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Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2021) Nominees Round Up, October 9 Edition

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.

A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope edited by Patrice Caldwell
Viking Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: March 10, 2020
ISBN: 978-1984835659

Sixteen Black authors running the gamut from very well-known to up-and-coming combine to create a wide-ranging science fiction and fantasy anthology of stories about Black girls. The characters in each story are wildly different from each other, though all are complex and patriarchy-smashing.

This collection of speculative fiction short stories includes witches, dragons, folk stories, adventure, scientists, and much more. Octavia Butler’s influence is palpable (which is definitely not a bad thing), and readers will surely seek out other titles by the authors featured. Patrice Caldwell has done an excellent job of selecting and organizing the stories, and her own vampiric contribution is a high point.

Fans of books by Black speculative fiction authors such as Octavia Butler, Tomi Adeyemi, Nnedi Okorafor, Justina Ireland, and author of Stonewall Honor and National Book Award Finalist Pet, Akwaeke Emezi, will be sure to find many things to love about this collection. Other anthologies that will pair well with this one are Fresh Ink, edited by Lamar Giles, and All Out: The No Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages edited by Saundra Mitchell.

Allie Stevens

Super Adjacent by Crystal Cestari
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers / Hachette
Publication Date: March 17, 2020
ISBN: 978-1368023986

Superheroes are real and dating one isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – especially when you get caught in the middle between your hero and a villain on a semi regular basis. What do you do when the heroes go missing and a super villain has taken over your city? Bridgette and Claire have always been super-adjacent but now it is their turn to work together to find their missing heroes.

This is a plot-driven story with plenty of action that is perfect for readers who are looking for a little more oomph from their rom-coms.The character cast is full of teenagers and those in their early twenties. Outside of the abilities of the superheroes in the stories, the characters are believable and authentically quirky. This is what drives the offbeat and heartwarming tone that the book carries throughout the story.

This is a great match for readers who enjoy Girls Save the World in This One by Ash Parsons or Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan.

Stephanie Johnson

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge
Amulet Books / ABRAMS
Publication Date: April 14, 2020
ISBN: 978-1419743207

Monster-like gods once ruled the seas around the island nation of Myriad, but years ago they rose from the depths and tore each other to shreds, leaving ruin and destruction in their wake along with much-prized pieces of “godware” scattered along the treacherous Undersea.  When his manipulative friend Jelt convinces him to go on a dangerous deep-sea dive, fourteen-year-old Hark finds the still-beating heart of a dead god and uses it to save Jelt from drowning.  But the heart does more than save Jelt–it changes him, and not for the better.  As the god’s power corrupts his friend, Hark must contend with a gang of smugglers, a mad scientist, a fanatic cult, and forgotten priests, all of whom think they know best and all of whom put his beloved islands at risk–unless Hark can tame his fears and save his home.

This swashbuckling fantasy has lots of appeal–a magical island setting with sea monsters, smugglers, priests, a cult, a mad scientist, and a scrappy storytelling orphan boy hero.  Organic worldbuilding creates an immersive reading experience, and the story explores real-world dilemmas (toxic friendships, bullying, emotional manipulation) side-by-side with big issues like the nature of monsters, control through fear, and the magic of storytelling.  The author even includes a nuanced ode to Deaf culture.  Strange and wonderful, Deeplight appeals to the adventurer in all of us.  

Pair Deeplight with other island seafaring adventures about gods and monsters and the nature of humanity:  The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Fable by Adrienne Young, or The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall.

–Kali Olson

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika and Maritza Moulite
Inkyard Press / HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 3, 2020
ISBN: 978-1335777096

The Haitian equivalent of political royalty, Alaine Beauparlant’s life is not what it seems.  In keeping with her larger than life personality, Alaine’s reenactment of a voodoo ceremony in a presentation to her history class leads to dramatic consequences and subsequent suspension. What follows is a trip to Haiti that reveals a great deal about her country of origin and her family.

This seamless Own Voices collaboration captures a slice of Haitian culture and brings it to readers. Alaine’s voice is distinct as is her experience. The inclusion of some of the economic policies between the U. S. and Haiti provides a different perspective of how our foreign policy actually impacts another, smaller, country.  This title touches on the plight of restaveks and their treatment, which is a topic few people know.  Finally, Alaine’s mother is struggling with early onset Alzheimer’s. Even though Alaine has economic privilege, the struggle to cope with a mother who is losing a piece of herself is poignant and realistic.

The strong island flavor makes this an ideal book for readers who loved Elizabeth Acevedo’s Clap When You Land. Fans of Mitali Perkins’ Forward Me Back to You will appreciate the themes of family and identity in a setting outside of the United States while the depiction of the voodoo curse will draw in readers who liked the magical realism of Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowhouse series.

Jodi Kruse

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