Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2021) Nominees Round Up, May 15 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.

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
Page Street Kids / Page Street Publishing
Publication Date: May 12, 2020
ISBN: 978-1624149689

Nishat is a closeted Muslim lesbian in a family with strong Bangladeshi standards She is expected to have an arranged marriage with a man. When she falls for Flavia, she is dismayed to discover that Flavia’s cousin is none other than her nemesis at school, Chyna.

The candid writing style is at turns both amusing and thought-provoking. Nishat is a sympathetic and likeable protagonist who just wants to be the one thing she can’t: herself. As her school’s entrepreneurial contest begins, she realizes that Flavia and Chyna are also running a henna booth. Dismayed by their cultural appropriation, she stands her ground while representing her culture and her true self authentically. Content warning advisory for homophobia, racism, bullying and being outed.

Although there are some more serious bits, the humor in this book has strong appeal for many kinds of readers. Readers will find themselves cheering on Nishat as her journey progresses with her family, her classmates, and in her romance. The Henna Wars pairs well with The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan , A Match Made in Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai, or When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon.

–Lisa Krok

The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton
Page Street Kids / Page Street Publishing
Publication date: May 5, 2020
ISBN: 978-1624149528

History nerd Kit Sweetly wants to be a knight at the cheesy medieval-themed dinner theater where she works, but outdated sexist company policy has female employees regulated to “serving wench” (actual job title). So when Kit gets the chance to don her brother’s knight costume and take his place in a show, she jumps at it–and loves every second of it. Now Kit wants to be promoted to knight so she can earn more money for rent and bills and college. Now Kit wants to train a ragtag group of friends and allies to also be knights. Now Kit wants to take on the Castle’s ridiculously gendered hierarchy and show corporate just how many fans the Girl Knight really has. Now Kit wants to prove that gender inequality should stay in the Medieval Ages…if she doesn’t get fired first.

The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly is a charming, quirky story about challenging the status quo, and a story that also includes a frank, honest portrayal of a young adult from a lower socioeconomic status–something of a rarity in YA lit.  Kit is affected but not defined by her family’s struggle to make rent and keep food on the table; she is a realistic character with goals and flaws and loads of likability.  A strong cast of diverse secondary characters creates a workplace romantic comedy vibe that overflows with reader appeal.    

Read after binge-watching “Game of Thrones” and pair with other books about young adults who break the mold and prove a point: The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid by Kate Hattemer, Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Screen Queens by Lori Goldstein, or Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanja Boteju.

Kali Olson