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.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger, illustrated by Rovina Cai
Publication Date: August 25, 2020
Lipan Apache teenager Elatsoe “Ellie” Bride lives in an alternate modern world populated by ghosts and vampires and fairy rings. Ellie has inherited the power to call on animal spirits, and she is content to explore her abilities slowly and quietly. But then her cousin Trevor dies in a violent car accident, and his ghost appears in a dream to warn Ellie that he’s been murdered, begging her to protect his family. Now Ellie must tread carefully to track a killer in a seemingly perfect small town, helped by her overly-enthusiastic best friend, her ghost dog Kirby, and the stories she’s learned about the abuses suffered and powers wielded by her powerful sixth-great-grandmother.
Elatsoe is an entirely unique combination of contemporary fantasy, Indigenous storytelling, and gumshoe detective murder mystery. With subtle worldbuilding, the story welcomes readers into its strange, charming little world. As Ellie investigates her cousin’s murder, she is supported by a plainspoken cast of family and friends who say what they mean and explain what they think, and it is refreshing to meet YA characters who make it a habit to communicate openly and clearly. Titles by Native American authors are still far too rare in YA literature to be overlooked, but with its strong message about colonialism, white entitlement, and the power of the past (plus ghost trilobites!!), Elatsoe will pave the way for even more #OwnVoices stories while it delights new readers.
Recommend Elatsoe to fans of other Native American fantasy stories like The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline and books by Rebecca Roanhorse, and to younger readers graduating from Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series. Family, culture, and fantasy mystery also combine in Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything.
The Cousins by Karen M. McManus
Delacorte Press / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: December 1, 2020
Cousins Aubrey Story, Jonah Story, and Milly Takahashi-Story barely know each other–and they’ve never met the reclusive grandmother who cut their parents out of the family inheritance years before they were born. But suddenly they’ve been invited to work at her island resort for the summer, and their parents aren’t giving them the option to say no. Family secrets start to spill as soon as they arrive on Gull Cove Island, and soon the curious cousins will learn far more about their history than it’s safe to know…
Author Karen M. McManus combines classic mystery vibes (rich relations, scheming heirs, a remote island setting) with plenty of teen angst and romance to explore the ramifications of family feuds and long-held grudges. Sharply observant Milly, naive Aubrey, and surly Jonah come into their own as they follow clues and red herrings right along with the reader for a satisfying stand-alone thriller.
Perfect for fans of mysteries by E. Lockart (We Were Liars), Maureen Johnson (Truly Devious), Sara Shepard (The Amateurs), the author’s previous books (One of Us Is Lying), and of course Agatha Christie.
We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez
Philomel Books / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: May 19, 2020
When Guatemalan teens Pulga and Chico witness an up-and-coming crime boss known as Rey murder their neighborhood shop owner, they know better than to go to the police, who have all been paid to look the other way. Instead, they do their best to lie low and hope that Rey decides two young teens aren’t a threat to his growing power. But their hopes are dashed when Rey’s thugs grab them on their way to school, and the sadistic criminal makes his plans for the boys known. Pulga is prepared, however; for years he’s been gathering information on making the trek to El Norte. In the dark of night they escape the only life they’ve known, along with Pulga’s cousin Pequeña, who has her own reasons to be afraid of Rey. Together, they head towards la Bestia, the Mexican train they will try to hitch a ride on, joining hundreds of others escaping Central America trying to reach their American dreams.
We Are Not From Here tells the story of the treacherous journey and uncountable cost paid by so many young people trying to escape violence and hardship, hoping for a better life and a chance to achieve their dreams. The narrative is told in alternating viewpoints, with Pulga’s gritty, authentic voice contrasting with Pequeña’s lyrical magical realism. Although often heartbreaking, glimpses of hope shine through in the kindness of strangers and in the determination and perseverance of the main characters.
Pair this with Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nozario to give teens a literary view of the reality experienced by many immigrants. Readers who appreciated the dystopian world presented in Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza may find this book a stark reminder of the current immigration issues going on now.
Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Simon Pulse / Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: July 28, 2020
On the last day of senior year, Rowan Roth–competitive overachiever, secret romance reader, and very nervous about life after high school–teams up with her academic nemesis Neil McNair to win a grade-wide scavenger hunt…and realizes she maybe doesn’t hate him as much as she thought she did. Their cut-throat competition has defined Rowan’s high school career,
but as they follow their list of clues around Seattle, Rowan’s eyes are opened to all the ways she judged Neil without really knowing him. But can rivalry turn to romance when you’ve spent the last four years trying to destroy each other?
Today Tonight Tomorrow is a love letter to Seattle, beginnings and endings, and second chances, and the rivalry-to-romance love story is completely satisfying. Rowan is a realistic and relatable character who is feeling all the feels as high school ends–nostalgic for the good times, regretful about all the things she missed out on, nervous-excited-uncertain about college and the future. Rowan and Neil challenge each other; they are vulnerable with each other and they learn to value each other’s flaws as well as their better qualities. They are also charming, adorable, and sweet as hell in the very best way.
Recommend this book to readers of other rivalry-to-romance love stories (A Love Hate Thing, Tweet Cute, Verona Comics, Pride) and to fans of stories that take place all in one day (The Sun Is Also a Star, The Voting Booth, They Both Die at the End, This Is All Your Fault). Today Tonight Tomorrow also pays homage to the classic ‘90s rom-com movie Ten Things I Hate About You.
Dear Justyce by Nic Stone
Crown Books for Young Readers / Random House Children’s Books
Publication Date: September 29, 2020
Justyce Miller and Vernell LaQuan Banks Jr. both grew up in the same neighborhood, attended the same schools through middle school, even had the same hiding spot at the playground. Yet, as the story opens, Justyce is at Yale University and Quan is sitting in a juvenile detention center accused of murder. Before heading back to his “fancy college,” Justyce leaves Quan his journal with letters to Martin Luther King, Jr., and as Quan reads it, he starts to wonder about the choices and circumstances that led each boy to their present situations.
Stone’s hard-hitting sequel to Dear Martin explores some of the systemic flaws in the juvenile justice system. Through flashbacks and letters to Justyce, Quan emerges as a complex character whose story is as compelling as it is heartbreaking. It also becomes apparent that Quan’s story isn’t as simple as his confession would suggest. The suspense grows as Quan’s expanding group of supporters–including Justyce and his new friend Jared–slowly unravel the truth surrounding Quan’s arrest and the event that led to it.
Fans of Dear Martin will love this follow-up, but students who missed that won’t have any trouble following the storyline of this one. Recommend this to readers who loved other books featuring black teens trying to overcome racial discrimination such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas or This Is My America by Kim Johnson. It also pairs nicely with the book or film version of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.
The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley
HarperTeen / HarperCollins
Publication Date: December 1, 2020
Melody McIntyre’s school theater is cursed. There have been fires, injuries, and way too much drama. Over the years, an elaborate system of jinxes and countercurses has evolved to make sure every fall play and spring musical is perfect. And now that Mel is the youngest stage manager ever during her junior year, she’s determined that the production of Les Misérables will be the absolute best. So when her superstitious crew points out that performances have historically gone the smoothest when Mel is single, she’s completely fine with the new “Melody McIntyre cannot fall in love” rule. Anything to keep the cast and crew happy, after all. But Mel didn’t count on rising star of the stage and screen–and high school senior–Odile Rose joining the cast. And she didn’t count on Odile Rose being quite so charming and down-to-earth. In short, she didn’t count on falling head-over-in-heels with the lead actress. And Mel didn’t count on the curse being quite so real, either…
The magic of the theater is on full display in The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre, with witty references to plays, musicals, songs, and staged performances for all the drama geek readers. There’s plenty of delicious high school drama and a heartfelt romance to root for. With themes of collaboration, performance, and the impossible quest for perfection, this queer romance set behind-the-scenes of a high school musical is a joy and a delight.
A clear winner for the drama kids, fans of musical theater, and everyone else who got obsessed with Hamilton when it came out streaming on Disney+, The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre also pairs well with YA theater lit like the Backstagers graphic novel series and Will Grayson Will Grayson. For other behind-the-scenes narratives, recommend The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly and Hot Dog Girl.