If you think sorting through the mass amounts of new fiction to find something quality to read is hard, wait ‘til you delve into the chaos that is young adult fiction, especially of the genre variety. YA, like adult, tends concentrate on only a handful of tropes, running through those same themes again and again and again. However, if you know where to look, there are some really great novels out there that either turn those boring old tropes on their head or shun them entirely for something completely original.
And that’s where I come in. As a teen librarian, not only do I read a TON of young adult genre fic, but I also keep up with reviews and upcoming titles. So, I thought, why not put those skills to work for you? To that end, I’ve pulled together a collection of some new and upcoming YA awesomeness just for you. Get ready to bust out that wallet or library card. Your To Read queue is about to rapidly expand.
The Valiant by Lesley Livingston
On the eve of her birthday, Celtic warrior princess Fallon suddenly finds herself betrothed by her father to the brother of the young man she loves. Her dreams of fighting in her father’s army are dashed, but as she flees she’s captured and sent to Rome as a slave. She’s forcibly enrolled in a gladiator school run by none other than Julius Caesar, the cruel emperor who killed her sister. Fallon’s life depends on surviving gladiator training, a feat made more complicated by a fellow competitor named Nyx and a new romance in the form of a Roman soldier. Loyalties will be tested and hearts broken.
This is the first book in Livingston’s new Valiant series and what a kickoff. Fans of historical romance will find a lot to love here. Fallon is a bold, brave young woman beholden only to herself and the memory of her beloved sister. Despite the terrible circumstances she finds herself in, she faces them with fierce determination. Her slowburn romance with Cai simmers just under the surface, but it’s her relationships with other women—Lady Achillea, the woman in charge of the female gladiator school, Nyx, Fallon’s competition, and Elka, Fallon’s new BFF—that keeps the fire burning.
YA historical fiction, published February 14, 2017, by Razorbill
Ones and Zeroes by Dan Wells
It’s 2050 and 17-year-old Marisa and the Cherry Dogs (her virtual realty team) have just saved the city of Los Angeles from a mind-controlling drug. Now as Mari’s parents’ financial struggles threaten to overwhelm them, the sinister Korean corporation KT Sigan shakes down her neighborhood of Mirador by upping their internet access rates. She’s also on the trail of the elusive hacker Grendel. With the help of the French resistance fighter Alain, Mari delves into a tournament for the online game Overworld hosted by KT Sigan in an attempt to hack their internal network.
Wells’ Bluescreen, the first in the Mirador series, was pretty divisive – you either loved the dense gaming technobabble or hated it – and Ones and Zeroes is very much on par with its predecessor. The VR gaming talk is pervasive and infodumping a tad too heavy handed, yet the characters are engaging and the plot compelling. Wells has pulled together a racially diverse cast with intriguing personalities and thrown them headfirst into a complex heist pitting the motley crew against a multinational mega-corporation. If you want a female-driven dystopian series where a gaggle of teenage gamers take on an all-powerful corporation, this is the series for you.
YA dystopian SF, published February 14, 2017, by Balzer + Bray
The Beast Is an Animal by Peternelle Van Arsdale
After the violent death of the adults in her village at the hands of the “soul eaters,” Alys and the other young survivors are taken in by the Elders of the neighboring village of Defaid. There they stand watch over the gate defending the town from the surrounding “fforest” and the Beast that roams it. As Alys’ magic grows, so too her connection to the Beast and the soul eaters deepens. When she’s forced out of Defaid after being accused of committing a horrific crime, she must face the things she fears the most.
Everything I’ve seen about this book makes it sound right up my alley as a darkly atmospheric story centered on a young woman haunted by personal demons and her tragic past. Alys isn’t a warrior princess or a witty genius. She’s troubled and troubling, and neither she nor the Beast are what the villagers think they are. The Beast Is an Animal confronts our definitions of good and evil with evocative language and a heartbreaking plot. Certain elements are straight out of the YA fantasy playbook, but if the story lives up to the consistent high praise then it shouldn’t be too difficult to overlook the tropes.
YA fantasy, published February 28th, 2017, by McElderry
Unearthly Things by Michelle Gagnon
After the death of her parents, Filipina teenager Janie Mason is shipped from sunny Hawaii to a the icy San Francisco mansion of the Rochesters, her new guardians. The adults want little to do with her, but the youngest Rochester, six-year-old Nicholas, is friendly enough … even though he talks to his dead twin sister. Janie can’t find her groove at her new private school until she meets Daniel, a cute boy with a deep grudge against the Rochesters. Complicating matters is the arrival of teenage John Rochester after being kicked out of yet another boarding school. As the tension builds, Janie doesn’t know what frightens her more, someone intentionally trying to drive her mad or that she may already be.
I’m a sucker for YA adaptations of classic literature, so this is a given. Like, I’ve already put it on hold at my local library two months out. Despite many attempts at reading them, I’ve never made it through more than a few chapters of any Bronte book—I have a theory that you’re either an Austenite or a Bronteite but never both, and I plan to be buried with my favorite copy of Pride and Prejudice – but I always enjoy a solid Jane Eyre adaptation (don’t get me started on the glory that is Cary Joji Fukunaga’s 2011 film). Gagnon’s retelling hits so many of my hotspots: diverse cast, battles against classicism, character-driven plot, romance, twist endings, and Gothic trappings.
YA suspense, publishing April 11, 2017, by Soho
The Freemason’s Daughter by Shelley Sackier
And we’re back in historical Britain, this time in at the dawn of the Jacobite Rebellion. Hailed as the YA Outlander, this novel stars Jenna, the daughter of Scottish masons and secret Jacobites. When her family is hired to build for the Duke of Keswick a garrison to hold captured Jacobites for execution, her family pulls a Galen Erso and agrees if only to help their rebel friends. Of course as soon as Jenna meets the duke’s son, Alex, sparks fly and hearts throb. As the story alternates between Jenna and Alex’s perspectives, the two teens are tested in ways they aren’t prepared for.
I’m not too thrilled with the lack of racial diversity here. There were people of African ancestry in Scotland at the time (albeit many of whom were slaves). There was likely even a Jamaican servant at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. It’s not inconceivable that Jenna would interact with at least one Black person given Scotland’s extensive participation in the African slave trade and plantations. It also comes off a bit too on the nose as far as tropes go, but that’s part and parcel with historical romance. Jenna, however, sounds delightfully high-spirited and clever. I do love a girl who bucks historical social norms. Other than that, though, this should be a great novel for fans of flowing gowns and star-crossed lovers.
YA historical fiction, publishing April 11, 2017, by HarperTeen
Also worth checking out:
The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman: Lady Helen returns in the sophomore book of her eponymous series set it a fantasy version of Regency England. A love triangle erupts between Lady Helen, the secretive (and sexy!) Lord Carlston who’s training her in the art of demon hunting and killing, and her former fiance the Duke of Selburn who loathes Carlston. Men keep trying to control her and she makes sure they regret underestimating her cleverness and resourcefulness. (YA historical fantasy, published January 31, 2017, by Viking)
The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro: Brilliant yet enigmatic Charlotte Holmes and her stalwart beau Jamie Watson are back in the middle installment in the Charlotte Holmes trilogy, a contemporary update of Sherlock Holmes. The teens race across Europe on the hunt for her missing uncle and are joined by August Moriarty, Charlotte’s first love. The game is afoot, but Charlotte and Jamie may discover more about their families’ tangled histories than they care to know. (YA mystery, published February 14, 2017, by Katherine Tegen Books)
The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig: Hapa teenager Nix is back in the final entry in the Girl from Everywhere duology. Her quest to prevent her mother’s death, protect the Hawai’ian monarchy, and save the Persian boy she loves comes to a heart pounding conclusion. She’s escaped the past but now her future is at stake. An astonishing series from a debut author. (YA fantasy, published February 28, 2017, by Greenwillow)
Future Threat by Elizabeth Briggs: The second in the racially diverse Future Shock time-travel trilogy sees Mexican-American Elena, her boyfriend Adam, and their new teammate Chris sent to the future by the wicked Aether Corp. When their mission fails spectacularly, their attempts to fix the resolution only further damages the timeline. (YA SF, published March 1, 2017, by Whitman)
Nemesis by Brendan Reichs: In the first in this new series, Min is murdered every two years by a mysterious man in black only to be resurrected as if nothing happened. She meets Noah, a boy suffering the same violent circumstances, but when they learn an asteroid is on a collision course for earth, the certainty of their futures crumbles. (YA thriller, publishing March 21, 2017 by Putnam)
Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.