I love anticipating things. I am, generally speaking, a person who likes having things to look forward to in life—always have been. As a kid, when the homeroom teacher would pass out our homework planners on the first day of school, I loved going home and writing in all the holidays and school closures; once May rolled around, I’d also usually add a little countdown to the last day of school. As an adult, I like to add the premiere dates of streaming shows and opening dates of movies, dates that friends or family will be coming to visit, and, of course, lists of books I want to read, along with their publication dates. I’ve kept “want to read” lists going back to high school, when they featured mostly poetry and Anne Rice novels.
Why the enthusiasm? It’s simple really: A book I haven’t read is a book I might love. Sure, we’ve all experienced the bittersweet feeling of looking forward to a book, only to have the experience of actually reading it be a letdown in some way. But we’ve also—I hope—all experienced an anticipated book that’s even better than we could have imagined, a book we finish and immediately want to read again, a book we know we’ll make all our friends read so we can all breathlessly and ineloquently exclaim about how much we love it and how brilliant it is. Any book I haven’t read holds that possibility within its pages, and like pie and puppies, I just can’t get enough. I've limited myself to 25 titles here, but don’t miss my lists of 2020’s YA debuts and sequels/series titles too!
Infinity Son by Adam Silvera
HarperTeen | January 14
I have a couple of pretty individual reader quirks, some likes and dislikes that over the years I’ve come to acknowledge as both highly personal and deeply irrational. I love a fantasy book with a map. I’m not a fan of picture books in which all of the text is nothing but speech bubbles. I rarely mind, in a mystery, if I figure out the solution before the characters do. And I’m always interested when a writer shakes things up: when a poet writes a novel, when a mystery writer turns to history, when a YA novelist starts a series of chapter books, when a sci-fi novelist writes a rom-com, and so on.
So when Adam Silvera’s first fantasy novel, Infinity Son, was announced, I was doubly interested: First, because here was the author of one of my favorite contemporary realistic-ish YA books of the past decade (2015’s More Happy Than Not) trying fantasy on for size, and second, because anyone who’s read his books or follows Silvera on social media knows he’s a huge fantasy nerd. Following twin brothers in an alternate New York City populated with magical creatures, Infinity Son kicks off a planned series I’m looking forward to getting lost in.
Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
Feiwel & Friends | January 14
Anna-Marie McLemore gets better with every book, and with Dark and Deepest Red, adds something new: historical fiction elements. Honestly, though, McLemore’s prose is so incredible I would read a car repair manual or a book about inorganic chemistry with their name on the cover. Happily for me, Dark and Deepest Red is neither of those things; instead, it’s a queer, feminist reimagining of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, “The Red Shoes.” I look forward to pausing every few sentences, looking up from its pages and sighing wistfully at its beauty and insight.
Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles
HarperTeen | January 21
Remember what I said about being interested when writers shake things up? Not So Pure and Simple is critically acclaimed mystery writer Lamar Giles’ first dive into a non-mystery narrative—and, even more enticingly, into an exploration of toxic masculinity, teen sexuality and purity culture via a male protagonist. “What does it mean to be a ‘real man?’” asks the description on the back of my advance copy. I’m excited to discover how Giles will answer this question.
Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed
Balzer + Bray | February 4
I’m calling it right now: 2020 is going to be the year of the YA rom-com, and I am here. For. It. First on my list is this team-up between Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’s Becky Albertalli and Written in the Stars author Aisha Saeed. Albertalli proved herself a deft collaborator with 2018’s What If It’s Us? (a joint effort with Infinity Son’s Adam Silvera), so I’m looking forward to seeing where she and Saeed take their story. Also, the premise—two teens fall in love while canvassing in a local election—seems like such a perfect note on which to open the 2020 election year.
The Blossom and the Firefly by Sherri L. Smith
Putnam | February 18
I love historical fiction, whether it takes place during a time and in a place I think I know or in a setting totally new to me. I love discovering the past through fiction, and I love fiction that challenges my understanding of history. Sherri L. Smith’s The Blossom and the Firefly, the story of two teens in 1945, Japan, promises to do a bit of both. Smith demonstrated her historical fiction prowess with 2009’s Flygirl, but has spent the years since writing in other genres. I’m looking forward to seeing her return to the past.
Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold
Balzer + Bray | February 25
That sound you heard one Thursday afternoon in October was me opening the envelope that contained an advance copy of Printz Honor author Elana K. Arnold’s Red Hood, a feminist reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood, and screaming with excitement. Arnold’s Printz Honor book, Damsel, was one of my favorite books of 2018, and coming after 2017’s National Book Award finalist, What Girls Are Made Of, cemented her place on my personal list of Authors Whose Writing Is So Good I Would Read Their Grocery Lists. Arnold writes with vision and viscera about the complicated experience of girlhood, and I’m so hungry to gobble up her latest.
Wicked as You Wish by Rin Chupeco
Sourcebooks Fire | March 3
Although I love what you might call urban or alternate fantasy—that is, fantasy that imposes magical elements onto our world—I’m also often left unsatisfied by it, because I want more than the author is willing or able to provide by way of world building. I want a magical story that also explores the question, “How would the world we know be transformed by introducing this magical element into it?” Holly Black’s Curse Workers trilogy does this masterfully, for example, while Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On achieves it with both wit and whimsy. Rin Chupeco’s Wicked as You Wish, which features exiles from a magical kingdom hiding out in a dead-end town in Arizona where their magic doesn’t work, has my hopes up. In addition to that enticing premise, it also has witty chapter titles such as, “In which fighting ogres is a popular team-building activity” and “In which there is a very good reason why someone’s head is on fire.”
The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu
Putnam | March 3
Two years ago, when I was the director of the children’s department at Parnassus Books, we were invited to host blockbuster YA author Marie Lu on a book tour to promote her latest book. In a lovely twist of fate, Lu was interviewed onstage by Cat Acree, who’s now my colleague here at BookPage. Cat ended their interview by asking if Lu wanted to share anything about what she was currently writing, and Lu explained that she was working on something that was a bit of a departure for her. It was a book about Mozart’s older sister, Nannerl, who, as they travelled all over Austria, used to make up stories about a magical kingdom to pass the time. Lu explained that the jumping-off point for her book was, “What if that magical kingdom was real?” A shiver went down my spine when she said it; I still remember the feeling of the hairs on my arms standing up, despite the packed bookstore’s uncomfortable warmth. I’ve wanted to read the book ever since.
The June Boys by Court Stevens
Thomas Nelson | March 3
Here’s another author switcheroo: Critically acclaimed contemporary realistic fiction author Court(ney) Stevens pens her first mystery with The June Boys, the story of a girl who begins to suspect her father may be the serial kidnapper known as the Gemini Thief. Stevens has a knack for telling tough stories grounded in emotional realism, so I’m eager to see her bring those gifts to bear on a high-stakes thriller.
The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron
Scholastic | March 3
And here’s yet another: Sharon Cameron has made her name writing genre fiction, from her steampunk debut to Rook, her sci-fi homage to The Scarlet Pimpernel, to The Knowing and The Forgetting, her terrifyingly thought-provoking duology. In The Light in Hidden Places, she turns to historical fiction to tell the story of Stefania Podgorska, a real Polish teenager who was hiding thirteen Jewish people in the attic of her house when it was requisitioned by the Nazi army. Cameron first encountered Podgorska’s story in the early 1990s via an oral history interview on her local PBS station, but has waited until this moment in her career to write it. Having watched as Cameron tackled increasingly ambitious and weighty themes with skill that grew from book to book, I’m looking forward to seeing what she does here.
The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson
March 3 | HarperTeen
Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona established her as one of the brightest comics artists of her generation. She returns with this “memoir in pictures” that will cover the past decade of her creative and personal life. I love a good creative memoir, and Stevenson’s voice and perspective are so singular, this one seems bound to be excellent.
Mermaid Moon by Susann Cokal
Candlewick | March 3
I love YA books that push against the boundaries of what we think YA, as a publishing category, can contain. Susann Cokal’s last book, 2013’s Printz Honor recipient The Kingdom of Little Wounds, was one such book. On Cokal’s website, she reveals that when she writing that book and people would ask what she was working on, she would tell them, “A fairy tale about syphilis.” It was ambitious, sprawling, meticulously researched, insightful, unapologetically feminist and one of the best YA books of the decade. Cokal returns at long last with Mermaid Moon, the tale of a “half seavish” mermaid girl who comes ashore in search of her mother and the secret of her identity.
Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Simon Pulse | March 10
Do you love quietly moving contemporary realistic stories, written in gorgeous prose, that slowly and slyly reconstruct your heart when you’re not looking? I sure do, and that’s why I loved both of Akemi Dawn Bowman’s first two books, 2017’s Morris Award finalist Starfish and 2018’s Summer Bird Blue. Her latest promises to be just as emotionally devastating but—I may have shrieked a little with excitement when I first read this in the catalog—set against the backdrop of the world of circuses and trapeze artistry.
Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang
First Second | March 17
Gene Luen Yang is literally a genius. No, seriously, in 2016 he became one of only three graphic novelists to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a “Genius Grant.” His YA graphic novels are among the most extraordinary examples of what graphic novels, as a storytelling form, can do, and YA readers have had a long time to wait since 2013’s mind-blowingly brilliant Boxers/Saints duology. But the wait is finally over, and Dragon Hoops, a sports memoir from a writer who, on the book’s first page, confesses he’s “just not a sports kind of guy,” looks like it will more than reward our patience.
Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry
Algonquin | March 24
Samantha Mabry’s sophomore novel, 2017’s All the Wind in the World, was like nothing else I read that year, and I couldn’t put it down. I read it in one delirious sitting and spent weeks afterward reeling from its heady blend of magical realism, neo-Western environmental dystopia and emotional ruthlessness. Mabry’s newest, the stunningly and enigmatically titled Tigers, Not Daughters, features one of 2020’s most striking covers. Its marketing copy speaks of three sisters haunted, figuratively and perhaps also literally, by the loss of their oldest sister, and of a story that is “one part family drama, one part ghost story and one part love story.” I am—all parts—on board for wherever Mabry’s storytelling muse wants to take me next.
We Are the Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian
Simon & Schuster | March 31
I was late to the Siobhan Vivian party. I missed her critically acclaimed contemporary realistic books of the late ‘00s and early ‘10s, including 2010’s Not That Kind of Girl, 2012’s The List, and her Burn for Burn trilogy co-authored with friend and fellow New School MFA grad Jenny Han (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before). My first Siobhan Vivian book was 2016’s The Last Boy and Girl in the World. As I read, I was struck by the depth of Vivian’s storytelling, but even moreso by her commitment to her truly complex and fully human characters. Her latest, We Are the Wildcats, appears to be an ambitious leap forward: It features six different perspectives (all members of a varsity field hockey squad) and unspools over the course of just 24 hours.
The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge
Amulet | April 7
If you love graphic novels and you haven’t read Laura Lee Gulledge’s first two books, 2011’s Page by Paige and 2013’s Will & Whit, you should fix that, like, right now. Go ahead. Go find your library card and use your local library’s website to put them on hold for yourself. I’ll wait. Yes, I'm serious. All set? Okay. Gulledge’s graphic novels feel like they expand the walls of my heart in the absolute best—if sometimes a little painful—way every time I read them, and The Dark Matter of Mona Starr is set to be her triumphant return to shelves. The story of a teen girl living with depression and finding solace in creativity, therapy and friendship, it may tread similar themes as Gulledge’s previous work, but in the hands of a writer and artist as talented as Gulledge, I have no doubt it will feel like a revelation.
Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed
SohoTeen | April 7
A small part of me is still sitting on my living room sofa, reeling from the experience of reading Samira Ahmed’s debut novel, Love, Hate & Other Filters, realizing that in the first month of 2018, I’ve just read one of the best books I’ll read all year. Any new offering from Ahmed is to be highly anticipated, but in Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, Ahmed adds historical fiction to her bag of tricks to tell the intertwined stories of two girls living 200 years apart in Paris, France. To say that I’m highly anticipating it is the understatement of the year.
Incendiary by Zoraida Cordova
Disney-Hyperion | April 28
I’m going to be totally honest right now: I looked at the cover of this book, saw the author’s name, flipped it over, saw that the back cover description began with, “Set in a lushly drawn world inspired by Inquisition Spain,” thought, “Yep,” and stopped reading. Tom Cruise had Renee Zellwegger at hello, and Incendiary had me at Brooklyn Brujas author Zoraida Cordova writing a fantasy world inspired by Inquisition Spain. Sometimes, I’m just not that hard to please.
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Candlewick | May 5
Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s debut picture book, Also an Octopus, was one of the most endearingly oddball and charming picture books of 2016, so when I found out she had written a YA novel, I was intrigued, and when I found out her YA novel featured a girl disguised as a boy (one of my favorite tropes, thanks to Tamora Pierce imprinting on me at a young and impressionable age), pirates and the titular mermaid and witch, I was—please forgive me for this pun, I’ve tried and I just can’t resist its siren song—all aboard.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
HarperTeen | May 5
Sound the alarm, ring the bells, cancel all your plans: Elizabeth Acevedo has a new novel coming this year. I repeat, Elizabeth Acevedo has a new novel coming this year. This is not a drill, people! Do I have your attention now? Excellent. In Clap When You Land, multi-award-winning Acevedo returns to the novel-in-verse form that garnered her debut, The Poet X, so much acclaim. Here, Acevedo will trace the stories of two half-sisters, one who lives in the Dominican Republic, one who lives in New York City, who are brought together by their father’s untimely death in a plane crash.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
Flatiron | May 12
Melissa Bashardoust’s first novel, Girls Made of Snow and Glass, was one of the sharpest and most self-assured debut novels I read in 2017, so I am thrilled to see her return with Girl, Serpent, Thorn, the story of a princess under a curse that makes her touch poisonous. I’m not usually one for judging books by their covers, but I must confess I find Sasha Vinogradova’s jacket design to be both enticing and unsettling in a way that only deepens my intrigue about what it could mean every time I look at it. Here’s to finding out in May!
House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess
Random House | May 12
Every now and then, all I really want is an ambitious, sprawling fantasy novel long enough that when I’m done reading it, I could use it as a doorstop. It’s the Narnia impulse: Sometimes when you go through the back of the wardrobe, you don’t want to return, and if the book is long enough, you don’t have to. I found Jessica Cluess’ first trilogy (beginning with 2016’s A Shadow Bright and Burning) to be quietly wonderful, full of satisfying world building and deft prose and anchored in a heroine I rooted for almost immediately. Consequently, I’d be looking forward to her next book regardless, but the advance copy of House of Dragons sitting on my desk clocks in at just over 500 pages, so if anyone needs me, I’ll be in the coat closet.
The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein
Disney-Hyperion | May 26
Any list of the best YA books of the last decade would be incomplete without Elizabeth Wein’s 2012 Printz Honor novel, Code Name Verity, which contains one of the most perfect sentences ever written in a YA novel: “It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.” Wein returns to the World War II time period for The Enigma Game, which will explore code breaking and the Enigma machine and will feature new characters as well as a few familiar faces. Rarely do I look forward to the heady mix of literary mastery and almost certain emotional devastation as much as I do when settling down with a new book from Elizabeth Wein. Cheers!
The Mall by Megan McCafferty
Wednesday | June 9
The thing about growing up in New Jersey is that you know everyone in the country feels a certain way about your home state, and that way is Not Positive. I was a sophomore in high school when I picked up Megan McCafferty’s debut novel, Sloppy Firsts, off the shelf at the little used bookstore on the other side of the Shop Rite from Scarborough Video, where I was working my first job as a clerk. I loved it from the first page, in a way I think you can maybe only love something when you are 15 and discovering for the first time what loving a book can feel like. A big part of what I loved was how well McCafferty understood and captured the experience of being a teenager in a place the rest of the country called “the armpit.” McCafferty returns to both YA and to New Jersey with The Mall, which will, according to her publisher’s description, take place entirely within a fictional New Jersey mall in 1991. I haven’t lived in New Jersey for more than a decade now, but I can’t wait for The Mall to take me back.