Just when the winter starts to feel never-ending, young adult authors are here to help ease all your ailments. The list of best YA novels of February is stacked with diverse stories guaranteed to capture your attention and help make those long cold days seem a little less painful.
YA novels this month get very real, whether taking inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement, historical tragedies, mental illness, LGBTQ young love, or even finding the humanity in space operas, parallel universes, and time-traveling adventures.
In a time when the world could use a little more empathy and understanding, these writers are showing us how it's done. They're showing us often underrepresented voices (or are often-quieted voices themselves), telling us stories we may have never heard before, and introducing us to powerful characters we won't soon forget.
Oh, and that doesn't mean these stories are without fun and humor, because many of them certainly are. You'll definitely want to tag along for the whirlwind ride.
So get out and get active and participate in making our communities better places, but also take some personal time to yourself, grab a cup of tea or hot chocolate, and delve into one of these thoughtful and page-turning stories.
1 'Empress of a Thousand Skies' by Rhoda Belleza (Feb. 7; Razorbill)
Comparing Rhoda Belleza's comprehensive and complex space opera to Star Wars in a little reductive, but my goodness if it doesn't give you the same excitement, thrills, twists, and rocking girl power of the more recent additions to the franchise. Rhee is a displaced princess, living on a planet far from her kingdom after her entire family is killed. She thinks she knows who has done it, and she is hellbent on returning home, taking her rightful place, and exacting revenge. However, she narrowly escapes a murder attempt on her own life, and is now thought dead. Caught up in this drama is Aly, a famous space pilot on a reality show, who is now being charged with Rhee's murder for reasons you'll definitely have to read to find out. It's so fun, but most impressive is Belleza's encyclopedic background and history of this universe that's built on racial tension, fear-mongering, and deception. You'll lose yourself in it.
2 'At the Edge of the Universe' by Shaun David Hutchinson (Feb. 7; Simon Pulse)
Shaun David Hutchinson's unique novels have already made an indelible mark on YA literature, so it's thrilling to see another of his novels hit shelves. Like in We Are the Ants, Hutchinson takes a coming-of-age story and delves it into an existential meditation that will have you thinking long after it's done. Tommy and Ozzie have been dating since the eighth grade, so when all evidence of Tommy existing at all is gone, Ozzie becomes the only one that even remembers his friend and boyfriend. This sends Ozzie on a journey that makes him wonder if the whole universe is shrinking. Now, paired up with his physics partner Calvin, and he begins to wonder if Calvin knows more than he's saying, and his growing attraction to Calvin pushes Tommy's memory even further away.
3 'King's Cage' by Victoria Aveyard (Feb. 7; HarperTeen)
No introduction is needed for Victoria Aveyard's blockbuster hit Red Queen series. The third installment King's Cage definitely will not disappoint. (Stop now if you haven't read the first two books, because mild spoilers of those ahead!) Now, at the start of King's Cage, the Silver Blood-powered Red Blood Mare is captured and held by the king Maven, her former ally and love that betrayed her. So now it's up to Mare's group of newbloods and Reds, including the exiled king Cal, to continue the revolution and save Mare.
4 'American Street' by Ibi Zoboi (Feb. 14; Balzer + Bray)
American Street is beautifully necessary and so incredibly timely. Fabiola was born in the U.S., but she now lives in her mother's homeland of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The two plan to immigrate to the west side of Detroit together, but when her mother is detained by immigration, Fabiola has to go at it alone. She moves in with her loud American cousins while she tries to maintain some of her Haitian and Creole culture, navigate this completely new and different place, and still cope with all the ordinary things teenagers have to, like finding a new romance.
5 'We Are Okay' by Nina LaCour (Feb. 14; Dutton Books for Young Readers)
College freshman Marin is facing a long, icy winter break alone in the New York dorms, after all her classmates return home. The only thing she sees in her future during this break is a visit from her best friend Mabel from her home in San Francisco. Though flashbacks, we find out that Marin left home after the death of her beloved grandfather, without telling anyone or taking barely anything with her. Now, alone, Marin has to face the tragedy and grief in her past, and Nina LaCour treats her emotions so beautifully and with such empathy. Of course, we'd expect nothing less from the stunning LaCour.
6 'Piecing Me Together' by Renee Watson (Feb. 14; Bloomsbury)
Like Renee Watson's last novel This Side of Home, Piecing Me Together meditates (but never preaches) on super timely issues plaguing our country. Collage artist Jade was born in a poor neighborhood, and she feels like she has to escape her hometown to succeed. But she continues to face this embedded racism everywhere she turns. She accepts a scholarship to a basically all-white private school and is given an invitation to a mentorship program Women to Women aimed at "at-risk" young women, which turns out to only identify "at-risk" as "poor and black." Racial profiling, deeply imbued racism and stereotypes, privilege, and intersectional feminism are all tackled in this story with grace, and it will linger with you.
7 'Long May She Reign' by Rhiannon Thomas (Feb. 21; HarperTeen)
In a "designated survivor"-like situation, Freya is the only survivor of an attack on a royal banquet that poisoned the king and everyone close to him. Now, formerly 23rd in line to the throne, Freya is in power, but she's taking the throne when her kingdom is in disarray: still, no one knows who was behind the poisoning and people think Freya's rule is illegitimate. Now, to gain respect and bring her world under control, Freya sets out to find the murderer. This standalone fantasy novel meshes with a page-turning murder mystery whodunit with a badass heroine at the helm.
8 'Dreamland Burning' by Jennifer Latham (Feb. 21; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Two teenagers, nearly an entire century apart, come face to face with the 1921 Tulsa race riots in a moving and raw story that switches back and forth from present day to back in history. When biracial teenager Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her property in Tulsa, she becomes connected to Will Tillman, another biracial teenager living in Tulsa in the 1920s when white Americans looted and burned a prominent black community, killing at least 300 people. Though the story touches on a compelling murder mystery, it's much more about the history of race relations (especially regarding an event that is rarely taught in classrooms) and the historical demons that still plague and divide our country today.
9 'Beautiful Broken Girls' by Kim Savage (Feb. 21; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Beautiful Broken Girls combines a bit of The Virgin Suicides with Thirteen Reasons Why in a haunting story about two sisters who commit suicide together and leave behind letters for a boy one of them used to date. Overprotected sisters Mira and Francesca Cillo's bodies are found together at the bottom of a quarry. A week later, Ben Lattanzi receives his first letter from Mira. Mira wants him to visit the seven places he's touched her — her palm, hair, chest, cheek, lips, throat, and heart — but more he's lead on a journey telling her, her sister, and their late cousin Connie's stories leading up to their deaths. There's a slow burn to a reveal that will stick with you.
10 'The Education of Margot Sanchez' by Lilliam Rivera (Feb. 21; Simon & Schuster)
The classic movie Pretty in Pink gets transported to the South Bronx in Lilliam Rivera's emotional and romantic YA novel. Teenager Margot is the "great brown hope" of her family, attending Somerset Prep, a mostly white prep school, and basically destined for academic and career success. However, she's tossed from her whitewashed life back into her Puerto Rican community after stealing her father's credit card for a shopping spree and forced to stock shelves at the family-owned grocery store for the summer, rather than spend it in the Hamptons with her friends. Now Margot is faced with an identity crisis, sexist attitudes, differing cultures, and growing attractions to boys from both of her two "worlds."
11 'Optimists Die First' by Susin Nielsen (Feb. 21; Wendy Lamb Books)
First things first: Susin Nielsen slays with this title, so it should already have your attention. Second, the story is simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and raw and tragic, allowing for it to feel totally human. Teenager Petula de Wilde has shut herself off after blaming herself for the death of her younger sister, Maxine. Now, she finds danger and anxieties everywhere. But in her youth art therapy program, she meets Jacob, who has suffered his own tragedies, and they team up for projects, teaching each other along the way to open up and experience life again.
12 'A Conjuring of Light' by V.E. Schwab (Feb. 21; Tor Books)
You can't miss the conclusion of V.E. Schwab's Shades of Magic series. The imaginative story picks up as the four different, parallel universe Londons are in battle with each other. No spoilers here, so you officially have less than a month to read the first two books and get to A Conjuring of Light so you can get into the rabid discussion of one of the most inventive fantasy trilogies out there.
13 'The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas (Feb. 28; Balzer + Bray)
The Hate U Give is a cannot-skip novel that's insanely relevant, though we all wish it weren't as real-life a story. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas tells the story of 16-year-old black student Starr who is the only eye witness to the fatal police shooting of her unarmed friend, Khalil. The officer is white. Starr, up until this point, has walked the edge between her mostly black community and her mostly white private school life, but now that the shooting is national news, she finds herself having decided how to speak up, especially as some of her school friends legitimize Khalil's death. This story is crucial, and we need more like it.
14 'The Ship Beyond Time' by Heidi Heilig (Feb. 28; Greenwillow Books)
Heidi Heilig's time-traveling adventure The Girl from Everywhere finally gets the sequel (and conclusion) we've been dying for. Now, Nix has taken the helm of the ship from her father, and she finds some devastating news in her future: She is destined to lose Kash, her best friend and the one she loves the most. Nix sets off on an adventure to try to manipulate time and change their fate. The stakes are even higher than before, and I'd be willing to predict there are some late nights up reading in your future.
15 '10 Things I Can See from Here' by Carrie Mac (Feb. 28; Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Falling in love is hard. Falling in love when you're coping with a crippling anxiety is even harder. Maeve is already always worried that things will fall apart, so when her Lorelai-and-Rory-style-close mother leaves for six months and she's sent to live with her father in Vancouver, she starts to think her worst fears are coming true. But then Maeve meets local girl Salix, whose carefree attitude is inspiring, and Maeve starts to fall for her. There is romance, humor, empathy, and so much more in Carrie Mac's heartwarming story.