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Best YA Books of 2018 That Explore Family and Self

Thoughtful readers who appreciate literary fiction will find much to savor in this lyrical novel suffused with beauty and...


Walking away from those we love most may seem like the kindest thing we can do, but it’s a choice that will forever haunt those we leave behind.

Where do we place our faith—in God, in other people, in science? Grace and her father believe salvation will come in the form of a cure for the schizophrenia that led her mother to abandon her family and which now threatens Grace as well. To this end, her workaholic father, a racially ambiguous adoptee who met her Korean mother while working as an Army doctor, is a recruiter for a laboratory doing genetic research, luring in the best talent he can find. Still in high school, 18-year-old Grace has an internship at the same lab, where she meets one of her father’s hires, blue-eyed Will, whose easy manner and caring personality draw her in. But all is not well for Grace at home, at school, or in the dark recesses of her mind, where grief, fear, memory, and dread mingle. Told obliquely, with frequent shifts in time marked by seasons in the chapter headers, the spare, haunting text demands and rewards readers’ careful attention as they struggle, along with Grace, to determine what is actually real.

Thoughtful readers who appreciate literary fiction will find much to savor in this lyrical novel suffused with beauty and terror. (Fiction. 12-adult)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4814-2225-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Exquisite, heartbreaking, unforgettable—and, ultimately, uplifting.


Family, art, love, duty, and longing collide in this painfully beautiful paean to the universal human need for connection.

Cupertino, California, high school senior Danny Cheng has a tight circle of friends, adoring parents, and a full scholarship to his dream school, the Rhode Island School of Design. But lurking just beneath the surface are secrets and tensions that threaten to tear apart everything he holds dear. Closeted Danny has kept hidden his longtime attraction to his best friend, Harry Wong, who is in a serious relationship with Danny’s close friend Regina Chan. Some of his parents’ oddities also turn out to be more than just eccentricity; they are hiding something dark from their past. Danny knows he had an older sister who died in China, but little beyond that. He stumbles across a mysterious file of papers, but his parents refuse to explain. Meanwhile, some in Danny’s circle of school friends are struggling with demons of their own. Gilbert paints a vivid portrait of a largely Asian-American community, diverse in terms of socio-economic status, ethnicity, and religious faith. While the topics dealt with may be heavy, the book is suffused with the warmth of the characters’ love for one another. Imperfect in their human frailty and noble in their desire to do the best they can, they are universally recognizable and sympathetic.

Exquisite, heartbreaking, unforgettable—and, ultimately, uplifting. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4847-2602-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

Gilmore’s gritty multigenerational tale not only seeks to ask adoption’s toughest questions, but dares to offer no easy...


A probing look at teen pregnancy and adoption.

Acclaimed novelist Gilmore (We Were Never Here, 2016, etc.) explores the loaded subject of adoption from multiple perspectives. She fashions two first-person narratives: Bridget, a pregnant 16-year-old grappling with whether to keep her baby at the turn of the 21st century, and Ivy, a 16-year-old adoptee, who in 2017 decides the time to find her birth mother has come. Early on, Gilmore slowly reveals that Ivy is the daughter Bridget gave to lesbian couple Andrea and Joanne in 2000, exiting their lives shortly thereafter, leaving only letters for Ivy. While the intricately interwoven nonlinear narrative offers much food for thought in terms of identity formation and reflects a concerted effort to present characters from a variety of diverse backgrounds, the novel excels in diving head-on into the deep moral and existential quandaries unplanned pregnancy and adoption present. On the one hand, Bridget expresses the view that “adoption is always the story of someone breaking someone else’s heart,” just as Ivy tries to reconcile feeling fortunate—“I am the prize. I have never not felt that way”—with wondering “Why did she hand me over in the end? What did I do that was so bad?” Bridget and Ivy are white.

Gilmore’s gritty multigenerational tale not only seeks to ask adoption’s toughest questions, but dares to offer no easy answers: Not to be missed . (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: July 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-239363-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

A touching story that has been a long time coming for the Indigenous community


After the sudden death of his sister, Shane, an Anishinaabe teen, is left to carry the weight of grief for his family.

His mother is inconsolable. His girlfriend has become clingy. And his secret love, David, keeps him at a distance, as the pair hasn’t quite found a way to co-exist within a reservation community where there are no openly gay couples. Shane is dealt another crushing blow after his sister’s memorial when he discovers that the funding for his college tuition deposit hasn’t been approved by the band. College in Toronto is the one escape that Shane believes will offer him a semblance of a future that might not be forever lost within the cyclical trauma that exists in his community—even though his family sees his leaving the rez to go to college as a betrayal. From the first page, Cree/Métis filmmaker Jones (adapting his award-winning film of the same name) uses a poetic voice to interlace the landscape and the main character as one symbiotic being. Complex, vulnerable emotion is embedded within the specificity of the writing in this dramatic prose debut. Jones avoids clichés of reservation life, humanizing the stories of how his people reconcile the trauma of suicide, missing family members, same-sex relationships, and the isolation of a community left to fend for itself.

A touching story that has been a long time coming for the Indigenous community . (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-55451-978-1

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Annick Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

This tear-jerker will leave readers wanting to follow the next chapter in Darius’ life.

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Darius Kellner suffers from depression, bullying by high school jocks, and a father who seems to always be disappointed in him.

When Darius’ grandfather becomes terminally ill, Darius, along with his parents and younger sister, travels to Iran for the first time in his life. Iranian on his mother’s side and white American on his father’s side, Darius never quite fits in. He’s mocked for his name and nerdy interests at Chapel Hill High School in Portland, Oregon, and doesn’t speak enough Farsi to communicate with his Iranian relatives either. When he arrives in Iran, learning to play the Persian card game Rook, socializing, and celebrating Nowruz with a family he had never properly met before is all overwhelming and leaves Darius wondering if he’ll ever truly belong anywhere. But all that changes when Darius meets Sohrab, a Bahá’í boy, in Yazd. Sohrab teaches Darius what friendship is really about: loyalty, honesty, and someone who has your back in a football (soccer) match. For the first time in a long time, Darius learns to love himself no matter what external forces attempt to squash his confidence. Khorram’s debut novel is filled with insight into the lives of teens, weaving together the reality of living with mental illness while also dealing with identity and immigration politics.

This tear-jerker will leave readers wanting to follow the next chapter in Darius’ life. (Fiction. 12-adult)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-55296-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

Readers will want tissues in hand for the final, bittersweet pages of this remarkable series


From the My Brother's Husband series , Vol. 2

The follow-up to the slice-of-life manga about Japanese single father Yaichi, his daughter, Kana, and his deceased brother’s white Canadian husband, Mike.

The story seamlessly picks up where the first entry left off, inviting readers back into Yaichi’s swirling thoughts as he considers how much more comfortable he’s become with Mike’s homosexuality and the areas where he’s still learning. Importantly, Yaichi finally recognizes that despite what he’s told himself, he treated his twin brother, Ryoji, differently after he came out. Here, Tagame (My Brother’s Husband, vol. 1, 2017, etc.) demonstrates how quietly refusing to affirm a family member’s sexuality can be just as harmful as outright rejection. As in the previous book, paneled black-and-white illustrations balance precisely with the light-handed translated text, allowing room for readers to relax into the world and interpret characters’ expressions for themselves. The plot’s leisurely pace also gives time to elements of the gay experience rarely covered in other stories, including the complications that can arise when an out gay man interacts with a closeted man in public. Additionally, this volume delves deeper into how Ryoji’s death has changed Mike, particularly his new understanding that nothing in life is guaranteed. Though both Mike and Yaichi reflect on the uncertainty of the future, the comfort between the two men and their mutual desire to stay connected proves a heart-filling resolution.

Readers will want tissues in hand for the final, bittersweet pages of this remarkable series . (Graphic novel. 13-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-101-87153-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2018

A suspenseful and fascinating glimpse into a Mexican-American world.


A magical story about a girl who awakens to her potential when her vagabond mother abandons her at her grandmother’s home in Laredo, Texas.

Kept in the dark her entire life, 16-year-old Martha discovers that everything she thinks she knows about herself is a lie. Evicted time and again while on the road with her mother, her life was nomadic and impoverished. Thrown into her grandmother’s Spanish-speaking world, she discovers that her last name is Gonzalez rather than George and that she has a large family. As Martha endeavors to learn the language of her long-lost family, she discovers that her grandmother is a curandera with healing powers. Engaging in practices that are a fusion of Indigenous beliefs and Catholicism, Martha finds her confidence. But as she becomes determined to uncover her mother’s secrets, she is thwarted by the way her family is reluctant to talk about the past. When she develops a mortal enemy at school, she must decide whether to back away or fully immerse herself in her grandmother’s curandera teachings. Debut novelist Temblador has created an unforgettable character in Martha, a girl whose gifts are greater than she could have imagined, in part because they belong to a world she never could have imagined. The novel introduces young readers to a Mexican community that maintains its roots in its Indigenous bloodlines.

A suspenseful and fascinating glimpse into a Mexican-American world. (Fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-55885-870-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Piñata Books/Arté Público

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

A fun and deeply satisfying read for teens. (Graphic novel. 14-18)



From the Check, Please! series , Vol. 1

A pie-baking hockey player from small-town Georgia begins college and settles into jock culture.

Eric “Bitty” Bittle’s dreams are coming true: He is starting college on the hockey team at Samwell University in Massachusetts. Bitty played hockey and figure skated competitively; unfortunately, the coed team back home did not allow “checking,” or physical contact, and Bitty’s fear of being hit becomes a real impediment in college hockey. Bitty’s team captain, Jack Zimmerman, “the hockey prince,” is determined to break Bitty of his fear of being checked. Despite Jack’s mercurial nature, Bitty develops a serious crush on the attractive athlete. As the practices and games develop, Bitty forms bonds with the other players and, after coming out, settles into college life. When sophomore year rolls around, Bitty has to face that two of his closest teammates are seniors and will be leaving soon. Based on a popular webcomic, this is a warm story with an irresistible protagonist, a clever supporting cast, and lively and plentiful game and practice scenes. There are many themes here: acceptance, standing up to fear, and finding your place, to name a few. Despite its episodic style, the humor and heart at the center of the story carry it through. The art relies on expressive facial shots to complement the snappy and sometimes-raunchy dialogue. Bitty is white, and there is some diversity in secondary characters.

A fun and deeply satisfying read for teens. (Graphic novel. 14-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-17796-4

Page Count: 290

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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