Book List

Best YA Books of 2019 About Navigating Different Worlds

For the lost and misunderstood.


Bullied by two of his female classmates, Scottish teen Brody Fair is saved by a handsome Spanish boy wearing blue fairy wings.

Nico Clark Calderón invites Brody—via an invitation written on an origami lily—to meet him on an Edinburgh hill on Thursday at 11:21 p.m. precisely. Charmed and eager to see Nico again, Brody sneaks out and enters Everland—a magical place where no one dies and the passage of time is ambiguous. At home, Brody, who is white, feels invisible to his overworked mother and agoraphobic father, caught between his gifted older brother and intense younger sister. In Everland, he is the drummer in a band and unafraid of being out as gay. He encounters a gang of misfits escaping their realities, including bisexual Argentinian Dani; Muslim Zahra, whose mother has multiple sclerosis; talented but stressed Japanese violinist Miyumi; and Polish Kasia, whose ex-girlfriend stopped coming to Everland. Challenges at home and changes in Everland eventually force Brody to make a difficult decision. Brody is a protagonist worth caring about; his insecurities and struggles are genuine and sympathetic, as is his temptation to run away and never look back. With empathy, Cameron (Out of the Blue, 2018) creates a cast in which every character is prone to being misjudged and has depth beyond their face value. She seamlessly weaves the two worlds together, creating a story that is deeply emotional and evocative.

For the lost and misunderstood. (Magical realism. 13-18)

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-14993-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

Inspiring and fresh.


In a city where “cocaine is king,” can a teenage gang leader dare to dream of another life?

Newark, New Jersey. 1984. Beatriz Mendez and her older brother, Junito, lead the powerful Latin Diablos gang. Everything changes on Beatriz’s 15th birthday when a Haitian gang leaves Junito for dead and Beatriz badly injured. A Like Vanessa (2018) spinoff, this page-turner opens dramatically with a visceral fight scene that introduces a fierce protagonist. Beatriz is a Spanglish-speaking Puerto Rican badass with “a blade tucked inside [her] cheek…to use on anybody who tries to step.” In the aftermath of Junito’s death, Beatriz struggles to maintain her standing as a Diabla, raise her grades (mostly D’s and F’s), and support her grief-stricken zombie of a mother. Though “dancing ain’t gonna pay the bills,” she allows her childhood dream of becoming a dancer to glimmer through her tough exterior each week when watching her favorite TV show, Fame. Told in the first person, this narrative is full of passion and humor, with flashbacks rooted in Beatriz’s beloved salsa music. Realistic newsprint clips effectively add context. A friendship/romance with a new boy contributes depth while avoiding predictability. As Beatriz transcends her trauma and self-doubt—“No such thing as a gangbanger turned famous dancer”—readers experience a necessary portrayal of a young Afro-Latina woman who makes her own path, one that isn’t straightforward, told in an extremely realistic voice.

Inspiring and fresh. (historical notes) (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-58089-778-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Charlesbridge Teen

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019


Allie Abraham is tired of being a “receptacle for unguarded Just Between Us White People ignorance” and discomfort.

Moving from place to place with her Circassian Jordanian professor father and white American psychologist mother, Allie has been a chameleon, blending in as the perfect all-American girl. Very few people know that Allie is actually Alia and that both her parents are Muslim. Her mother converted upon marrying her no-longer-practicing father, who encourages his daughter to take advantage of the pale skin and reddish-blonde hair that help her avoid being profiled. Allie yearns to connect to her religion and heritage—and to her Teta, the grandmother with whom she is only able to communicate in broken Arabic. Her new boyfriend, Wells Henderson, seems so genuine and likable, unlike his father, a conservative, xenophobic cable newscaster. As Allie embraces all the parts of who she is and confronts Islamophobia, she wonders if others can fully accept her growth. The book handles the complexity and intersectionality of being a Muslim American woman with finesse, addressing many aspects of identity and Islamic opinions. Allie, who has a highly diverse friend group, examines her white-passing privilege and race as well as multiple levels of discrimination, perceptions of conversion, feminism, sexual identity, and sexuality. While grounded in the American Muslim experience, the book has universal appeal thanks to its nuanced, well-developed teen characters whose struggles offer direct parallels to many other communities.

Phenomenal. (Fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-30952-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

A heartwarming tribute to immigrant families and their descendants trying to live the American dream.



A graphic memoir about being half Filipino, half Egyptian—and 100% American.

After her parents’ divorce, debut author Gharib spent her school years with her Filipino relatives in Cerritos, California, and summers with her father and his new family in Egypt. She honestly recounts the challenges she faced as a biracial child trying to appease both sides of her family, providing detailed (and oftentimes humorous) insights into her parents’ cultural differences, both significant (her mother is Catholic while her father is Muslim) and nuanced (food, etiquette, expectations for her behavior). Gharib thoughtfully explores the gradations of diversity and what they meant to different people. In elementary school, Filipino classmates commented on her less-than-Filipino name and appearance. In high school, surrounded mostly by students of color but still feeling marginalized due to her bicultural, biracial heritage, she was criticized for her obsession with white culture. Readers also experience Gharib’s transition to college and her first job—far away from her family and requiring huge adjustments as she entered mostly white worlds. She eventually married Darren, a white man from Tennessee. Charmingly unsophisticated illustrations, predominantly—and appropriately—colored in red, white, and blue, and Gharib’s authentic voice make her story personable and accessible. Dispersed throughout are unique interactives, including a bingo chart of microaggressions, a mini zine tutorial, and Tagalog flashcards.

A heartwarming tribute to immigrant families and their descendants trying to live the American dream. (Graphic memoir. 13-adult)

Pub Date: April 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-57511-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

A funny, clever, wild ride of a story about growing up and breaking free.


Seventeen-year-old Morgan is determined to live her truth as a quirky black girl in a predominantly white, small town in Southern California while struggling with depression and anxiety.

Morgan has more than her fair share of teen angst. She’s regularly the only black person in the room, frequently told that she’s “not really black.” She takes medication for depression and anxiety. Her history teacher is clueless about black history and idolizes Ronald Reagan. For a Goodwill clothes–wearing “emo” girl in a sunny Southern California suburb, Christian school is “like going to high school inside a church inside a PacSun.” And Morgan is tired of having to act like she’s religious. She has doubts about faith and her ability to handle life, and if she were white, she’d be cool in a late-’90s teen film kind of way. But a black manic pixie dream girl is not something her peers embrace as cool. With music as a solace and constant companion, Morgan and her motley crew of friends navigate love, bullying, and an uncertain future. Poet Parker offers readers a heart-filled, laugh-out-loud hilarious YA fiction debut. Morgan’s pain and passion electrify every page. Her life feels like a mess, but faced with racism, rejection, and everyday growing pains, her hope and determination still shine through.

A funny, clever, wild ride of a story about growing up and breaking free. (Fiction. 12-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-70751-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

A girl-centered Catcher in the Rye for the 21st century.


A brilliant, frustrated girl seeks connection and freedom beyond her claustrophobic hometown.

Serena Velasco knows there’s something rotten in the state of Colchis, the abandoned factory town that her uncle describes as “the burned-over cinder of the American Dream.” She adopts her late father’s communist philosophies and Red Army cap as shields to keep herself loftily separate from a community that has never welcomed or understood her—and that she does not wish to welcome or understand either. Her only friend is talented dancer Melody Grimshaw, a fellow social pariah who comes from the poorest family in town. When Serena’s mother becomes the new principal, Serena and Melody think they can use that leverage to achieve the goals that will get them out of Colchis, but chasing their dreams proves more complicated, isolating, and dangerous than either girl predicted. As the scope of the narrative expands to old-money Maine, a California strip club, and a cross-country hitchhiking trip, the spaces between Serena and the people she loves threaten to grow irreparably wide. All major characters are white. Serena is a stunningly realistic and layered protagonist, brilliant but naïve and projecting a prickly disdain that covers deeper insecurities. Her story unfolds in remarkably sharp, vivid prose, and even the least sympathetic characters are rendered with thoughtful complexity.

A girl-centered Catcher in the Rye for the 21st century. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-17492-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

A deeply moving account of love in its many forms.

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A senior contends with first love and heartache in this spectacular debut.

Sensitive, smart Frank Li is under a lot of pressure. His Korean immigrant parents have toiled ceaselessly, running a convenience store in a mostly black and Latinx Southern California neighborhood, for their children’s futures. Frank’s older sister fulfilled their parents’ dreams—making it to Harvard—but when she married a black man, she was disowned. So when Frank falls in love with a white classmate, he concocts a scheme with Joy, the daughter of Korean American family friends, who is secretly seeing a Chinese American boy: Frank and Joy pretend to fall for each other while secretly sneaking around with their real dates. Through rich and complex characterization that rings completely true, the story highlights divisions within the Korean immigrant community and between communities of color in the U.S., cultural rifts separating immigrant parents and American-born teens, and the impact on high school peers of society’s entrenched biases. Yoon’s light hand with dialogue and deft use of illustrative anecdotes produce a story that illuminates weighty issues by putting a compassionate human face on struggles both universal and particular to certain identities. Frank’s best friend is black and his white girlfriend’s parents are vocal liberals; Yoon’s unpacking of the complexity of the racial dynamics at play is impressive—and notably, the novel succeeds equally well as pure romance.

A deeply moving account of love in its many forms. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984812-20-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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