I feel like I say this every year, but 2018 was a big year for young adult books. The Best YA Books of 2018 took the diversity conversation one step further — by continuing to tell the important real-world stories of marginalized people, yes — but also by inserting lighthearted rom-coms, spooky tales, and feminist fantasies into the mix more than ever before. It seems that the push for YA that represents marginalized characters in all their complex, quirky glory is finally bearing fruit.
Beyond that, in every age-group and genre of fiction this year, women and gender-noncomforming individuals have made their mark, and YA was no different. I've gathered 14 authors who published books this year — from seasoned contemporary writer Morgan Matson to debut author Emily X.R. Pan — and asked that they reveal their very favorite YA book of the year. Whether you enjoy reading romance, fantasy, eerie thrillers, or even prose poetry, there is something on this list for you. Pack a few for your holiday trips, or start building a stack to dive into come 2019. When it comes to YA, the time is always right to dive in.
'From Twinkle, With Love' Author Sandhya Menon Recommends 'The Belles' by Dhonielle Clayton
"I love nothing more than talking about my favorite YA books! My answer to this one is always the same: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton for 2018. I'm so, so excited for the sequel, The Everlasting Rose! What I love about The Belles is the lush atmosphere, the delectable setting, and the thread of menace and mystery that runs rampant throughout the book."
'The Astonishing Color Of After' Author Emily X.R. Pan Recommends 'A Room Away From The Wolves' by Nova Ren Suma
"Everyone should read A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma. It's so eerie and dreamlike and irresistible — she is the master of bending realities and truths, and this is absolutely her finest work yet. I could not turn the pages fast enough, and I had to read it with all the lights on.
'The Way You Make Me Feel' Author Maurene Goo Recommends 'Mirage' by Somaiya Daud
"As a contemporary YA author, reading fantasy reminds me of what it feels like to be a reader again. And one of my favorite books this year was a YA fantasy debut — Mirage by Somaiya Daud. A princess body swap saga set in space with Moroccan culture influences? Sign me up! But beyond that enticing pitch, Mirage blew me away with its rich world-building (I love fantasy books where there are hints of a vast and rich history everywhere) and its deeper exploration of what it means for a culture to be 'conquered' and all the different people whose lives are affected by it. It’s swooniness with substance and I can’t wait to read the follow-up, Court of Lions, next year."
'The Beauty That Remains' Author Ashley Woodfolk Recommends 'Odd One Out' by Nic Stone
"Odd One Out by Nic Stone has been my favorite book of 2018. I actually had the pleasure of reading it back in 2017, and at this point I've reread it four or five times. It's a book all about figuring out who and how to love, and it's the book I desperately needed when I was 16 and questioning everything I knew to be true about the world, myself, and especially my sexuality. I love the story and the characters so much, and I'm elated that other kids have a book like this, with kids of color at its center, showing just how okay it is to just not know. Buy it."
'Save The Date' Author Morgan Matson Recommends 'The Way You Make Me Feel' by Maurene Goo & 'Stay Sweet' by Siobhan Vivian
"My favorite YA book of 2018 is actually a tie, simply because I couldn’t pick between them. I adored both Maurene Goo’s The Way You Make Me Feel and Siobhan Vivian’s Stay Sweet. These two books have a ton in common — they’re both about girls, and friendship, and work — one involves a Korean-Brazilian food truck, one an iconic ice cream stand. I loved how both books dealt with complicated female friendships, family dynamics, and finding yourself in the most unexpected of ways. While both of these books have romance in them, the focus is never primarily there, which I couldn’t love more. And as a bonus, you’ll be craving tacos and ice cream as you read!"
'Love, Hate & Other Filters' Author Samira Ahmed Recommends 'A Very Large Expanse Of Sea' by Tahereh Mafi
"As always, Tahereh Mafi's prose shines in A Very Large Expanse of Sea — her storytelling is captivating and unflinching and her main character, Shirin, is so richly drawn, she steps off the page right into your heart. I love how Mafi navigates the intersections of Shirin's many worlds so deftly and with wonderful nuance — capturing her complex struggle with identity, as well as her pain and her grit in the face of bigotry. The novel also explores Shirin's very personal, and unapologetic, relationship with her faith as a 16 year-old Muslim American living in the wake of 9/11 in a way that is both honest and insightful, and, frankly, rarely seen. I found A Very Large Expanse of Sea deeply affecting. It's the book I wished I had as a teenager. I'm so happy I have it now."
'Children Of Blood & Bone' Author Tomi Adeyemi Recommends 'The Poet X' by Elizabeth Acevedo
"2018 brought a lot of incredible books into the world, but my favorite goes to The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. This book was a beautiful, breathtaking journey that didn't let me go until the end. It sits prominently on my bookshelf because just looking at it makes me proud to be a writer. It deserves all the praise it has been given and more, and it's definitely a book you won't regret picking up!"
'Ash Princess' Author Laura Sebastian Recommends 'Everless' by Sara Holland
"Everless has such a lush fantasy world, and I just wanted to live in Sara’s beautiful writing. It’s full of twists and turns and characters who never cease to surprise you. And if that somehow fails to entice you, it’s Downton Abbey with one of the most twisted magic systems I’ve seen."
'Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix' Author Julie C. Dao Recommends 'A Blade So Black' by L.L. McKinney
"I loved L.L. McKinney's A Blade So Black, about a girl trained to fight monsters that haunt the dark realm of Wonderland. It's an ingenious YA reimagining of Alice in Wonderland. The writing is sharp and fresh, the action is nonstop, and Alice is tough, funny, and relatable. A must-read!"
'American Panda' Author Gloria Chao Recommends 'Picture Us In The Light' by Kelly Loy Gilbert
"Picture Us In The Light follows a Chinese-American, closeted gay teen whose life is rocked by his parents' secrets. With gorgeous writing, characters to root for, and a buried past to uncover, this book is a must-read for everyone. And for me personally, the relationship between the main character and his parents stirred up so many emotions from my own past —from a piece of my life I wasn't sure others understood. I finished the last page, closed the book, and burst into tears because of how raw and real the ending felt."
'Undead Girl Gang' Author Lily Anderson Recommends 'Home And Away' by Candice Montgomery
"As a writer, there are books that are so good that you're mad that you didn't write them and books that are so good that no one else could have written them. Home and Away is firmly the latter. No one but Candice Montgomery could weave a lyrical, real, and raw story about finding out your family (and, by extension, your racial identity) is built on a lie, while also diving in deep on femmes in football. And, oh yeah, also there's a killer love story."
'A Very Large Expanse Of Sea' Author Tahereh Mafi Recommends 'Wildcard' by Marie Lu
"My favorite YA book of 2018 was Wildcard by Marie Lu. I loved Warcross so much, and its sequel, Wildcard, blew me away. Marie’s books are not only compulsively readable, but full of heart and humanity — and Wildcard was no exception."
'Puddin' Author Julie Murphy Recommends 'The Summer Of Jordi Perez' by Amy Spalding
"2018 has been an INCREDIBLE year in the world of books. One of my favorites, though, is The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding. This book has everything I love: a fat protagonist I can root for, a queer rom-com that left me absolutely dizzy with delight, fashion so good I wish I could have it in my closet stat, and last but not least —cheeseburgers! This book is a dose of happy you won't regret!"
'Sawkill Girls' Author Claire LeGrand Recommends 'Damsel' by Elana K. Arnold
"I've long been a fan of Elana K. Arnold's writing, and her latest novel, Damsel, has cemented her place in my heart as a forever-favorite author. It's the story of a kingdom where, to become king, the prince must slay a dragon and save a damsel. And when our damsel, Ama, wakes up naked in the prince's arms with no memory of who she is and where she came from, she immediately has many questions — questions the prince discourages her from asking. What follows is a tense, brutal, and beautiful exploration of assault, abuse, and gaslighting. This book gutted me, shocked me, and ultimately left me feeling empowered and triumphant. The prose strikes the perfect balance of lyricism and clarity. The vivid imagery is specific and haunting. I can't say enough about how much I love this book. I've been talking about it at every literary event this year, and I'm going to keep talking about it until I get sick of talking about it, which will never happen. I. Love. This. Book."