Folk in the Air series stuck the landing with this breathlessly plotted last book, the thrill of pieces falling into place accelerating by the page. We'll at least dare to praise — admittedly, sort of spoil — the final turn, in which Jude's saga gets a hopeful conclusion that feels fully earned. –DC
6. Hello Girls by Brittany Cavallaro and Emily Henry: This teenage Thelma and Louise, laced with the feral charge of a Gillian Flynn novel, centers on unlikely duo Winona Olsen and Lucille Pryce, who've forged their friendship in fire. Leaving town in a stolen convertible to escape the abusive circumstances of their lives, they sputter their way across the country, their sisterhood only growing. Cavallaro and Henry tap into an electric current of female rage, cataloging this tale of loyalty and friendship with startling ferocity. –MLL
5. The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh: Ahdieh is a versatile author, but I didn't expect her to bring vampires back to YA greatness in such smart, sexy style. This is one of those books where the elements tell you everything you need to know. Vampires! Paris! New Orleans! The 1800s! Murder mystery! Dive in and enjoy. –DC
4. Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi: The Children of Blood and Bone phenom had quite a cliffhanger to make good on, and succeeds with this superb sequel. With magic returned to the land of Orïsha, Adeyemi aptly continues the story of Zélie, Amari, et al. as they face new challenges. While if at first the novel lacks the radical energy of its predecessor, it builds beautifully. Its epilogue ranks among the best endings I've read in a YA novel — ever. Bring on the finale. –DC
3. Frankly in Love by David Yoon: The year's best YA debut spins a rom-com staple — the fake-dating scheme — into a sweet, nuanced, and brilliantly entertaining take on Korean-American identity and the distance teens project from their parents. Specific in nature, the novel soars in its universality. –DC
2. Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali: This one will go in the canon of classic YA romances. Ali delivers a sort of perfectly swoony, fateful romance in the vein of other era-greats like The Sun Is Also a Star and Eleanor and Park. Its two heroes meet on a flight to Qatar and, from there, keep getting drawn back into each other's orbit. The joy of this one is in the writing — the chemistry, the comedy, the budding love. It's destined to be read over and over. –DC
1. The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys: Part sweeping love story, part excoriating epic, The Fountains of Silence proves why Ruta Sepetys should be feted as one of the best YA authors writing today. Following Daniel Matheson, the 18-year-old son of a Texas oil tycoon, through Franco's fascist Spain, Septys peers into the darkest corners of Spanish history and the brightest capacities of the human spirit. Rich with historical detail, the book nails the languid roil of its setting, while never losing an absolutely vital sense of urgency. It's a walk through the past that will linger long after your journey has ended. Fountains of Silence is an essential read that pierces to the bone — and makes us take pleasure in the pain. –MLL
The Best YA of the Decade
EW offers our picks for the best YA of the decade, revisiting our original coverage over the past 10 years
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi: EW wrote in 2018, "Debut novelist Adeyemi draws from African folklore for her epic fantasy about a young woman avenging her mother's death. Slyly political and astonishingly imaginative, this is a phenomenon in the making, literally: A movie is already in the works after a reported seven-figure deal."
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell: Of her classic YA romance, Rowell told EW in 2013, "I've always wanted to write a first love story. I feel like, when you're 16, you have the greatest-ever capacity for romantic love. You fall in love with every cell of your body. But at the same time, at that age, you have so little to offer the person you love."
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir: Of her epic fantasy, Tahir told EW in 2015, "I grew up in the Mojave Desert, and I always felt like an outcast because I did not fit in because of the color of my skin and where my family was from. As a result, I felt really voiceless and powerless as a kid. I turned to books to find comfort — particularly fantasy books because they took me to a different world altogether. As I grew up, I learned that to have a voice and to have power, writing was sort of the best way to get that voice and to get power. I always knew that if I did write, I wanted to write something in which the characters felt as voiceless and powerless as I did when I was a kid. But unlike me, they would actually fight back and learn how to speak and to make their place in the world."
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: EW wrote in 2012, "The author's unique brand of brainy, youthful humor shines in The Fault in Our Stars despite tackling illness and death…. [The] ensuing love story is as real as it is doomed, and the gut-busting laughs that come early in the novel make the luminous final pages all the more heartbreaking."
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: EW wrote in 2017, "Thomas delivers with supreme style and self-assurance, cannily balancing pointed examinations of gun violence, racial profiling, and political activism with the everyday concerns of ordinary teendom (boys, clothes, the profound embarrassment of watching your parents make out). And she takes care to give the reader real people, not merely props in a modern morality play."
Legend by Marie Lu: Of her dystopian series, Lu told EW in 2011, "The dystopian setting originally came from a map I found online that showed a simulation of what the world would look like if the world's freshwater ice melted, causing all of the oceans to rise 100 meters. It was a fascinating map because half of the southern United States was pretty much gone."
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan: In 2010, when Riordan published the first novel in his Heroes of Olympus series, he told EW that Robert B. Parker's A Savage Place is the book that changed his life: "That was the first private-eye novel I ever read, and it opened up the whole genre for me, from Raymond Chandler to Robert Crais. Percy Jackson's narrative voice was shaped a great deal by the wisecracking PIs of noir fiction."
The Near Witch by V.E. Schwab: The author's stunning 2011 debut novel, long out of print, finally got a re-release with Titan Books in early 2019. "It's a surreal and incredible thing, returning to The Near Witch to shelves," Schwab told EW in 2018. "It was my first book, the first time I saw my work in print, my name on the cover. I had no idea what shape my career would take, the way it would shift and grow. It was in print for less than two years and has since become a strange and vaguely mythic story, one readers heard of, but couldn't find. Now, eight years, and 14 books later, I can say it's coming back. The book that started it all."
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo: EW wrote in 2012, "After tearing through book one in The Grisha Trilogy, it's no surprise why readers are getting sucked into the elaborate, Russian-inspired fantasy world that Bardugo has created."
Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: EW wrote in 2015, "Teens may be grappling with sexuality at a time when gay marriage is legal in most states, but that doesn't make their struggles less real…. Albertalli paints a stunningly three-dimensional, cliche-free world for Simon that bursts with unforgettable characters. Savor it, because you'll read it for the first time only once."
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon: EW wrote in 2016, "Yoon effortlessly weaves together themes of family, immigration, and sacrifice, while also exploring what it means to follow your dreams."