17 of March 2015's Best YA Books: Young Adult Readers, We Lucked Out This Month
March, with its celebration of St. Patrick's Day, is known as the luckiest month of the year. And if you're a young adult reader, you're definitely going to feel lucky. This month is so chock full of exciting new young adult titles that it physically pained me to have to narrow it down to a hefty 17. (I know, my job is so hard.) Hope you invested in some speed reading classes, because you're going to need them to tear through all of these books.
Titans in the YA space, such as Lauren Oliver, David Levithan, and Andrew Smith, all have new books for you, when really it would be a big month if even one of them did. Debut authors that killed it in 2014, such as Emery Lord and Sally Green, are back with hugely anticipated second novels, and let's just say they aren't suffering from the sophomore slump. There are sequels you desperately need to get your hands on because you're still dying over a cliffhanger ending. And there are debut YA authors whose names are already echoing through the publishing world, like Tommy Wallach and David Arnold.
Whether you're into ghost stories, magical realism, historical fiction, or the scripts to an epic musical production (seriously), you're going to be lucky enough to find what you want, or desperately need, in March.
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz (Simon Pulse; Mar 3)
Hannah Moskowitz proved with her earlier novels Teeth, Break, and Gone Gone Gone that she's not afraid to tackle tough subject matter, whether it's the horror of bullying, struggles with eating disorders, racial identity, homophobia, or other very real issues. In Not Otherwise Specified, Moskowitz introduces us to Etta, who is sick and tired of getting labels stuck all over her by her fellow residents in a small Nebraska town. She feels like she doesn't quite fit into society's pre-defined groups, constantly being reminded she's not gay/straight enough as a bisexual, not black/white enough, not sick/healthy enough. But through Etta's friendship with the straight, white, Christian Bianca, who also suffers from anorexia, Moskowitz defies all stereotypes and pushes through a story about a relationship that can help show you your true identity.
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray; Mar 3)
Bone Gap is the small, rural town where brothers Finn and Sean live, and the town that outsider Roza blows into, on the run from an unknown force. Finn is the only one who sees Roza abducted by a man whose face he cannot seem to conjure up, causing him to devolve into guilt, unable to forgive himself for not being able to help. But Laura Ruby's novel isn't some simple kidnapping story; she pulls us, the readers, straight into Bone Gap, too, as we get to know the moving stories of its residents and we exist in a sort of sad, dreamlike terror as we turn the pages. The book isn't easily defined, including pieces of mythology, fables, magical realism, and modern-day feminism.
Mosquitoland by David Arnold (Viking Children's; Mar 3)
For a debut author, David Arnold sure has a lot of buzz behind his book Mosquitoland. (Sidenote: Can I get the cover art on a t-shirt or something?) The book already has an award under its belt, the ABA Indies Introduce Debut Authors and New Voices title, and some major names in YA are showing their love. Mim Malone is forced to move from her home in Cleveland to Mississippi to live with her father and stepmother, but when she hears her mother is sick back in Ohio, she begins her odyssey back home. Along the way, she meets a cuckoo group of other travelers (I mean, you've been on a Greyhound bus, right?) that add a surreal component to the novel, and you'll laugh, cry, and basically be completely mesmerized the whole way through.
The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Mar 3)
Fans of The Winner's Curse (read: everyone who read it) will not be let down by its thrilling sequel The Winner's Crime. After Kestrel made her choice between getting married or joining the military, she's now trapped in the bounds of her decision, but that doesn't mean she's just going to accept her circumstances without a fight. Meanwhile, Arin, the slave she bought to spare his life, has his own secrets and missions to keep his country free. But brace yourselves, readers: There's a killer cliffhanger ending that will have you screaming for the final book in the trilogy.
The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith (Dutton Children's; Mar 3)
Andrew Smith is unequivocally one of the reigning kings of YA right now. His Grasshopper Jungle was a Printz Honor book this year and 100 Sideways Miles was a 2014 National Book Award Nominee for Young People's Literature, and 2013's Winger had so many awards I can't count in this small space. This month's The Alex Crow has a whole lot to live up to, you should always have your trust in Smith. After an attack on his small village in the Middle East, survivor Ariel moves in with an adoptive family in West Virginia. But you know with Smith, the story is never that simple. There's also the words of a schizophrenic bomber, a failed expedition into the arctic, and a bionic crow.
Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver (HarperCollins; Mar 10)
After the success of Before I Fall, the Delirum trilogy, and last year's Panic , any Lauren Oliver book is an event. And Vanishing Girls can stand up to the hype. And I couldn't be happier to say the following sentence: In this book, the amazing author is focusing on the bond of sisterhood. Nick and Dara were tied at the hip before an accident pulled them apart. Dara's supermodel-stunning face is scarred, and the two can barely speak to each other. Then, Dara disappears around the same time as young girl, and Nick makes it her mission to find out what happened to her. Rumor has it, if you loved We Were Liars, you're going to love Vanishing Girls, so instead of clear words I'm going to say AHH!!
Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers; Mar 17)
Remember playing The Oregon Trail back in the old-school PC days? There may have been fording the river and poisonous snake bites, but it wasn't anything like this. Stacey Lee gives us a perspective our computer games and our history classes didn't teach us in Under a Painted Sky: two teenaged runaway girls. Chinese-American Samantha and the runaway slave Annamae disguise themselves as boys and hit the trail, helping each other survive and keep their secret as they escape their problems back where they're from.
The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne (Dial; Mar 17)
The Wrong Side of Right couldn't be coming at a better time. Jenn Marie Thorne's novel takes a critical eye to the U.S. political system, and immigration policies in particular, as the author tells the story of a presidential candidate's daughter Kate who doesn't agree with his platform. Thorne never veers into preachiness, and it seems to always be aware that family debates, just like political ones, are never simple. Does all of this political talk make you think the book is stone cold serious? Because that couldn't be further from the truth. There is plenty of liveliness, hilarity, and even some swooning to go around.
Hold Me Closer by David Levithan (Dutton Juvenile; Mar 17)
Yes, it's finally here. David Levithan's Will Grayson, Will Grayson spin-off Hold Me Closer will hit the stage, and your shelves, this month. Hold Me Closer is beloved character Tiny Cooper's story, the script he was writing about his own life when we last saw him with the two Wills. If you don't know Tiny Cooper already, get to know him ASAP. Here's a starter from the original novel:
Tiny Cooper is not the world’s gayest person, and he is not the world’s largest person, but I believe he may be the world’s largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world’s gayest person who is really, really large.
Tiny is taking center stage this time, and he's brought along his musical numbers.
The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie (Weinstein Books; Mar 24)
You've probably heard the names Paige McKenzie and The Haunting of Sunshine Girl before, so you're giddy far before I can even explain this to you. You see, McKenzie has a YouTube series called "The Haunting of Sunshine Girl" (with more than 100 million views, thank you very much) about a teenage girl named Sunshine who finds that she is living in a haunted house. Moreover, she has to save her mother from the evil ghosts who haunt her. The story is super-entertaining, and it has the backing of horror icons R.L. Stine and Wes Craven, so it's no slouch in the scary department either.
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin Young Readers; Mar 24)
The story of two teenage girls twist and twirl around each other in Nova Ren Suma's The Walls Around Us. There's Violet, a ballerina bound for Julliard; and there's Amber, a convicted killer locked up in the Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center. And you guys, I cannot spoil anything in this mysterious, haunting (*cough*) story. It's full of secrets and lies, consequences of the divide between rich and poor, white and multiracial, and OK, yes, ghosts. But it's unlike any ghost story you've read before.
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (Nancy Paulson Books; Mar 24)
Naila's Pakistani immigrant parents are open-minded about a lot of things when it comes to their daughter. Naila is free to dress, study, and generally live her life how she chooses. However, when it comes to marriage, they have put their foot down. Naila will travel to Pakistan with them and take part in an arranged marriage, which is particularly troubling to her because she believes she has already fallen in love with someone at home. As the story continues in the evocatively described Pakistan, author Aisha Saeed hits readers hard with Naila's personal struggle between her Western upbringing and her Pakistani heritage. It's a complex story about human identity, and how who you are is always tied to your culture, your heritage, and your family.
Half Wild by Sally Green (Viking Juvenile; Mar 24)
Sally Green's twisted take on a witch story in last year's Half Bad had everyone talking. So basically, all eyes are on her for the sequel Half Wild. But Green knows what she's doing and doesn't miss a beat. Nathan, the half-"good, half-"evil" witch and the son of the Biggest Bad the witching world has ever seen is still on the run. But as he comes into his own magical Gift, he has to decide if he's going to use it for good or for evil. And, by the way, what exactly do both of those mean? Because this series has already been optioned for a movie, you better get on the books before the hype goes bananas.
The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord (Bloomsbury; Mar 31)
Everyone fell in love with Emery Lord, a new voice in YA fiction, with 2014's Open Road Summer. Her sophomore novel is about second chances (fittingly) and again it will have some great, strong female friendships. When Paige Hancock's first boyfriend drowns in an accident, she shuts out the world and becomes numb to her high school experience. But a year later, she makes it her mission to recapture what she lost and have a second chance at doing high school right. She has two goals: Get her former crush to date her and join a club. But as in life and high school, sometimes things take unexpected turns.
The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige (HarperCollins; Mar 31)
Debut novelist Danielle Paige captured our attention with Dorothy Must Die , a dystopian future set in the world of Oz, where Dorothy is the big bad villain, overcome with power, and our beloved Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion are her henchmen. Meanwhile, the "Wicked" Oz characters (like Mombi, who haunted my childhood nightmares) recruit Amy Gumm, another tornado visitor of the land, to train and kill Dorothy. Amy's mission continues in The Wicked Will Rise, as she must steal the Tin Woodman’s heart, the Scarecrow’s brain and Lion’s courage. You guys, it's just so, so fun to read.
We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; Mar 31)
An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, threatening to wipe out humanity. But We All Looked Up isn't some Armageddon or The Day After Tomorrow doomsday action epic; it's a small, moving story about five high school seniors who must decide to focus on the present when hopes of their future are all but shattered. Senior year is supposed to be the time when everyone looks to their exciting futures, but not for these five. The novel is raw, emotional, and so incredibly thoughtful, and though it's about dashed futures, it's not without hope.
Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein (Disney-Hyperion; Mar 31)
If you're like me, you fell in love with Elizabeth Wein after her pitch-perfect, historical, spy-filled, female friendship-centered novel Code Name Verity. The book was incredible, let's just get that out there. So I'm thrilled for Black Dove, White Raven, which has so many of the elements that Wein does best. The story is set in 1930s America, where a white woman Rhoda is raising her daughter Emilia and her friend's black son Teo after she died in a plane crash both mothers were flying. After seeing the hate she faced in America, Rhoda takes the two kids and raises them in Ethopia. However, as Ethiopia is threatened with war against Italy, their devotion to their country and culture becomes a breaking point.