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.
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins
Publication Date: May 5, 2020
Felix worries that he’s one marginalized identity too many–Black, queer, and transgender. Still, Felix has his ride-or-die BFF Ezra at his side and a spot at a prestigious summer arts program that will help him get into the college of his dreams. But when an anonymous bully publicly displays images of Felix pre-transition along with his deadname, all his fears and doubts come flooding back. Now Felix must redefine his relationships with family, friends, enemies–and himself.
Felix and his friends are truly authentic teenagers: cocky, pretentious masters of the universe one minute; scared, confused, angry kids the next (and often both at the same time). Felix’s defense mechanism of rejecting people before they can validate his self-doubt will be very familiar to many teen readers, who will also recognize the breakdown of social cliques and the willingness to open up to peers outside of their established friend groups that comes at the end of high school as students look toward “the real world” of college and beyond. Throw in a diverse cast that talks about issues affecting queer communities and a heartfelt queer romance that’s begging to be adapted into a Netflix rom-com, and Felix Ever After (and its gorgeous cover art) is a crowd-pleasing addition to YA lit’s growing collection of #ownvoices trans stories.
Introduce Felix to his new BFFs George, Simon, Darius, Aristotle, Dante, and Ben (All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver).
Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez
Algonquin Books for Young Readers / Workman Publishing
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
Furia is seventeen-year-old Camila Hassan, an Argentinian teen whose dream of playing fútbol is hampered by a number of obstacles, including poverty, cultural opposition to girls playing sports, her abusive father (a former fútbol player himself), and even romance. At home, her brother is the fútbol star, while Camila follows the rigid expectations of her parents. Little do they know that while they think she is studying at the library, she is in fact sneaking away to practice and play with a team in the girls’ league, where she’s earned her nickname for the passion and fury she unleashes on the field.
Méndez, a native Argentinian, reveals the inequalities facing female soccer players in a country dominated by superstars like Messi and Higuain through this complex, authentic main character. By showing not only Camila’s struggles with family expectations and relationships, but also her refusal to be sidelined as the girl on the arm of a fútbol star, Méndez highlights the social, economic, and cultural obstacles getting in the way of Camila’s dreams. Support from her coach, her teammates, and ultimately, her mother, all help Camila stay focused on her goal of playing professional soccer, but ultimately, it is her own actions that set her on the pathway to realizing her goals.
Hand this to fans of the US Women’s Soccer team and anyone who loves to read about athletes overcoming the odds, such as Golden Arm by Carl Deuker or Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Peña. Pair with Let Me Play by Karen Blumenthal for information on how Title IX gave American girls the edge in international athletics.
Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds
Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 22, 2020
When Jamal’s ex-best friend Q shows up at the same party he’s attending, Jamal expects a fight. What he doesn’t expect is for it to be the last time he ever speaks to him. When Q drowns in the ocean, Jamal is sure he’s never going to have the chance to make things right between them. But then a mysterious doctor tells him that they can bring Q back for a little while, just long enough to say goodbye and make peace with his death. There’s only one condition to this agreement: Jamal can’t tell Q that he’s dead.
Early Departures follows Jamal in the aftermath of his ex-best friend’s death and subsequent resurrection, and is a story about second chances, love, loss, and learning from your mistakes. Jamal is clever, funny, and makes truly terrible decisions, but also spends so much time learning how to make things right. This book is incredibly endearing and will have readers laughing one minute and crying the next.
Justin A. Reynolds’ newest speculative fiction is perfect for fans of They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotic by David Arnold, and Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton.
The Falling In Love Montage by Ciara Smyth
HarperTeen / HarperCollins
Publication Date: June 9, 2020
Irish teen Saoirse Clarke is not about to fall in love, much less even get involved in anything resembling a relationship. Not when her first girlfriend dumped her, her best friend ditched her, her dad is getting remarried, and–worst of her all–her mother is suffering from early-onset dementia. But Saoirse is willing to bend the rules when she meets captivating, quirky Ruby, especially when Ruby has a plan: They’ll have an adorably clichéd summer fling worthy of the best romantic comedies, but without any of the revealing conversations, messy fighting, or breaking up at the end. But between the requisite frolicking, fun, and making out, Saoirse and Ruby develop real feelings for each other. And if Saoirse can’t share the painfully messy details of her life, she might miss out on her best chance at a happy ending.
Saoirse is a prickly, quick-witted, but ultimately vulnerable narrator, and her plight is genuinely affecting. Readers will absolutely understand why Saoirse closes herself off to avoid her fears and anxieties, and at the same time they’ll root for her romance with Ruby. Add in an authentically messy relationship between Saoirse and her father, a delightful subversion of romantic comedy tropes, and witty banter galore, and The Falling In Love Montage is one of those rare YA romances that successfully balances relationship melodrama with real-life issues.
Pair The Falling In Love Montage with other queer girl romances like Jenny Downham’s Unbecoming (which also features an Alzheimer’s plotline), The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley, Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan, or Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi.
The Assignment by Liza Wiemer
Delacorte Press / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: August 25, 2020
Logan and Cade are horrified when their much respected World Government teacher unveils “the assignment.” Students in the class are to research the Wannsee Conference and are to take on the roles of Nazis as they decide what to do about the Jewish problem and come to a “Final Solution.” As their teacher stubbornly insists that all students must debate genocide, Logan and Cade must decide how far they are willing to go in a controversy that has the potential to destroy their teacher’s reputation, their school, and their community.
Inspired by actual events, Wiemer ends the story with an Author’s Note that lends context to her own experience as Jewish and the discrimination she endured. The idea of student activism and pushing back against an assignment is nothing new, but a plot that includes adults who are willing to engage with students in an authentic and mutually respectful way–including apologizing–is unusual. Wiemer tells the story through multiple perspectives, providing a layered plot in which characters are realistically rendered rather than summarily vilified. Without glossing over the horrors of Nazi Germany or current anti-Semitic harassment, Wiemer uses profanity sparingly making this a title that is developmentally appropriate for both middle and high school students.
Pair this with nonfiction about the Stanford Prison Experiment or titles like This is My America by Kim Johnson.