The month of March may be known as in like a lion, out like a lamb, but it seems like every young adult author is roaring throughout entire month because the incredible books just do not let up. Narrowing down the most exciting, best YA books of March 2016 was a heartwrenching task, because there's so many great reads coming to help us welcome spring.
Before I even get into the list, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention some top-notch series additions that are also coming this month:
- Map of Fates of The Conspiracy of Us series by Maggie Hall (Mar 8; Putnam)
- Yellow Brick War of Dorothy Must Die series by Danielle Paige (Mar 15; HarperCollins)
- Broken Crowns of The Internment Chronicles by Lauren DeStefano (Mar 22; Simon & Schuster)
- Half Lost of The Half Bad Trilogy by Sally Green (Mar 29; Viking Books for Young Readers)
- The Winner's Kiss of The Winner's Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski (Mar 29; FSG)
And that's just the beginning. This month, YA authors will take us to the Summer of Sam in Brooklyn, secret faery worlds, lands of Arabian myths, the future awaiting apocalypse, an abortion clinic, 1920s Oregon, and an everyday high school. There are crucial stories that follow rape survivors, domestic abuse survivors, teenagers who have experienced deep loss, abortion providers, and women experiencing racial prejudice.
And for book nerds out there, some recognizable stories are coming back with new life and imagination. Shakespeare is being retold, both Hamlet and A Winter's Tale, through the eyes of young women. For super sleuths, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are recast as boarding school attendees. There's something new for all kinds of readers this month.
1. Seven Black Diamonds by Melissa Marr (March 1; HarperCollins)
Get ready because Wicked Lovely's Melissa Marr is going back into a faery world. This time, she centers on half-human, half-fae Lilywhite Abernathy, who is stuck in the middle of a war between the faeries and the humans. Lilywhite has hidden her whole life because those with any fae blood are banished. But now she's off at school and comes across a fae sleeper cell called the Black Diamonds, who are tasked with taking down the human world by embedding themselves in prominent families. Um, yeah. Melissa Marr is definitely back.
2. Under Threat by Robin Stevenson (March 1; Orca)
Raise your hand if you've been waiting for a non-preachy, relatable YA novel about abortion rights. Under Threat is that novel, and it's so, so important. Teenager Franny's parents are under constant threat from a violent stranger who disagrees with their jobs as abortion providers in a local hospital. But Franny might be sending her life further into a tailspin by having suspicions that Jake, the older brother of her girlfriend and love of her life Leah, is behind the threats.
3. Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor (March 1; HMH Books for Young Readers)
You don't even have to listen to me tell you how good Into the Dim is because take one look at that cover: Outlander's Diana Gabaldon has given Janet B. Taylor's YA novel the thumbs up. But because I can tell you about Into the Dim, I'll take that opportunity: Fantasy, historical events, and time-travel all combine for a suspenseful and fun trip to the medieval period, and where it really shines is bringing the world to life.
4. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro (March 1; Katherine Tegen Books)
A feminist Sherlock Holmes? Yes please. A Study in Charlotte is a play on the classic Holmes story A Study in Scarlet, and it follows descendants of Holmes and Watson as they join up to solve a crime. Someone has been murdered at their boarding school, and Charlotte Holmes and James Watson are suspects, but they team up to clear their own names and find the true killer. It's a fresh, fun, and dynamic update of Sherlock Holmes, starring a teenage girl, so what else could you want?
5. The Girl Who Fell by S.M. Parker (March 1; Simon Pulse)
The Girl Who Fell is a tough but necessary look into how a seemingly "normal" relationship can become toxic and abusive. When Zephyr catches the eye of the cute new boy Alec, she's pleased, but it's not really her focus. She's far more worried about working hard and getting into her dream school, Boston College. (Shout out to my alma mater.) But their relationship becomes closer and closer, and as it becomes more serious, Zephyr notices his obsessive behavior. Author S.M. Parker shows a very important story of abusive relationships: No, it's not always pushover women who are abused; strong, smart, and confident women can become targets of manipulative abusers.
6. The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters (March 8; Amulet Books)
Yes, we are talking about that "steep and thorny way," a la Shakespeare's "Do not, as some ungracious pastors do / Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven" from Hamlet. (Come on, you remember high school English class.) Cat Winters re-imagines Hamlet as Hanalee Denney, a biracial child of a white woman and African-American man in 1920s Oregon. And just as Shakespeare is known for, family drama goes haywire in this novel. Hanalee's father was killed by a drunk driver, or so she believes. But the man convicted of the crime tells her that, rather, her father was poisoned by his doctor — who happens to be her new stepfather. Winters smartly wraps up this family mystery with racial injustices of the time period, and the result is completely compelling and a rollercoaster ride of a novel.
7. A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls (March 8; Candlewick Press)
Let me just rattle off some of the contributor names in this short story compilation: Elizabeth Wein, Kekla Magoon, Marie Lu, Andrea Cremer, Marissa Meyer, Y.S. Lee, Robin Talley, Leslye Walton, Beth Revis, and Lindsay Smith. This is like a who's who of kickass female YA writers. And the short story collection is centered around "belles," "bank robbers," and "other badass girls," so basically I already have a thousand copies on my bookshelf.
8. Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton (March 8; Viking)
Imagine the Wild West, but if it was instead set in the world of Arabian myths, and you have just a glimmer of the mesmerizing universe Alwyn Hamilton has created in Rebel of the Sands. Amani Al’Hiza may be poor and an orphan, but she is the best gunslinger anyone has seen in her desert nation of Miraji, where humans rule and, as legend has it, djinn and other magical entities still exist somewhere hidden. Amani finds her chance to escape her dead-end town, but it involves magic, secrets, and a handsome fugitive. And yes, this book is just as thrilling, fun, and enveloping as you imagine it to be.
9. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (March 8; Crown Books for Young Readers)
Friendship may be the savior for one teenage boy: Dill, the son of an abusive, extreme Pentecostal minister who was incarcerated for child pornography. Dill lives with Lydia and Travis in their small Tennessee town named after a KKK founder, and the three all find themselves as misfits. The novel follows the three friends as they navigate their senior year of high school, through poverty, struggles, conflicts of faith, and trying to figure out a way to survive in this town. Despite dealing with so many difficult, dark obstacles, their powerful bonds of friendship keeps alive a hope for the future.
10. Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare (March 8; Margaret K. McElderry Books)
Cassandra Clare returns to her Shadowhunters world and follows up her The Mortal Instruments series with Lady Midnight, the start of her new The Dark Artifices series. Starting up five years after the events of City of Heavenly Fire, Lady Mightnight centers on Emma Carstairs, who is hell-bent on figuring out how killed her parents and avenging their deaths. Though this is sure to be a major hit, the novel comes amid controversy: Clare has been sued for copyright infringement by fellow fantasy writer Sherrilyn Kenyon.
11. The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller (March 8; Viking)
Sharon Biggs Waller's feminist, conservationist, historical fiction story traipses from a small English village to China after the Second Opium War. Elodie Buchanan is the oldest of 10 daughters, born to a plant hunter father who travels the world to collect valuable plant life. Except this time, Mr. Buchanan returns from China without the crucial orchid he has been hired to find. Facing being sent to the poorhouse and her sisters to an orphanage if her father goes to prison, Elodie stows away on her father's ship back to China, planning to find the orchid herself.
12. Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (March 8; Candlewick Press)
It's Queens in 1977, the notorious Summer of Sam. Cuban-American 17-year-old Nora Lopez knows all this — the blackout, the arson, the looting, the murders — but she's also focused on the tumult within her own family. Her father is absent, her brother is a threatening bully, and her mom is struggling just to put food on the table and keep up with the rent. Meg Medina, as we already know, is a writing goddess, and in Burn Baby Burn, you can feel the summer heat, the urgency, and the beat of the disco music as if you're there yourself.
13. On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis (March 8; Amulet Books)
It's 2026 and a comet is about to hit Earth. The rich have the option to hunker down in underground shelters, waiting out until Earth's surface is again habitable, or gain passage on a generation ship to find safety on and colonize another planet. The poor? Well they're out of options. That's the case for autistic, biracial Denise, her drug-addicted mother Iris, and her sister, missing somewhere in Amsterdam. Denise manages to potentially secure a spot on a secret generation ship, but she worries that her autism means that they won't allow her to stay. After all their slogan is "usefulness or death." And what about her mother and sister? Corinne Duyvis' story will make your heart race, because it feels just plausible enough to become a future reality.
14. Exit, Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston (March 16; Dutton Books for Young Readers)
Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team in a town where Friday night lights have more to do with watching the cheerleading squad than the football team. And so she's excited for the summer cheer camp, the last one before her senior year of school and final cheering season. But one night at camp, someone slips something in Hermione's drink and she is raped and left on a rock in the lake, the water removing any DNA evidence. Two weeks later, she finds out she's pregnant. This unconventional retelling of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale — the title taken from the famous stage direction — never makes Hermione a victim; it instead explores who Hermione is and how she moves forward from this horrific crime.
15. The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith (March 22; Margaret K. McElderry Books)
The Way I Used to Be is a heartbreaking complement to E.K. Johnston's story of Hermione, showing how rape can happen in all different ways, and how rape survivors all experience the events differently. Amber Smith's Eden was brutally raped by her brother's best friend three years ago, and he warned her that no one would believe her if she spoke up. The novel is divided into four parts, each designated with a high school year, and it follows Eden as she faces a lot of traditional high school events — friendships, first loves, heartbreaks, sexual encounters — but through her unique POV as a rape survivor.
16. This Is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang (March 22; Greenwillow Books)
Despite being total opposites, Janie and Micah have been BFFs since Janie moved next door in elementary school. But still Micah is blindsided when Janie goes missing. Amy Zhang uses dual narratives to shed light on what was really going on in the friendship and with the two high schoolers individually, as readers unravel what happened to Janie. It's a story of memory and pain and secrets, and it will definitely keep you guessing.
17. Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke (March 22; Dial Books)
If you're compelled by dark mysteries that also leave readers in the dark as to what is real and what is fiction, you're going to be obsessed with Wink Poppy Midnight. Though it sounds like some kind of call sign, the title refers to the three voices in April Genevieve Tucholke's YA novel: Wink is the mysterious neighbor with the wild red hair; Poppy is the blond queen bee; and Midnight is the boy that's stuck between the two. I'm not even going to say much more because this is one book that will keep you guessing from unpredictable turn to the next.
18. The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle (March 29; Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Hooray! The author who brought us the both important and charming Five, Six, Seven, Nate! and Better Nate Than Never is coming to YA — and it's definitely worth the wait. The Great American Whatever is laugh-out-loud funny, but you'll be doing that laugh-cry mix that will confuse all your emotions because it's also a total tearjerker. You'll love following along with Quinn, and his compelling voice, as he copes with the devastation of losing his movie-making partner and sister Annabeth and how his new relationship with Geoff helps him emerge from his grief.