Summer is a-comin’ in, which means it’s the perfect time to look back at the first half of 2020 and all the incredible YA books it brought us. We’ve listed your top 15 favorites so far below.
1. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
“More than merely a young reader’s adaptation of Kendi’s landmark work, Stamped does a remarkable job of tying together disparate threads while briskly moving through its historical narrative,” writes BookPage reviewer Autumn Allen. BookPage also spoke with Reynolds and with Kendi about their extraordinary book that we declared “the new required reading.”
2. This Book Is Anti-Racist
by Tiffany Jewell, illustrated by Aurélia Durand
BookPage reviewer Autumn Allen highlighted author Tiffany Jewell’s intentionally inclusive language and illustrator Aurélia Durand’s colorful images that depict diverse groups of young people among the many strengths of This Book Is Anti-Racist, a handbook that will provide “a safe and inviting way for teen readers to reflect on the world’s issues and their place in solving them.”
3. They Went Left
by Monica Hesse
Although all three of Monica Hesse’s YA novels take place during World War II, Hesse narrowed in on the often overlooked period of uncertainty and instability that followed the war’s conclusion in They Went Left. The result, BookPage reviewer Kevin Delecki wrote, was a “heartbreaking yet hopeful story of what it takes to survive after trauma” that blended romance, mystery and, of course, history. Hesse shared why she keeps returning to World War II stories and how she finds light in stories about humanity’s darkest moments.
4. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
by Suzanne Collins
Suzanne Collins’ announcement that she had written a prequel to her blockbuster Hunger Games trilogy set the YA landscape ablaze. BookPage was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with Collins’ longtime editor, David Levithan (an acclaimed YA writer in his own right!) about what it was like to work with Collins on The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and why Collins probably thinks he’s Team Gale.
5. The Kingdom of Back
by Marie Lu
Bestselling author Marie Lu’s first foray into historical fantasy explores the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s sister, Nannerl, who is rumored to have had a hand in some of her brother’s compositions. In a feature of three YA fantasy novels with decidedly feminist perspectives, BookPage reviewer Jessica Wakeman praised Lu’s “light touch” in illustrating “how the gifts of talented, ambitious young women like Nannerl were overlooked and unappreciated.”
6. Yes No Maybe So
by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed
Critically acclaimed, bestselling YA authors—and IRL friends!—Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed made us swoon and ignited our sense of activism in their first collaboration, Yes No Maybe So, the story of two teens who fall for each other while canvassing for a state senate race. BookPage contributor Linda M. Castellito singled out the book’s “compassionate exploration of what’s worth fighting for” and “messages of hope, loving support and the empowerment that comes from pushing for change and taking action.”
7. Kent State
by Deborah Wiles
In her starred review, BookPage writer Alice Cary hailed two-time National Book Award finalist Deborah Wiles’ Kent State as “a powerful work of art that serves as both as a historical record of a national tragedy and a call to action for every American.” We ended our interview with Wiles by asking what gives her hope, and readers, I’ll admit that I cried the first time I read her response.
8. Anna K.
by Jenny Lee
We fell head over heels with Jenny Lee’s reimagining of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and it seems BookPage readers did too! If you’ve been loving the irreverence and empowerment of “The Great” or “Dickinson,” you’ll devour Anna K. “Wonderfully observed,” “immersive,” “effortless,” “glittering” and “addictive” are just a few of the adjectives BookPage writer Annie Metcalf used to describe the foibles of Anna, Vronsky and their friends.
9. Not So Pure and Simple
by Lamar Giles
Lamar Giles, best known for his mysteries for both middle grade and YA readers, embarked on his first non-mystery narrative in Not So Pure and Simple, a thoughtful exploration of gender politics and toxic masculinity. BookPage reviewer Jill Ratzan raved about the way “Giles successfully integrates social justice themes into [the] story while maintaining a genuinely engaging and often hilarious tone” in her starred review. Giles took us deeper into the themes he explored in a wide-ranging interview that included the reveal of an Easter egg shared across all his books!
10. Dark and Deepest Red
by Anna-Marie McLemore
In her starred review, BookPage writer Alice Cary called McLemore’s latest a “provocative, insightful collision of fairy tale and history” and “a powerful demonstration of McLemore’s immense talent.” Dark and Deepest Red was McLemore’s first entry into historical fiction, but, as they observed in their interview with BookPage, “Our identities and our history are constantly evolving. We all have histories that we’re writing every day.”
11. By the Book
by Amanda Sellet
It’s hard to imagine a book more perfect for bibliophiles than Amanda Sellet’s debut novel, By the Book, the story of a teen girl named Mary who diagnoses the romantic woes of her friends through lessons gleaned from works of classic literature. In a feature of three literary-minded YA romances, BookPage’s Norah Piehl called Mary “charmingly old-fashioned in her speech and outlook but more than capable of meeting the challenges and rewards of modern life.” And in what will surely be the most hilarious Behind the Book essay of the year, Sellet created a taxonomy of toxic literary boyfriends; we do not recommend enjoying it with a nice cuppa, unless you like laughing so hard that you snort tea or coffee up your nose.
by Kelly Yang
BookPage writer Jessica Wakeman heaped praise on Front Desk author Kelly Yang’s first YA novel in her starred review. The book, she wrote, “goes much deeper than a predictable story of rich girl versus poor girl,” “incorporates issues of sexual assault and abuse, discrimination, parental infidelity and emotional neglect into an elaborate and twisting narrative” and “has an impressive buoyancy despite these weighty subjects.” Parachutes, Wakeman concluded, “is sure to establish Yang as one of YA’s most thoughtful and vital new voices.”
13. The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea
by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Picture book author Maggie Tokuda-Hall made a splash in YA with The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, a swashbuckling tale of romance and adventure on the high seas of fantasy. BookPage reviewer Annie Metcalf called her effort “strikingly original and accomplished,” highlighting the way “queer and gender nonconforming characters are everywhere, and their normalization within the world of the book is remarkable and praiseworthy.”
14. The Light in Hidden Places
by Sharon Cameron
Although she wrote her starred review in March, BookPage writer Alice Cary declared The Light in Hidden Places “destined for my list of the best books of 2020.” Based on the true story of Holocaust heroine Stefania Podgórska, a 16-year-old girl who hid 13 Jewish people in the attic of her tiny apartment while two German nurses and their SS boyfriends moved in downstairs, Cary called it “a tense and gripping novel, full of urgency, in which death seems to wait around every corner.”
15. What I Like About You
by Marisa Kanter
Halle Levitt, the heroine of Marisa Kanter’s debut novel, What I Like About You, is a book reviewer who bakes and photographs cupcakes to accompany her online book reviews; it’s little wonder BookPage readers took a shine to her! Kanter’s book is “a charming, witty story about authenticity in the social media age, told with a wink and a string of heart-eyes emojis,” raved BookPage reviewer Kimberly Giarratano.