Annie Metcalf

In Loraille, the Dead are dangerous. If they’re not interred with the proper rites, dead souls can return in the form of spirits, ranging from harmless shades to rare and apocalyptically powerful Revenants. People blessed with the Sight can be possessed by the risen Dead, so Sighted children are brought into convents or monasteries to receive training.

At the Gray Sisters convent, Artemisia is different from many of her peers. She spent much of her childhood possessed by a violent spirit before the nuns found her. Now Artemisia has trouble connecting with others and no strong desire to try. She just wants a quiet life, performing rites and interacting with as few people as possible.

But lately, the Dead have been behaving more aggressively than they have in years, and the convent is unsettled by a harrowing attack. Amid the chaos, Artemisia is sent to fetch the convent’s most powerful relic, which contains a trapped Revenant. When the nun in charge of the relic dies, Artemisia must wield it to defend both the convent and herself against the onslaught. With no training in controlling the Revenant, however, she must rely on her natural ability and instinct to forge a tenuous and potentially heretical alliance with an unconventional, maddening spirit—an alliance that could be the only path to salvation.

Author Margaret Rogerson excels at creating fantasy worlds that feel lived in. In Vespertine, she draws on familiar influences, including medieval France, necromantic magic and a theocratic society, so that readers can fully engage in the world of the novel from the very first page. The book is remarkably psychologically grounded as well, unfolding in a first-person narrative that keeps readers close to Artemisia’s thoughts and her conversations with the Revenant. It’s a nuanced depiction of a protagonist who has been shaped by trauma and who seems, at times, neurodivergent. Artemisia’s intimate narration differentiates her journey in Vespertine from typical “chosen one” tropes and endears her to the reader.

Rogerson clearly delights in the gruesome and the grotesque, meting out choice details about horrifying spirits and unsavory causes of death. A few supporting characters (somewhat predictably to experienced fantasy readers) defy expectations and prove heroic in their own right.cVespertine blends darkness, thrills and satisfying characterization for an engrossing fantasy tale.

Vespertine blends darkness, thrills and satisfying characterization for an engrossing fantasy tale.

In 1893 Chicago, Alter Rosen lives on Maxwell Street, a neighborhood populated by Jewish immigrants like himself who have recently arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe. Alter’s life is difficult. He feels lucky to have found a job at a Yiddish newspaper when so many must work in dangerous slaughterhouses and textile mills. Alter works hard and saves as much money as possible to pay for his mother and sisters to join him in America. It’s a task he must undertake alone, after his father died during their own voyage two years ago. Alter must also keep his feelings toward other boys, especially his friend and roommate, Yakov, to himself. 

There are new tensions in the neighborhood to deal with as well. Despite the excitement over the World’s Fair, a series of disappearances—all teenage, Jewish boys—have troubled Alter’s community. When Yakov is found dead, the police declare it an accident and show no interest in investigating further. As Alter assists in the ritual cleansing of Yakov’s body, something strange happens: Alter becomes convinced Yakov is alive, feels their souls cleave together and then passes out. When he awakens, he feels changed by the experience, convinced that Yakov was murdered and determined to find answers. 

With help from Raizel Ackermann, a passionate anarchist and reporter for the Arbeiter Zeitung newspaper, Alter tracks down leads about Yakov and the other missing boys. His search reconnects him with Frankie, a charismatic criminal he knew during his early days in Chicago. Working together, the three race against time to uncover heinous crimes of abuse, coercion, corruption and hatred committed against the backdrop of the Gilded Age’s grand ambitions and gory underbelly. 

Author Aden Polydoros’ third traditionally published novel is a gorgeous, disturbing, visceral and mystical experience. Alter is an exemplary historical fiction protagonist. His perspective, opinions and concerns are fitting reflections of his time, religion and cultural background, but his journey of growth and self-acceptance will satisfy contemporary readers. The inclusion of a subplot drawn from Jewish folklore complements the primary narrative perfectly and adds a clever ticking clock to the story, and though the novel is long, it rarely loses momentum. The relationships between Alter, Raizel and Frankie are tender and playful and provide brightness amid an otherwise dark story.

The City Beautiful is steeped in vibrant historical detail, including the exhilarating but superficial atmosphere of the World’s Fair, the vile working conditions of the meat industry, the burgeoning socialist and workers’ movements and the era’s wave of Jewish immigration to America. Polydoros pulls no punches when depicting the horrifically inhuman treatment that workers (many of whom were children) experienced during this time, which some readers may find distressing. His unflinching and well-rounded depiction of Jewish American and immigrant history makes The City Beautiful a superb addition to the ranks of YA historical fiction. 

Author Aden Polydoros’ third traditionally published novel is a gorgeous, disturbing, visceral and mystical experience.

Magic is rare and forbidden in the kingdom of Kiata. Most people, including the emperor, associate it with demons and danger, so Princess Shiori keeps her magical abilities carefully hidden. But when her nerves about her impending betrothal lead to a slip-up, Shiori’s stepmother, Raikama, notices. The two were close when Shiori was a child, but now they watch one another warily until Shiori discovers that Raikama is also hiding a secret. 

After Shiori reveals the secret to her six older brothers, Raikama curses them, transforming the princes into cranes, then lays an even more cruel curse on Shiori: A magical bowl on her head hinders her power and obscures her face, so that she is unrecognizable as the kingdom’s princess, and any time she speaks a single word aloud, one of her brothers will die. 

Cast to the far reaches of the kingdom and unable to explain her plight or reveal her identity, Shiori must rely on help from Kiki, a mischievous paper bird brought to life by Shiori’s magic; an infuriating dragon prince; and a nobleman’s son who continually defies her expectations. It will take all of Shiori’s wit and determination to reunite her family and break Raikama’s curses.

In Six Crimson Cranes, YA fantasist Elizabeth Lim delivers a blend of fairy tale and legend that feels both classical and fresh. Lim draws on and blends European, Chinese and Japanese sources, and the mix gives the novel both a sense of familiarity and an entertaining unpredictability, as the reader never knows which source’s elements will take precedence in the next step of the story.  

Shiori is no magical savant: She’s an endearing heroine who grows over the course of her journey, using her natural strengths to fight her way back home. Her relationships with her six brothers are well defined and touching. The book’s romantic subplot is satisfyingly swoony but also functions as an indicator of Shiori’s transformation from a kind and curious yet sheltered and judgmental princess into an open-minded young woman. 

Intriguing departures from the beats of a typical fantasy-quest plot, well-laid red herrings and excellently sown seeds of future complications set Six Crimson Cranes apart. It radiates with Lim’s love for fairy tales and legends from around the world and takes readers on a well-paced adventure with a magic all its own. 

In Six Crimson Cranes, YA fantasist Elizabeth Lim delivers a blend of fairy tale and legend that feels both classical and fresh.

It’s been a year since Clara lost control of her powerful magic and accidentally killed her best friend, and she still lives in fear that her powers will hurt someone again. Her magic just seems drawn to the people she loves—with disastrous consequences.

Clara is an Everwitch, a rare witch who can access the magic of all four seasons. While her peers at the Eastern School of Solar Magic are at their most powerful in spring, summer, fall or winter, Clara’s powers rotate and change with the seasons, and her fear of her own magic is starting to cause her to fall behind at school.

In The Nature of Witches, witches are key players in the global fight against climate change and atmospheric disruption, especially since shaders (people who don’t have magic) insist on developing and exploiting places on the planet that should remain wild. As an Ever, Clara should be a singularly powerful witch, destined to be indispensable in the intensifying struggle to calm the raging atmosphere. But Clara is stuck, too scared to train the way her teachers want her to but conscious of the grave responsibility an Ever holds.

The environmental situation is worsening, and Clara must decide whether to join the fight for the planet or take the drastic step of relinquishing her powers forever. When she’s paired with a new training partner, the calm and gentle spring witch Sang Park, Clara begins to see a way to trust herself and her powers again.

Rachel Griffin’s debut YA novel is a fascinating blend of climate fiction, fantasy, boarding school novel and romance. Clara’s trauma and fear are well developed, and her backstory makes her extreme resistance to forging relationships or using her magic understandable. The connections Griffin builds between the natural world and the witches’ magic are fresh and intriguing.

The book’s looming sense of danger comes from the chaotic environment, one in which the climate crisis has worsened significantly, rather than from a traditional antagonist, which leaves more room for Clara’s interiority and growth. YA fantasy connoisseurs may be able to predict a few revelations about Clara’s magic, as well as some story beats along the way, but the near-future setting and the witches’ ancient earth-magic practices are exciting and immersive. Steeped in love for the natural world, The Nature of Witches is a new spin on familiar themes that readers will find inspiring and satisfying.

It’s been a year since Clara lost control of her powerful magic and accidentally killed her best friend, and she still lives in fear that her powers will hurt someone again. Her magic just seems drawn to the people she loves—with disastrous consequences.

Tamsin is a witch, but unlike other witches her age, she has spent the last five years banished from the witches’ land of Within, cursed to never feel love as punishment for a terrible deed. Now she ekes out a lonely existence as a harsh, callous village witch among the Ordinary folk. 

Wren is a source: someone who is magic but cannot use magic. But unlike other sources, she didn’t travel to Within when her magic appeared, as the witches’ governing coven requires. Instead, she stayed behind to care for her ailing father, hiding the evidence of her relationship to magic as best she could. 

When a dark plague sweeps across the land, Tamsin hopes to return to Within and hunt for the witch who cast it, potentially earning the right to return home. Determined to rescue her father from the plague, Wren seeks Tamsin’s aid. The girls strike a bargain and set off to Within. 

The romantic arc of Sweet & Bitter Magic trods an enjoyable if well-worn “opposites attract” path. Chapters alternate between Tamsin’s and Wren’s perspectives, and each young woman exhibits both flaws and growth that readers will find relatable, perhaps even healing. Tamsin must outgrow her tendency to be selfish and let go of her guilt over her past mistakes, while Wren struggles to prioritize her own desires and develop confidence in her own abilities. 

Debut author Adrienne Tooley’s magical system of witches and sources is simple but intriguing, and the novel’s setting evokes a mix of European fairy tales and medieval society. The land of Within is filled with such strange and vivid imagery that readers will be reluctant to leave it behind. With its combination of fresh and familiar elements and two heroines whose emotional journeys are sure to resonate, Sweet & Bitter Magic is a treat for readers who loved the queer fantasy of Melissa Bashardoust’s Girls Made of Snow and Glass and the atmospheric, witchy vibes of Peternelle van Arsdale’s The Beast Is an Animal

Tamsin is a witch, but unlike other witches her age, she has spent the last five years banished from the witches’ land of Within, cursed to never feel love as punishment for a terrible deed. Now she ekes out a lonely existence as a harsh, callous village witch among the Ordinary folk. 

Even the most particular teen reader won't be able to resist the varied charms of these YA anthologies.

A Phoenix First Must Burn

Give this to a reader who believes in possibilities as boundless as their own imagination.

A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope opens with a story of fresh beginnings, in which time-traveling Black girls become gods, and closes with a story of Black girls choosing their own destinies. All 16 of these tales feature fantastical universes, futuristic technologies and magic beneath the surface of our world.

From Elizabeth Acevedo’s poetic “Gilded” to the modern vampire tale “Letting the Right One In” by the collection’s editor, Patrice Caldwell, the stories provide space for Black girls to exist in their own narratives and explore what it means to seek peace in a world that perceives you as an enemy. A standout is Charlotte Nicole Davis’ “All the Time in the World,” in which Jordan learns that her neighborhood’s contaminated water supply has given her the power to stop time. At a time when Flint, Michigan, has been without clean water for more than a decade, Davis reminds young readers of the strength to be found when hope seems lost.

This collection pulls no punches. You’ll find yourself holding your breath between cheers for each and every one of these girls.

—Lane Clarke

Rural Voices

Give this to a reader who presses their nose to the window of every car, train and plane they ride in.

Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America offers brief but immersive glimpses into life in rural and small towns. Spanning 12 states, the vignettes include short stories, poems and even comics.

In S.A. Cosby’s “Whiskey and Champagne,” Juke uses his knack for murder mysteries to help his dad out of a sticky situation. A mysterious creature creeps around an Alaska cabin as a young trapper tries to stay calm in Inupiaq author Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson’s “The Cabin.” And in David Bowles’ “A Border Kid Comes of Age,” a bisexual Texas boy fights for his family to accept not only himself but also his uncle Samuel, who is gay.

Monica M. Roe’s engrossing “The (Unhealthy) Breakfast Club” is one of the collection’s strongest offerings. Its carpooling teens have little in common besides their private school scholarships. Narrator Gracie captures a slice of life as she and her crew bond over the stereotypes they confront each day. Roe depicts ordinary realities, such as relying on the nearest McDonald’s for the fastest Wi-Fi, and brings together a group of misfits to root for.

Rural Voices reveals how generalizations fail us, proving there is no such thing as a single rural American narrative.

—Annie Metcalf

Vampires Never Get Old

Give this to a reader who loves to fall under the thrall of a great supernatural story.

Vampires Never Get Old: Tales With Fresh Bite is sure to start a new craze for YA’s favorite fanged phenoms. These 11 stories preserve traditional undead lore while giving bloodsucking tropes a much-needed inclusivity makeover. The diverse teen vamps in this collection all share a common denominator: trying to survive their eternal adolescence.

Samira Ahmed’s “A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire” takes the form of an acerbic advice column (“What should you eat? Your colonizer.”) to offer a thoughtful treatise on the geopolitical ramifications of British rule. As haunting as it is beautiful, Heidi Heilig’s “The Boy and the Bell” tells the story of a trans boy who digs up the wrong body in an old graveyard. And worth the price of admission is Victoria “V. E.” Schwab’s “First Kill,” which has already received a limited series order from Netflix. It’s a game of cat and mouse in which both cat and mouse have the hots for one another. Juliette, a vampire who hasn’t yet experienced her first kill, is crushing on transfer student Calliope. Juliette’s bloodlust combines with that classic teen party game, 60 seconds in a closet, to create a powder keg of emotion.

—Kimberly Giarratano

Foreshadow

Give this to a reader who wants to dig deeply into the craft of storytelling.

Created by Emily X.R. Pan and Nova Ren Suma, Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading and Writing YA grew out of an online initiative to showcase new and underrepresented voices. Established YA authors such as Jason Reynolds and Sabaa Tahir introduce 13 stories by emerging writers, and throughout the collection, playful experimentation alternates with contemporary takes on familiar formats.

Linda Cheng’s “Sweetmeats,” which Heidi Heilig calls “‘Hansel and Gretel’ flavored with Guillermo del Toro and a dash of Miyazaki,” exemplifies the creativity on display in every story here. Ever since friends Mei and Marlie were led astray by a witch bearing chocolate soufflé and blackberry soda, Mei’s hunger has been insatiable. Parental pressure, a bully’s cruel pranks and Marlie’s increasingly disturbing behavior culminate in a night when power dynamics are upended and truths are revealed. Each tale ends with an author’s note that discusses an element of the writing craft, and exercises invite readers to create and refine their own stories.

—Jill Ratzan

Come On In

Give this to a reader who would walk a mile in someone else's shoes every day if they could.

In Come On In: 15 Stories About Immigration and Finding Home, editor Adi Alsaid (himself a bestselling YA author) has created an anthology worthy of the blurb on its cover: “The immigration story is not a single story.” The characters in these stories have connections to countries including Australia, Japan, India, the United Kingdom and more, while all of the contributing authors have been touched by immigration in some way. As they capture both the experiences of children of first-generation immigrants as well as the bittersweet journey of leaving one’s own country, the stories give readers a dynamic, kaleidoscopic view of what it’s like to feel displaced from home—or displaced at home.

One of the most stirring stories is Nafiza Azad’s opener, “All the Colors of Goodbye,” which follows a teen girl as she recounts the many goodbyes she must say before she and her parents leave her home country of Fiji for what her father hopes will be a brighter future in Canada. In vivid prose, Azad depicts the girl’s heartbreak at leaving behind not only her extended family and friends, but also small, ordinary aspects of life in a country she loves and in a place that has shaped her as a person. It’s a love letter to the idea of home and a testament to the power this idea holds in our lives.

—Hannah Lamb

A Universe of Wishes

Give this to a reader who knows that the power of magic is inside of everyone.

The 15 fantasy stories in A Universe of Wishes are all powerful, thought-provoking and inclusive. Edited by Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles), A Universe of Wishes was created in partnership with We Need Diverse Books, a nonprofit organization that advocates for diversity in young people’s literature. It features the imaginings of popular writers including Kwame Mbalia, Anna-Marie McLemore and Nic Stone, alongside a story by Jenni Balch, the winner of a WNDB writing contest.

The stories here reflect a wide range of styles and fantasy subgenres, from climate fiction to romance to fairy tale re-imaginings. Fans of authors V.E. Schwab (A Darker Shade of Magic) and Libba Bray (A Great and Terrible Beauty) will be thrilled to discover new tales set in the fictional worlds of their bestselling trilogies.

Among the collection’s most moving stories is Tochi Onyebuchi’s “Habibi,” an epistolary chronicle of the unlikely connection between a boy from Long Beach, California, and a boy from Gaza. Using only the power of words, the two give each other hope for a future beyond their own horrifying present realities. “Habibi” exemplifies what lies at the heart of every story in this anthology: the wonder that awaits us when we celebrate our differences and recognize the beauty in one another.

Tami Orendain

Even the most particular teen reader won't be able to resist the varied charms of these YA anthologies.

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