Spotlight on Young Adult Fiction (Winter 2016)

Selected by Jenny and Memory

Happy holidays, Shiny readers! Memory and Jenny are back again to scream about recent YA books. We are feeling somewhat bruised this season from all the Brexiting and Trump-electing, so in angry bookish response, we’ve assembled an amazing list of new books by and about queer folks and people of color. We hope you’ll be as excited about them as we are! (That might be literally impossible. We are two of the most excitable-about-new-YA people in the entire world, which indeed is our primary qualification for writing this column.)

timekeeperTimekeeper, by Tara Sim (Sky Pony Press, 8 November)

Jenny: Memory, did you know of my fondness for time shenanigans? I AM VERY FOND OF TIME SHENANIGANS. Timekeeper is about a boy who is a prodigy at repairing clock towers, and they must be kept in repair, else time in the town that houses that clock tower will just stop. Due to his enthusiasm for trying to rescue his father from a stopped clock in London, he gets sent away to a small town that has lots of clock troubles. While there he falls into forbidden love (hooray!) with a boy (hooray hooray!) who is the clock spirit of that town’s clock tower. Subsequently, I believe that a series of clock tower bombings puts both his father and his clock spirit friend at risk; I trust and believe that the father will get saved and the forbidden boyfriend will get smooched. I am an optimist that way.

Memory: I SHARE YOUR FONDNESS FOR TIME SHENANIGANS. Nothing makes me happier (ie, filled with readerly despair) than people who’re like, “Hey, let’s use time shenanigans to solve our problems” and the time shenanigans blow up in their faces because that stuff has consequences. Which doesn’t sound exactly like what’s happening here, but I assume our intrepid protagonist will also face all sorts of tricky time dealings as he navigates his world’s chronological peculiarities. Plus, forbidden boyfriend smooches and father-saving bring me great joy.

yoon-2The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon (Corgi Children’s, 3 November)

Memory: we featured Yoon’s Everything, Everything in one of our early columns, and I finally read it, and now I’m so frickin’ excited about everything (everything) Yoon’s gonna write going forward. Her second novel, The Sun Is Also A Star, is about two sensible teenagers who believe they’re not the kind of people who fall in love with some attractive person they meet at random. So of course, that’s exactly what happens to them, and they have to deal with it even as they grapple with pressing concerns like deportation and familial expectations. Yoon is so, so good at keeping the emotions true and relevant even when the reader knows more or less where the story’s headed (as is the case for you with your reading-the-end-first thing, and for me with my being-a-great-guesser thing). I can’t wait to see what she does here.

Jenny: Here’s where I admit to my shame that I still haven’t read Everything, Everything, and the Shiny readers throw me into outer darkness in betrayed disgust. On the other hand, now that Nicola Yoon’s written two books, I think it gives me an excellent opportunity to read both at once and see what I think about her development as a writer. The Sun Is Also a Star sounds particularly great for me, since I think of myself as a cynic about 80% of the time, and then the other 20% of the time I am forced to admit that I am a hopeless romantic who falls like a ton of bricks for every trope in the romance trope playbook (see above re: forbidden boyfriend). Stories where new feelings make the characters reassess how they think about the world are wonderful, and to make things even more exciting, this book was a 2016 National Book Award finalist. It promises to be glorious!

swan-ridersThe Swan Riders, by Erin Bow (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 20 September)

Jenny: One of my favorite books last year was The Scorpion Rules, a YA dystopian novel about a bisexual princess who lives her life–as do the children of every country in the world–as a hostage for her parents’ good behavior. I would have said it was impossible, but I may perhaps like The Swan Riders even more. While I badly missed the presence of Greta’s girlfriend Xie (if there is a third book, I hope Xie comes back for it!), I loved the delicate, careful way the events of The Swan Riders teach Greta, and the reader, of the centrality of love in making us human. Erin Bow’s characters struggle to find the right path among a sea of bad options, and even when they fail, it’s impossible not to love them for trying.

Memory: I loved the intensity of The Scorpion Rules, and the way Bow never backed down from the horror or the danger of her premise. (I also appreciate how it’s set in Saskatchewan. So many YA dystopias act like Canada and Mexico were wiped out of existence.) I’m excited to see how she expands on that now Greta’s circumstances have changed, and I expect my tear glands to get a real workout on account of all those bad options.

fire-and-starsOf Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst (Balzer & Bray, 22 November)

Memory: Princess Denna’s been betrothed to a foreign prince since birth, she’s a magic user in a society where magic is illegal, and her fiance’s country demands she learn to ride their prized warhorses with help from her future sister-in-law, the prickly Princess Mare. Eep. When an assassination shakes the kingdom, Denna and Mare team up to find the culprit, and of course they start to develop romantic feelings for one another. I adore fish-out-of-water stories, unlikely team-ups, pressing mysteries, and girls who fall in looooooove, so I’m totally ready for this secondary world fantasy.

Jenny: Look, my passion for team-ups is well documented, and remember before when I said that I am soft for romance tropes? Uncomfortable allies who develop a grudging respect for each other and then fall in love is a romance trope I will never not get starry-eyed over, particularly if it all happens on a road trip. Is Of Fire and Stars also a road trip story? Dare I hope for so many fun tropes in a single book? Plus, of course, as a prickly girl myself, I like to read books where the characters come to recognize the value of prickly girls. (Seeing ourselves in the stories we read is phenomenally important, this story at ten.)

when-the-moonWhen the Moon Was Ours, Anna-Marie McLemore (Thomas Dunne Books, 4 October)

Jenny: Memory, this is turning out to be a very romance-heavy list for us, no? Is this just a function of YA literature, or are we turning to books to find love because the world is feeling particularly inhospitable and unloving lately? In any case, our penultimate pick for this installment of Young Adult Screaming with Jenny and Memory is another romance, by queer Latina author Anna-Marie McLemore. When the Moon Was Ours was also longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award, and it’s the story of a romance between a trans boy who paints moons and a dark-haired girl whose wrists sprout roses. I don’t usually go in for magical realism, but I’m going to make an exception for this truly gorgeous-sounding book.

Memory: I feel like we might be in a hardcore romance mood, and kudos to the National Book Award for being right there with us. This really does sound seventeen kinds of gorgeous, and there are witches alongside the painter boy and the rose-sprouting girl. Witches who’re also sisters, and who want to steal secrets! I’m getting a total “mysterious small town with unplumbed depths” vibe from the jacket copy, and that’s as much my catnip as anything else we’ve highlighted here today. Bring it on.

3-dark-crownsThree Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake (Macmillan Children’s Books, 22 September)

Memory: Every generation, triplet sisters are born to the queen of a mysterious island. They’re tutored separately in the arts of poison, elemental magic, and natural affinity, then unleashed against one another on their sixteenth birthday to determine who’ll survive to become the island’s next queen. Kendare Blake delves deep into the darkness of her premise and explores the psychological effect this has on the sisters as well as the subtle wrongness of the island. Mysteries abound, giving the reader a ton to unpack in this first volume and plenty of hooks for the finale. I gulped it down quick as ever I could, eager to see if I was right about everything (I was), and now I’m determined to press it on people.

Jenny: All I’m saying is that if I had to compete against you to see who would become the reigning monarch of plot guesses, I wouldn’t love my chances. Without spoiling anything vital about the plot to Three Dark Crowns, I am very much with you on Blake’s commitment to the darkness of this story. As I was reading this book, I kept thinking she would veer into a more hopeful key, but the book’s ending finishes up in, if possible, a darker place than it begins, leaving me positively desperate to see where this series is headed.

Pop into the comments and let us know which YA books have come onto your radar these last four months, and which ones you’re eagerly anticipating for 2017. Stay shiny!


Memory blogs at In the Forest of Stories, and Jenny’s blog is at Reading the End.

Not all of these titles are available in the UK yet, but you can order any of them P&P free via our affiliate link to the Book Depository.

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