Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2021) Nominees Round Up, October 2 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.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
Flatiron Books  / Macmillan
Publication Date: July 7, 2020
ISBN: 978-1250196149

When Soraya was just a baby, her mother made a bargain with a demon known as a div that resulted in turning Soraya’s skin poisonous. Now she must stay locked away from her family and kingdom, lest she accidentally kill someone just by touching them. Just before the wedding of her twin brother to her only friend, a div tricks Soraya into betraying her family and kingdom by manipulating her feelings of isolation and jealousy, unleashing an army of div in the capital city. Now she must live up to the potential she never understood she had and rescue her family from the clutches of an evil demon.

Drawing on Zoroastrianism, Persian folklore, and European fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and Rappaccini’s Daughter, Bashardoust builds a rich fantasy world that will quickly immerse readers. Soraya is a flawed but sympathetic main character, whose desire to be loved and accepted will resonate with teen readers. Likewise, secondary characters from various div to Soraya’s family are complex, deeply imagined characters with their own development.

Readers who like their female leads with a few thorns will appreciate this dynamic female lead. This is a perfect match for readers who love immersive fantasies influenced by world mythologies and cultures, like Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes or Rosanne A. Brown’s A Song of Wraiths and Ruin.

Heather Christensen

Unscripted by Nicole Krozner
Amulet Books / ABRAMS
Publication Date: April 21, 2020
ISBN: 978-1419740848

When seventeen-year-old Zelda wins a spot at a prestigious improv comedy camp, she little expects the culture of toxic masculinity that overwhelms the five girls–out of 200 campers–in Gilda Radner cabin. Her all-male teammates only tolerate her so they can cast her as “slutty secretary” and “dead prostitute,” and hunky coach Ben is much nicer to her in private than when they’re at practice. How can Zelda make it to the top of her beloved art form when the culture of comedy seems determined to make her the butt of all its jokes?

Toxic masculinity and manipulative relationships are explored through the culture of the improv comedy scene–a unique setting with lots of appeal for those teen readers who are also aspiring future “Saturday Night Live” stars.  Unscripted also features a supporting cast of diverse quirky allies, a rare portrayal of a blended interracial family, and a main character who has to figure out that it’s not a weakness to need help.  Zelda is often the only girl in the room, and readers share her complicated and often contradictory feelings of discomfort, disillusionment, and desire for change. 

Pair with the comedy specials of Hannah Gadsby, Amy Schumer, Tiffany Haddish, or Ali Wong; give to devotees of Tina Fey and Amy Pohler; and add to the growing YA subgenre of high school girls taking down the patriarchy (The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid, The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly, Six Angry Girls, Girls Save the World in This One).

–Kali Olson

Nowhere On Earth by Nick Lake
Knopf Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: May 26, 2020
ISBN: 978-1984896445

When Emily discovers defenseless Aidan in the woods behind her Alaskan home, she feels compelled to make sure that he gets home safely. With government forces intent on capturing young Aidan to study him chasing them across the frozen wilderness, Emily and begrudging pilot Bob will need all of their combined survival skills to make the journey and help Aidan return safely to his own family.

Nowhere on Earth is at once a riveting, suspenseful survival story and a poignant exploration of what makes people family. Emily’s relationships with her parents and Aidan are deeply developed and realistic, and she struggles with the common teenage problem of her parents’ expectations clashing with her own sense of self. Her sibling-like relationship with Aidan brings up thought-provoking questions about what makes a family, and what is left when someone you love is no longer physically with you.

Emotional and absorbing, Nowhere on Earth will be a hit with readers of Nick Lake’s other titles Satellite and In Darkness as well as teens who enjoyed the combination of survival story and family drama in titles like A Map for Wrecked Girls by Jessica Taylor.

Allie Stevens

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
ISBN: 978-0062996480

The justice system is not just, not for kids like Amal. Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Amal is convicted and incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. The world sees him as a disruptive little punk who grew up to be a dangerous Black man. But Amal is just a boy who paints and raps and writes poetry. Locked up, shut down, oppressed and used by a biased system that was designed to enslave him, Amal must find hope in the darkness and break out of the story that society has boxed him into.

Readers will learn about injustice in the justice system through this powerful novel-in-verse. Exploring racial profiling, punitive justice, and the school-to-prison pipeline, Punching the Air is also the riveting story of one kid’s desperately angry and powerfully creative attempt to be himself in a world that has defined him since birth as disruptive and dangerous. Co-author Ibi Zoboi’s verse is cutting, Exonerated Five member Yusef Salaam’s fictionalized experiences are raw and real, and Amal’s anger will quickly fuel the reader’s own desire for action and change.  Punching the Air is a must-read, especially now.

This book is for the social justice teen activist in all of us.  Pair with the new YA novel This Is My America by Kim Johnson or nonfiction bestseller Just Mercy for other perspectives on the incarceration of Black Americans; with Ava Duverney’s hard-hitting documentary “Thirteenth” which focuses on the school-to-prison pipeline; and with “When They See Us,” the Netflix miniseries based on the story of the Exonerated Five.

–Kali Olson