The New Generation
These 10 transfixing teen tales — from immersive fantasies to exquisite love stories — are page-turners that confront timely issues head-on. It’s further proof that YA is currently the space for the most socially relevant, progressive books out there.
The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo
We hoped that celebrated slam poet Acevedo could translate her artistry onto the page — but even so, The Poet X exceeded our expectations. An empowering amplification of the Latinx experience, the novel (which won the National Book Award) is written in verse as protagonist Xiomara, a teenager living in Harlem who’s struggling to understand her place in the world, begins expressing herself through poetry. In Acevedo’s unique style, her voice demands to be heard.
Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi
At the heart of this entrancing debut is a quest: young Zélie’s effort to restore magic to the kingdom of Orïsha, which has been decimated by genocide and inequality, and avenge the death of her mother. Adeyemi draws on Nigerian folklore to create an imaginative fantasy filled with spells and creatures and whole worlds previously unknown to Western YA. Orïsha feels as fresh and new as Hogwarts was in its day — only with giant lions instead of winged hippogriffs.
The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert
Albert’s magical novel set off an auction frenzy long before publication, and proved why the moment it hit the shelves, spending most of 2018 on the New York Times best-seller list. A contemporary drama about a 17-year-old whose mother is stolen away, The Hazel Wood features vivid writing and impressive world-building. But I love this title, especially, for its game-changing, late-breaking twist — one of the year’s very best.
What If It's Us, by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Our pick for 2018’s best literary combo. Silvera (They Both Die at the End) and Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the basis for Love, Simon) joined forces for this irresistible romantic comedy, about two boys who meet-cute in New York City but don’t know where to go from there. The authors smartly explore queer issues amid the awkward first-dates and steamy flirtations, and serve up a perfectly bittersweet ending.
Emergency Contact, by Mary H.K. Choi
Another romance, this one is so beautifully crafted that its intelligence and heart sneak up on you. Culture writer Mary H.K. Choi deftly explores Korean-American life and writes against stereotypes with nuance; she demonstrates a hilarious, human feel for dialogue between teens. And this is a formally experimental novel, unfolding in texts between its two romantic heroes. It’s pulled off seamlessly.
A Winter's Promise, by Christelle Dabos
This French import is a stunningly atmospheric fantasy that doubles as an exceptional character study. There’s more in this series and we can’t wait to see where Dabos takes it next. As EW’s Esme Douglas wrote in her review, “The novel develops a fascinating, singular, and unexpectedly resilient protagonist.”
A Very Large Expanse of Sea, by Tahereh Mafi
Best known for her dystopian Shatter Me series, Mafi shifts gears for this naturalistic — and very personal — story of Shirin, a Muslim 16-year-old just trying to live day-to-day in post-9/11 America. Shirin’s experience is imbued with fascinating specificity — in the traditions of her Iranian family, in the sexism that persists within her culture — but Expanse is a universal story of adolescence, too: stuffed with romance, fear, anxiety, humor, and big changes.
The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X.R. Pan
Pan’s literary YA debut is a tender novel about grief and identity. The protagonist, Leigh, goes to be with her grandparents in Taiwan after her mother’s death, and — believing her mother has turned into a bird — seeks to find and speak with her, and in turn gain a better sense of self. It’s a book of adventure, romance, friendship, and discovery, set against a lovely Buddhist backdrop.
A Reaper at the Gates, by Sabaa Tahir
Here’s the thing about big YA series: There’s the risk of buzz falling off after their breakout, as flashy new projects start crowding them out. Sabaa Tahir’s remarkable An Ember in the Ashes series, however, keeps getting better, introducing more POVs and complicating its characters’ journeys with thrilling momentum. If you’ve fallen behind on this one, catch up. At this point, we’re expecting Tahir to bring this series home in style.
Bridge of Clay, by Markus Zusak
It’s hard to follow-up one of the most beloved books of its era, but The Book Thief author Markus Zusak met the challenge with a novel that was more than a decade in the making: completely different in form, but equally ambitious in scope. A sweeping story following the five Dunbar brothers through times of grief, love, and anger, Bridge of Clay is a time-jumping, dreamlike exploration of family — and proof that the “YA” label doesn’t exclude complex, demanding literature.