Like YA? Like fantasy and/or science fiction? If so, this is a list for you. Especially if you love diverse characters and diverse authors, since this list reflects my reading interests and so it leans heavily in that direction. These books totally swept me away while reading. Occasionally I may also have stayed up late to finish a chapter. Or two. Or, um, the whole book. (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)
Any book on this list I loved at the time I read it, whether I had a chance to write a review or not. Obviously a re-read years later might reveal a problematic aspect I didn’t pick up on back then. Please let me know via my contact form if you find something yikes in a book I recommend.
Fantastic contemporary YA sci-fi with (1) an adorable romance, (2) queer high school kids who are friends with each other instead of being alone with a group of non-queer friends, and (3) an enthusiasm for board and card games. Yay, yay, and yay! I really hope Burgoine writes more YA, even though I also like his adult stuff, because he’s done a great job portraying nerdy teenagers here and I want more of that!
“Being the kid abducted by old Ms. Easton when he was four permanently set Cole’s status to freak. At seventeen, his exit plan is simple: make it through the last few weeks of high school with his grades up and his head down.
When he pushes through the front door of the school and finds himself eighty kilometers away holding the door of a museum he was just thinking about, Cole faces facts: he’s either more deluded than old Ms. Easton, or he just teleported.
Now every door is an accident waiting to happen―especially when Cole thinks about Malik, who, it turns out, has a glass door on his shower. When he starts seeing the same creepy people over his shoulder, no matter how far he’s gone, crushes become the least of his worries. They want him to stop, and they’ll go to any length to make it happen. Cole is running out of luck, excuses, and places to hide. Time for a new exit plan.”
I had so much fun reading this. Fewer giant robots than I expected, but I adored the main character, and as an anime-watcher I felt like I was slipping into a familiar and pleasant groove.
Here’s the deal: “After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the ranks of the academy. Abandoned as a kid in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, Jaewon desires only to escape his past and prove himself a loyal soldier of the Neo State. When Jaewon is recruited into the most lucrative weapons development division in Neo Seoul, he is eager to claim his best shot at military glory. But the mission becomes more complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject in the government’s supersoldier project. Tera was trained for one purpose: to pilot one of the lethal God Machines, massive robots for a never-ending war. With secret orders to report on Tera, Jaewon becomes Tera’s partner, earning her reluctant respect. But as respect turns to love, Jaewon begins to question his loyalty to an oppressive regime that creates weapons out of humans.”
Y’all, I had SUCH a good time with this paranormal YA about a gay teen who’s possessed by a demon trying to incarnate on Earth. Our main character, Auggie, is wonderful and braver than anyone should expect him to be, and funny, and also very real and vulnerable. I loved how he was allowed to cry multiple times out of fear or sheer misery, and that was ok! There were cool vampire fights, a quasi love triangle I didn’t hate (miracle!), and I was just about trying to prop my eyelids open at night so I could squeeze in just a bit more reading time. I needed to know what would happen next! Screamingly funny in parts, extremely scary where it should be, and I just wanted to wrap Auggie in a blanket and give him cookies.
Spooky atmosphere + queer gal rep + magic + the good and bad of friendship and attraction. There are a lot of POVs and a lot of timeline switching, but instead of taking notes like I sometimes do with books like that, I just gave myself over to it and let the what-really-happened?? feelings do their thing. CW: discussion of sexual assault.
What it’s about: “One stormy Irish summer night, Olive and her best friend, Rose, begin to lose things. It starts with simple items, but soon it’s clear that Rose has lost something much bigger, something she won’t talk about, and Olive thinks her best friend is slipping away. Then seductive diary pages written by a girl named Laurel begin to appear all over town. And Olive meets three mysterious strangers: Ivy, Hazel, and her twin brother, Rowan, secretly squatting in an abandoned housing estate. The trio are wild and alluring, but they seem lost too—and like Rose, they’re holding tight to painful secrets. When they discover the spellbook, it changes everything.”
I love a time loop story, and this YA did it right. The author did a great job depicting how being stuck repeating the same day might affect someone emotionally, and also showing how teenage main character Clark is able to finally move forward in his life despite repeating time as he tries to start unlocking himself from the loop.
As a person who was convinced at age 15 that I had met the person I would marry (haha no), I also found the depiction of teenagers being motivated by the belief that they have found their soulmates extremely realistic. And sweet.
“For some reason, Clark has woken up and relived the same monotonous Monday 309 times. Until Day 310 turns out to be… different. Suddenly, his usual torturous math class is interrupted by an anomaly — a boy he’s never seen before in all his previous Mondays.
When shy, reserved Clark decides to throw caution to the wind and join effusive and effervescent Beau on a series of ‘errands’ across the Windy City, he never imagines that anything will really change, because nothing has in such a long time. And he definitely doesn’t expect to fall this hard or this fast for someone in just one day.
There’s just one problem: how do you build a future with someone if you can never get to tomorrow?”
An absolutely harrowing queer YA science fiction love story*. I can’t remember the last time I kept reading a book that was making me so tense! And I mean that in a good way. I was riveted even though I was also in agony.
Two astronauts on a rescue mission to deep space, Ambrose and Kodiak, must learn to trust each other and work together in order to survive. Ambrose is a bit startled by this… since he didn’t know Kodiak would be there until he woke up out of cryo.
If you’re into high stakes, conspiracy plots, and love in space, this might be your jam.
* Not a romance. To me, anyway.
An intriguing story with a science fiction premise that’s a little hand-wavey about the details, but has such a strong heroine that I didn’t mind. Eva is a clone, an “Echo,” created and raised as a kind of human insurance policy against the death of wealthy Indian girl Amarra. When Amarra is killed in a car accident, Eva is summoned to replace her in a grief-stricken family and at school among classmates who must be convinced Eva’s the real Amarra.
There’s an exploration of grief, identity and ethics as well as a minor romantic sub-plot with a dude, but overall it’s the story of Eva trying to survive and become truly free. Really enjoyed it.
Do not resurrect your best friend. Seriously, do not! It can’t possibly end well! However, this book does the trick I love of showing a teenager making a bad decision, but by the time she does, you’re so deep into her perspective and heart that you cringe FOR her instead of being annoyed AT her. Mila Flores is a fat Mexican-American Wiccan high school student who’s just lost her best friend, Riley. The death is ruled a suicide, but Mila thinks it’s a murder. Of course the only solution is magic.
I loved Mila’s prickliness and her loyalty, and I loved how she grows and opens her damaged heart over the course of this book. The secondary characters are great, too, this is just all-around wonderful.
I read Shadowshaper in one sitting, despite being on a crowded, noisy airplane with a seven year old occasionally chattering in my ear. Once I started reading this book, I could not stop. The world was just so so engrossing; it felt just as valid as that airplane and much more interesting.
(Besides, the seven year old had his own book, and it was about zombies! What more could he need?)
“Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “Lo siento” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.
Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.”
My teenage son and I listened to this on audio, narrated by Christopher Myers, and we both loved the story and the narration. Compelling story about a difficult topic, with complex characters, intriguing worldbuilding, and plenty of food for thought about morality and community-based justice.
“Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look?
There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?
In their riveting and timely young adult debut, acclaimed novelist Akwaeke Emezi asks difficult questions about what choices you can make when the society around you is in denial.”
I really liked this YA dystopia focusing on rural survivalist life among Indigenous folks, by a Métis author – with a paranormal/metaphysical twist. In this future, people have stopped dreaming, which has caused terrible side effects. The only cure is the bone marrow of North America’s Indigenous people, so they’re all either imprisoned or in hiding.
If you’re looking for something with a fresh perspective on the dystopian genre, this is a great pick. There are some absolutely heartbreaking moments, but also fierce resistance and hope.
I love zombies, I adore Jane, and I had such a good time reading this book.
“Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.”
Jane is bi, and there is also other queer rep yay!
Update: I’ve now read the second book in the duology, Deathless Divide, and a follow-up short story collection Three for the Road, and they’re both great!
I’m not even usually a witchy fantasy fan, but this dark, creepy YA pulled me in! Aziza the hedgewitch, Leo the cursed boy, and Tristan the necromancer are all fantastic characters. Until very near the end, I really could not see how any/all of them were going to get out of the danger they were in, so my hat is off to Hassan on that front. I also really enjoyed how much love this book held for family, whether that’s biological or found.
“As the only hedgewitch in Blackthorn, Massachusetts—an uncommonly magical place—Aziza El-Amin has bargained with wood nymphs, rescued palm-sized fairies from house cats, banished flesh-eating shadows from the local park. But when a dark entity awakens in the forest outside of town, eroding the invisible boundary between the human world and fairyland, run-of-the-mill fae mischief turns into outright aggression, and the danger—to herself and others—becomes too great for her to handle alone.
Leo Merritt is no stranger to magical catastrophes. On his sixteenth birthday, a dormant curse kicked in and ripped away all his memories of his true love. A miserable year has passed since then. He’s road-tripped up and down the East Coast looking for a way to get his memories back and hit one dead end after another. He doesn’t even know his true love’s name, but he feels the absence in his life, and it’s haunting.
Desperate for answers, he makes a pact with Aziza: he’ll provide much-needed backup on her nightly patrols, and in exchange, she’ll help him break the curse.
When the creature in the woods sets its sights on them, their survival depends on the aid of a mysterious young necromancer they’re not certain they can trust. But they’ll have to work together to eradicate the new threat and take back their hometown… even if it forces them to uncover deeply buried secrets and make devastating sacrifices.”
And that’s the list!