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.
My Calamity Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, & Jodi Meadows
HarperTeen / HarperCollins
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
Everyone knows Calamity Jane as a girl in buckskins who performs tricks with the bull-whip in Wild Bill Hickock’s Wild West Show. What they don’t know is that Calamity, along with fellow sharpshooter Frank Butler and undercover Pinkerton detective Charlie Utter, is part of a team of werewolf, or garou, hunters led by Wild Bill himself. But when Jane discovers a suspicious bite after a tangle with a garou, she worries that her life is about to get a lot more complicated.
As they’ve done with previous books in the Lady Janies series, the authors have created a fantastic world with a surprising amount of actual historical content. The narrators carefully point out in the prologue that separating fact from fiction about Calamity’s life is difficult, given that she never corrected, and may have even encouraged, exaggerated dime novel adventures about her life. This Jane is a loyal friend, talented performer, challenger of gender norms, and a character readers will enjoy getting to know. Combine that with the real-life romance of Frank Butler and Annie Oakley and, of course, werewolves, for a rip-roaring western with modern sensibilities.
Readers of the authors’ My Lady Jane or My Plain Jane will adore this newest “Jane,” as will fans of alternate history, like Netflix’s Hollywood. Lovers of literary parodies like Pride and Prejudice with Zombies may also enjoy this mashup of the Old West and werewolves.
When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk
Delacorte Press / Penguin Random House
March 10, 2020
Breakups between couples are tough, but when the breakup is with your best friend, who do you turn to? Cleo struggles adjusting to a new normal after her friendship with Layla ends. As the timeline alternates between now and then, readers are able to piece together what happened to destroy the close relationship the girls once had.
This work of realistic, character-driven fiction between sympathetic but flawed characters is very relatable to teens. Reflective and thought provoking, connections with friends and family are challenged in difficult and complex ways. “That’s the thing about words: they can leave you both unscathed and completely gutted. Girls wage endless wars with their voices, tearing you apart without touching you at all” (250-251). No one is made to take the blame by the author; both parties are held accountable for their words and deeds. Woodfolk includes characters across multiple cultures and religions, and Layla stutters. A content warning is advised for divorce and bullying. The ending offers a hopeful new beginning on the horizon for both girls…separately.
When You Were Everything has broad appeal for teens from all backgrounds, with a great deal of relatability. Readalikes include character-driven fiction involving friendships, such as Odd One Out by Nic Stone, Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli, and Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram.