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.
When the Ground is Hard by Malla Nunn
G.P. Putnam’s Sons / Penguin Publishing Group
Publication Date: June 4, 2019
Swaziland in 1965 is a difficult place with defined social hierarchies. Adele knows this, just as she knows that her white father has another white family, that he pays her full tuition at Keziah Christian Academy, and that he loves his second mixed race family more. It isn’t much, but that makes her better than Lottie whose relatives are from a tribe and don’t pay Lottie’s tuition. Adele’s world is shaken to the core when she is ousted from her insulated clique and is forced to room with Lottie. In such close proximity, Adele finds herself rethinking her assumptions and priorities.
Nunn writes with the authenticity of a person who has experienced the mixed-race school she describes and with a deep love of both the place and the people of Africa. Humor and tragedy commingle in the unfolding of the plot and the character development to provide a portrait of a time, place, and friendship that is as enchanting as it is heartbreaking.
Throughout the story Adele and Lottie spend a lot of time reading and discussing Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, which may be a gateway to the classic for teen readers. This is also a title that would pair nicely with Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime in both tone and treatment of systemic racism.
The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg
Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic
Publication Date: February 26, 2019
Max is athletic, muscular, confident, and openly gay around his “dude bro’s” who accept him. He is biracial with a supportive Latinx mother, and neglectful white father who is touring a comedy act equivalent to pedestrian shock jock humor. Jordan on the other hand is thin, pale, snarky and hilarious, though lacks confidence and spends most of his time with his two “wives” as their gay sidekick.
Jordan’s father passed away a year ago, leaving him and his mother to man his food truck for the summer. In a fit of hysteria Jordan’s mother panics and deserts the operation. He takes the summer job to work on the food truck with Jordan. What transpires is a story of love, acceptance, and growth. Both realize the challenges of running a business, while harboring their own secrets. A fast friendship blossoms as they learn how to work together, and that maybe their struggles and insecurities aren’t that different.
Topics of identity, masculinity, and acceptance are explored through the two archetypal at times protagonists. Trigger warning, this book does include sexual assault. It also asks questions about consent, which is necessary for everyone, especially for young people who identify as Queer and are coming themselves. Konigsberg delivers a story of summer romance and growth, while deftly tackling issues of identity, masculinity, and loss.
The Music of What Happens is equal parts humor to heartache, and highly recommended. If you enjoy young adult with LGBT characters you can love and relate to against a summer backdrop, gives these books a try: Bloom by Kevin Panetta, More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, and Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash.