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.
Turtle Under Ice by Juleah del Rosario
Simon Pulse / Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: February 11, 2020
In this dual perspective novel-in-verse, Row’s older sister, Ariana, disappears at night during a snowstorm when a second family loss triggers both girls to reflect on the death of their mother six years prior. On the edge of tearing apart, both Row and Ariana need to learn how to thaw their hearts if there is any hope for their family to knit themselves back together.
Rosario creates a subtle snapshot of two sisters dealing with loss, grief, and moving forward. The verse has fantastic flow, utilizing the dual-sister perspectives to explore the paths people take while grieving. As Row and Ariana divulge their struggles something beautiful occurs; there is no dramatic climax, but rather, an emotional release that begins to drastically shift the sisters’ perspectives in a powerful way. What makes this story so captivating is the overflow of relatable characters who explore common issues in life, such as, the burden of loss, yearning for connection, and failure in communication, creating a kinship for anyone facing an emotional obstacle. It’s a story of rediscovering life after closing off one’s heart for survival.
Readers who enjoy the rhythmic verse of Elizabeth Acevedo or K. A. Holt will latch onto this story quickly. Additionally, those who like the “story-in-a-day approach” seen with Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star or the film The Breakfast Club will delight in another snapshot tale.
— Emily Walker
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Amulet Books / ABRAMS
Publication Date: August 18, 2020
After a lonely, solitary childhood, Tarisai longs for a family of her own. When she’s chosen to be part of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11, she is thrilled to finally have a place where she belongs. Her mother, known only to her as The Lady, has other plans for Tarisai’s new position, however, that will require her to choose between the destiny that has been decided for her and what lies in her own heart.
In a year of excellent books about Black girl magic, Raybearer is a stand-out. The social structure is complex and creative, and the continued revelations about Tarisai’s past and the motivations of the other characters are surprising yet believable. Ifueko explores many concepts of great importance, such as misogyny, race and class inequality, and colonization deftly and with great nuance. Tarisai’s fierce strength and deep longing for human connection create a very well-rounded and three-dimensional character, and readers will root for her to destroy the patriarchy and remain true to herself.
Other fantastical Black stories to suggest alongside Raybearer are Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown, Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water, Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witchseries, and L.L. McKinney’s A Blade So Black. Raybearer is also a good choice for readers who enjoy immersive, complicated fantasy worlds such as the one in Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes or Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.
— Allie Stevens
Horrid by Katrina Leno
Little Brown Books for Young Readers / Hachette
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
All families have history and secrets. When Jane’s father dies, she and her mother find out that they are broke and are forced to move across the country from sunny California to the dark, cold forests of Maine. They are moving into her mother’s family estate, North Manor, which has been empty for years since her grandmother’s death. Jane can tell from the moment she steps foot through the door that there is something wrong with North Manor and it isn’t just that roses are growing in the middle of a frozen autumn.
This is an atmospheric horror story where everything is eerie and slightly off. The open-ended storyline will leave readers wondering what happens next for Jane and her mother. The setting perfectly matches the tone of the story and the character’s minds. Like North Manor, both Jane and her mother are complex and introspective characters that are slightly twisted.
Fans of Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House will enjoy how North Manor is a character itself that interacts and influences the characters of the story. Give to readers who enjoyed the twisted and disturbing stories of Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall or The Woman in the Walls by Amy Lukavics.
— Stephanie Johnson
The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller
Feiwel & Friends / Macmillan
Publication Date: February 25, 2020
It is finally Alessandra’s turn in the spotlight, and she has goals for her time at the royal court: charm The Shadow King, marry him, kill him, and take the throne for herself. Alessandra is determined to control her own destiny and never be at the mercy of men and their laws ever again. Successful at snagging the King’s attention, she is startled to find herself defending him and trying to keep him alive long enough to marry him. His enemies become hers, if only to keep them away until she manages to marry.
Deliciously dark, The Shadows Between Us gives us an anti-hero in Alessandra who is unapologetically ambitious and cunning. Levenseller builds her trademark strong female protagonist who doesn’t cede any parts of her personality. Alessandra is multi-faceted and embraces both her feminine hobby of designing dresses and the female friendships she forms at court. Alessandra and Kallias are both great characters who act in their own interests even when they shouldn’t. The dynamic secondary characters and side plots are well developed and add a richness to the book. Fast-paced with twists and witty dialogue, The Shadows Between Us is a rarity in the fantasy genre, a stand-alone where the story finishes on the last page.
Give this to fans of Levenseller’s previous books, The Daughter of the Pirate King duology and The Warrior of the Wild, as well as Fable by Adrienne Young. Readers who clamour for more “Slytherin” books will love this book.
— Amanda Kordeliski
The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party by Allan Wolf
Publication Date: September 8, 2020
Heroes? Villains? Sublimely foolish? Unspeakably courageous? The tragedy of the Donner party is a ghoulishly fascinating part of United States history. In this retelling, Wolf uses a variety of poetry formats and perspectives to tell the story of the Donners, Reeds, Kesebergs, and lesser known members of the party and their struggle to survive.
Hunger relentlessly narrates this example of epic poetry and provides an overarching theme for the work. Additional characters like the Reed daughters, Tamezene Donner, and characters of varying ages and ethnicities lend their voices to the story, creating a richly layered account of alternately imperfect and heroic human beings. Wolf’s unflinching research and incorporation of the indigenous perspective provides context and sheds light on character flaws possessed by historical figures like Sutter whose mistreatment and exploitation of them is a little known story. Wolf attempts to remain true to the characters and dispel some of the approbation of those who may have been othered because of their ethnicity. Extensive endnotes lend credibility to his portrayals of various characters while providing avenues for readers to begin their own research.
Readers who liked David Elliot’s Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc will appreciate the similar – if longer – format. For readers seeking another contemporary fictionalized account of members of the Donner party, recommend To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party by Skila Brown (Candlewick, 2016).
— Jodi Kruse