Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2021) Nominees Round Up, December 11 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.

Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly Book Cover
Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly

Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly
Scholastic Press 
Publication Date: October 20, 2020
ISBN: 978-1338268492

Her whole life, Sophia was told by everyone that her soft heart made her weak. After losing her heart to the queen’s huntsman (who also narrates the story), she gets a clockwork replacement from the seven men of the woods, and begins a journey of self-discovery. Along the way, she gains some unlikely alliances, who all help her see that kindness and empathy have a power of their own.

In this feminist retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, characters are often not what they first appear: a frighteningly large spider proves to be a gentle chef, a charming prince may be a heartless opportunist, and a wicked queen is a female ruler trying to hold her own in a world dominated by powerful men. Sophia grows from a browbeaten princess in need of rescuing to one who recognizes her own worth and figures out how to save not only herself but her entire kingdom.

For fans of fairy tale retellings that challenge feminine archetypes, like The Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao or Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. Introduce this departure from the Disney retelling to viewers of the Once Upon a Time series.

Heather Christensen

All Eyes on Her by L. E. Flynn Book Cover
All Eyes on Her by L. E. Flynn

All Eyes on Her by L. E. Flynn
Imprint / Macmillan
Publication Date: August 18, 2020
ISBN: 978-1250158178

Almost everyone has an opinion about Tabitha “Tabby” Cousins, and she doesn’t seem to care… much. Not always nice and always opinionated, Tabby is determined to challenge all of the conventional expectations of teen girls.  Those qualities make her an ideal target when her seemingly perfect boyfriend winds up dead at the bottom of a cliff in a notoriously dangerous hiking trail and a frantic Tabby is discovered pleading for help.  

Like Jennifer Mathieu’s The Truth About Alice, readers piece together what they think happened based on interviews, journal entries and other media, and then are confronted with Tabby’s own ambiguous narrative at the end. This has wide appeal to people who like murder mysteries or are interested in the Amanda Knox case as the plot examines not just at the murder of a college athlete but also how the media and public treat and create their own narratives for girls.

This fast-paced thriller is a great option for readers who loved Karen M. McManus’s One of Us is Lying or Kara Thomas’s The Cheerleaders.

Stephanie Johnson and Jodi Kruse

Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore Book Cover
Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore

Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore
HarperTeen / HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 22, 2020
ISBN: 978-0062869913

Chiquita “Chicky” Quintanilla and Estrellita “Lita” Perez used to be best friends, misfits joined at the hip in their small town of Meteor, New Mexico.  But they grew apart as they grew up, afraid to reveal their secrets–that Chicky is pansexual, that Lita is slowly turning back into stardust from the meteorite that created her. Then Lita hatches a wild plan.  If she has to leave this planet, she’ll go out with a bang.  She’ll win the annual Miss Meteor beauty pageant, despite a fifty-year tradition of beautiful thin white girls taking the crown.  Round, brown, talks-to-cacti Lita will need all the help she can get, and she calls on her ex-BFF Chicky. Chicky rallies and brings along for the ride some important allies:  Junior (sensitive artist boy-next-door who’s carrying a torch for her), Cole (brother of the main competition and so good at sports that the townsfolk overlook his trans identity), and her three ferociously outspoken sisters.  In order to be free to live and love in the place they call home, Chicky and Lita will have to defy the expectations of their small town and claim their place in the world.

This charming underdog story features an inclusive cast and an affirming message with a touch of romance and magical realism.  Chicky and Lita alternate narrating each chapter, giving readers two different heroines to root for and two different perspectives on the sexism, classism, and racism both face as brown girls in a small town.  The supporting characters and the town’s mythology are delightfully quirky, and there’s a strong message about how it’s possible to love a place and call it home even when it’s not always welcoming.  Plus Lita throws birthday parties for her favorite desert cacti, which will win over any reader.   

Chicky and Lita join other pageant-winners from Dumplin’, You Should See Me In a Crown, and If It Makes You Happy.  For more magical realism in the desert starring Latinx characters, pair Miss Meteor with Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything.     

Kali Olson

Ashlords by Scott Reintgen Book Cover
Ashlords by Scott Reintgen

Ashlords by Scott Reintgen
Algonquin Books for Young Readers / Random House Children’s
Publication Date: January 21, 2020
ISBN: 978-0593119174

Many years ago, the gods gifted the Ashlords with phoenix horses – they flame out at night only to be reborn with the first rays of the sun. Mixing their ashes with various components can create an infinite array of effects on the reborn creatures, which are used by the competitors of the annual Races. This year’s Races have three participants from extremely different cultures and backgrounds – Pippa, Adrian, and Imelda – each with their own reason to win, no matter the cost to themselves or those around them. 

An intricate world with a complex mythology, Ashlords drops the reader right into the story and doles out the details as it goes along. Each of the main characters’ voices and motivations are distinct; there is no confusing who is who. The biggest strength of this story lies in its competitiveness – the real action is saved for the latter half of the book, and once it starts it does not let up. 

With no real romance and plenty of violence and subterfuge, Ashlords pairs well with Gretchen McNeil’s #murdertrending series and Ben Oliver’s The Loop. Fans of extreme competition narratives like The Hunger Games and the author’s previous Nyxia Triad will be clamoring for the second volume. 

Allie Stevens

He Must Like You by Danielle Younge-Ullman Book Cover
He Must Like You by Danielle Younge-Ullman

He Must Like You by Danielle Younge-Ullman
Viking Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: July 14, 2020
ISBN: 978-1984835710

High school waitress Libby’s rough year (her brother absconded with his college money, her volatile dad plans to kick her out of the house after she graduates, and she’s confused about a hook-up with a coworker) gets worse when she publicly insults a handsy but important customer. The incident goes viral and everyone has an opinion, but it’s Libby who really has to live with the fallout–finding a new job and a place to live, managing her dad’s rage and her mother’s complicity, and navigating her own complicated sexual history. 

There are many YA books that tackle rape culture, but He Must Like You is the rare book that shines a light on the gray areas of consent:  How men make assumptions, how women acquiesce to avoid conflict, how people react to incidents that aren’t violent or when consent is complicated by power dynamics.  Libby’s story shows how toxic masculinity can infect even the most well-intentioned people, and there’s a real focus on the importance of healthy communication.  This is also a captivating coming-of-age story that is honest (sometimes brutally so) and engaging, narrated by a relatable character whose eyes are finally open to the injustices of the world around her and determined to make a change.

Readers who applauded the efforts of girls taking on the patriarchy in Girl Unframed, Unpregnant, Asking For It, Unscripted, and Six Angry Girls will root for Libby.  

Kali Olson