Book List

Best YA Books of 2019 That Celebrate Human Connection

A keen collaboration moving seamlessly between worlds inner and outer, natural and supernatural


A newly illustrated edition of Almond’s psychologically acute tale of ghosts and grief in a small British town.

Originally published in the autobiographical Half a Creature From the Sea (2015), the atmospheric narrative is placed within equally shadowed, evocative scenes, sepia sketches alternating with painterly, often nightmarishly jumbled portraits or visions. Wounded souls battling tides of anger and loss abound: from inwardly focused narrator Davie, still hurting in the wake of his baby sister’s death, to the people around him, notably Joe Quinn, a mercurial youth with a dad in jail, a giddy mum, and, he claims, a household poltergeist. In the end the author leaves it to readers to decide whether the “ghost” is real or just Joe, but after a vicious fight with Joe followed by a bit of shared moon-gazing, Davie’s initial skepticism is transformed to a deeper feeling that has something of empathy to it: “I know the poltergeist is all of us, raging and wanting to scream and to fight and to start flinging stuff; to smash and to break.” The art amplifies the characteristically dark, rich tones of Almond’s prose all the way to a final Dylan Thomas–style promise that “the world and all that’s in it will continue to…hold us in its darkness and its light.” The cast is a presumed white one.

A keen collaboration moving seamlessly between worlds inner and outer, natural and supernatural . (Graphic novella. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0160-4

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

A brilliant multicultural collection that reminds readers that stories about food are rarely just about the food alone.



A collection of 13 #ownvoices stories that amplify the central role food plays in families and cultures.

The web of stories in this anthology unfolds in Hungry Heart Row, a neighborhood where myriad cafes, bakeries, and restaurants abound, renowned for their great food, unsurpassed hospitality, and—in some cases—magical meals to cure every malady. In Sandhya Menon’s (There’s Something About Sweetie, 2019, etc.) “Grand Ishq Adventure,” Neha writes a blog and has no problem advising her readers what to do, but her own love life is going nowhere—until she takes some of her own advice. The heroine in “Panadería-Pastelería” by Anna-Marie McLemore (Blanca & Roja, 2018, etc.) expresses herself through the language of baking rather than words, showing her caring through carefully chosen, lovingly made baked goods. The cast of unconventional, diverse characters—who run into one another in different stories—includes a Muslim superhero, a teen of Native (nation unspecified) and white ancestry, and a Jewish girl struggling after trauma. The stories use food and restaurant settings to frame engaging narratives connecting to themes of first love, belonging and isolation, family conflict, and loyalty, spiced up with elements of the supernatural, fantasy, and magical realism.

A brilliant multicultural collection that reminds readers that stories about food are rarely just about the food alone. (map, about the authors) (Anthology. 13-adult)

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5344-2185-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

A warm, wise, strange meditation on developing the strength to be vulnerable.


Sixteen-year-old Violet is shuffled off to stay with her uncle in coastal Maine after her brother, Sam, tries to kill himself.

The near mythic family lore of Violet’s mother, whose great-great-great-grandparents founded the fictional town of Lyric, is the thread that weaves together a host of interesting characters in this witty, surprising novel as it explores grief, mental illness, and both family and romantic dynamics. After a wild year of drinking and impersonal sex that ultimately results in Violet’s suspension from school for smoking weed near campus, she arrives in Lyric with a freshly shaven head and a vow to keep to herself. Though she cares about her kind uncle, Toby, Violet’s avoidance of her painful and difficult emotions means that she holds him at arm’s length and speaks little to her parents back in New York City or her brother, who is at a treatment center in Vermont. Slowly, through the relationships she develops with her similarly musically talented co-worker Orion and his tightknit, eccentric group, Liv, Mariah, and Felix, Violet begins to contend with her own anxiety and her near paralyzing fear about her brother’s illness. Most of the characters are white; Mariah is Indian American, and several are queer.

A warm, wise, strange meditation on developing the strength to be vulnerable. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-368-04808-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Don’t be put off by the canned tomato cover: This one’s a gem.


Ellis Kimball has faith in the imminent end of the world.

She’s failed her driving test twice because fears of hitting elderly pedestrians prevent her from even starting the car. She stockpiles survival gear and spends lunch period in the school library, the perfect place for a mass shooter—or Ellis herself—to hide. She loves her family but neither understands nor is understood by them. In her therapist’s waiting room, she meets Hannah, a girl from her class who says she knows when and how the world is going to end: on Dec. 21, during a freak San Francisco snowstorm, while Hannah and Ellis are holding hands. While Ellis makes flyers to warn everyone, Hannah enlists her help to find a homeless psychic called Prophet Dan, who she is certain will be able to help them. Ellis is a Latter-day Saint; her faith is as important to her as her survival, and her belief in Hannah feels holy. But Hannah is neither a mystic nor a saint. Told from Ellis’ probing, intelligent point of view, the story reaches a lovely, surprising conclusion that offers respect and healing for all concerned. Henry (Heretics Anonymous, 2018) writes witty dialogue, creates complicated characters, and treats different religious beliefs with sincerity and respect. Ellis and Hannah are white, and Hannah is lesbian. Secondary characters are broadly diverse.

Don’t be put off by the canned tomato cover: This one’s a gem. (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-269890-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

Thoroughly engrossing and as infectious as Steph’s lyrics: a testament to the unbreakable bonds of friendship and a love...


After a Brooklyn teen is murdered, his sister and best friends set out to launch his rap career.

Stephon “Steph” Davis could’ve been one of the hottest emcees to come out of Brooklyn, just like his inspiration and fellow Bed-Stuy rapper, the Notorious B.I.G. Unfortunately, like Biggie, Steph was murdered. His grieving best friends, Quadir and Jarrell, discover a treasure trove of tapes and CDs of Steph’s music in his bedroom. With the help of Jasmine, his socially conscious sister, Quadir and Jarrell hatch a plan to promote Steph’s music. With lyrical finesse (penned for the novel by Sharif) and beats that can rock a party, Steph is “killing them while he’s dead.” Soon, Steph’s demo catches the attention of a well-known rep for a major record label who wants to meet hip-hop’s newest rising star. The three teens must keep up the charade while also trying to uncover the truth about his murder. Exceptional storytelling, well-crafted, true-to-life dialogue, and the richly drawn Brooklyn landscape will draw readers into this fast-paced blend of mystery, budding romance, and social commentary. Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are endearing, tenacious, and memorable. Hip-hop lovers of all ages will appreciate this homage to rap legends from a bygone—but not forgotten—era.

Thoroughly engrossing and as infectious as Steph’s lyrics: a testament to the unbreakable bonds of friendship and a love letter to Brooklyn and hip-hop in the late ’90s. (Fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: May 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-284032-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

A must-read. (Fiction. 12-18)


Word in Baton Rouge is that Athena Graves’ younger sister got an abortion over the summer.

Named after powerful women in Greek mythology, the Graves sisters could not be more different. Athena is a gifted student with dyed red hair and a love for punk-rock music. Helen, a blonde beauty, loves fashion and Pearl Jam—a band Athena deems so mainstream. Helen’s anti-abortion stance makes her a better fit for their Catholic high school than aspiring riot grrrl Athena. But when a rumor spreads that Helen got an abortion after sleeping with a racist classmate, Athena, with the help of fellow abortion-rights advocate Melissa, works to save Helen from being expelled. Athena believes mean girl Leah started the rumor, but Leah’s football-star boyfriend, Sean, comes to her defense. And soon after Athena starts dating cute Kyle, Leah sets her sights on him too. Sympathetic Athena honestly struggles to get justice for her sister while upholding her core beliefs in the face of a strongly conservative community. Beyond the abortion debate, this provides a necessary focus on the importance of young women supporting one another across differences. Echoing the punk-rock feminist movement of the early ’90s, debut author Keenan creates a timely narrative that will challenge teens to reflect on their personal values and engage in respectful discourse. Main characters are white apart from Melissa, who is half Vietnamese and half Cajun, and Sean, who is black.

A must-read. (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-335-18500-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Inkyard Press

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

A hymn to faith, friendship, and social justice, sung by gentle men and strong women of many colors and ages.


A summer church trip to Kolkata allows two American teens to serve, grow, and heal their own suffering in unexpected ways.

Katina King is a 16-year-old Brazilian jujitsu champion, a scholarship student at an elite Oakland school, and the brown-skinned, biracial daughter of a single white mother. After a male student assaults her, Kat’s anxiety, rage, and anguish disrupt her focus on winning matches and applying to college. Eighteen-year-old Robin Thornton was adopted as a toddler from an Indian orphanage by wealthy white Bostonians. He can’t seem to find true belonging or be more than a rudderless sidekick to his white jock friend. When Kat’s mother sends her to Boston for a break from Oakland, the teens meet, traveling to Kolkata with their pastor to work with survivors of child trafficking. Kat decides to teach the young women how to fight while Robin, now going by Ravi, hopes to find his birth mother. But they learn the hard way that they must first earn the trust and respect of those they serve and that service may be very different from what they imagine. Perkins (You Bring the Distant Near, 2017, etc.) celebrates Christian faith, superheroes, and Kolkata life through the interleaved perspectives of sympathetic and earnest protagonists and in simple language that speaks straight to the heart.

A hymn to faith, friendship, and social justice, sung by gentle men and strong women of many colors and ages. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-30492-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

A narrative of courage and optimism in the face of loss, this novel is brilliant storytelling.


Following the tragic and mysterious death of her journalist father while on an investigative trip to the family’s homeland of Zimbabwe, 15-year-old Shamiso and her mother leave England.

Returning to the country she left at age 5 is disorienting for Shamiso—she doesn’t even remember her paternal grandmother. She unsuccessfully tries to keep her grief and anger under wraps, bound up in resentment over being in this place that is now home. At her new boarding school, Shamiso initially seeks to keep to herself, but Tanyaradzwa, another student, who has her own reasons for deep sadness, extends an offer of friendship that Shamiso initially rebuffs, although later the girls become close companions. Inspired by actual events from 2008 Zimbabwe, debut author Tavengerwei masterfully knits together a literary quilt with prose that evokes heartbreaking and hopeful truths. Mainly portraying events from a teenager’s perspective, readers also learn about the political and economic downfall of a once prosperous country. Filled with tales of struggle, sacrifice, corruption, and resilience, the novel showcases a cast of characters whose formidable spirits in the face of life-threatening crises take readers on a roller-coaster ride of emotions via a gripping page-turner.

A narrative of courage and optimism in the face of loss, this novel is brilliant storytelling. (glossary) (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64129-072-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Soho Teen

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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