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.
Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
HarperVoyager / HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
The first volume in a West African-inspired fantasy trilogy, Kingdom of Souls introduces Arrah – the first person in her family to not possess magic, much to her mother’s disappointment. In her desperation to have powers of her own, she strikes a bargain with the Demon King, a decision which ties her fate to his and may cost her everyone she loves and everything she knows.
An extremely dark and at times disturbing story, Kingdom of Souls begins with incredible world-building and richly complex and sympathetic, though often flawed, characters. Common fantasy tropes are used and twisted around into a fresh, energetic storyline that is full of exciting twists and rapidly-paced action.
Readers of other action-packed Black girl magic fantasy series will be thrilled with this addition to the genre. Give to fans of Adeyemi’s Legacy of Orïsha series, Okorafor’s Akata Witch series, Fueko’s Raybearer or Roseanne Brown’s A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. Other great pairings for this title include fantasy series with morally ambiguous yet compulsively readable characters like Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes.
— Allie Stevens
The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
Ace / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: July 21, 2020
Sixteen-year-old Immanuelle Moore is an outcast in her strict, puritanical village of Bethel. She’s the biracial daughter of a deceased madwoman, and no amount of obedience or submission to the Prophet and his teachings can erase that stain. So when Immanuelle is drawn to the dark power of the forbidden woods that surround her community, she doesn’t resist. What she finds there–the spirits of women banned long ago and her mother’s secret diary–unleashes a flood of plagues upon Bethel. Now, Immanuelle must uncover the tragedies of the past to save her home from vengeful witches, the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, and her own dangerous secret destiny.
The Year of the Witching combines dystopian fiction and speculative horror into a delicious dark fantasy, moody and atmospheric and page-turning. Immanuelle is an insatiably curious guide for the reader into this world and her character provides a unique spin on the “chosen one” trope. This is an adult title but it reads like YA–fast-paced, with efficient worldbuilding, highly effective horror imagery, and teenage characters who are up against the world.
The Year of the Witching will attract fans of The Grace Year and Agnes at the End of the World, both of which also feature powerful witchy girls escaping the clutches of puritanical cult leaders. Feminist fantasy titles like We Set the Dark on Fire, Sawkill Girls, and Girl, Serpent, Thorn pair well with The Year of the Witching’s takedown of patriarchal societies, as do adult dystopias like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Power.
Here the Whole Time by Vitor Martins (translated by Larissa Helena)
Publication Date: November 10, 2020
Awkward, gay, and bullied relentlessly because he’s fat, Brazilian teen Felipe has all his hopes pinned on school break to forget his troubles for a while. He has twenty days of relaxing, reading, and binge-watching planned–but then his mother throws a curveball. Felipe’s neighbor and childhood crush Caio will be staying with them for break while his parents are out of town. How can Felipe relax when all his anxieties and insecurities are on full display to charming, adorable, perfect Caio?
Issues of body image are usually reserved for female characters, but this Brazilian export explores body image (fat-shaming, fatphobia, body positivity, self-worth, and self-love) through the still-too-rare point of view of a teen boy. And Felipe is an utterly charming narrator, often directly addressing the reader for an intimate reading experience that creates a strong bond between character and reader. Caio too becomes more than just the seemingly-perfect object of affection for Felipe to project onto, and the relationship both boys have with Felipe’s mother is warm, affectionate, and all too rare in YA lit. Here the Whole Time is frank and honest, authentic and affirming, charming and witty, and a very sweet coming-of-age love story.
Felipe can rock body-positivity with Dumplin’ and Leah (Dumplin’, Leah On the Offbeat) and search for love and acceptance with Darius, Simon, and Felix (Darius the Great Is Not Okay, Simon Vs. The Homosapiens Agenda, Felix Ever After).
Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: November 17, 2020
Nerdish Sunny Dae meets a new student, Cirrus Soh, at school. He is immediately taken with both her looks and her confidence, but he lacks courage to show her he likes her. He sees an opening to go with it after she sees his older brother’s clothing, music posters and bedroom décor and mistakes it for his. Soon, to back up this lie, he is fronting a band made of his also-nerdy friends and participating in a music contest.
While the book is farcical by nature, it never seems forced or unbelievable. Sunny is a likable protagonist, we are rooting for him by page 10. Serious themes of authenticity and relationships are mined while entertaining the reader with ever-increasing stakes as the music contest approaches. While his lie is working, Sunny is uncomfortable, wondering whether his real chemistry with Cirrus is corrupted by his changes and posturing.
Those looking for more Frankly in Love will find a similar writing style, but a whole new cast of characters. Anyone in love with the rom-com strategy of having a couple get together perfectly, then fall apart over an early lie coming to the front, then getting back together will feel comfortable here. Goes well with Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, as well as The Best Laid Plans by Cameron Lund.