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.
Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali
Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: April 30, 2019
Zayneb and Adam and their similar fascinations with marvels and oddities are serendipitously thrown together when they both visit Doha during their spring break. Zayneb is visiting after an unfortunate note she writes about her Islamaphobic teacher is found, and Adam is returning home after finding out he has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which his mother died from when he was young.
A sweet love story with layers, Love From A to Z not only gives readers a swoon-worthy slow-burn romance but also deals with Islamophobia, finding your voice, grief, and multiple sclerosis. The young love storyline is reminiscent of the one in The Sun Is Also a Star and the setting at an international school will remind readers of the Anna and the French Kiss series by Stephanie Perkins. Zayneb is relatable as a strong and fierce advocate for herself, but she is written realistically in that being an advocate for yourself isn’t always easy. Adam’s story is heartbreaking to read, but it is refreshing to have multiple sclerosis in particular and disability more generally written well in a YA novel. The author’s note includes how Ali did her research and why she included it in this story, hopefully adding awareness and empathy to something not well known to a lot of teens.
This book is perfect for fans of the previously mentioned titles, as well as the recently released, Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins.
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
G.P. Putnam’s Sons / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: August 13, 2019
Daughter of a Chinese immigrant, Jo Kuan has a quick wit, a way with words, an eye for fashion, and a wealth of opinions–qualities that remain as hidden as her basement home with Old Gin. Ensnared in the nebulous racial space between black and white in the post-Civil War South, Jo finds her voice when she anonymously authors an advice column in a failing paper. But as her words gain popularity and notoriety for their frankness, she finds her identity and survival threatened.
Jo is a charming main character using her voice to challenge the status quo that mirrors social injustices still occuring along race and gender lines today. Not only is the story timely but the witty repartee in her column bridges a gap around serious social ills. Jo is the kind of heroine superb authors make real. Couple this with the atmosphere of Atlanta in 1890 and representative historical fiction novel is born. To boot, the added mystery of Jo’s own past provides a page-turning shock near the book’s end that allows the story to come full-circle which lends to its authenticity.
There are a handful of authors of books about untold or unseen history like Ruta Sepetys and Julie Berry along with Joy McCullough’s Morris finalist, Blood Water Paint that includes similar feminist themes. And with the emergence of more Asian lead characters in film and television like Crazy Rich Asians, Lee’s book adds to the literary category in stellar fashion.
–Alicia Abdul and Jodi Kruse