Leah Burke is perched on the precipice of change in the final months of senior year, before everyone in her diverse friend group scatters off to become their college selves.
Leah, Simon Spier’s best friend in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (2015), takes center stage in this sequel. She knows she’s bisexual, but she’s only out to her mom, not her friends, not even to Simon, who is gay. Leah’s cynical and socially awkward but also confident in herself. She’s unapologetically fat. She’s a talented artist and a ripper on the drums. She’s also fierce when called for. When a white friend implies that their classmate Abby Suso only got accepted to her college because she is black, Leah, also white, calls out her bias directly (Abby is not present for this conversation), sparking a nuanced subplot on racism and white allyship. Mostly, though, senior year is characterized by Leah’s aching crush on Abby, the oh-so-beautiful and oh-so-straight girlfriend of Leah’s good friend Nick. When the prom-scene ending finally arrives, even the most Leah-worthy cynics will be rooting for her. With complex characters, authentic dialogue, and messy-but-beautiful friendships, this sequel is more than capable of standing on its own.
A subversive take on the coming-of-age romance that will leave readers feeling like witnesses to a very special moment in Leah’s life and filled with gratitude for sharing it.
Former best friends (and crushes) rediscover each other on a backpacking trip in Bennett’s (Alex, Approximately, 2016, etc.) charming romance novel.
It’s the summer after junior year, and anxious, risk-averse Zorie Everhart uncharacteristically agrees to join popular classmate Reagan and her friends on a luxury glamping vacation in northern California, figuring she can still manage to meet up with fellow astronomers to witness a meteor shower on a nearby mountain. On the day of departure, Zorie realizes with dread that her neighbor Lennon Mackenzie is going too. Zorie (who’s white and being raised by a Korean-American stepmother) and Lennon (who has two white moms and an Egyptian-American biological father) were once inseparable but haven’t really talked since the incident at homecoming when he broke her heart. Lennon—a horror fanboy, amateur herpetologist, and music aficionado—turns out to also be a veteran hiker. When irresponsible behavior and a night of emotional confrontations leads the group to abandon the pair, they take a multi-day journey to reach the star-gazing party by themselves. The two have lots of literal and figurative ground to cover, and eventually resolve and move past old hurts. The author authentically explores serious subjects such as grief, betrayal, divorce, and loss—but there’s also plenty of humor, geeky asides, and a healthy portrayal of consensual sex between mature teens.
A sweet and surprisingly substantial friends-to-more romance.
Love and second chances are the themes of this engrossing young adult novel.
After being cheated on by his girlfriend, Florence, and watching his mother struggle to accept his father’s death, Nathan is not sure that he believes in love anymore. When Oliver, Nate’s former best friend, moves back to Seattle and enrolls in his high school, the stage may finally be set for Nate to heal his broken heart. In their debut young adult novel, Callender (Hurricane Child, 2018) assembles a delightful cast of teenage characters who feel so authentic that readers will be scanning their school cafeterias for them. The author has a talent for capturing the earnest-yet-awkward cadence of teenspeak, and they explore the humor and pathos of adolescent relationships in a way that demonstrates a deep respect for the teen audience. While the central love pair is nicely rendered, starting with their meet-cute, Nate’s relationships with his mother and with Flo—for whom he still holds a torch—are equally complex. His guilt over his inability to comfort his mom and the awkwardness both he and Flo feel about forging a solid friendship despite their rocky past are eminently relatable. Best of all, Nate, Flo, and Ollie’s sexualities are fluid and a nonissue within their familial and social circles. Nate is brown-skinned, Oliver is Latinx, and Florence is biracial (black and Taiwanese).
A delightful testimony to the enduring power of love.
In the face of war and family destruction, a young strega fights to claim her power.
For olive-skinned Teo di Sangro, daughter of a high lord of Vinalia, “family is fate.” As a girl, she stands no chance at inheriting her father’s title, but she protects her family from the shadows in a way neither of her brothers can. No one knows about Teo’s magic, which she unleashes on anyone who dares to challenge di Sangro power. Teo longs for her father’s acknowledgment, but she also yearns to control her secret abilities. When a pale-skinned, black-haired, genderfluid shape-shifter named Cielo appears in the mountains on the same day as an assassination attempt on Teo’s father, she gets swept up in a dangerous plot of murder and politics. Capetta (Echo After Echo, 2017, etc.) captures readers’ attention with alluring first-person prose and a protagonist who does not shy away from ruthlessness to achieve her goals. As Teo struggles with her place in her family and society, she also explores her sexuality and gender identity. Her interaction with Cielo, who contains a shifting balance of both boy and girl, helps her realize that she too may not always “fit inside the boundaries of the word girl.” Through shape-shifting and in her romance with Cielo, Teo discovers the meaning of wholeness and ownership over her body.
A delicious and magical intrigue too tempting not to devour.
Eighteen-year-old high school senior Laila Piedra is determined to write the best sci-fi story ever.
Her kind, gentle, albeit anemic, white creative writing teacher, Mr. Madison, offers her constant positive feedback after class. Her friends African-American Leo Major, Korean-American Hannah Park, and Puerto Rican Felix Martinez meet regularly to watch The Rest, a long-running sci-fi show. At home, her Ecuadorian dad, French-Canadian mom, and annoying 13-year-old sister, Camille, rarely get in the way. Laila sees her senior year going smoothly until a tragic accident places Mr. Madison in the hospital and the enigmatic Pulitzer Prize–winning Ukrainian author Nadiya Nazarenko becomes the substitute. Suddenly, Laila’s writing is not good enough to earn a passing grade. When Nazarenko suggests that Laila live a little, she realizes how much time she spends inhabiting worlds other than her own. As Laila awkwardly attempts to gain new experiences, she learns that the world is not a draft that can be revised again and again. She stumbles, makes mistakes, and crashes a few times along the way to finding out who she is and who will accept her. This is a gorgeous novel with diverse characters of different ethnicities and sexualities that are true to life in their messiness and earnest missteps. Redgate (Noteworthy, 2016, etc.) treats each character with care, gently guiding them through uncomfortable situations and tender, heartfelt moments.
Final Draft hits every mark: A must-read
. (Fiction. 14-18)
Working at her favorite boutique and falling in love, a girl enjoys a lush Los Angeles summer—until things become complicated.
Pink-haired Abby Ives, age 17, has landed an internship at Lemonberry, a small store that includes plus-sizes in its snazzy, creative clothing designs. Abby runs her own plus-size fashion blog and is serious about a career in the industry, but her personal life is in less good shape: She’s never kissed a girl and worries she never will. Along comes Jordi Perez, photographer and unexpected co-intern at Lemonberry, who falls hard for Abby’s adorably awkward, chatty, gorgeous self. Their blissfully heady romance is a balm to Abby’s insecurities about being fat. Her mom, a food blogger who substitutes mashed cauliflower for hamburger buns and nutritional yeast for cheese, believes she needs to lose weight if she wants to lead a happy life and be pretty—but Abby has already achieved both. Yet issues of privacy and consent (photographic, not sexual) threaten this love story. Title notwithstanding, a subplot involving a food app and a hamburger quest offers little to chew on, but fans of colorful fashion and romance will be well-satisfied. Abby is white; Jordi is Mexican-American.
Funny, full of heart, and refreshingly free of a weight-loss arc.
“Nutjob.” “Robo-tard.” “Weirdo.” All of her life, 17-year-old orphan Alvie Fitz has dealt with name-calling and cruelty.
At this point in time, Alvie, who is autistic, doesn’t care about happiness. All that matters is convincing a judge she’s emotionally, mentally, and financially ready for emancipation; she has her GED and has already been supporting herself for some time. If she can’t, she’ll spend the rest of her life in a group home as a ward of the state. Boundaries and routine make up the foundation of the protective wall Alvie’s been building around herself since her mother died when she was 11, but 19-year-old college student Stanley Finkel shakes that foundation, gently and gradually forcing Alvie out of her comfort zone. Stanley also stands out in a world that doesn’t easily accept people outside the mainstream. He was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition that results in bones that break easily, and uses a cane for support. Stanley doesn’t erase the autism by ignoring it; he accepts it as part of her but doesn’t define her by it. Alvie’s first-person narration presents readers with a fully developed picture of a person with autism; she’s frank, observant, and funny. The book’s title is inspired by a line from Watership Down, a book Alvie turns to time and again because she identifies with the rabbits’ plight to survive. All characters appear to be white.
A gorgeous love story of depth and raw emotion that beautifully dismantles the ugly perceptions of autism.