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.
Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Sweet Pea DiMarco’s been through a lot of change recently: Her bestie dumped her, her dad came out, and her parents got divorced. In a misguided effort to keep her life stable, Sweet Pea’s dad moves into a nearly identical home two doors down. The choices she makes when she takes over her elderly neighbor’s advice column will shake everything up. But will things change for the better, or for worse?
Murphy’s middle grade debut deals with a variety of tough issues with grace, charm, and heart. Sweet Pea must navigate the fallout from her ex-best friend dumping her and coming back into her life, her current best friend’s justifiable feelings of abandonment, and the instability brought on by her parents’ divorce. A story with a fat protagonist whose body is not the source of all of Sweet Pea’s problems is refreshing, as is a narrative that doesn’t suggest Sweet Pea needs to lose weight to be accepted. A diverse cast of characters—including a biracial girl, a Mexican boy, and several queer characters—round out this book. All in all, Sweet Pea is a bubbly, optimistic, and sometimes oblivious character whose heartwarming tale is sure to be a hit with readers looking for a happy ending.
Those who enjoyed Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina and All Four Stars by Tara Dairman and the humorous realism of Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels, like Smile and Drama, will find a lot to love here.
The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus
Dutton Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House
Publication date: September 17, 2019
Audre’s mother discovers her relationship with another young woman, and she is sent from her home in Trinidad to live with her father in Minneapolis. There she connects with Mabel, who is suffering from a life threatening illness. This is a moving novel of discovering how to live and love.
Told through the alternating viewpoints of both young women, correspondence with a convict on death row who has written a book about astrology and the meaning of life, and poems that explore the cosmos, this novel deftly explores family dynamics, identity, belief, and mortality. As deep as the subjects, it still manages moments of levity and humor.
Hand this to fans of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and Nina LaCour.
— Molly Wetta
Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
Balzer & Bray / HarperCollins
Publication Date: June 4, 2019
Three misfits find themselves in 1989 New York, during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis: Reza is a closeted Iranian teen who has just moved to NY to live with his American stepdad. Judy is an aspiring fashion designer with the style of Cyndi Lauper. Art, her bestfriend, is an openly gay punk activist photographer dedicated to capturing Queer Punk culture as it happens. Reza and Art’s attraction is magnetic, but due to Reza’s fear of a gay lifestyle equating to eminant death, he denies his true feelings and dates Judy. As his feelings for Judy as a friend grow, and his physical and emotional attraction to Art heightens, Reza is torn between the two people he cares for and needs the most.
Like a Love Story takes the reader to the streets of New York City and the energy and resilience of the ACT UP protest riots. Through protest and unapologetic civil disobedience they could bring awareness to the HIV/AIDS crisis and the impact it had on the LGBTQ+ community.
All characters are well written and developed, though Art and Judy’s Uncle Stephen sometimes stole the show. Stephen’s flashcards on gay history highlighting people and events pivotal to the Queer canon of history were insightful, and makes the reader aware of events examined differently through a Queer lens. Art’s dedication to photography and desire to capture the beautiful and heartbreaking moments of life during this turbulent time was visceral and moving.
This book is very much like a love story to Queer culture, the LGBTQ+ and AIDS/HIV-positive communities, and all of the forgotten histories of Queer people and activists in the fight for equality and human rights.
We are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar is also a coming of age story about teens struggling with their sexuality in the 1980’s, recommended for fans of Like a Love Story. If you enjoy LGBTQ+ stories from a male POV about identity, you might also like How to be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters.
Slay by Brittney Morris
Simon Pulse / Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Seventeen year old Kiera straddles several worlds. By day she is an honor student and one of the few black teens at her school. When not at school or around her boyfriend, friends, and family, she is the anonymous game developer of SLAY, a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online video game) that celebrates Black Excellence and culture. The game was created as a safe space for other black kids in a gaming industry that often excludes minorities and people of color. When a young man is killed over a disagreement that takes place over SLAY, Kiera’s safe space becomes national headlines.
Through the development of SLAY, Kiera creates relationships and builds connections with people around the globe from different backgrounds and walks of life, but are all united in their blackness and love of gaming. The short chapters jump to the different POVs of the gamers and dialogue, revealing the variety of interests and the diversity in the lives of the Black gamers who come together to SLAY. A lot of social issues and themes are explored, such as the whitewashed gaming industry, a lack of authentic black representation in media, and issues of black pride turning into a form of toxic masculinity that mimics the oppressor. This book does a wonderful job of illustrating the black experience and what exclusion looks like from a black perspective.
SLAY reads like a book that was written for and to black kids, but can be enjoyed by anyone who craves exceptional young adult literature. If you are looking for more authentic black teen voices in literature, check out The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus and American Street by Ibi Zoboi.
His Hideous Heart: Thirteen of Edgar Allan Poe’s Most Unsettling Tales Reimagined edited by Dahlia Adler
Flatiron Books / Macmillan
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
What if Annabel Lee were queer? What if the House of Usher needed to be infiltrated by hackers in order to bring it down or the purloined letter were actually a high tech tattoo? What if Montresor was a West Indian woman named Cindy who was fed up with a player named Darrell?
In what can best be described as the ultimate fan fiction, thirteen seasoned YA authors provide an update to Poe favorites that retain the bones and tones of the original stories but bear the unmistakable flavor of contemporary fiction.
It’s rare that an anthology has such consistent quality between the stories. Poe continues to have appeal, and these contemporary reimaginings are fabulously done. While readers will definitely have favorites, the authors’ use of language as well as the diversity of cultures and sexual orientations in the reworkings will make each story will appeal to a wide teen readership. The original stories included in the back are a bonus that invite comparisons between Poe’s work and how established YA authors evoke the same feelings in readers using slightly different stories.
Fans of Scary Out There edited by Jonathan Maberry and diehard Poe lovers will gravitate toward this collection.
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