Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2021) Nominees Round Up, March 6 Edition

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Light It Up by Kekla Magoon
Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers / Macmillan
Publication Date: October 22, 2019
ISBN: 978-1250128898

The community of Underhill reacts after an unarmed thirteen-year-old girl is shot and killed by a police officer while walking home. Tensions mount even more upon the arrival of White supremacist demonstrators. The citizens of Underhill prepare  for possible havoc as they protest and await the announcement of the officer’s verdict.

The issue-oriented plot is ripped from the headlines. Themes of the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality begin with a fast pace and intensify quickly. Told in short vignettes from the point of view of varied characters, the tone is atmospheric and thought-provoking. The large cast of culturally diverse characters are relatable, running the gamut from spirited to likeable to sympathetic to unlikeable. Readers will recognize some names from How It Went Down, in addition to becoming acquainted with some new characters that are introduced. Magoon grabs the reader’s attention right away when Shae is killed, and the gritty scenarios in each vignette build suspense and propel the audience forward.

This book can be paired with the first in this series, How It Went Down. Other books with similar themes include The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, and Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles. Teens who enjoyed the book and/or movie Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson are also great candidates for Light It Up.

–Lisa Krok

Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis
Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
ISBN: 978-0062561626

After she catches her boyfriend cheating on her during a party on the Appalachian Trail, survival-skill aficionado Ashley does something stupid – she takes off running through the woods in the dark, and falls down an embankment. When the sun comes up the next morning, she realizes that she is lost and alone with a dangerously injured foot. She must try to stay alive with no tools except the clothes on her back and a spreading infection in her foot until she is found or until she can find her own way out.

While Ashley is alone for the majority of the story, the development of her character is continually engaging and deepening. As her circumstances become more and more dire, the suspense becomes nearly unbearable. Detailed descriptions of cringe-worthy situations Ashley must navigate correctly in order to survive will have readers squirming in their seats, and a satisfying conclusion does not do much to temper a visceral reaction to Ashley’s ordeal.

Along with comparisons to Paulsen’s Hatchet and Strayed’s Wild, Be Not Far From Me is a great choice for fans of I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall and Deadfall by Stephen Wallenfels. Teens who enjoy survival shows like those featuring Bear Grylls or “man vs. nature” movies will find this to be a thrilling read.

Allie Stevens

The Toll by Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: November 5, 2019
ISBN: 978-1481497060

The future is a perfect utopia. A benevolent god-like AI called the Thunderhead takes care of humanity’s every need. Population control is managed by highly trained professional reapers called Scythes who operate independently from the Thunderhead.  When corrupt Scythe Goddard destroys the last stronghold of Scythedom, it seems like his reign of bigotry and random violence is unstoppable, but a few unlikely heroes rise to the challenge. Greyson Tolliver is the only human still able to speak to the Thunderhead. Jerico is a dashing genderfluid sea captain who knows a few secrets. Young Scythes Citra and Rowan are not nearly as dead(ish) as they seem. And the Thunderhead itself is angry, ambitious, and determined to be the best it can be. Whether that means the destruction of the human race or the dawn of a new age remains to be seen… 

Shusterman expands on the worldbuilding of his inventive series by flinging his characters around the globe, shifting points of view between heroes and villains and newcomers alike, and expanding on themes of morality, philosophy, sustainability, choice, and action.  The Toll is a gripping, compelling, entirely satisfying conclusion to this fascinating series.

Readers should be familiar with the first two books in the series (Scythe, Thunderhead) before picking up The Toll.  This epic series will appeal to existing Shusterman fans and to fans of Marie Lu, Pierce Brown, and Sabaa Tahir.

Kali Olson