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Best YA Books of 2018 about Speaking Your Truth

Poignant and real, beautiful and intense, this story of a girl struggling to define herself is as powerful as Xiomara’s...

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THE POET X

Poetry helps first-generation Dominican-American teen Xiomara Batista come into her own.

Fifteen-year old Xiomara (“See-oh-MAH-ruh,” as she constantly instructs teachers on the first day of school) is used to standing out: she’s tall with “a little too much body for a young girl.” Street harassed by both boys and grown men and just plain harassed by girls, she copes with her fists. In this novel in verse, Acevedo examines the toxicity of the “strong black woman” trope, highlighting the ways Xiomara’s seeming unbreakability doesn’t allow space for her humanity. The only place Xiomara feels like herself and heard is in her poetry—and later with her love interest, Aman (a Trinidadian immigrant who, refreshingly, is a couple inches shorter than her). At church and at home, she’s stifled by her intensely Catholic mother’s rules and fear of sexuality. Her present-but-absent father and even her brother, Twin (yes, her actual twin), are both emotionally unavailable. Though she finds support in a dedicated teacher, in Aman, and in a poetry club and spoken-word competition, it’s Xiomara herself who finally gathers the resources she needs to solve her problems. The happy ending is not a neat one, making it both realistic and satisfying. Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance.

Poignant and real, beautiful and intense, this story of a girl struggling to define herself is as powerful as Xiomara’s name: “one who is ready for war.” (Verse fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-266280-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

Amid a thoroughly contemporary story about terrorism, email leaks, and a divisive political climate, Lena’s coming-of-age is...

TROUBLEMAKERS

A 15-year-old London girl struggles with family tensions against a backdrop of bombings, crime, and political skulduggery.

Lena, whose mum died when she was only 3, has been lovingly raised by her brother, Danny (20 years her senior), and his partner, Nick. But Danny’s just gotten a job working for a law-and-order political candidate, and now there’s constant tension at home. There’s a bomber attacking East London supermarkets, and Danny’s boss—in statements Danny wrote for him—uses anti-crime language that Nick, who runs a hippie coffee shop that displays anti-establishment leaflets, despises. As the couple decide to separate to ease the tension in their relationship, Lena becomes increasingly curious about the mother she doesn’t remember, further infuriating her brother. Why is Danny so hostile toward their mother’s old friends? Real life is messy, Lena learns. As well as that: You don’t have to be political to be moral; good people sometimes do rotten things; doing right sometimes hurts the wrong people; and you don’t always get cinematic closure with the secrets of your past. Several secondary characters represent the multiculturalism of modern London; Lena and her family are assumed white.

Amid a thoroughly contemporary story about terrorism, email leaks, and a divisive political climate, Lena’s coming-of-age is wonderfully individual and heartbreakingly real . (Realistic fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: April 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5124-7549-4

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

A strikingly moving book about teenage grief.

SUMMER BIRD BLUE

Music helps a Washington state teenager overcome guilt and grief after the death of her beloved younger sister.

After a car accident that takes the life of Rumi Seto’s younger sister, Lea, Rumi feels guilt about surviving and is certain that her mother wishes Rumi had died instead. With her mother checked out and blank with sorrow, an angry, hardened Rumi is sent to stay with her Aunty Ani in Hawaii, where she meets a host of local characters, including Kai, a charismatic half-Korean/half-Japanese boy. Rumi also spends some time with Mr. Watanabe, her aunt’s gruff elderly neighbor, who has dealt with his own tragedy. Eventually, as Rumi is able to find her way back to the music she and Lea had shared and write the song that she believes she owes her sister, she becomes able to fully grieve. She also makes a discovery that helps reconcile her with her mother. Rumi’s mother is half-Japanese/half-Hawaiian, and her estranged father is white. Accurately reflecting the setting, the book is populated with a host of hapa (biracial) and Asian- and Pacific Islander–American characters. One subplot follows Rumi as she becomes comfortable with her aromantic and asexual feelings. Convincing local details and dialogue, masterful writing, and an emotionally cathartic climax make this book shine.

A strikingly moving book about teenage grief. (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4814-8775-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

The fast-paced narrative and unexpected twists make for an engaging yet educational novel with a powerful message about the...

DRIVING BY STARLIGHT

Two teenage girls in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, rebel against a patriarchal culture while struggling to navigate their complex family lives.

In this controlled, male-dominated society, no one escapes the scrutiny of the muttaween (religious police) except for those with power and money. Leena has had neither ever since her lawyer father fell into disgrace for leading protests against the government. Meanwhile, her best friend, Mishail, is the daughter of the minister of the interior, the man whose agency conducts surveillance on all communications in the country. Taking place following the 2011 Arab uprisings, Deracine’s debut novel offers a snapshot of the lives of young Saudi women who are navigating universal concerns including gender roles, sexuality, politics, and fashion. Leena’s rebellion leads her to disguise herself as a man and drive illegally and to sneak off to American gated compounds where the rules are less restrictive. Her relationships to Islam and Saudi culture evolve and mature as she seeks to understand the distinctions between the two. Tossing aside clichés and stereotypes of Saudi women as passive, helpless subjects to be pitied, the story shows teenage girls who take control of their futures by turning the very system that imprisons them against itself.

The fast-paced narrative and unexpected twists make for an engaging yet educational novel with a powerful message about the complexities of being a woman in a man’s world. (Fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-13342-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

This poignant novel presents us with a girl on the cusp of womanhood desperately trying to navigate the dissonant...

THIS BOOK BETRAYS MY BROTHER

A story of one girl’s attempts to understand and abide by the unspoken rules of familial loyalty in a post-apartheid South African town.

Molope (The Mending Season, 2005, etc.) introduces us to Basimane, the first son of a South African family, through the voice of his sister, Naledi. When, as an adult, Naledi sees a woman from her youth, a tiny scar on the woman’s face kick-starts reveries of her childhood and the one fateful night that changed little for her brother and parents but everything for Naledi and her closest friend, Ole, who hid her sexuality in their community. Naledi and Basimane lead affluent lives, embedded in a society fraught with issues of racism and classism as well as intergenerational gendered expectations. When their father’s business success enables them to move up in society Basimane continues his close association with his old friends, the township boys, much to his mother’s chagrin. Meanwhile Naledi oscillates between nostalgia and embracing the social distance her mother imposes. She closely watches her older brother’s violent treatment of women, attempting to reconcile his hypocritical behavior as he simultaneously seeks justice for his best friend’s mother, incarcerated for self-defense in the face of domestic violence.

This poignant novel presents us with a girl on the cusp of womanhood desperately trying to navigate the dissonant sociocultural imperatives placed on men and women in her society . (Fiction. 13-adult)

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-988449-29-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Mawenzi House

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

A masterful debut rich with intersectional nuance and grass-roots clarity, Anger is a Gift is hella precious, hella dope.

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ANGER IS A GIFT

Rooted in the working-class neighborhoods of Oakland, California, this is a tale of youth of color, diverse in sexuality and gender, organizing to challenge state-sanctioned violence.

Black teenager Moss Jeffries is still grieving from the loss six years earlier of his father by the trigger finger of a police officer. Moss struggles with self-doubt and anxiety-induced panic attacks, finding comfort in his emerging relationship with Javier, a Latinx boy who’s just as tender as he is bold. As the school year begins, the school resource officer assaults Moss’ friend Shawna, claiming to suspect drugs—but the young people know that it’s really about her decision to fully embrace her black trans identity. When the administration installs metal detectors, resulting in a tragic injury for their friend in a wheelchair, Moss and his circle organize to dismantle the system of violence at their school, beginning with a wildcat student walkout. They demonstrate that there will continue to be resistance wherein aggrieved communities gather in solidarity to build meaningful lives of collective joy, heartful struggle, and deep love. Moss’ mother, Wanda, offers, “Anger is a gift. Remember that….You gotta grasp on to it, hold it tight and use it as ammunition. You use that anger to get things done instead of just stewing in it.”

A masterful debut rich with intersectional nuance and grass-roots clarity, Anger is a Gift is hella precious, hella dope. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-16702-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Tor Teen

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

A book to carry with you.

I'M AFRAID OF MEN

In this collection of brief and poignant memories, trans artist and musician Shraya (The Boy & the Bindi, 2016, etc.) reflects on how men exert control over the ways in which people express identity.

Experiences with harassment trained South Asian–Canadian Shraya to camouflage herself among straight men. She altered the way she walked, the way she dressed, and what food she purchased at the grocery store. Through vignettes from different stages of her life—as an adolescent with a “budding sashay” and “soprano laughter,” as an adult seeking affection from gay men in bars, and then as an openly trans woman developing her career in music—she shares the rejection and the pressure she faced for not fitting into a white enough or skinny enough mold and for not conforming to men’s expectations of her sexuality. Her fear formed “because of cumulative damage” from “everyday experiences.” Not only does she critique the way men treat women, but she examines the problems with societal expectations of men as well as the need to “celebrate gender creativity.” Shraya crafts each of her memories in prose made poetic with touches of metaphor. She writes with honesty and vulnerability, all the while asking challenging and personal questions that inspire deeper reflection. This crucial addition to shelves offers the vital and often ignored perspective of a trans woman of color.

A book to carry with you. (Nonfiction. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-3593-9

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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