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.
Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram
Dial Books / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: August 25, 2020
Things have been better for Darius Kellner ever since his life-altering trip to Iran to meet his mother’s family for the first time. He video chats regularly with his first and best friend Sohrab in Iran. His relationship with his father is finally based on more than a mutual affection for “Star Trek” (though they do still love their “Star Trek”). Darius made the varsity soccer team, works at his favorite tea shop, and even has a boyfriend. But now Sohrab isn’t answering Darius’s calls. Trent the bully is still on Darius’s case. His visiting grandmothers are practically strangers to him. And Darius’s feelings for boyfriend Landon and teammate Chip are all confused. Darius might be doing better than okay–but does “better” mean having to settle for less than best?
A sequel to Darius the Great Is Not Okay, this book continues the coming-of-age story of teenage Darius Kellner as he struggles to find his place in the world. Sensitive, genuine, and relatable, Darius is impossible not to love as he grapples with family, friendships, romance, heritage, sexuality, and identity. Especially effective are Darius’s relationships with the adults in his life. The story explores how kids pick up on things said and unsaid, and how teens are just as likely as adults to hold back the truth to protect their loved ones from perceived burdens, worries, or disappointments. Darius and his family are imperfect but struggling to be better for each other, and readers will root for Darius to find his way to the best version of himself.
Start with Darius the Great Is Not Okay, and then connect with other stories about teens exploring their cultures, their families, and their intersecting identities like Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan, and The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.
Kent State by Deborah Wiles
Publication Date: April 21, 2020
May 4, 1970. As students protested the Vietnam War across the country, Ohio National Guardsmen were called in to control protesters at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. As the protest intensified, Guardsmen opened fire on the unarmed students, killing four students and injuring another nine. Told in free verse through multiple perspectives, Wiles traces the events leading up to the shooting, the events of May 4th, and the aftermath of the massacre.
This haunting novel in verse is a brief and compelling read, exploring the points of view of student, protestor, Guardsman, and townie. Narrators with opposing viewpoints introduce the event and reflect on their memories of what happened and why as they take the reader through the story. Where most books that focus on the turmoil and protests of the 1960s give only a brief footnote to what happened at Kent State, Wiles’ book uses sparse poetry to thoughtfully represent the tragedy and ensures the victims of the event become real people who lost their lives on that day.
Give this book to fans of Deborah Wiles’ Sixties trilogy, and Chris Crowe’s Death Coming Up a Hill. For those readers interested in the military actions that led to the protests at Kent State and the causes of the Vietnam War, try the nonfiction titles Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin and Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge. Readers fascinated by the protest music discussed in Kent State might also enjoy Which Side Are You On? 20th Century American History in 100 Protest Songs by James Sullivan.