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.
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
On the tail end of the Great Depression and into World War II, Frankie and her younger sister, Toni, are left at an orphanage in Chicago by their father as secrets are revealed through the eyes of a ghost girl named Pearl watching and narrating a tale of heartbreak, tragedy, and hope.
Laura Ruby has masterfully written a literally haunting work that features little known history, a main character you root for from the first page, and twists and turns that tear your heart out. Featuring historical fiction with a supernatural twist, the ghost Pearl is another character that will appeal to teens as she is figuring out how to function between this world and discover why she hasn’t moved on to the next. Love lost is a big theme throughout the book that teen readers who connect with books that give them the feels will find appealing. The cast of characters at the orphanage also add rich layers to Frankie’s interactions, sometimes as comforting companions or spiteful antagonists.
This lovely book is for fans of The Lovely War by Julie Berry for the supernatural historical fiction aspect or The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold for the ghost narration.
All The Bad Apples by Moira Fowley-Doyle
Kathy Dawson Books / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Deena’s eccentric older sister Mandy disappears the day after Deena reveals that she’s attracted to girls to her other and more responsible sister, Rachel, and her disapproving father overhears. Though Mandy is presumed dead, mysterious letters from her propel Deena on a road trip across Ireland and through her family history to unravel the mystery of the curse that haunts the women in her family tree branded “bad apples.”
Fowley-Doyle eloquently weaves Ireland’s political and religious history into the stories of ancestors, while Deena’s contemporary challenges are still relevant to current struggles for acceptance of queer sexuality and women’s reproductive autonomy. Superstition and family legend add eerie details to the narrative, but the story remains grounded in a critique of patriarchy and shame. The plot feels inevitable yet thrilling, and even supporting characters feel well-developed and multi-dimensional. This thought-provoking book would pair well with a discussion of inherited family trauma, the #metoo movement, or reproductive rights.
The novel’s blend of atmospheric mystery, magical realism, and historical detail will appeal to fans of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, Dear Reader by Mary O’Connell, or Nancy Werlin’s Impossible and feels like the intersection of Nina La Cour and Maggie Stiefvater or Holly Black and Jessie Ann Foley with its blend of magic and folklore with contemporary family drama. Fans of atmospheric family drama, reputations, and dark pasts make it enjoyable alongside show’s like CW’s Riverdale or Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
Butterfly Yellow by Thanhhà Lại
HarperCollins / HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Post-war Việt Nam is not a safe place for a pretty girl whose father was a U.S. sympathizer, so Hắng finds herself fleeing the country and searching for her little brother in Amarillo, Texas. It’s 1981, the Amarillo weather is beastly hot, the language is confusing, and few people can work up sympathy for an eighteen-year-old girl with shorn hair and breath redolent of vomit. Abandoned by a hostile bus driver, Hắng finds herself thrown into the company of LeeRoy, a cowboy wannabe who is shamed by an elderly couple into helping her on her quest. Six years is a long time to be separated, and Hắng discovers that her brother is not as excited about reunification with his Việt Namese family as she expected.
This is an utterly lovely story from the first pages when Hắng is persuading her Americanized cousin into taking her to the bus station, to Hắng’s encounters with LeeRoy, to her attempts to rebuild her relationship with a now indifferent brother. Lại incorporates beautiful language and her decision to render the English language in Hắng’s struggle to translate it using the sounds of Việt Namese boosts the complexity as well as the authenticity of the story.
This is a title that would pair well with Melissa Fleming’s 2018 Alex Award Winner, A Hope More Powerful than the Sea, Refugee by Alan Gratz, and the graphic novel Illegal by Eoin Colfer. Equally beautiful read-alikes are the older fiction books The Good Braider and Either the Beginning or the End of the World by Terry Farish.
Now Entering Addamsville by Francesca Zappia
Greenwillow Books / HarperCollins
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
It all starts with a fire, and Zora’s reputation for starting fires. When death accompanies the fire, Zora becomes a person of interest and an easy person to frame. Zora is unwilling to go easily into that blazing night. Not when her mother died hunting the demons who start the fires in Addamsville, and not when those were the demons who set her up.
Zora is a no nonsense, whip smart survivor in a town whose inhabitants hate her for the crimes of her father as well as the fires attributed to her. A ghoulish departure from her earlier Made You Up and Eliza and her Monsters titles, Zappia simply uses a different platform to explore “otherness,” classism, and living up (or down) to the expectations for one’s behavior. Addamsville’s haunted history places the setting front and center as the misogynistic Tad, star of the reality ghost hunting show Dead Men Walking, and his crew come to investigate the paranormal connection to the fires. The solving of the mystery of how and why the fires have been started is a slow burn and the final showdown between Zora and the demon-possessed Tad is as epic as fans of superheroes would want.
Teens who love demon-fighting, ghost tackling heroines like the ones found in Lily Anderson’s Undead Girl Gang or Jennifer Honeybourn’s When Life Gives You Demons will enjoy this title, as will teens who enjoyed the offbeat plot and setting of Danielle Banas’s The Supervillain and Me.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers / Hachette
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Ryn has never been afraid of the forest at the edge of her village, even when the dead—called bone houses—began walking. Even when her father went missing and her mother died, leaving Ryn the head of the household and Colbren’s gravedigger. But when the bone houses begin leaving the forest and attacking the village, Ryn and Ellis, an apprentice mapmaker with a shadowy past, must travel into the dangerous mountains to a land of magic to break the curse.
Emily Lloyd-Jones has created an evocative world with deep and interesting mythology. Both point-of-view protagonists have been well developed, and they have motivations that, when boiled down, will be relatable to a variety of teens. The storyline is action packed and well paced, with drama and quiet moments building the tension. Lloyd-Jones brings something fresh and new to the zombie trope that teens looking for a spooky read are sure to love.
Teens who love Stranger Things, zombie aficionados who enjoy their undead a little “different” like Carrie Ryan’s A Forest of Hands and Teeth, and those who prefer Holly Black and V.E./Victoria Schwab will find their next favorite book.
–Ness Shortley and Mike Fleming