19 Of May 2015's Best YA Books, aka You're Going To Want to Read All YA This Month
Prepare your sturdiest tote, because any trip to the bookstore this month will mean you're coming hope with arms full of young adult books. What I'm saying is May 2015's best YA books are dynamite. Massive names in the YA world have decided that May is the best time to unleash their next novel onto their rabid fans — I'm talking Sarah Dessen, Kiera Cass, Sarah J. Mass and more. Some are publishing sequels to books you fell in love with in the last few years, which means, of course, you'll need them. Plus, debut authors who have been turning heads for months are finally letting us all see their first work. Any one of them could be the next massive names in YA.
Can any of these books live up to last year's "It Book" We Were Liars , released in May 2014? They're certainly making a run for it.
There are stories about friendship, family, and young love. They take place across diverse landscapes, like a fairy land, Woodstock, amid the Japanese mob, an elite ballet academy, a New York City summer, and innovative dystopias.
Frankly, the competition this month is stiff for most anticipated YA. My heart wants to add six or eight more, but these 19 YA books are the best of the best for YA in May 2015.
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen (May 5; Viking Juvenile)
Clearly any new release from the queen of YA romance is going to be huge. But Saint Anything is exciting in its own right, focusing on the complicated bonds of family, particularly in the wake of tragedy and misfortune. Sarah Dessen tells the story of Sydney, who is being rocked around in her family after her attention-grabbing brother Peyton's reckless behavior leads him to a DUI conviction and jail time. But there's also a lot about the people who can become like family, stepping in in times of upheaval to ease the transition. For Sydney, this is the pizza-parlor-owning Chathams who jump in to help take care of Sydney's mom, who has MS. Particularly, there's Mac Chatham who makes Sydney finally feel like the she's worthy of attention. Expect lots of swooning, but also a lot of honesty here.
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (May 5; Bloomsbury Children's)
Sarah J. Maas writing a new Beauty and the Beast-esque series? Yes, please. But this isn't the tale you know from Disney. First off, "Belle" is now Feyre, and she is crazy-tough. Second of all, the "beast" is actually Tamlin, a vicious fairy (again, not your average Tinkerbell) who Feyre has only heard about though her childhood stories. Tamlin drags Feyre to his fairyland as retribution for her killing a wolf in the woods. She's held captive in his estate, much like Belle, but Feyre and Tamlin may have more in common than it seems, and it becomes a totally hot and romantic story with a seriously dark, adventurous edge.
The Heir by Kiera Cass (May 5; HarperTeen)
If you haven't finished Kiera Cass' The Selection series, stop right here for spoiler alerts because it's hard to talk about The Heir without talking about how America Singer ends up in The One. OK, so everyone still reading should know that America has chosen to marry Prince Maxon. Well, things are going well because flash forward and the two are happy parents to Princess Eadlyn, who has now come of age and must choose a husband in her own Selection process. Cass's stories have always helped politics and social issues collide with some swoony romance and reality TV-style competitions, and expect more of the amazing same here as Eadlyn learns to navigate her complicated world. Basically, you already know what you're dying to read The Heir if you're a fan, I certainly don't have to psych you up for it.
The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell (May 5; Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Abe Sora is only 17, but he's been diagnosed with ALS. The Last Leaves Falling is a heartbreaking, visceral account of Sora's coming to terms with his disease and his future (or lack thereof). He knows that he will soon lose the function of his limbs and his voice, and he knows he must come to peace with dying. Using Japanese samurai poetry for guidance, he's able to find some peace and hope in his life, particularly through an Internet chat room where he meets new friends. The story isn't one of pity, however, readers will find strength and hope in Sora's tragic story, especially in the bonds of friendship he finds.
Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu (May 12; Katherine Tegen Books)
You can practically feel the humidity of a New York City summer in Corey Ann Haydu's Making Pretty. Sisters Montana and Arizona are feeling a little distant since Arizona came home for summer after her first year of college. So Montana finds friendship in Karissa, with whom she takes acting classes. But Karissa, who is the kind of boho free-spirit that Montana wishes she could be, only further distances the two sisters. And, of course, there's always a boy. Readers will fall in love with Montana's authentic, first-person narrative voice, and will follow her through any of life's adventures.
The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman (May 12; Balzer + Bray)
The Cost of All Things, you know how to get my attention. Maggie Lehrman's novel has been pitched as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets We Were Liars, only one of my favorite movies and my favorite YA novel of 2014. Like Eternal Sunshine, Lehrman's character Ari decides to wipe her memory, healing her pain after her boyfriend Win tragically dies. Like We Were Liars, the timeline spins back and forth between past and present as the full, mysterious story unfolds. The combination is impossibly addictive and haunting story that really will make you think harder on "be careful what you wish for."
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh (May 12; Putnam Juvenile)
Excuse the horrible pun, but I feel like I've already been waiting 1,001 nights for this YA retelling of Arabian Nights . Since Renée Ahdieh announced her novel The Wrath and the Dawn, the novel has been buzzing around the young adult world, with basically everyone fighting to get ahold of the book. Finally, we get to hear Shahrzad, aka Scheherazade, spin her infamous tales in a whole new way. And Ahdieh's 16-year-old Shahrzad will have readers as absorbed as her new husband, the murderous 18-year-old Caliph of Khorasan.
We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen (May 12; Wendy Lamb Books)
Maybe, like me, you can relate to being that dorky girl in high school. And imagine what it would be like if your mom decided to marry the hottest guy in school's dad and you were forced to move in together. Um, awkward hilarity? That's We Are All Made of Molecules, where two teens from different social spectrums find common ground. Stewart is the smart, socially deficit one; Ashley is Queen Bee. But they find themselves as new brother and sister when their parents find love together. Both characters narrate as they come to terms with their new life situation and cope with secrets they each have. Oh, and it's really funny.
Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani (May 15; Tu Books)
On the anniversary of her death, Claire Takata learns that her father was a member of the Japanese mafia, the yakuza. Not only that, but her new stepfather knew him, and her family kept the information from her. Amid confusion and what she believes is a betrayal, Claire searches for answers while also trying to escape her father's criminal legacy. Debut author Valynne E. Maetani's story is full of mystery and action, and it will have you flipping pages as fast as your eyes can read.
Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham (May 19; Little Brown Books for Young Readers)
Teenager Scarlett is the fantasy Veronica Mars of her hometown in California. As a private investigator, she solves local crimes, but instead of Logan versus Deacon (Logan forever!), it's ancient curses versus evil genies. When a boy commits suicide, Scarlett is certain it was actually murder, and the more she digs, the more her own family, and her father's murder, seems wrapped up in the case. You're going to love Scarlett. She's sarcastic, witty, and bold, and she's definitely the kind of Muslim-American character we need much, much more of in YA.
Elena Vanishing and Hope and Other Luxuries by Elena Dunkle and Clare B. Dunkle (May 19; Chronicle Books)
Elena Vanishing and Hope and Other Luxuries are paired, they're being released as companion memoirs centering on a daughter's continual struggle with an eating disorder. The former is Elena's own story of her experiences with the disease, which began after she was raped, and the latter is her mother's perspective of trying to help a daughter find her way out. Seeing the same story from the dual points of view is powerful, painful, and so important. Today, Elena is still in recovery, showing that there's no easy cure for an eating disorder and that it's an ongoing battle, a particularly important message for anyone coping with the same thing to have the strength to keep going.
Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt (May 19; Bloomsbury)
The story in Hold Me Like a Breath really resonated with me, because it reminds me of an X-Files episode that, after probably 17 years, I still haven't recovered from. And bonus, it stars a young woman who fights against outsiders' perceptions of her. Penelope Landlow's father is the head of one of three major crime families controlling the black market for organs. But, because of an autoimmune disorder, her family has kept Penelope inside their family estate. But, then Penelope is thrust front and center in a battle among the families, and she showcases that she's not as delicate as everyone thinks. Bet you weren't expecting this sentence: Hold Me Like a Breath is a retelling of The Princess and the Pea, an organ trafficking fairy tale for the ages.
Three Day Summer by Sarvenaz Tash (May 19; Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Yessss, a Woodstock YA novel! And Sarvenaz Tash's story is as vibrant and spirited as the festival itself (with less mud). White Lake, New York local girl Cora has volunteered to help in the medical tent, while Michael plans to live it up at this highly anticipated concert, hoping it will take his mind off what exactly he's going to do for his future. When the two meet up during the exuberant, rock and roll, revolutionary event, the music seems to speak directly to them and they shirk any responsibilities to fall crazy in love with each other — for at least three days. Can we get a soundtrack, Tash?
Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton (May 26; HarperTeen)
If I've learned anything from pop culture, it's that ballet school is brutal. And Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton's Tiny Pretty Things brings some more of that Black Swan attitude to the page. Gigi, Bette, and Jun are all from diverse backgrounds and they're all killing it when it comes to ballet — they're at the top of their class at Manhattan's finest dance school — but not so much when it comes to friendship or happiness. The girls lie, cheat, and steal to be the prima ballerina, for motivations both pure and manipulative. The drama is high, but so is the fun — well, for the readers, not as much for the characters.
P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han (May 26; Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Yes, yes, yes. Jenny Han follows up her killer 2014 YA novel To All the Boys I've Loved Before with P.S. I Still Love You and it's a very welcome return Lara Jean's life. She wonders, leftover from the first novel, whether she is really in love with Peter or if they're still pretending. So when another guy comes back into her life, she's even more confused than before. You're going to want to read this, because I would follow Lara Jean and her silly, fun, smart, awkward voice through basically any story.
I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest (May 26; Arthur A. Levine Books)
I have to say I need "Princess X" to exist in real life. But Cherie Priest's novel that brings this fictional comic to life does a good job at making it as much as reality as possible. Childhood BFFs Libby and May created a comic starring a powerful princess who didn't need a prince to slay her dragons. But their creative work abruptly stopped when Libby died, the night her car went over a bridge. The novel then shifts into a cyberthriller, as years later May starts seeing "Princess X" paraphernalia everywhere — stickers and graffiti lead to an entire underground cult following on the Internet. So, um, is Libby actually alive and behind all this? I Am Princess X makes full use of the hybrid novel-comic form, which is just amazing, and its meditations of Internet culture push it even further over the edge of coolness.
Kissing in America by Margo Rabb (May 26; HarperCollins)
Margo Rabb recently has written beautifully and honestly about grief, such as in the New York Times pieces "Intensive Care" and "In My Cat's Death, a Human Comfort," and she takes this theme to her new YA novel Kissing in America. Two generations cope with loss as 16-year-old Eva's father dies. While her over-protective, realistic mother handles things in her own way, Eva finds comfort in romance novels, falling into romantic fantasies. It seems these stories have come to life when Eva meets Will. So when Will unexpectedly moves to California, Eva and her BFF Annie take a cross-country road trip to see him again and also compete in the TV show The Smartest Girl in America. The story may be about grief, but it's also so funny and hopeful, too. Bonus points for poetry excerpts from Adrienne Rich, Nikki Giovanni and others interspersed through the text, as poetry was the bonding device between Eva and her late father.
The Cage by Megan Shepherd (May 26; Balzer + Bray)
Megan Shepherd captured the attention of YA fans everywhere with her Madman's Daughter trilogy, and she's sure to keep that attention with her new series, beginning with The Cage. The titular cage is a zoo where humans are kept as the animals and the zookeepers aren't from Earth. In a The Maze Runner-esque opening, Cora Mason wakes up in a desert, completely unsure of how she got there. She finds five other teenagers and learns from their captor Cassian that they will be paired up, and each pair will have to procreate within 21 days. But Cora can't let go of home and she continually searches for an escape, which makes her a danger to her fellow captives. And even worse, she finds herself mutually attracted to Cassian. The story is intriguing — and it will keep you guessing about what could be a fate worse than the cage.
Image: Pedro Ribeiro Simões/flickr