Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2020) Nominees Round Up, April 19 Edition

Ship of Smoke and Steel by Django Wexler
Tor Teen / Macmillan
Publication Date: January 22, 2019

Isoka is used to fighting to survive. As a ward boss, it is her job to use her combat magic to be the street enforcer for her masters.  However, as much as she is used to being a criminal, she is rattled when her little sister is threatened unless Isoka attempts an impossible task – stealing the ghost ship Soliton, a legendary vessel from which no person has ever returned. The ship is a world unto itself and the deeper Isoka gets into the bowels of the ship, the more frightful the creatures and more savage the tests she and her team must survive.

Ship of Smoke and Steel is a fantasy book that both honors and breaks favorite tropes. Readers will quail right along with Isoka as the mutated, crustacean creatures lurk around every corner just waiting to attack. Creative magic systems are well explained and the consistent, danger feels ever-present. Isoka, the assassin Zarun, and her team are well-realized, and readers are willing to root for them because of their humanity.

If the jaunty, distorted underwater vibe of Pirates of the Caribbean were mashed with the creative creatures of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, then juxtaposed with the breathless suspense of Keanu Reeve’s Speed, you’d have a good sense of the thrill ride that awaits when readers pick up Ship of Smoke and Steel.

–Michael Fleming


Spin by Lamar Giles
Scholastic Press / Scholastic
Publication Date: January 29, 2019
ISBN: 978-1338219210 

After aspiring DJ Paris Secord (ParSec) is found murdered by two of her estranged friends, Fuse and Kya, they must work together to figure out who killed Paris before their names are dragged through social media more or ParSec’s underground fandom, Dark Nation, ends their lives altogether.

Spin is a fast-paced, yet complex mystery with characters you root for, twists you don’t see coming, and a culture of music and fandoms that will appeal to many teen readers. Fuse and Kya both have distinct voices and stories that tie back into the flashback chapters from Paris’ point of view well, but always move the mystery forward. A cast of strong female characters, from a music tech genius to an aspiring music marketing guru, are complex and fun to read but still are dealing with relatable teen issues. Overall, this is an exciting read, and though some of the plot points might make you suspend your disbelief, it leads to Giles tying up the mystery in a satisfying way.

Fans of On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. shows like Empire and The Get Down, and other thriller/mystery novels by Lamar Giles and Tiffany D. Jackson will find much to like about Spin.

–Molly Dettmann