Listed in alphabetical order.
A LIST OF CAGES by Robin Roe
The novel is intense, beautiful, and unlike anything we’ve ever read before! It follows Adam– even-tempered, well liked by his peers and adults, a loyal friend, and a decent student– and his former foster brother, Julian– anxious, antisocial, and on a learning curve that the school just isn’t willing to address– as they reconnect. Slowly, the novel peels back the layers on why Julian is so different and what he’s been through since he left foster care. This book will absolutely get an emotional reaction out of you and it will hurt like hell. But you’ll also feel better informed, more aware, and perhaps more empathetic in real life.
BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman
Though Beartown is not officially a YA book, it follows many teenagers as they grapple with the scandal that rocks their small town, making it feel akin to YA novel. I first picked up Beartown because my friend would not stop talking about it, but I was not expecting to like it that much. It was about a hockey town, for starters, and sports have never been my thing. But Backman’s writing has a stunning simplicity that carries intrinsic meaning and awe with it. And the story did not focus on hockey, but rather the sport grounded the book, contextualizing the scandal that is central plot. Beartown made me laugh, cry and scream in rage, and though it is set in a small town, the story feels universal. The book is narrated by about ten characters, and I fell in love with every one. Beartown tackles impossible questions and carries incredible meaning. It is a masterpiece everyone should read.
DEFY THE STARS by Claudia Gray
Who knew that a raucous space adventure could also be so damn endearing? Sure, Naomi is a soldier ready to die to save her planet from Earth’s greedy grasp and Abel is the universe’s most advanced artifical intelligence mechanism, but their (platonic) chemistry is off the charts! It was so easy to get attached to the characters, which only made things better as they raced through a rich, unique universe in an attempt to win an endless war. There’s not a dull moment to be had!
DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone
Race relations and police brutality come front and center in powerful ways in this novel, which follows Justyce, a black teen who struggles with the blasé attitude toward racism at his elite boarding school and begins an experiment in which he tries to live like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But historically, Dr. King wasn’t always given the benefit of the doubt (to put it lightly) and after he finds himself tangled up in a gruesome case of discrimination and violence, neither will Justyce. This book is intense, but it’s an earnest reflection on society and it’s important.
FLAME IN THE MIST by Renee Ahdieh
Renee Ahdieh’s new fantasy duology is inspired by feudal Japan and has as awesome Mulan-esque twist in which the damsel in distress saves herself. When her convey is attacked and she is the sole survivor, Mariko sets out for revenge against her attackers, the Black Clan, by disguising herself as a boy and infiltrating them. The novel takes its time, but it also brings a fierce new world, battles, political intrigue, and even a little romance to the forefront.
LORD OF SHADOWS by Cassandra Clare
Being the second book in a trilogy, especially one by Cassandra Clare, it’s bound to cause that pain that you love to feel because it’s so good and the characters so relatable. Well, at least when it comes to their emotions. So, yes, Clare has definitely upped the drama and the action and the heartbreak in her latest Shadowhunter Chronicles with this book, bringing more depth in character to not only the Blackthorn family, but those closest to them, including Emma Carstairs, the female protagonist. Carstairs stands out as fierce fighter who struggles with her deepening love for her parabatai Julian Blackthorn. Add to that the subplots of the other Blackthorns, and it’s just a multi-layered plethora of feelings and drama, mixed in with plenty of battle scenes, and a shocking cliffhanger that’ll bring you to your knees.
THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas
This has become the 2017 book I hand to over whenever someone asks for a recommendation. Timely in its themes and emotional on a whole new level, this book has it all. The story follows Starr Carter following the death of her childhood friend, after they were pulled over by police. Starr is split between her black neighborhood, errupting into riots, and her white school, taking advantage of the situation to meet their own ends. Starr gives us an inside look at the race war and what it means to be caught in the middle. This book changed how I thought about race and stereotypes. It beautifully handles the complexity of bi-racial relationships, the difficulty of breaking patterns of gang violence, and what it’s like to represent your entire race to outsiders. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the current political and racial environment in our world.
THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED by Becky Albertalli
Becky Albertalli captured our hearts with Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, but she made us fall in love with her clever, heartwarming contemporary style all over again with The Upside of Unrequited. The novel features all sorts of diverse rep and quick-witted dialogue led by Molly Peskin-Suso, who’s never actually pursued a crush before and quickly finds herself overwhelmed when the opportunity to do so arises. The romance in this novel is so sweet and Molly’s inner-monologue seriously brought us right back to the days to awkward high school crushes and navigating through major life changes. Not to mention that we were super attached to all the secondary characters!
TOWER OF DAWN by Sarah J. Maas
Oh, Chaol Westfall. What a journey we have been through together. From Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, where I loved you and your idealism dearly, to Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows, where you became a self-loathing sad sack, who took his own mistakes out on the easiest target, Aelin. Not to mention you were so terribly, painfully dumb in Queen of Shadows (running the wrong direction and ending up in a field full of Ironteeth Witches? Come on, man). I found myself thankful you weren’t in Empire of Storms, I didn’t even realize you were gone, if I’m being honest. But, damn it all to hell if Tower of Dawn didn’t make me forgive you, and fall in love all over again. Sarah J. Maas managed to take a character that felt old and without purpose, and made him vital. He went on a true hero’s journey. SJM’s new characters glowed, especially Yrene and Sartaq, seemingly background characters came into their own (Empress Nesryn Faliq?!), and it was a thrill to see the happenings in the Southern Continent while knowing what was going on with Aelin and her crew. Few authors can make someone truly despise a character, not because they became evil, but just because of them, and then bring you back around again, and SJM did it flawlessly.
TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green
Nearly six years after The Fault In Our Stars, John Green connected to readers with his most personal novel yet. Turtles follows Aza Holmes, a teen with severe OCD, which John also has (Though there’s a wide range and the two don’t match up on a symptomatic level.) Aza gets caught up it solving the mystery of a missing local billionaire with her best friend, Daisy, but doing so requires her to face her mental illness in new and intimidating ways.
WARCROSS by Marie Lu
This book was very close to Marie Lu’s heart, and it showed in every aspect of the novel. From her past in gaming to her thoughts of where the world is heading, the book let Lu’s very best storytelling shine. Emika Chen is far from perfect as a hacker who is noticed when she hacks into the opening game in the most-watched competition in this near-future world of internet glasses. The story leaves you guessing, as you never know who to trust or what is really happening. The twists and turns leave you dying to know what happens next, and the light romance leaves you starving for more. The story is more in the style of Lu’s Legend trilogy, though I would go as far as you say this one’s better. I can’t wait to see what comes of the characters in the next book.
WONDER WOMAN: WARBRINGER by Leigh Bardugo
This year was the year of Wonder Woman. From the movie, to Justice League, to the lesser known Wonder Woman: Warbringer, she has been all over the place. In the films, however, you get to see the finished product. You see the adult Diana, strong and sure. Wonder Woman: Warbringer is more relatable, more accessible. She isn’t fully aware of her powers, in a similar way to how young adults aren’t necessarily aware of the power they can wield. Leigh Bardugo creates an intricate and passionate new chapter in Diana Prince’s well documented story, and shows a protagonist who is still figuring things out, while remaining strong and inspirational. The supporting characters demonstrate that strength doesn’t need to be physical to be palpable, and their impact on the reader is as big as their impact on Diana. A story of heroism, Wonder Woman: Warbringer shows the process of becoming the hero, while not sacrificing your values, something that is important and valid in the modern world.