Libraries – especially public libraries – are gearing up for reopening or are rethinking what and how services might work in the future. One of those options we should be considering are book boxes or bundles. Many libraries are already offering them or, as in the case with my system, in development. With patron access to our buildings restricted or limited, now is the perfect time to implement or expand this service.
Since many libraries don’t have staff who specialize in teen services or aren’t able to carve out the time to design reader’s advisory lists, I figured I’d help my professional colleagues out. Each set of recommendations contain five YA books that are either already published as of summer 2020. Preference given to #ownvoices, marginalized authors and characters, and books teens are unlikely to read for school. Feel free to borrow or build on these sets.
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Everything Grows by Aimee Herman
“Fifteen-year-old Eleanor Fromme just chopped off all of her hair. How else should she cope after hearing that her bully, James, just took his own life? When Eleanor’s English teacher suggests students write a letter to a person who would never receive it to get their feelings out, Eleanor chooses James.
With each letter she writes, Eleanor discovers more about herself, even while trying to make sense of his death. And, with the help of a unique cast of characters, Eleanor not only learns what it means to be inside a body that does not quite match what she feels on the inside, but also comes to terms with her own mother’s mental illness.
Set against a 1993-era backdrop of grunge rock and riot grrl bands, EVERYTHING GROWS depicts Eleanor’s extraordinary journey to solve the mystery within her and feel complete. Along the way, she loses and gains friends, rebuilds relationships with her family, and develops a system of support to help figure out the language of her queer identity.”
Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
“Brooklyn, 1998. Biggie Smalls was right: Things done changed. But that doesn’t mean that Quadir and Jarrell are cool letting their best friend Steph’s music lie forgotten under his bed after he’s murdered–not when his rhymes could turn any Bed Stuy corner into a party.
With the help of Steph’s younger sister Jasmine, they come up with a plan to promote Steph’s music under a new rap name: the Architect. Soon, everyone wants a piece of him. When his demo catches the attention of a hotheaded music label rep, the trio must prove Steph’s talent from beyond the grave.”
Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
“It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.
Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.
Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.
Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.
As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.”
Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
“The setting is Sri Lanka, 1980, and it is the season of monsoons. Fourteen-year-old Amrith is caught up in the life of the cheerful, well-to-do household in which he is being raised by his vibrant Auntie Bundle and kindly Uncle Lucky. He tries not to think of his life “before,” when his doting mother was still alive. Amrith’s holiday plans seem unpromising: he wants to appear in his school’s production of Othello and he is learning to type at Uncle Lucky’s tropical fish business. Then, like an unexpected monsoon, his cousin arrives from Canada and Amrith’s ordered life is storm-tossed. He finds himself falling in love with the Canadian boy. Othello, with its powerful theme of disastrous jealousy, is the backdrop to the drama in which Amrith finds himself immersed.”
A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
“It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.
Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments–even the physical violence–she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.
But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her–they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds–and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.”
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
“By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, “Dear Miss Sweetie.” When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society’s ills, but she’s not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender. While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta’s most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light. With prose that is witty, insightful, and at times heartbreaking, Stacey Lee masterfully crafts an extraordinary social drama set in the New South.”
The Fountains of Silence by Ruth Sepetys
“Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.”
Iron River by Daniel Acosta
“A river runs through young Manny Maldonado Jr.’s life, heart and imagination. Sometimes at night it even shoots through his brain like a bullet. But this river isn’t water, it’s iron–the tracks and trains of the Southern Pacific railroad that pass along his tight-knit neighborhood in the San Gabriel valley just ten miles east of L.A. The iron river is everything to Man-on-Fire, Man for short to his friends, Little Man to his uncles and cousins. He watches it, he waits for it, he plays nears its tracks, he listens for the weight of its currents (strong currents flowing east pulling two hundred boxcars, light current going west with less than fifty cars), he whiles away long summer days throwing rocks and bricks at it with his friends Danny, Marco and Little. They line up cans and bottles in mock battles to try to throw it off track. But nothing derails the iron river, and nothing stops the stinking cop Turk from trying to pin a hobo’s murder on the four young boys.”
Butterfly Yellow by Thanhhà Lại
“In the final days of the Việt Nam War, Hằng takes her little brother, Linh, to the airport, determined to find a way to safety in America. In a split second, Linh is ripped from her arms–and Hằng is left behind in the war-torn country.
Six years later, Hằng has made the brutal journey from Việt Nam and is now in Texas as a refugee. She doesn’t know how she will find the little brother who was taken from her until she meets LeeRoy, a city boy with big rodeo dreams, who decides to help her.
Hằng is overjoyed when she reunites with Linh. But when she realizes he doesn’t remember her, their family, or Việt Nam, her heart is crushed. Though the distance between them feels greater than ever, Hằng has come so far that she will do anything to bridge the gap.”
A Tyranny of Petticoats edited by Jessica Spotswood
“Join an impressive sisterhood of today’s most talented YA writers for a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They’re making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals, ghosts and goddesses. And they all have a story to tell.
With stories by: J. Anderson Coats, Andrea Cremer, Y. S. Lee. Katherine Longshore, Marie Lu, Kekla Magoon, Marissa Meyer, Saundra Mitchell, Beth Revis, Caroline Richmond, Lindsay Smith. Jessica Spotswood, Robin Talley, Leslye Walton, and Elizabeth Wein.”
The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf
“Melati Ahmad looks like your typical movie-going, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.
A trip to the movies after school turns into a nightmare when the city erupts into violent race riots between the Chinese and the Malay. When gangsters come into the theater and hold movie-goers hostage, Mel, a Malay, is saved by a Chinese woman, but has to leave her best friend behind to die.
On their journey through town, Mel sees for herself the devastation caused by the riots. In her village, a neighbor tells her that her mother, a nurse, was called in to help with the many bodies piling up at the hospital. Mel must survive on her own, with the help of a few kind strangers, until she finds her mother. But the djinn in her mind threatens her ability to cope.”
All of Us with Wings by Michelle Ruiz Keil
“Seventeen-year-old Xochi is alone in San Francisco, running from her painful past: the mother who abandoned her, the man who betrayed her. Then one day, she meets Pallas, a precocious twelve-year-old who lives with her rockstar family in one of the city’s storybook Victorians. Xochi accepts a position as Pallas’s live-in governess and quickly finds her place in the girl’s tight-knit household, which operates on a free-love philosophy and easy warmth despite the band’s growing fame.
But on the night of the Vernal Equinox, as a concert afterparty rages in the house below, Xochi and Pallas perform a riot-grrrl ritual in good fun, accidentally summoning a pair of ancient beings bound to avenge the wrongs of Xochi’s past. She would do anything to preserve her new life, but with the creatures determined to exact vengeance on those who’ve hurt her, no one is safe–not the family Xochi’s chosen, nor the one she left behind.” (read my review)
Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
“Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.
Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.” (read my review)
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (Dread Nation #1)
“Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania–derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.
In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.
But there are also opportunities–and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.
But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.
And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.” (read my review)
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (The Gilded Wolves #1)
“It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.
To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.
Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.” (read my review)
The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (Girl From Everywhere series #1)
“As the daughter of a time traveler, Nix has spent sixteen years sweeping across the globe and through the centuries aboard her father’s ship. Modern-day New York City, nineteenth-century Hawaii, other lands seen only in myth and legend–Nix has been to them all.
But when her father gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. Rae Carson meets Outlander in this epic debut fantasy.
If there is a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place and any time. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought–1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth–Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures…her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years.” (read my review)
Fantasy world inspired by a historical era
The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad
“Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road. There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths weave their lives together. However, the city bears scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen djinn slaughtered its entire population — except for Fatima and two other humans. Now ruled by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar.
But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Oud in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.” (read my review)
Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova (Hollow Crown #1)
“Renata was only a child when she was kidnapped by the King’s Justice and brought to the luxurious palace of Andalucia. As a memory thief, the rarest and most feared of the magical Moria, Renata was used by the crown to carry out the King’s Wrath, a siege that resulted in the deaths of thousands of her own people.
Now Renata is one of the Whispers, rebel spies working against the crown. The Whispers may have rescued Renata years ago, but she cannot escape their mistrust and hatred — or the overpowering memories of the hundreds of souls she drained during her time in the palace.
When Dez, the commander of her unit — and the boy she’s grown to love — is taken captive by the notorious Principe Dorado, Renata must return to Andalucia and complete Dez’s top secret mission herself. Can she keep her cover, even as she burns for vengeance against the brutal, enigmatic prince? Her life and the fate of the Moria depend on it.
But returning to the palace stirs childhood memories long locked away. As Renata grows more deeply embedded in the politics of the royal court, she uncovers a secret in her past that could change the fate of the entire kingdom — and end the war that has cost her everything.”
Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier (The Tower of Winds #1)
“Eighteen years ago two princes of the island kingdom of St. John del Mar were kidnapped and murdered, a deadly plot by the rival kingdom of Mondrago. Everyone knows the story, but for Elias, Mercedes, and Ulises, the aftermath of that tragic day is deeply personal. Elias grew up without his father, who was killed trying to protect the princes. Mercedes is half-Mondragan, leaving her to grow up in the shadow of del Mar’s hate. And Ulises, as the youngest and only remaining prince, inherited the throne meant for his older brothers. Now, the three friends just want to move on with their lives. But when two maps surface–each with the same hidden riddle–troubling questions arise. What really happened to the young princes? And why do the maps look like they were drawn by Elias’s father, whose body was never found? To discover what really happened that fateful day, Elias, Mercedes, and Ulises must follow the clues hidden in the maps, uncovering long-held secrets and unimaginable betrayals along the way. But the truth is dangerous, and not everyone wants it to come out.” (read my review)
The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember (The Seafarer’s Kiss #1)
“Having long wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the merfolk’s fortress. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: Say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.
Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from the divine Loki. But such deals are never straightforward, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies.” (read my review of book 2)
Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez (Woven in Moonlight #1)
“Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.
When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.
She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princesa, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge–and her Condesa.” (read my review)