Hundreds of young adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels make their way through the traditional publishing industry every year. Fantasy, of course, takes the biggest chunk of the market, but we’ve seen an upswing in horror recently. No matter your favorite speculative genre, we’re in an age where choices abound. And I’m here to help you make some decisions.
Here is my list of the 30 most notable YA SFF/H of 2022. Define “notable” as you see fit, but for me I’m thinking in terms of books that stood out, books that made me think, books that played with genre conventions in new or interesting ways, and books that I can’t stop recommending.
Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi (Pet #0)
The prequel to Pet explores the lives of the teens who would later run Jam’s hometown of Lucille. Bitter, a seventeen-year-old artist at the elite academy of Eucalyptus, struggles with the protests happening outside her walls. As more of her friends become activists, she must come to terms with her role in the fight for the future. The world is on the verge of a dystopia; can she and her friends make something better?
The Ghosts of Rose Hill by R.M. Romero
Jewish Latina Ilana Lopez is shipped off to her artist Aunt Žofie in Prague. In the cemetery near her house, she meets the ghost of Benjamin, a boy whose grave she decides to repair. She also attracts the attention of a mysterious man with no shadow who wants something from her. A lovely novel in verse.
A Girl’s Guide to Love & Magic by Debbie Rigaud
YA fantasy is awash in novels of older teens. It’s pretty rare to get a protagonist in the 14 or 15-year-old range, so this book was a welcome surprise. On the morning of the West Indian Day Parade—which also happens to be Cicely’s fifteenth birthday—a spirit jumps into her aunt’s body. She and her friends wander all over the city to help her, discovering more about themselves along the way.
Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore
Anna-Marie McLemore knocks it out of the park once again with this story about nonbinary, neurodivergent Latinx teens Bastián and Lore. The alebrijes Bastián creates take on a life of their own, and only Lore seems to be able to see them. To calm the alebrijes, they must learn to process their trauma and confront their pasts.
My Name Is Magic by Xan Van Rooyen
Although Finnish teen Taika attends the prestigious Myrskyjärvi International School for the Magically Gifted, they don’t actually have any magic. But when Taika finds a liekkiö spirit who sounds a lot like their former bestie and currently missing classmate Natalie, they are the only person who can save them. For a teen with no magic, Taika’s life is about to get a whole lot more interesting.
The Nightland Express by J. M. Lee
In 1860s America, two teens search for a new life out west. Ben escapes from slavery while Jesse is finally able to be the boy no one else would accept him as. They score a job with the Nightland Express, what they think is just another Pony Express mail delivery but turns out to be something much more exciting…and dangerous. There’s another world beneath our own, and they’re about to meet it head on.
Rust in the Root by Justina Ireland
Laura is out of money and has no place to live, a risky proposition in 1930s New York City where her kind of magic has been prohibited. She lands a job working for the Black auxiliary wing of the Bureau of the Arcane Conservation Corps and sets off with her team to investigate a storm of dark magic infesting rural Ohio. Klan necromancers might be more than a country bumpkin rootworker can handle.
Strike the Zither by Joan He (Kingdom of Three #1)
Orphan Zephyr lives in the year 414 of the Xin Dynasty (which ran from 9-23 CE). She works for the warlordess Xin Ren who seeks to free the puppet empress from the ruthless regent Miasma who controls her. Zephyr is sent into Miasma’s camp as a spy, but her job gets a lot harder with that sneaky strategist Crow snooping around.
When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb
An angel, Uriel, and a demon, Little Ash, have a quiet life studying the Talmud in their little shtetl. Until a human girl, Essie, goes missing in America. The two supernatural beings immigrate across the sea, dealing with Ellis Island, antisemitism, and assimilationists. The New World is just as rough and painful as the Old Country.
Second World Fantasy
Fire Becomes Her by Rosiee Thor
Angry and driven, Ingrid manipulates her way into the arms of the son of a wealthy presidential candidate living in the 1920s Jazz Age-inspired city of Candesce. To win her future father-in-law’s favor, she agrees to spy on the opposing party, but it all falls apart when Ingrid starts to actually agree with the team. As she learns more about her own queerness, she also figures out how to fight back against corruption.
A Thousand Steps Into Night by Traci Chee
A Japanese-inspired tale full of gods, spirits, monsters, and the humans who have to deal with them. After human Miuko is cursed as a demon, she sets off on an epic quest to find a cure. The world of Awara is a dangerous one, though, and the people and creatures she encounters along the way do not always have her best interests at heart.
All That’s Left in the World by Erik J. Brown
Teens Jamie and Andrew meet at the end of the world. A strain of the flu killed off most of the human population, and they’re left to wander alone, until they decide to try to make a go of it together. It’s not easy to make a romance bloom out of a deadly pandemic, but this book manages it well.
The Kindred by Alechia Dow
Jay and Felix may be pair bonded by the chips in their brains, but these aliens grew up in very different lives. Felix is a spoiled duke while Joy is a dirt poor nobody. After they’re blamed for the deaths of his family, they flee…only to crashland on earth. A charming science fiction queer romance.
The Q by Amy Tintera
Not surprisingly, plagues are a popular topic in YA SF. Tintera puts her own thrilling twist on the pandemic with a dystopian version of the US where Austin is sealed in a quarantine zone. Lennon, the son of a presidential candidate, is infected with a deadly disease and dropped into the Q, and Maisie is tasked with getting him out before he’s stuck for good.
Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado
Mysterious disappearances? Check. Urban legends? Check. Deadly games? Check! Tirado’s debut stars Raquel, a Dominican American teen who gets sucked into a nightmare of a game when she helps her crush Charlize search for her missing cousin. The disappearances may also have something to do with her mother’s unexpected illness, but one thing’s for certain: they don’t need to just play the Echo Game, they need to win.
Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White
This intense novel centers on trans boy Benji, a teen escaping a fundamentalist cult that nearly destroyed the world a few years back. Now they want to use Benji to finish the job. Nick, a teen survivor, reluctantly takes Benji in, but Nick’s queer friend group harbors dark secrets of their own.
The Honeys by Ryan La Sala
After Mars’ sister dies trying to murder him, he heads back to the elite summer camp that turned her from a effervescent young woman into a haunted one. The Honeys, a group of beekeeping girls who Caroline hung out with, swarm around Mars. But are they protecting him from the cruelties of queerphobic conservatives and toxic masculinity or do they have their own sinister plans for him?
How to Succeed in Witchcraft by Aislinn Brophy
At her elite magical school, Shay is convinced to join the school play, a Bronx-ified retelling of Pride & Prejudice, by her skeezy theater teacher. While trying to balance his increasingly unpleasant behavior, her school work, and her need to earn a scholarship so she can have access to countless professional opportunities in the future, she also ends up falling for her cute costar and one-time nemesis Ana.
House of Yesterday by Deeba Zargarpur
Fifteen-year-old Sara’s life has turned upside down. Her parents are getting divorced and her Bibi Jan’s dementia is getting worse. To distract herself, she helps her mom renovate an old house, but instead she sees the ghost of her grandmother as a girl. Sara unearths dark family secrets long buried and the spirits of the past reveal themselves to the present, in this heart-wrenching story.
The Loophole by Naz Kutub
After his boyfriend Farouk dumps him and vanishes on the other side of the world, Sy is outed by his family and thrown out of the house. He (literally) runs into Reggie, a wealthy tornado of a young woman, who whisks him on a European and African tour to find Farouk. Although this book is light and airy, there’s a lovely layer of depth to bring it all together.
Anthologies & Collections
Reclaim the Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space by edited by Zoraida Córdova
These 17 short stories not only center identities and experiences from across the Latin American diaspora but also across genres. A little bit of fantasy, a little bit of science fiction, and some very compelling genre blenders. A perfect collection.
Tasting Light: Ten Science Fiction Stories to Rewire Your Perceptions edited by A. R. Capetta, Wade Roush
I am desperate for more young adult science fiction, so this anthology jumped out at me. Capetta and Roush put together a stellar anthology of stories ranging from hackers to Indigenous Futurism to androids and beyond. My only complaint? I need more than 10 stories. Way more. Perhaps there is a volume 2 in the works?
Ballad & Dagger by Daniel José Older (Outlaw Saints #1)
Whoever had the genius idea to use Older’s return to urban fantasy as the first YA book in Rick Riordan Presents line deserves a massive raise. Mateo’s relatives fled the island of San Madrigal years ago and settled in New York. But now whatever sank their island is back and haunting their diasporic neighborhood. Saints, gods, and magic collide.
The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta (The Lost Dreamer #1)
Split between the POVs of Indir the Dreamer and Saya the Seer, this lush Mesoamerican-inspired fantasy is worth diving into. After a cruel new ruler takes over Alcanzeh, Indir flees the only life she’s ever known. Meanwhile, Saya breaks free of her abusive mother and discovers she has a fate greater than she could ever imagine.
The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas (The Sunbearer #1)
In this sparkling Mexican-inspired fantasy, Teo, the trans son of a goddess, is chosen to participate in a competition where the winner brings light to the Sun Stones while the loser is sacrificed to power them. Teo never really wanted to join the games, but now the stakes are too high to not try and win.
Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn (Legendborn #2)
Bree may be king, but the Legendborn Order isn’t ready to accept her rule. On the run from the Regents who refuse to kneel and an ancient Hunter King Arthur grappled with way back when, Bree has few allies. And now with Nick missing and Selwyn turning into an uncontrollable demon, things are about to get even harder.
The Fae Keeper by H.E. Edgmon (The Witch King #2)
Speaking of kings struggling to drag their kingdoms into the 21st century, it’s been a few weeks since all hell broke loose in Asalin. King Emyr and his betrothed witch partner Wyatt are in over their heads. Colonizers lurk in the shadows, and it’ll take a lot more than a revolution to fix what is broken in the world of the fae.
The Scratch Daughters by H. A. Clarke (Scapegracers #2)
Without her specter, Sideways Pike feels hollowed out and drifting. The rest of the Scapegracers crew is occupied with cursing toxic dudes in school, while Sideways slowly goes feral out of desperation and need. Sideways gains a surprising ally, and no, I don’t mean the ink demon living under Sideways’ skin.
In the Serpent’s Wake by Rachel Hartman (Tess of the Road #2)
Hartman makes her long-awaited return to Tess’ journey. When we last left her, she was about to embark on a voyage to find another World Serpent to try and save her quigutl friend Pathka’s life. Instead, she finds colonization, revolution, white fragility, Indigenous sovereignty, and a path toward processing her trauma.
This Wicked Fate by Kalynn Bayron (This Poison Heart #2)
To save her mother’s life, Briseis needs to find the last piece of the Absyrtus Heart. She and her newfound relatives set off to Greece to trace the footsteps of their ancient ancestors. Gods and greedy humans abound.
Alex Brown is a Hugo-nominated and Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (bookjockeyalex.com).