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 Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers / Hachette
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Loosely based on William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, Violet is sent to live with her Uncle Toby in Lyric, Maine after her brother Sam is hospitalized for a suicide attempt. Once there, Violet develops new friendships while trying to learn more about her family history, including searching for a lost shipwreck.
Although based on Twelfth Night, Drake expands on the play’s initial concept, creating a unique spin rather than simply being a carbon copy of the original story set in modern times. Violet is a fully-realized protagonist and the way her character grows through her interactions with her new friends as well as her family is expertly done. Violet is surrounded by a well-rounded cast of characters who are similarly nuanced, layered, and likeable, and the relationships she forges with them are meaningful and authentic. The way the love triangle is handled between Violet, Liv, and Orion is particularly refreshing and elevates the story from a simple retelling of the original play. The book tackles tough topics involving family, friendship, mental illness, grief, and loss, but does so in a thoughtful and hopeful way. The setting of Lyric is captured deftly, as a charming, idyllic town with a lot of history and a tight-knit community.
This is a strong, character-driven novel that takes bits from its inspiration, but expands and creates a fresh and unique story with multidimensional, relatable characters. Hand this to fans of modern Shakespeare film adaptations like 10 Things I Hate About You or She’s the Man or readers who enjoyed other modern retellings of classic literature such as Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston, Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh, and Pride by Ibi Zoboi.
The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid by Kate Hattemer
Viking Books / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
As their senior year draws to a close, Jemima and her fellow members of the Senior Triumvirate–popular and athletic Andy and the always put-together socialite Gennifer, realize their last chance to leave a mark is the senior prom. For Jemima, the prom is the epitome of everything that is wrong with her very traditional, male-dominated, private prep school, and so she comes up with a plan to “smash the patriarchy” by turning it on its head. Instead of the usual “promposal,” this year’s potential attendees will submit their names to a website that will gather their lists of crushes and make a match.
This hilarious examination of wealth, tradition, friendship, and of course, feminism, will have teens laughing out loud. Jemima is a flawed character but immensely likable. She is smart, earnest, and outspoken, but often blind to the feelings of those around her. Her initial lack of awareness regarding her own privilege and biases may prompt readers to examine their own. Ultimately, her desire to do the right thing wins in the end.
Reminiscent of E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, this is perfect for readers of Jenny Han and Becky Albertalli. Fans who adore the character Casey from Netflix’s Atypical will enjoy getting to know another headstrong yet internally insecure character trying to figure out the landscape of teen relationships.