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Debuting in May

May has been — and continues to be — a knock out month for debut YA authors, and there’s something for every type of reader. Remember that if you read a great book by a debut YA author, you can nominate it for YALSA’s William C Morris Award.

What happens in a world where, at age 16, you’re given a test to determine what role you’ll have in society – or whether you’ll have a role at all? That’s the premise of Veronica Roth’s explosive debut novel Divergent (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins Books, 9780062024022). Set in post-apocalyptic Chicago, main character Beatrice learns her test results are unusual: whereas most people know immediately what faction they will enter, she’s received word that she can choose between two factions. But that choice means abandoning everything she knows, including her family, and changing everything that she believes about her world. There is much at stake for Beatrice in her decision making, and there may even be a little romance. This fast-paced, action-packed novel is the first in a trilogy by 22-year-old Roth. Fans of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy will find this worthy of their time.

There’s no question part of what makes John Green an appealing author is his character development: strong male leads and quirky girl sidekicks. Those hallmarks also pepper Gae Polisner’s debut novel The Pull of Gravity (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374371937) and make this book one that fans of Green will want to pick up. Nick’s father decides to leave his family and go for a long, long walk. This is about the same time that Nick’s best friend Scooter becomes sicker and sicker and it appears he might not be alive much longer. When the off-beat girl Jaycee, Scooter’s other best friend, tells Nick that Scooter has a dying wish that involves him, her, and a first edition of John Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men, Nick’s skeptical. But he wants to make his dying friend’s wish come true. This story has a timeless feel to it, and it’s one that fans of the Steinbeck’s classic will love to dig into.

Christina Mandelski’s debut The Sweetest Thing (EgmontUSA, 9781606841297) has drawn numerous comparisons to Sarah Dessen. This story, set against a backdrop of baking and the restaurant business, follows Sheridan Wells, whose family is falling apart. Mom disappeared years ago and her father’s too fixated on opening a restaurant to give her much attention. While Sheridan believes she’ll never have a boyfriend, there are others who don’t believe that to be true. This sweet romance will appeal to girls who like their stories to be real (with a dash of drama).

Faith is a topic that’s been appearing more and more in the YA world, and Amy Fellner Dominy tackles this important topic in her OyMG (Walker/Bloomsbury, 9780802721778). Ellie’s a debater, and she’s spending the summer at the Christian Society Speech and Performing Arts camp, where she’ll have a shot at a huge scholarship that could help her attend one of the best speech schools in the country. While at camp, she meets a swoon-worthy boy, and things are looking great — well, they were until she suspects that the scholarship donor may harbor a prejudice against Jewish students like Ellie. Should she lie about what she believes in order to have a shot at the scholarship or stick to her own beliefs and remain true to herself?
Time travel, class, and family drama are at the heart of Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red (Henry Holt, 9780805092523). This novel comes to the US after being a hit in Germany, and it follows Gwyneth Shepard as she discovers her ability to travel between 18th century and contemporary London. This suspenseful, fast-paced novel will appeal to fans of historical fiction and mysteries.

In addition to these titles, make sure you check out Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed (HarperTeen, 9780062011992), a modern revisioning of the Greek myth, Helen of Troy; Tessa Gratton’s Blood Magic (Random House, 9780375867330), a dark paranormal story about the power of blood; Rebecca Lim’s Mercy (Hyperion, 9781423145172), a new take on the fallen angel trope; and Alissa Grosso’s Popular (Flux, 9780738727998), a twisted tale about a high school clique that is anything but what you’d imagine.

May’s been an excellent month for debut authors, and you have the power to help decide whether one of these titles is worthy Morris Award attention.

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Kelly Jensen

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One Comment

  1. So much great talk about Divergent! I will definitely be on the lookout for that.

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