Lane Clarke

When Nurah’s father gets a new job in America, her family is uprooted from Pakistan to Peachtree, Georgia, in search of new opportunities to blossom. But Nurah struggles to start fresh. She feels out of place at school, her older brother overshadows her on the swim team, the only new friend she’s made is dealing with trouble at home that Nurah feels powerless to help with, and she misses her grandmother’s flowers in Pakistan. When her father is questioned in the aftermath of a shooting and her brother is attacked in the locker room, Nurah tries to reconcile the America she was promised with the one she is actually experiencing.

Writing in spare but evocative verse, author Reem Faruqi creates a vivid and semiautobiographical tale of faith and family. She captures the beauty of Nurah’s culture, from the aroma of the flowers that Nurah misses to the delicious snacks that Nurah’s mother bakes when they receive visitors at their home. She also poignantly portrays what it’s like to start over someplace new and the way that Nurah remakes herself again and again as she comes into her own and discovers what is most important to her as a daughter, sister, friend and Muslim girl. Her lyrical vignettes are a master class in exploring big themes, including loss, grief, bullying, prejudice and acceptance, in exactly as many words as are necessary.

Unsettled will have readers rooting for Nurah as she swims her way across the finish line to a new understanding of herself and her place in the world.

When Nurah’s father gets a new job in America, her family is uprooted from Pakistan to Peachtree, Georgia, in search of new opportunities to blossom.

What are you willing to look past in order to be happy?

Rani Kelkar just wants to take beautiful photographs, become a pediatrician and not disappoint her conservative Indian parents. That means focusing on school and applying to Chicago-area colleges—and absolutely no boys. But when she meets Oliver, a talented artist with tattoos, piercings and a rebel attitude, Rani quickly falls for him. However, it soon becomes clear that Oliver doesn’t understand or respect Rani’s Indian culture. What’s more, she’s lying to her parents, and her relationship with her best friend is straining under the weight of Rani and Oliver’s secret. It soon becomes clear that Rani must choose between her first love and herself.

American Betiya fearlessly portrays Rani’s struggle between honoring her Indian heritage and attempting to fit in with her peers. Debut author Anuradha D. Rajurkar evokes a sense of deep discomfort through Oliver’s behavior; every time he calls Rani “Princess Jasmine,” the words lie uneasily on the page. When Rani travels to India, Rajurkar depicts the beauty of the country and its people with self-assurance while still holding space for Rani’s changing beliefs about her culture, never taking her personal growth for granted.

The book’s laser-focused prose will resonate with any teen reader who has been harassed for their brown skin, struggled with first love or borne the pressure of family expectations. Rajurkar’s depiction of a young woman who attempts to shrink herself in order to satisfy the desires of others before recognizing her own inner strength is impossible to read without tightness in your chest and your heart in your throat.

Rani Kelkar just wants to take beautiful photographs, become a pediatrician and not disappoint her conservative Indian parents. That means focusing on school and applying to Chicago-area colleges—and absolutely no boys. But when she meets Oliver, a talented artist with tattoos, piercings and a rebel attitude, Rani quickly falls for him.

Alex Rufus is cursed. Everything he touches gives him a glimpse of the future, but he never knows when what he envisions will manifest. He knows, for example, that the ice cream shop he works at is going to be sold and that his girlfriend is going to break up with him—he just doesn’t know when. Worst of all, Alex knows that his little brother, Isaiah, is going to die, but without knowing when, he can’t try to prevent it from happening. 

When Alex makes a critical discovery about the source of his visions, he attempts to find a cure to get rid of them so that he and his brother can fully enjoy what little time Isaiah may have left. But their lives as two Black boys in a wealthy gated community are complicated, and Alex may not be able to protect his brother from every danger.

In The Cost of Knowing, author Brittney Morris (Slay) gives Black boys power in a world that considers them powerless. Though Alex treats his abilities like a burden, they eventually enable both him and Isaiah to reclaim their lives, face their greatest fears and live out their dreams. Indeed, Alex spends much of the book motivated by what he fears, but this is a rational reaction not just to the vision he’s trying to stop from coming to fruition but also to his daily experiences as a Black teen in his mostly white Chicago suburb, where he regularly endures microaggressions from his neighbors. Throughout the novel, Morris frames Alex’s fears as possible for him to overcome, a choice that speaks to the hopes of every Black boy in America—to live without fear and to be seen by everyone as worthy of dignity and respect. 

Emotional and gripping, The Cost of Knowing uses fantastical elements to convey how life-threateningly real the problems that Black boys face in America are—so real, in fact, that even having superpowers isn’t always enough to overcome them.

Alex Rufus is cursed. Everything he touches gives him a glimpse of the future, but he never knows when what he envisions will manifest.

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.

Bree Matthews has everything she ever wanted. She’s starting an early college program at her dream school, and her best friend is her roommate. But she’s also reeling from her mother’s death in a hit-and-run accident and finding that achieving her dreams isn’t as sweet as she thought it would be. Then Bree stumbles onto a secret society of people who claim to be descendants of King Arthur and his court. She also learns that her mother’s death may not have been an accident. As Bree immerses herself in the society to uncover the truth, she begins to exhibit a power that could save her loved ones from a looming darkness—but could also threaten both her heart and her happiness.

Legendborn, Tracy Deonn’s debut novel, upends fantasy tropes with skill and style. Within a classical “chosen one” narrative, Bree becomes the only Black member of a society that she knows never intended to include her. Deonn balances moments of levity with heavier scenes, such as when Bree is mistaken for a servant and experiences unequal treatment due to her race and gender. Through depictions of subtle microaggressions and blatant racism, Deonn places Bree’s identity front and center, down to the silk scarf she sleeps in, and demonstrates a young woman coming into her power in a world designed to smother it.

Both Bree’s personal grief for her mother and her collective grief for her forebears play key roles in how she understands the world. What does it mean to grieve for your history as a Black American after it is rewritten by your oppressors? Deonn’s exploration of ancestry and our feelings of connection to those who came before is beautiful and moving. She allows Bree to be angry, to be loved, to be a nerd and, most crucially, to be powerful.

Legendborn establishes Deonn as an important new voice in YA. Its gorgeous prose and heart-splitting honesty compel an eyes-wide-open reading experience.

Bree Matthews has everything she ever wanted. She’s starting an early college program at her dream school, and her best friend is her roommate. But she’s also reeling from her mother’s death in a hit-and-run accident and finding that achieving her dreams isn’t as sweet as she thought it would be. Then Bree stumbles onto […]

Christina Hammonds Reed’s debut novel, The Black Kids, is set in 1992 but has a timeliness that often feels uncanny.

Ashley is a privileged Black teenager living the good life in Los Angeles. Her parents have tried to shield her from the reality of life as a Black person in America by enrolling her in the best schools, living in the best neighborhood and giving her the kinds of opportunities that are typically out of reach to the Black scholarship students at her private school. However, her all-white friend group constantly reminds her of her Blackness. 

When four police officers are acquitted in a trial for the beating of a Black man named Rodney King, prompting riots in Ashley’s home city, she begins to realize that in order to find her place in the world, she may need to confront her Blackness and her family’s history—even if it means leaving her old life and friends behind.

Reed addresses experiences common to Black teens in both 1992 and 2020 with grace and nuance. Her sentences are searingly beautiful, and her depiction of the breakdown in Ashley’s belief that her privileged lifestyle affords her a certain degree of protection is raw and relatable. Ashley must face what it means to be considered a so-called “good Black person” and grapple with her own culpability in having made another Black student at her school the target of judgment.

The Black Kids also explores what it means to be a good friend and how we must take responsibility when we treat others poorly, even when we haven’t intended to cause harm. The question of whether anyone can truly be deemed a “bad” person, as opposed to a good person who has done bad things, is threaded expertly through the narrative and is sure to prompt hard but necessary self-reflection from readers. This is a striking debut that fearlessly contributes to ongoing discussions of race, justice and power.

Christina Hammonds Reed’s debut novel, The Black Kids, is set in 1992 but has a timeliness that often feels uncanny. Ashley is a privileged Black teenager living the good life in Los Angeles. Her parents have tried to shield her from the reality of life as a Black person in America by enrolling her in […]

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