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.
Save Steve by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan
HarperTeen / HarperCollins
Publication date: September 1, 2020
Cam is a hopeless romantic, heavy on the hopeless, because when his longtime crush, Kaia, continues to date popular bro Steve (who is definitely wrong for her), instead of Cam, he will do anything to get close to her. This includes volunteering himself as chairperson of a fund-raising committee to help Steve get the cancer treatment he needs, which will show Kaia what a great guy he is, as well as giving them serious quality time. Cam’s getting the quality time and credit for his selflessness, the only problem is that Steve is on to why Cam is so helpful, and he’s determined to make Cam pay.
Farce is sometimes an underappreciated art form, but in Jenni Hendriks’ hands, it will be a great introduction to high-school readers about the genre where things can go south, quickly. Drawing deeply on today’s social-media landscape, Save Steve uses the building blocks of online life that all readers will be familiar with to crucify Cam in public. Hendriks succeeds at building Cam’s misery at each progressive step, which is highly humorous, yet at the same time she plays with the tension between self-interest and wanting to be a good person.
Teens who grew up on Disney shows such as The Wizards of Waverly Place or Hannah Montana will recognize the “good people put in impossible situations” plotline and surf that wave of nostalgia all the way to the end of the book. Fans of Don Calame’s Swim the Fly trilogy or Brent Crawford’s Carter Finally Gets It series will appreciate snickering through a whole new book.
Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour
Dutton Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
Mila has recently aged out of the foster care system when she lands an internship teaching and living in the middle of nowhere, California. She’s internally hoping for a second chance at love and connection and idealistically determined to help other foster kids find the same. As Mila gets used to farm and family life and cautiously makes connections with others, she’s reminded of peculiar events from her past. As it becomes increasingly difficult for Mila to tell reality from memory, she learns who she can trust. She must courageously face the real and imagined ghosts in both her past and her present to heal.
Part ghost story, part realistic fiction, Watch Over Me is an emotionally intense story of trauma and recovery. This haunting and hopeful novel explores themes of memory, survival, and how we define what it means to be “family.” LaCour’s beautiful writing has such a strong sense of place; readers will instantly feel the fog and quiet of the coastal setting. The suspense will stick with readers as they root for Mila to find a way to accept the love and trust she so longs for.
This slightly-spooky story is easy to recommend to fans of dramatic but hopeful books like I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, or The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk. Definitely hand this one to fans of any of Nina LaCour’s other titles, especially 2018 Printz Award winner, We Are Okay.
The Faithless Hawk by Margaret Owen
Henry Holt and Co. / Macmillan
Publication Date: August 18, 2020
Picking up right where The Merciful Crow ended, Fie is now the new chieftain of her band of Crows. Her job is to manage the witch teeth, keep her Crows safe, and answer the plague beacons that seem to be more numerous than ever. After fulfilling her end of the bargain to deliver Prince Jasimir safely out of Queen Rhusana’s reach, all she can do is hope that the Prince will uphold his end of the bargain: to take his place as king and ensure the safety of the Crows.
But when a plague sweeps across the countryside, the ruthless Queen Rhusana uses it as an opportunity to undermine the Crows and make her play for the Crown. The only way to stop her is for Fie to infiltrate the court and take the queen down from the inside.
This delightful conclusion to The Merciful Crow duology is filled with incredible worldbuilding, intrigue, and so many plot twists. Fie is layered and complex, and filled with such rage that you aren’t sure if you want her to fix everything or burn it all to the ground. This book also contains a very diverse cast of loveable characters, bringing back old favorites from book one and introducing us to new players. This book will truly keep readers guessing at a breathless pace all the way up to the very satisfying end.
This series is perfect for fans of excellent fantasy and righteously angry girl protagonists like Dani and Carmen from We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia, Nadya from Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan, and the Three Dark Crownsseries by Kendare Blake.
This Train Is Being Held by Ismée Williams
Amulet Books / ABRAMS
Publication Date: February 11, 2020
When Alex and Isa first meet on a subway train in New York, they each know they are too busy for a serious relationship. Alex is a high school baseball star, with a real shot at making a professional team, especially if his Papí has anything to say about it. Isa is just as dedicated to dance, spending hours in ballet class, or practicing. Also hindering their romance are the objections of their family and friends who don’t think they should date outside of their social circle. But as they continue to run into each other on the train going to their various activities–at first accidentally but later intentionally–they begin to see how their busy and complex lives are enriched by their relationship, and that they have more in common than others may think.
This slow-burning urban romance features a strong cast of characters that show the diversity of Latino culture in the city. Alex’s Dominican father stresses that only baseball can help him rise above the prejudices facing young morenos. The daughter of a Cuban immigrant, Isa’s fluency in Spanish shocks Alex’s friends, who don’t see past her blond hair and private school education. Challenging topics such as racism and mental health give depth to this charming meet-cute.
Readers who appreciate authentic, diverse characters like those in The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert or All American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney, will love this modern code-switching West Side Story.
Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
In the Before, Zachariah Johnson, Jr. grew up with a strong, vibrant father who was a pro football player. In the Ever After, Zachariah Sr. is sidelined by injury, and has become moody, forgetful, and confused. This is now known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease that is found in those who have suffered from repeated blows to the head. Football players and athletes can fall into this group.
The issue-oriented plot centers on the sobering effects of Senior’s brain injury on the rest of the family. Because his disease is invisible to outsiders, friends are sometimes less than understanding. ZJ’s mom is the glue of sorts, holding the family together through both heart-wrenching and heartwarming scenarios. Told in verse from ZJ’s point of view, readers easily step into their world to empathize with ZJ and his family. Candid and bittersweet, Woodson absolutely nails the tone of this book. A content warning is advised for illness/disability of a parent.
Before the Ever After is ideal for a middle school audience. Possible read-alikes include The Crossover and Rebound by Kwame Alexander, As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds, and The Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar.