Click here to see all of the current Best Fiction for Young Adults nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
The Lying Woods by Ashley Elston
Disney-Hyperion / Hachette
Publication Date: November 13, 2018
Owen Foster lives a life of luxury and indulgence at his boarding school – until that all comes crashing down in this slow burn mystery. When he finds out that his father has been stealing his clients money and has now vanished, Owen must leave his privileged life behind to move back to his small town where he grew up and live amongst those that his father stole from.
The story navigates both past and present perspectives of the story, leading readers to slowly put together the pieces of the mystery in time for the reveal. Teens will love this well spun and highly enticing tale that forcers readers to evaluate how the past can deeply influence the present. Owen’s character arc is seamlessly woven throughout the story as he navigates how his privilege and comfortable upbringing founded on stolen money impacted the lives of so many, and teens will relate to his slow but profound journey of finding humility and seeking the truth even when it’s difficult to hear.
Fans of John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down will enjoy the similar slow burn mystery and readers that love One of Us is Lying will appreciate the parallels in the complexity found throughout the story.
The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen
Henry Holt for Young Readers / Macmillan
Publication date: July 30, 2019
Fie is leader of a clan of Crows, who are at the bottom of the caste system but still crucial members of society, as they serve as mercy killers and undertakers because they are immune from the sinner’s plague. She has the power to wield the magic remnants in the bones of the dead, which are often given as payment to the Crows for their service.
Her clan is called the Palace, when the Swans and Phoenixes raise the flag to signal for the crows for the first time in generations. The Crows remove the bodies of the crown prince Jasimir and his body double and Hawk protector Tavin only to discover that Jasimir and Tavin, who are not in fact dead. They have hatched a plot to escape because they discovered the queen is plotting to kill the king and to ally with the Oleander guild, who terrorize the Crows. They’re on a quest to gather allies in order to prevent the coup. Fie is reluctant to help them, because the Crow’s motto is to defend your own, not stick your neck out for someone else. Still, she makes a deal that will guarantee the Crows a better position if they successfully escort Jasimir and Tavin to to their allies.
Memorable characters elevate this quest fantasy: Fie is prickly, obstinate, but steadfast and true. Jasimir is more than the privileged prince he seems, and Tavin has a secret he’s been caring for a long time, and his obligation to Jasimir weighs on him.
The world-building is nuanced and complex. Owens thought about the landscape and settings, religion, social customs, and language impact the characters.The romance is slow-building, based on mutual respect and shared values and interests and blossoms against all odds. As for representation, the range of characters are all described in ways to evoke a range of ethnicities and races, and there are characters who don’t identify as heterosexual and their sexual orientation is incidental to the story.
Readers who enjoy complex fantasy, slow-burning romance, and epic world-building will devour this debut novel. Read-alikes include YA novels with similarly complex world-building and bleak outlooks, such as Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake or Incarceron by Catherine Fischer.
— Molly Wetta
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