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.
Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins
Publication Date: March 5, 2019
If you could save someone you loved, would you? That is the premise of Opposite of Always with an added Groundhog Day twist. Jack has no idea he is going to fall for Kate until he meets her at a party while he is doing a college visit. Her charm and sense of humor provides the antidote Jack needs to get over his crush on Jillian–one of his best friends who also happens to be dating Franny, his other best friend and basketball phenom. Things get complicated when Kate begins acting shady and Jack discovers that she suffers from sickle cell anemia, the life-threatening disease that ultimately kills her. . .over and over. Each time Kate dies, Jack is thrown back in time to the party when they met and is given the opportunity to try and save her, but with each changed decision he discovers there are changed consequences.
Reynolds does a masterful job of building characters that will appeal to teen readers. Jack is easily an “everyman” character with whom many young people can relate–supportive family, decent grades, semi-active in school, and college bound. Franny is sympathetic without becoming a caricature: He lives with his grandmother, his dad is being released from prison, he is relying on a basketball scholarship to get him into college, and he is a good, caring guy. Jillian is equally developed and likable. The cycle of meet-cute, friends helping Jack win the girl, and Jack attempting to save Kate could become repetitive, but Reynolds manages to add layers of change with each of Jack’s decisions that keep readers engaged in the outcome of each of his choices.
As much about the choices we make and the relationships we build as it is about love, this is a title that will appeal to fans of Randy Ribay’s After the Shot Drops or the character-driven friendships found in Jeff Zentner’s Rayne and Delilah’s Midnight Matinee or The Serpent King.
There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool
Henry Holt and co. / Macmillan Publishers
Published: September 3, 2019
A gambler on the run, a prince in disguise, an assassin, and a warrior cross paths as a 100 year old prophecy that foretells an age of darkness and massive social upheaval unfolds.
Each character in this novel is flawed and complicated, and the story deftly drives them together while exploring each one’s backstory. The world-building is deep and detailed enough to fully realize this fantasy world. The plot has a lot of twists and turns and the momentum compels the reader to race to the end of the story, reaching a satisfying conclusion while leaving open questions that will leave readers anxiously awaiting the rest of the trilogy. There are questions of religion, of politics, of personal morality, and of fate, plus characters you care about (even if they are murderers and liars!).
This high fantasy novel will satisfy fans of An Ember in the Ashes by Tabaa Sabir or Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.
War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi
Razorbill / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: October 15, 2019
2172 has not brought peace to war-torn Nigeria and Biafra. Onyii is both a fierce warrior on behalf of the Biafrans and a tender soul whose adopted sister is Nigerian. Their relationship will be strained when Ify is returned to her Nigerian home only to be weaponized against the Biafrans.
From the cover, which features a dark-skinned, beautiful Onyii, to the evocative writing, readers are pitched into a conflict that pits children against one another. The science behind the science fiction is believable, and the enmity between the two countries is real, evoking the Nigerian Civil War of the late 1960s. Onyebuchi writes from passion borne of his mother’s lived experiences, and the prose demonstrates this. The third person narration is elegantly executed and places readers in the center of a layered plot. The author’s note at the end adds weight to the importance of both this title and the situation the author seeks to highlight.
The science fiction and war action is reminiscent of Fonda Lee’s Exo, but readers who are hoping to understand the culture of impressing child soldiers in war-torn Africa should also read Soldier Boy by Keely Hutton. Readers who seek strong female survivors will find similar themes in Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Nwaubani, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwringimana.
The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco
HarperTeen / HarperCollins
Publication Date: October 15, 2019
Twin goddesses separated from birth and living on a planet locked into a never-ending day and a never-ending night go on their own journeys to find out what really happened when their world was cracked open. Did their mother’s betrayal really destroy the world? Will they be able to heal the world, or will the cycle continue unabated?
Rin Chupeco has created a fascinating world, complete with intricate mythology and magic systems, interesting and engaging characters, and a propulsive plot with twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the very end. The writing is beautiful and helps pull readers in. The story is told in alternating point-of-view chapters that focus on the goddesses, Odessa and Haidee, and their companions (and eventual love interests), Tianlan and Arjun. The Never Tilting World features a queer romance between two women and an amputee main character.
Fans of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns series, and We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal will enjoy this engaging story.
Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz
Entangled Teenn / Macmillan
Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Isabel has a long list of reasons why she doesn’t date, including her chronic illness, rheumatoid arthritis. It’s just easier that way. But when she meets another sick kid while getting her monthly infusion, she finds she may be willing to bend—or break—her one rule.
While there are a fair number of young adult books with disabled characters, few capture what it’s like to be a chronically ill teen the way Hannah Mokowitz has. Nobody dies. Neither teen has to change who they are in order to be loved. Isabel’s and Sasha’s experiences, their conversations, the way they interact with the nondisabled people around them will be achingly familiar to disabled teens. The two bond over their chronic illnesses, their Jewishness, and all the ways their friends and family just don’t understand what it’s like to be sick. This #OwnVoices contemporary romance is beautifully written and features sweet, funny, and well-developed characters that provide a window for nondisabled teens into what it’s like to have a chronic illness and a mirror for disabled teens—and shows that disabled teens deserve their own happy endings.
Readers who want #OwnVoices stories about disability and are tired of disabled characters dying or getting cured to be loveable will enjoy this book, as well as fans of Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett and Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali.