Spotlight on Young Adult Fiction – Summer 2016

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Selected by Jenny and Memory

It’s summer, and the cups of your trusty YA correspondents runneth over. We know we led you to believe that we would curate a list of the five most exciting YA novels in each season, but we took our jobs so seriously and followed so many terrific YA authors on Twitter and read so many publishers’ catalogs that, er, we possibly went a little overboard. Buckle in, Shiny friends. This one’s going to be a (diverse, emotional, geeky-as-hell) doozy.

Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki

Jenny: Sixteen-year-old Montgomery Sole gets a sinking feeling when she learns that a conservative religious preacher has come to her California town. As the daughter of lesbian moms, she’s accustomed to being on the front lines of hostility from people like Reverend White. Mariko Tamaki is the author of the absolutely wonderful This One Summer, and she has a knack for capturing the awkwardness and absolutism of being a teenager who thinks of herself as different. I trust Tamaki to deliver a funny, thoughtful take on a topic — religion and homosexuality — that could easily run into cliche territory.

Memory: This sounds like feels central. I’m a total sucker for anything that explores intense friendships like the one Monty shares with her BFFs Naoki and Thomas, and I’m always excited to see more lesbians in YA. I expect this one’s gonna make me engage in at least one round of wretched sobbing as Monty faces down the prejudice she and her moms run up against, hopefully with lots of awesome friendship moments and personal revelations to provide some much-needed relief from the darkness built into the premise.

A Fierce and Subtle Poison  by Samantha Mabry

Memory: Lucas spends his summers in Puerto Rico and has grown up hearing stories of Isabel, a cursed girl who can either grant wishes or kill with a touch. When circumstances throw him together with Isabel on the very day his girlfriend vanishes, he travels deep into her lush, mysterious world in search of answers–and begins to doubt he’ll make it out alive. This one called to me like that because monster girls are one of my top fictional preoccupations, and because I’ve read precious little about Puerto Rico. I can’t wait to see how Mabry handles both her story and her setting.

Jenny: Remind me, have we talked in this space before about our mutual love of monster girls? I am happy that trope’s a literary trend at the moment because I can’t get enough of it. I also love to read stories of characters who are caught betwixt and between different worlds and possible identities. As the son of a white hotelier, Lucas never quite belongs in Puerto Rico; but nor does he exactly belong to the world of his father, who perpetually reminds him that island women (like Lucas’s mother) can never be trusted. I envision plenty of room for heartbreak on all sides.

Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman

Jenny: Every time we do one of these, there’s at least one book where I just end up yelling the premise in all capital letters. On one hand, surely I should learn to be more eloquent? On the other hand, and I think it’s important that we not underrate this, GENDERSWAPPED OTHELLO IN SPACE. Although I loved Noughts and Crosses when I read it in high school, I haven’t read a word by Malorie Blackman since. And her the former Children’s Laureate! Disgrace! I can’t think of a better way to jump back into her work than, I say again, GENDERSWAPPED. OTHELLO. IN SPACE.

Memory: I remember when we first discussed this book, months and months ago, and we were both like GENDERSWAPPED OTHELLO IN SPACE for six emails (possibly an exaggeration, but not much of one). I want all the books set in space, and all the genderswapped Shakespeare retellings. And I desperately need Conniving Female Villain Iago, who everyone thinks is just the <i>best</i> even though she’s destroying their lives. IN SPACE.

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Memory: This book is everywhere, seeing as how it’s the fourth book in an amazing series (The Raven Cycle! Start with The Raven Boys and tweet your feels at us! @xicanti and @readingtheend! (Yes, we seriously want to hear from you!) but there’s no way we could let this column pass without mentioning it. The Raven King brings to a close Gansey and his friends’ search for the titular Raven King, and it’s a doozy of an ending. It’s got instinctive magic, trees, robo-bees, friendship, dreams, and personal growth for everyone involved. I’ve been unable to get it out of my head in the weeks since I finished it, and I know it’s gonna linger for years to come.

Jenny: You covered so many of the things I loved about this series (you eloquent bastard), but in particular, I love that this series at its heart is about learning how to be a person. The characters in this series are dissatisfied in a range of different ways at the start of The Raven Boys, and by the end of The Raven King, we’ve seen all of them learn how to chase after what they want, how to be faithful friends to each other, and how to see past surfaces, all in Stiefvater’s gorgeous, emotionally insightful prose. I can’t say enough about this series (er, obviously).

Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson

Jenny: How does this book’s premise fill my heart with joy? Let me count the ways. Gena/Finn is an epistolary novel (ding!) about a relationship between two young women (ding!) who meet through online fandom (ding!) and together try to negotiate mental health, fandom squabbles, the twists and turns of their beloved show, and their feelings for each other. It’s marvelous that fandom has reached a level of mainstream acceptability that publishers are beginning to put out books set in the fandom world, and my understanding is that Moskowitz and Helgeson are themselves Supernatural fangirls, so I’m expecting wins all around for this book.

Memory: Jenny, I grinned wider and wider as you ticked off each point. This book sounds awesome. Fandom and mental health and #teamgirlskissing, oh my! I’m a huge sucker for epistolary novels, too, especially the sort that include all sorts of supplementary materials. The sample chapter for Gena/Finn (available on Kat Helgeson’s website) is full of journal posts, texts, fanfic, fan art, and personal emails. It’s totally immersive and super relevant to today’s online culture, and I swooned a little bit as I perused it.

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

Memory: Mercy Wong is determined to get the best education on offer, and in 1906 San Francisco that means attending St. Clare’s–a school normally reserved for rich white girls. Mercy defies the odds and wins admittance, only to face an even bigger challenge when the earthquake destroys her city, martial law goes into effect, and her classmates need someone to take charge. This sounds like one hell of a Badass Girl Gets Stuff Done novel, with the added bonuses of a fascinating historical setting, deeper considerations of race and class in the early 1900s, and a ton of feels.

Jenny: As a rule, I have not always been crazy about historical fiction. But I am now testing a new hypothesis wherein I am possibly yes crazy about (or at least not opposed to) historical fiction, as long as it’s not about all white folks all the time. Outrun the Moon is not only the story of a Badass Girl Getting Stuff Done, as Memory says, but also the story of a Chinese kid fighting for her place among racist white Californians at the turn of the century. Honestly — it’s been a rough election season for this American girl. I need a story about a POC teenager triumphing over the odds.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Jenny: Nerdy trans teenager Amanda comes to a new school and immediately falls in love with a boy called Grant. He’s sweet and relaxed and he likes her, and Amanda can’t stop thinking about how much she wants to come out to him — but she’s scared that once Grant knows the truth, she’ll lose him. Oh I cannot wait to read this book. If I Was Your Girl is the story of a trans kid by a trans author. It’s the story of a geeky teenager by a one-time geeky teenager. It’s even got that thing where the protagonist goes off to live with a relative she doesn’t know that well — dare I hope that Amanda and her father will find common ground and build a grudging respect for each other? Plus (and I won’t spoil anything), someone told me how the story ends, and I am into it one thousand percent.

Memory: Oh my goodness, distanced relatives who find common ground and build a grudging respect for each other are my jam. I also want lots of books about trans kids by trans authors, please and thanks, because I want young people to have easy access to diverse perspectives. I think of the sort of fiction I had access to when I was a teenager, and I look at what’s available to today’s young people, and I’m beyond happy for them. The trans kids get to see themselves on the page and the cis kids get to experience the world through someone else’s eyes, all wrapped up in a great story. It’s a damned nice thing.

Thanks for sticking with us through our gush-fest! We hope you found a book or seven you can’t wait to cram into your brain, and as always we’d love to hear about the other recent releases that’ve got you hopping up and down in your seat from the sheer excitement of it all. Let us know in the comments, or come tweet at us (@xicanti and @readingtheend)!

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