Move over, young adult rock stars, because the
best YA books of March are really letting debut novelists shine. Keep these names on your lips because they're about to become stars: Tomy Adeyemi and her first book (you know, the one that stole your attention with its drop-dead gorgeous cover) ; Elizabeth Acevedo and Children of Blood and Bone , drawn from her own experiences as a slam poet; Emily X.R. Pan and her evocative magical realism debut The Poet X ; Jay Coles' Black Lives Matter-focused novel The Astonishing Color of After .. and I could go on and on. Tyler Johnson Was Here.
That's not to say veteran YA novelists aren't coming to play this month. Gayle Forman returns to young adult lit after her foray in adult fiction. Ava Dellaira follows up her hit debut novel
Love Letters to the Dead with a new story that, frankly, outshines her first. Leslye Walton is also following up her shining debut with a darker, magical story that's best read while the weather is still chilly and wet. Oh, and a dozen huge names in YA are joining forces for an anthology that centers on rebellious women in history.
We only have a few more weeks of winter, and these great YA books in March are going to make the wait for spring much more tolerable.
'Honor Code' by Kiersi Burkhart (March 1; Carolrhoda Books)
You're going to get angry at this book, but that's how you know Kiersi Burkhart is getting it right.
Honor Code exposes systemic rape culture at a fictional elite prep school that, tragically, feels far too much like nonfiction. Middle-class Sam wants to fit in at Edwards Academy with her wealthy classmates. She endures hazing, which the administration seems to tolerate, foreshadowing the school's complicity when a rich, privileged male student rapes Sam. The novel reveals the culture that fuels rape and then protects its perpetrators. Click here to buy. 'Children of Blood and Bone' by Tomi Adeyemi (March 6; Henry Holt Books for Young Readers)
Orïsha used to be buzzing with magic — until the night its ruthless king murdered all the maji and banned magic from the land. Zélie Adebola's mother was one of those maji. Now, descendants of those maji like Zélie are called divîners—marked by white hair—and live with latent magical powers under the control of King Saran's likeminded son. However, after a chance encounter with Princess Amari, who doesn't follow her father and brother's beliefs, Zélie learns of a way to bring magic back to Orïsha. It quickly becomes a race against time to save her people and her land. Debut author Tomi Adeyemi is already garnering huge buzz and praise for her fantasy series opener, and with good reason. You'll be desperate for its sequel. (Oh, and
get ready for its movie adaptation.) Click here to buy. 'The Poet X' by Elizabeth Acevedo (March 6; HarperTeen)
Renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo brings her own experiences with the art form to her poignant debut novel
The Poet X. Feeling lost and unheard under the roof of her conservative Dominican parents, Xiomara Batista hides her emotions and feelings behind a tough exterior. However, in her journal, with poetry, is where she can truly express herself. There, she can let out her thoughts about religion, her forbidden relationship with her lab partner Aman, the harassment she experiences from men and boys about her curvy body... everything. When she's asked to join the school's slam poetry club, it's everything she's always wanted, but she doesn't know if she can hide it from her disapproving mother. Click here to buy. 'The Beauty That Remains' by Ashley Woodfolk (March 6; Delacorte Press)
Music is universal. Tragically, so is death. A group of teenagers, linked by their connection to the local band Unraveling Lovely, threaten to be torn apart by three deaths that send them into their own experiences with grief.
is told in these three alternating perspectives: There's Shay, whose twin sister Sasha just lost her battle with leukemia; Autumn, who lost her best friend Tavia in a car accident, and who is overcome with guilt being with Tavia's brother Dante instead of her that night; and there's Logan who's ex-boyfriend left him for a girl before he took his own life. Unraveling Lovely was made up of Logan, Dante, and Sasha's boyfriend Ronan. And now, the survivors of these tragedies use this music to try to find the beauty and hope left in the world. The Beauty That Remains Click here to buy. 'The Place Between Breaths' by An Na (March 6; Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)
The Place Between Breaths is a difficult read, purposefully and beautifully. Sixteen-year-old Grace suffers from schizophrenia, just like her mother, and the lyrical novel is purposeful in its disjointed, non-linear, and sometimes disorienting style. It intends to mimic how Grace thinks and sees the world, and the result is painfully visceral. Click here to buy. 'Blood Water Paint' by Joy McCullough (March 6; Dutton Books for Young Readers)
Sixteenth century painter and feminist Artemisia Gentileschi gets her overdue time in the spotlight in Joy McCullough's debut novel in verse. In Rome in 1610, male artists stole whatever they wanted from women. And so teenage Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the most talented painters of the era, who often depicted the suffering women of the Bible, was a virtual unknown. She finally feels validated in her skill by her male teacher Tassi, until he rapes her. However, unlike the fate of so many women (in the era and still today), Artemisia speaks up and takes Tassi to trial, where she is subjected to sexual torture again to prove her account of rape. McCullough's story doesn't dwell on the horrific details; rather, she paints the story of Artemisia as a whole, a story of a passionate and fierce woman fighting for her place in the world and history.
Click here to buy. 'In Search Of Us' by Ava Dellaira (March 6; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Get the tissues ready for this dual love story told across multiple generations. Both mixed-race teenager Angie and her white mother Marilyn tell their interconnected love stories — Marilyn's about her relationship with Angie's African-American father James she has never met (and who she believes is dead), and Angie's told in real time as she journeys with her ex-boyfriend Sam to find the truth about her dad. The way the two stories collide is heartbreaking, but it tragically feels so inevitable as it touches on issues of racism, bigotry, privilege, and the separations that still exist in our country.
Click here to buy. 'The Midnights' by Sarah Nicole Smetana (March 6; HarperTeen)
Susannah Hayes's father is an aging rock star, so tied to his past glory years that he has trouble bonding with his daughter in the present, despite how much Susannah tries to impress him with her own musical skills. When her father dies unexpectedly, her Susannah and her mother pick up and move to a new town where Susannah has a chance to reinvent herself, to be a rock star in her own right. However, soon family secrets are uncovered, and it upends the difficult process of grieving and moving forward. Sarah Nicole Smetana's gorgeous debut is a thoughtful coming-of-age story centering on family.
Click here to buy. 'The Radical Element' edited by Jessica Spotswood (March 13; Candlewick Press)
Editor Jessica Spotswood brings back an all-star lineup of young adult authors to a second edition in the A Tyranny of Petticoats anthology series. Anna-Marie McLemore, Meg Medina, Dahlia Adler, Dhonielle Clayton, Sarvenaz Tash, Sara Farizan, Marieke Nijkamp, Erin Bowman, Stacey Lee, and Mackenzi Lee each tell a story of young female resistance and revolution in history. It's super timely and empowering, this is one you'll want to carry around in your tote bag.
Click here to buy. 'The Price Guide to the Occult' by Leslye Walton (March 13; Candlewick)
Centuries ago, witch Rona Blackburn unintentionally cursed her bloodline. Now, the Blackburn women are tied to Roma's home, a fictional Anathema Island in the Pacific Northwest, they have diminished magical powers, and they're essentially doomed to heartbreak. Today, Nor Blackburn doesn't worry about the curse as much as she is afraid of the abuse at the hands of her cruel but charismatic mother, Fern, which has lead Nor to self-harm. Soon, Fern causes even more trouble by bringing dark magic to the island and Nor has to fight back against the brewing storm and her own mother. Like in
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton's story is lyrical and atmospheric, and you'll find yourself getting lost on Anathema Island. Click here to buy. 'Twelve Steps to Normal' by Farrah Penn (March 13; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Alcoholism has a way of shattering the world around so you that it can never get put back together the same exact way. Teenage Kira has learned that from her father's several rehab stints and attempts to quit drinking. This time, while her father was in rehab, she was sent away to live with her aunt in another state. So, now that he's home and she's back living under his roof, she also has to "reenter society." Her boyfriend has moved on to a friend and she let herself fall out of touch with her friend group while her dad was away. So, Kira puts together her own 12-Step program to put her life back together, just like her father has been going through.
shows the reverberations one person's addiction can cause in the world around them, and because Farrah Penn uses her own life experiences to tell the tale, it's told with empathy and acute understanding. Twelve Steps to Normal Click here to buy. 'The Astonishing Color of After' by Emily X.R. Pan (March 20; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
After her mother dies by suicide, Leigh Chen Sanders believes she has come back to her in the form of a red bird and wants her to visit Leigh's grandparents in Taiwan. So she leaves her distant father and goes to learn more about her mother and her heritage. The story truly comes alive in the Taiwan setting, and we learn more about Leigh feeling out of place as half-Asian in her very white school, about her family history and memories, about her mother and mental health, and even about Leigh's best friend Axel, who she kissed the same day her mother died. Weaving in magical realism, the story is evocative and beautiful as it explores hope in the face of grief.
Click here to buy. 'Tyler Johnson Was Here' by Jay Coles (March 20; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
(um, everyone?) need to read Jay Coles' debut novel The Hate U Give Tyler Johnson Was Here. It's an unflinching look at police brutality and systemic racism in America, but it's also a beautiful story about brothers and grieving. Marvin's twin brother Tyler is shot and killed by police at a party, and a video of the horrific event is going viral. Still, Marvin doesn't want the hate and the persecution and the tragedy around him to make him hard or cold. Instead he finds the drive and the empowerment to try to work for change. Click here to buy. 'And She Was' by Jessica Verdi (March 27; Scholastic)
After uncovering her birth certificate, teenage Dara learns that everything she thought she knew about her family and single mother Mellie was untrue. The listed name under "father" is Mellie's name before her transition, after Dara's birth mother died when she was a baby. Dara is stunned and hurt by the revelation not just that her mother is transgender, but that so much has been hidden from her her whole life. So Dara and her BFF Sam head out on a road trip to meet her birth mother's family that she never knew. While Dara is the voice of the novel, we get to become intimately familiar with Mellie, too, through her series of letters to her daughter. The result is a beautiful story about family and identity that feels so necessary today.
Click here to buy. 'I Have Lost My Way' by Gayle Forman (March 27; Penguin Teen)
The Titan of YA is back with a novel about friendship that pulls at your heartstrings in true Gayle Forman fashion. Three teenagers, each suffering in their own way, are pulled together by an accident in Central Park. Freya has just lost her voice while recording her debut album; Harun just got dumped by his boyfriend, the boyfriend he can't tell his Muslim family about; and Nathaniel just arrived in New York alone with just his backpack to his name. As usual, Forman deftly meditates on friendship, the human connection, family, and love in this true-to-form tearjerker.
Click here to buy.