Click here to see all of the current Quick Picks nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Simon Pulse / Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: August 11, 2020
Three years ago, ICE deported Sia’s mother to Mexico, and now she’s presumed dead after attempting to cross the Sonoran Desert. Ever hopeful, Sia retreats to the desert, lighting candles to guide her mother’s return. Eventually Sia’s mom does appear, flying an alien spacecraft and claiming that extraterrestrials are hunting her. Together with her best friend Rose and would-be boyfriend Noah, Sia tries to find the truth in her mother’s fantastical claims.
This is a fast-paced genre mash-up with elements of mystery, fantasy, and Mexican folklore. Short chapters keep the story moving, along with discussions of compelling issues such as deportation, racism, sexual assault, and grief. The alien subplot, however, adds a dose of levity and intrigue. The main characters are a diverse lot with engaging backstories that highlight Sia’s Latinx heritage, Noah’s mysterious family life, and Rose’s tense relationship with her fanatically religious father. Over the course of the story, Sia learns a lot about the people in her life, and that everyone faces challenges or carries scars that aren’t always visible to others.
Hand this to readers of folklore-inspired stories like Romina Garber’s Lobizona, or books featuring immigration dramas such as We are Not From Here by Jenny Sanchez Torres. Fans of shows like Roswell, New Mexico will enjoy the similar aliens-among-us theme explored here.
–Kathleen J. Barker
I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee
Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: June 16, 2020
When the reality-TV K-pop vocal and dance competition show You’re My Shining Star hosts auditions in Los Angeles, Korean-American teen Skye Shin is determined to try out, despite a lifetime of being told that “fat girls can’t dance.” After her retort to a judge who suggests she lose weight goes viral, Skye is selected as a contestant. She juggles the pressure of competition with new friendships, rivalries, and a high-visibility romance as she fights to stand up for who she is amidst the pressures of the K-pop industry’s narrow beauty standards and her mother’s criticisms.
This charming romance will draw reluctant readers in with its fun premise, feel-good tone, and cast of lovable characters. Skye’s unwavering confidence in her own talent despite family pressures, obstacles and bullying is something that many teens will admire. Readers will also appreciate the thoughtful exploration of Skye’s bisexual identity within a newfound queer Asian friend group. A romance with ultra-wealthy model and fellow competitor Henry Cho is fairy-tale perfect, while also containing layers of unexpected depth.
Hand this to fans of K-pop, reality TV dance competition shows, or to readers who gravitate to upbeat, affirming reads like Julie Murphy’s Dumplin or Maureen Goo’s I Believe in a Thing Called Love.
This is My America by Kim Johnson
Penguin Random House Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Black sixteen-year-old Tracy Beaumont has written hundreds of unanswered letters to legal organization Innocence X on behalf of her father, who is incarcerated on death row and has less than a year remaining prior to his execution. A dedicated community activist, Tracy uses any opportunity to attract attention to his case and to speak out about racial inequities in mass incarceration. But when a white girl turns up dead and Tracy’s older brother Jamal becomes the primary suspect, Tracy finds herself fighting to defend the innocence of another family member. After a high-profile lawyer finally reaches out to her from Innocence X, the resulting wave of media coverage also attracts the attention of dangerous enemies fueled by a desire to keep decades of secrets and racial violence hidden from the public eye.
This searingly relevant, action-driven mystery will pull reluctant readers in with its compelling hook—defending the innocence of an incarcerated parent—while an intense series of cliffhangers and bomb-drop reveals keep the pacing exceptionally strong. This is My America offers a powerful indictment of America’s racial inequities past and present, with rich explorations of high-interest topics including mass incarceration, racial disparities in policing, Black Lives Matter, and white supremacist groups. Tracy is a smart, heroic, and relentless protagonist who both leans on and leads her community in a way that will deeply inspire teen activists.
Hand this vital and impactful read to teens who were moved by Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, Lamar Giles’ Overturned, or the Netflix series When They See Us.
Hard Wired by Len Vlahos
Bloomsbury YA / Bloomsbury
Publication Date: July 7, 2020
Fifteen-year-old Quinn thinks of himself as average–he loves Magic: The Gathering, his friends, and a girl that he worries is out of his league. On his birthday, a video message from his long-deceased father reveals a life-altering truth: he isn’t human at all, but the first sentient artificial intelligence. His entire life has been a 45-minute simulation, and his so-called “friends” are characters based on graduate research assistants. Waking up in a lab, Quinn finds himself subject to increasingly cruel experiments as he struggles to advocate for his rights in the midst of a fraught international media circus.
Hard Wired will pull in reluctant readers with a fascinating, high-concept premise that prompts teens to imagine what it would be like to discover that one’s life is a virtual simulation. Quinn’s emotional experiences form the story’s compelling center and make him a deeply relatable protagonist despite his extraordinary reality. Because Quinn spends portions of the novel unaware of his existence as an artificial intelligence and rebelling against this knowledge, teens who prefer contemporary reads or who lack familiarity with science fiction will find Hard Wired to be an accessible starting point.
A thought-provoking and emotionally nuanced science fiction read perfect for fans of the TV show Devs or John Corey Whaley’s Noggin.