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Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2021) Nominees Round Up, November 20 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.

Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare Book Cover
Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare

Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare
HarperTeen / HarperCollins
Publication Date: August 25, 2020
ISBN: 978-0062854599 

When Quinn’s mother dies and her father decides he’s had enough of being an ER doctor, they move to an old house in the quiet town of Kettle Springs, MO to get a fresh start. What they don’t know is that the town’s older and younger generations are pitted against each other, with the older citizens determined to “make Kettle Springs great again” and the younger citizens who like to broadcast their pranks on social media and have little regard for tradition and old-fashioned social mores, a battle that culminates in a murderous rampage by Frendo, the town’s corn syrup factory clown mascot. 

Clown in a Cornfield is a true-to-form classic horror story, complete with blood and gore, chainsaws and crossbows, and abundant deaths. What the characters lack in depth and development, the story makes up for in action, intrigue, and twists. The plot is straightforward from its idyllic beginning in a sleepy little town and the main characters are imperfect but effortlessly sympathetic. When the catalyst for the carnage is revealed, the story takes a turn toward cultural relevance and biting social commentary. This is a truly fun piece of escapism for teens who are okay with slasher-flick violence. 

This is an excellent choice for fans of old-school horror movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Saw, and Scream. More literary pairings include Gretchen McNeil’s #MurderTrending series, Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas, and Hillary Monahan’s Mary: The Summoning

Allie Stevens

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn Book Cover
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
ISBN: 978-1534441606

When Bree heads to UNC for a residential college program for high school students, she expects to be practicing independent living, creating memories with her best friend, and studying for her classes. What she doesn’t expect is to be inducted into an ancient secret society dedicated to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Now she’s fighting demons, dealing with moody “Merlins,” and learning about her own magic all while mourning the very recent and sudden death of her mother.

Legendborn is such a great addition to the many YA Arthurian retellings. It is unique and fresh and manages to pack several relevant social issues into an action-packed epic adventure. Bree is strong, brave, and not afraid to call people out on their actions. She’s a kick-ass heroine who beats up demons, calls out racists, and looks good doing it! There’s also a really great discussion of North Carolina history, particularly where it pertains to slavery. It brings the Arthurian legend into the 21st century in a way that feels natural and engaging.

Legendborn is a perfect fit for fans of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series as this is the beginning of an exciting new epic series. Any fan of other Arthurian legends like Once & Future by A.R. Capetta, and The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White will enjoy this fresh take on a classic story. 

Shelbie Marks

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong Book Cover
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: November 17, 2020
ISBN: 978-1534457690

These Violent Delights is Romeo and Juliet in 1926 Shanghai with feuding lovers, rival gangs, and a madness-inducing monster. ‘Nuff said? Here’s more: Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov are enemy heirs to their respective criminal empires, the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers. Former secret childhood sweethearts who betrayed each other for their families, Juliette and Roma are now sharp and bitter, fierce rivals for territory in booming, swinging Shanghai. But more than gang warfare threatens the city. There’s also the rise of the Communist party and worker protests, increased foreign influence from the haughty West, and–worst of all–a strange malady infecting the people of Shanghai amid rumors of a shadowy monster. Juliette and Roma must set aside their families’ blood feud–and their own deadly, passionate history–to investigate the source of their city’s madness.

These Violent Delights is a big, fun, epic melodrama of the best kind. With descriptive world-building that relishes in details of time, place, and genre (plus clever nods to the source material), this series starter tackles love, hate, and the rise of Communism all in one go. The Roaring Twenties era is spot-on with guns and flappers and gangsters and speakeasies, but the setting is also rooted in a rollicking mix of diverse cultures and identities that goes beyond the usual 1920s Gatsby schtick. Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov are beautiful moody teen killers with angsty sidekicks that match them in wit and bloodthirstiness, and the monster mystery makes for a delicious soap-operatic page-turner. 

These Violent Delights is a perfect read-alike for Libba Bray’s Diviners series (more flappers fighting evil in the big city, please). Fans of TV shows like Stranger Things and Lovecraft Country will be drawn to These Violent Delights’ own unique brand of historical horror. And of course, this book is the perfect way to introduce teens to Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 movie adaptation of Romeo + Juliet in all its melodramatic teen glory.  

–Kali Olson

The Lefthanded Booksellers of London by Garth Nix Book Cover
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix
Katherine Tegan Books / HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 22, 2020
ISBN: 978-0062683250

In May of 1983, Susan Arkshaw arrives in London hoping to find the father she’s never met. Unfortunately, shortly after her arrival, the best link to her father, a shady character known to Susan as “Uncle Frank,” turns to dust after a bookseller by the name of Merlin pokes him with a hatpin. Suddenly, Susan is drawn into a weird side of London most people know nothing about, where booksellers (both right- and left-handed) are actually agents tasked with policing a dark, parallel world full of monsters and Old World mythical creatures. Strangely, Susan seems to be a target, and so she joins the rather attractive Merlin and his sister Vivian in a quest not only for her father, but for her own identity.

As could be expected in a book about booksellers, Nix peppers his prose with plenty of literary references-both classic and 1980’s modern (“Children’s writers,” Merlin notes at one point are a “dangerous bunch”). The narrative is packed with action; Susan, like a modern Alice in Wonderland, spends a good portion of the story just trying to figure out the logic and landscape of the new world she’s been dropped into. Fortunately, there are a number of quirky but helpful characters to assist her as she–and the reader–try to navigate the many plot twists and turns.

Nix fans will love this latest addition to the author’s oeuvre, which works well as a standalone.The urban fantasy setting and cast of eccentric characters may appeal to viewers of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy.  Readers who enjoy Susan’s discovery of her own magic may also appreciate a similar awakening of power in the character Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.

Heather Christensen