YALSA 2020 Best Fiction for Young Adults
The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) announced its 2020 Best Fiction for Young Adult. Here is the list of titles that made it to top ten.
For more information, please visit http://www.ala.org/news/member-news/2020/02/yalsa-names-2020-best-fiction-young-adults.
The Field Guide to the North American Teenager
by Ben Philippe
Seventeen-year-old Norris Kaplan has just had his world turned upside-down. When his mother has to relocate to find work in her field, Norris finds his identity as a Black, French-Canadian hockey fan challenged by his new existence in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. While on the surface this is a classic fish-out-of-water tale, there are many more layers to the story. Lots of different elements of identity are brought to bear in Norris’s narration: his Haitian/immigrant heritage, racial identity, and viewpoint on American high school stereotypes. The protagonist’s smart and funny demeanor will engage readers, even when he makes obviously bad decisions. Norris is particularly adept at letting his assumptions about his peers impact his ability to relate to them as individuals, either as friends or romantically. The authorial decision to have the “outsider” be the character influenced by stereotypes rather than the opposite makes for a very compelling reversal that ultimately works. The unresolved ending allows teens to revel in the messiness of high school social blunders and see the value in doing the hard work of making amends. VERDICT A witty debut with whip-smart dialogue that will find much love among fans of authors like John Green and Jason Reynolds.—Kristin Lee Anderson, Jackson County Library Services, OR
Girls on the Verge
by Sharon Biggs Waller
Camille has just wrapped a successful summer with her theater troupe and is ready for a prestigious theater camp with her crush. Then one missed period becomes two, and Camille faces the truth: her first sexual encounter, a one-time thing, has led to pregnancy. Camille knows she can’t have a baby now, but she doesn’t want to involve her parents, and her best friend, Bea, can’t reconcile her religious views with Camille’s decision. Complicating the situation are Texas’ prohibitive abortion laws: it’s a year after Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster and Governor Rick Perry’s restrictive bill. Desperate, Camille turns to Annabelle, a girl she admires but hardly knows, who offers to drive her to Mexico for pills that will induce an abortion. At the last minute, despite her reservations, Bea decides to come as well. Waller (The Forbidden Orchid, 2016) hammers home the immense difficulties that girls in Camille’s situation face. The story occasionally has the unnerving feel of a dystopia, despite taking place in the recent past: Camille travels hundreds of miles, crosses into dangerous border towns, and faces the judgment of legal and medical professionals as well as people she knows. The narrative sometimes treads into the expository, but Camille’s story is absolutely essential, as is the underlying message that girls take care of each other when no one else will. — Maggie Reagan (Reviewed 4/1/2019) (Booklist, vol 115, number 15, p70)
by Mindy McGinnis
All it takes is one prescription to kick-start a student athlete’s frightening descent into opioid addiction. After surgery following a car accident, Ohio softball phenom Mickey Catalan is prescribed OxyContin for pain. When she starts to run out of the Oxy she relies on to get through her physical therapy, she gets pills from a dealer, through whom she meets other young addicts. Mickey rationalizes what she’s doing and sees herself as a good girl who’s not like others who use drugs (like new friend Josie, who uses because she’s “bored”). Mickey loves how the pills make her feel, how they take her out of herself and relieve the pressures in her life. Soon she’s stealing, lying, and moving on to heroin. Her divorced parents, including her recovering addict stepmother, suspect something is going on, but Mickey is skilled at hiding her addiction. A trigger warning rightfully cautions graphic depictions of drug use. In brutally raw detail, readers see Mickey and friends snort powders, shoot up, and go through withdrawal. Intense pacing propels the gripping story toward the inevitable conclusion already revealed in the prologue. An author’s note and resources for addiction recovery are appended. This powerful, harrowing, and compassionate story humanizes addiction and will challenge readers to rethink what they may believe about addicts. VERDICT From the horrific first line to the hopeful yet devastating conclusion, McGinnis knocks it out of the park. A first purchase for all libraries serving teens.—Amanda MacGregor, Parkview Elementary School, Rosemount, MN –Amanda MacGregor (Reviewed 03/01/2019) (School Library Journal, vol 65, issue 2, p115)
Like a Love Story
by Abdi Nazemian
When Reza, a closeted teen, moves from Toronto to New York City (“by way of Tehran”) in 1989, the city feels like the epicenter of the AIDS crisis. In a heart-wrenching and bittersweet unfolding of events, he gravitates toward Art, the only openly gay student at his school, and to Art’s best friend, Judy, who represents everything he feels that he should desire. Though Reza tries his hardest to keep his attractions secret, dating Judy despite his chemistry with Art, he finds that he can’t live a lie, whatever that might cost him. A first-person narrative moves among the three characters as they discover their inner truths at a time that sometimes feels apocalyptic for their community and loved ones. Under the nurturing guidance of Judy’s gay activist uncle, the characters subtly investigate different family dynamics. The intense and nuanced emotions evoked by the characters’ journeys help to give this powerful novel by Nazemian (The Authentics) a timeless relevance. Ages 13–up. Agent: Curtis Brown, Curtis Brown Ltd. (June) –Staff (Reviewed 04/22/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 16, p)
by Julie Berry
Berry (The Passion of Dolssa) brings to life wartime horrors and passions with commentary from Olympian gods in this love story filled with vivid historical detail. To show her husband, Hephaestus, the real meaning of love and its connection to war and art, Aphrodite (with the help of Apollo, Hades, and Ares) tells the emotion-packed WWI saga of two besotted couples drawn together by music and war : British pianist Hazel and soldier James; African-American jazz musician Aubrey and Colette, a Belgian war orphan with a remarkable singing voice. After James reports to duty, Hazel follows, taking a wartime volunteer position in France. There, she meets Colette, who is still reeling from her wartime losses, and introduces her to Aubrey, who quickly steals Colette’s heart. James and Aubrey witness horrors on and off the battlefield, and Hazel and Colette cling to each other during the best of times, such as when Hazel has the opportunity for a brief reunion with James, and the worst, as when Aubrey goes missing. Berry’s evocative novel starts slow but gains steam as the stories flesh out. Along the way, it suggests that while war and its devastation cycles through history, the forces of art and love remain steady, eternal, and life-sustaining. Ages 12–up. (Mar.) –Staff (Reviewed 12/24/2018) (Publishers Weekly, vol 265, issue 52, p)
On the Come Up
by Angie Thomas
–Aspiring rapper Bri records “On the Come Up ” to protest the racial profiling and assault she endured at the hands of white security guards at her high school. The song goes viral, and Bri seizes the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of her late father and lift her family out of poverty, but her loved ones worry, especially when some listeners paint her as an angry black girl inciting violence. Tension mounts as Bri’s mother loses her job, Bri’s relationship with her beloved aunt and musical mentor splinters, and a new manager dangles the prospect of fame and wealth—at a price. Set in the same neighborhood as Thomas’s electrifying The Hate U Give, this visceral novel makes cogent observations about the cycle of poverty and the inescapable effects of systemic racism. Though the book never sands over the rough realities of Garden Heights, such as gang warfare, it imbues its many characters with warmth and depth. While acknowledging that society is quick to slap labels onto black teens, the author allows her heroine to stumble and fall before finding her footing and her voice. VERDICT Thomas once again fearlessly speaks truth to power; a compelling coming-of-age story for all teens.—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal –Mahnaz Dar (Reviewed 02/01/2019) (School Library Journal, vol 65, issue 1, p77)
Patron Saints of Nothing
by Randy Ribay
Integrating snippets of Tagalog and Bikol, author Ribay displays a deep friendship between two 17-year-old cousins: Jay, born in the Philippines but raised in the United States since infancy, and Jun, born and raised in a gated community in Manila. Jay, considered white in an all-white school, is starting to get acceptances (and rejections) from colleges and finds out while playing video games that Jun, with whom he corresponded for years via “actual letters—not email or texts or DMs,” is dead. His Filipino father doesn’t want to talk about it, but his North American mother reveals that Jun was using drugs. Jay blames his uncle, a police chief, for his murder after researching the dictatorship of Rodrigo Duterte (the book includes a handy author’s note and a list of articles and websites), who has sanctioned and perpetrated the killing of between 12,000 and 20,000 drug addicts by police and vigilantes since 2016. Jay, armed with his stack of letters, returns to Manila to search for the truth. Ribay weaves in Jun’s letters so readers witness Jun’s questions and his attempts to reconcile the inequity around him with his faith. Jay follows Jun’s footsteps into the slums of Manila, the small house of his activist aunts, and the Catholic parish of his uncle, a village priest, and learns painful truths about his family, his home country, and himself. VERDICT Part mystery, part elegy, part coming of age, this novel is a perfect convergence of authentic voice and an emphasis on inner dialogue around equity, purpose, and reclaiming one’s lost cultural identity.—Sara Lissa Paulson, City-As-School High School, New York City –Sara Lissa Paulson (Reviewed 06/01/2019) (School Library Journal, vol 65, issue 5, p84)
by Akwaeke Emezi
Carnegie Medal–nominee Emezi (Freshwater for adults) makes their young adult debut in this story of a transgender, selectively nonverbal girl named Jam, and the monster that finds its way into their universe. Jam’s hometown, Lucille, is portrayed as a utopia—a world that is post-bigotry and -violence, where “angels” named after those in religious texts have eradicated “monsters.” But after Jam accidently bleeds onto her artist mother’s painting, the image—a figure with ram’s horns, metallic feathers, and metal claws—pulls itself out of the canvas. Pet , as it tells Jam to call it, has come to her realm to hunt a human monster––one that threatens peace in the home of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. Together, Jam, Pet , and Redemption embark on a quest to discover the crime and vanquish the monster. Jam’s language is alternatingly voiced and signed, the latter conveyed in italic text, and Igbo phrases pepper the family’s loving interactions. Emezi’s direct but tacit story of injustice, unconditional acceptance, and the evil perpetuated by humankind forms a compelling, nuanced tale that fans of speculative horror will quickly devour. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jacqueline Ko, Wylie Agency. (Sept.) –Staff (Reviewed 06/17/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 24, p)
The Stars and the Blackness Between Them
by Junauda Petrus
Trinidadian native Audre uses the labels placed upon her as a shield, fearing those around her will discover the real reason her mother sent her to live with her distant father in Minneapolis: she was caught wrapped in the arms of another girl. Struggling with her own questions surrounding her sexuality and depleting health, Mabel holds no faith that she’s going to have anything in common with Audre, the daughter of a family friend who’s just arrived from Trinidad and has a bit of a church-girl reputation. But they find themselves drawn to each other in inexorable ways. Told through unflinching prose and poetry laced with astrological themes, Petrus’ work breaks the mold of traditional writing and uses unconventional dialogue and voice to bring life to the story of two authentic, unapologetic Black girls as they face the hardest truths head on and discover everlasting love that reaches even the most distant corners of the cosmos. Through the intersplicing of poetry, Petrus provides compelling depth to both Audre and Mabel while conveying the powerful message that those we love on earth remain with us through a connection that can only be described as celestial. Striking an agile balance between humor and heartbreak, Petrus delivers an immersive queer romance set in in a world much like our own but touched with the slightest tint of magic realism. — Tiana Coven (Reviewed 8/1/2019) (Booklist, vol 115, number 22, p60)
With the Fire on High
by Elizabeth Acevedo
In this stunning sophomore novel from National Book Award and Printz winner Acevedo (The Poet X), Afro–Puerto Rican and African-American Emoni Santiago, a high school senior, lives in Philadelphia with her two-year-old daughter, Emma—nicknamed Babygirl—and paternal grandmother, ’Buela. A talented cook, Emoni balances school, work at a local burger joint, and motherhood—including shared custody with her ex-boyfriend, Tyrone—with moments in the kitchen, where her “magical hands” create dishes that allow the eater to access deep, surprising memories. But she’s not sure what to do with her passion, or after high school, until enrolling in a culinary arts elective helps her to hone her innate cooking skills in the classroom and during a hard-won weeklong apprenticeship in Spain. As she gains practice at leadership and fund-raising, she also cautiously develops a budding relationship with new student Malachi, a boy who respects Emoni’s boundaries. Acevedo expertly develops Emoni’s close female relationships, which are often conveyed through the sharing of food and recipes, and which shape and buoy Emoni’s sense of her own direction and strength. With evocative, rhythmic prose and realistically rendered relationships and tensions, Acevedo’s unvarnished depiction of young adulthood is at once universal and intensely specific. Ages 13–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (May) –Staff (Reviewed 03/04/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 9, p)
For the full list of 2020 Best Fiction for Young Adults, please visit http://www.ala.org/yalsa/2020-best-fiction-young-adults.
-list by E.D.