YA Romance

THE LAST LEGACY by Adrienne Young

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When Bryn Roth turned eighteen, she was summoned back to the country of her birth to take her place in her powerful family. But she soon learns that her uncle’s methods of securing and maintaining their power are illegal, underhanded, and sometimes even violent. The first time she one of her uncle’s schemes deliberately puts her in danger, she realizes that she will need to find a way to make herself valuable to the family to avoid being used again.

Unfortunately, her uncle has other ideas of how she can be of use to him in his bid for a coveted merchant’s guild ring. And his plans keep bringing her into conflict with Ezra, the surly and infuriating silversmith that Bryn finds herself unwittingly drawn toward. As her uncle plots to sell her to an influential merchant in marriage, Bryn desperately tries to distance herself from the dangerous family politics by immersing herself in her late mother’s legitimate business. But when lies and betrayals come to light, Bryn learns that if she is to have any hope of a future independent from her uncle, she will have to embrace all the aspects of being a Roth.

Young returns to the cutthroat world of the FABLE duology for a story of political intrigue and forbidden love. Fans of FABLE and SKY IN THE DEEP may be surprised at the almost courtly start to this novel, as the well-bred, gown-wearing young woman arrives to take her place in her powerful family. But the story quickly gets underway with all of the grounded world-building and visceral story experience you can expect from Adrienne Young. The plot kept me guessing, the characters surprised me, and the romance threw me off-balance in the best possible way. This was one of my favorite books of the year. Highly recommend!

THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE US by Eliot Schrefer

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Ambrose can’t remember the launch. He knows he’s on a spaceship bound for Saturn’s moon Titan, tasked with rescuing his sister, Titan’s only colonist. But he can’t remember the launch.

And he certainly doesn’t know why he was in a coma.

The ship’s OS assures him that he will recover and have plenty of time to finish all of the necessary maintenance on the ship to prepare for their approach to Titan–especially since the ship has a second spacefarer. Another surprise. When he meets Kodiak, the surly and infuriatingly attractive spacefarer from DimokratĂ­a, Earth’s most backward, sexist, and homophobic country, Ambrose suspects he would be better off alone. But that’s before Ambrose discovers blood smeared on a panel in the engine room, blood that OS claims to know nothing about but which Kodiak is able to date to 5,000 years in the past–a time before the ship could have possibly existed. As they work to unravel the mystery, trying to somehow hide from OS’s constant surveillance, Kodiak and Ambrose quickly realize they will have to put mistrust and national rivalries aside if they want to survive.

THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE US is both 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY-esque sci-fi and YA queer romantic suspense. If you thought you only liked one of these genres, think again. This book will change your mind. It is both true to the classic tropes of each genre and somehow fresh and inventive in their application. It has humor and heart, gnarly moral situations and thrilling action, devastation and hope. This summer has seen a wealth of exceptional YA releases, but this one really stood out to me. It will be tricky to use in book clubs because there is sex, but I will definitely be recommending and displaying it. If you are a fan of either YA sci-fi or romantic suspense, this novel is a must-read!

The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer

Featured Booklist: Book Club Titles for Kids and Teens

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The school year is underway, and whether you’re a teacher or librarian running a book club or a parent stockpiling good reading material for those inevitable Covid-exposure quarantines, I have a book list for you!

This list includes titles for upper elementary schoolers, middle schoolers, and high schoolers. All of the books were released within the last year, and they have a blend of unputdownable storytelling and though-provoking thematic content. As always, you will need to evaluate the individual titles to be sure they fit within the specific parameters and needs of your students/children, but think of this list as your launchpad.

I will continue to curate this list throughout the year, but titles include:

FAST PITCH by Nic Stone, a middle grade sports story about a girl combatting racial injustice while vying for a softball championship.

NIGHTINGALE by Deva Fagan, a middle-grade fantasy about an orphan thief, a reluctant prince, a magic sword, and worker’s rights in a racially diverse, Victorian-London-esque fantasy world.

GENERATION MISFITS by Akemi Dawn Bowman, a middle grade contemporary novel about four social outcasts and one popular girl who find friendship and the courage to express themselves through their mutual love of J-Pop.

ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE by Sabina Khan, a YA contemporary novel about a Pakistani Muslim immigrant wrestling questions of home, identity, and belonging after a bigot targets her family with hateful vandalism.

VIOLET GHOSTS by Leah Thomas, a YA historical fantasy about a transgender boy in the ’90s coming to terms with his identity as he helps restless ghosts find justice and a safe haven in the afterlife.

THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE US by Eliot Schrefer, a YA sci-fi about two young men from rival countries on a mission to rescue a fellow spacefarer aboard a ship that may or may not be trying to kill them.

Check out the full list on Bookshop.org. (Don’t worry if you’re not looking to buy; just see what titles look good to you, then find them at your local or school library!)

THE MARVELOUS MIRZA GIRLS by Sheba Karim

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Noreen’s high school graduation isn’t exactly how she pictured it. I mean, in some ways it was exactly what she’d imagined–parents getting teary-eyed over cliche speeches about achieving your dreams, as if achieving dreams were actually plausible. More of her classmates would be hit by buses than win a Nobel Prize. Most of life is out of their control. Case in point: Noreen’s aunt should be here, but instead she’s in her grave.

When Noreen’s mother is offered an year-long work opportunity in India, Noreen thinks that maybe this is what they need to start processing their grief and for her to sort out her life and get past her writer’s block. After all, that’s what white people do, right? Go to India to find themselves? But the first person she finds in India is Kabir, a boy who’s off the hotness index and immediately becomes a friend (and dare she hope something more?). But when Kabir’s father is MeTooed, Noreen is forced to examine her beliefs about love, loyalty, and family as she realizes that finding “herself” depends a lot on finding her place in relationships with those she cares about.

How refreshing to find an exploration of grief and complex moral issues in the form of a laugh-out-loud rom com! Noreen’s voice is a delight to read and the heavier themes are woven through the narrative poetically in a way that never dragged me down and kept me thinking long after the book ended. Highly recommend to fans of YA contemporary fiction!

Amazon.com: The Marvelous Mirza Girls (9780062845481): Karim, Sheba: Books

LIKE A LOVE SONG by Gabriela Martins

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

It took Natalie years of hard work to win Female Artist of the Year at the People’s Choice Awards. Not just work on her songs, all of which she writes herself, but work on her image. You don’t get the privilege of making art in LA without first cultivating your fame. Natalie hates all of it–from straightening her hair to eliminating every trace of her Brazilian accent–but she understands that it’s necessary.

Unfortunately, Natalie’s People’s Choice experience goes wrong almost immediately. First, an obscure British actor tries to make small talk and ends up implying that Natalie is a shallow diva. Then (and much more disastrously) her boyfriend dumps her–in front of the paparazzi. In the viral Internet firestorm that follows, Natalie realizes there’s only one way to fix this PR nightmare: she needs to distract the press with a new boyfriend. Her PR team draws up the paperwork for a contractual fake-boyfriend–a media stunt to help both their careers. But the sap they choose is the same British actor who insulted her at the People’s Choice Awards. As Natalie and William get to know each other, the initial awkwardness of their arrangement falls away, and Natalie finds herself feeling something more than annoyance toward him. Maybe even something more than friendship. And even more disturbing than the realization that this fake relationship might result in very real heartache, is the realization that William might be right to criticize her PR-focused choices. Is it possible there is another way–a better way–for Natalie to get her songs heard?

The jacket summary of this novel did not prepare me for how grounded, principled, relatable, and frankly inspiring this teen pop star would be. I picked it up thinking I’d just be reading it in order to recommend it to the teens I work with, but I couldn’t put it down because I was personally enthralled by the characters and their love story. Though it is very much within the YA sphere, LIKE A LOVE SONG has crossover appeal for the New Adult audience. I highly recommend this one to fans of RomComs, especially with the fake-dating trope!

Like a Love Song by Gabriela Martins

SUNNY SONG WILL NEVER BE FAMOUS by Suzanne Park

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Sunny doesn’t get why all the adults in her life are so hung up on get social media accounts. After all, it was her mom who got her into posting videos in the first place, after turning toddler-Sunny into a viral, Gangnam Style-singing sensation. And Sunny has enough followers of her own now that she’s been able to monetize her sites and earn some money for college (and, okay, vintage clothes).

But when Sunny takes her top off, not realizing she’s still live-casting a cooking video (#brownieporn), she finds herself shipped off to “digital detox” camp in Iowa. On a farm in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by other so-called social media addicts who are as reluctant to be there as she is, Sunny is desperate to get back online. But when she starts connecting with the cutest boy in camp, she starts to wonder if maybe there is something to be said for being social without the media.

A cute, light rom-com featuring a Korean American protagonist, SUNNY SONG WILL NEVER BE FAMOUS invites readers to think about the “why” behind their social media usage. Are we online for the fame or attention of follows and views? Or are we there for the connections and relationships we can form? I’d recommend this one to YA contemporary readers, especially those looking for a fun beach-read type book.

Amazon.com: Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous (0760789293962): Park, Suzanne:  Books

AN EMOTION OF GREAT DELIGHT by Tahereh Mafi

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In just a year, Shadi’s life has been upended. Since her brother died, her mother has unraveled. Her father is in the hospital, likely to die, and Shadi can’t even pretend to be sad about it. Her sister only speaks to her to pick a fight. Her best friend hates her. And worst of all, her country has gone to war with Iraq, and though her family doesn’t come from Iraq, because Shadi wears hijab, her entire community seems to blame her for the tragedies and consequences of 9/11. As Shadi shuffles through her life, trying to keep her head down and to keep her grief at bay, her ex-best friend’s brother suddenly reappears in her life, and her delicate balance collapses. She will finally have to confront the traumas in her life and process the heartbreak that preceded it all.

A story of love, family, heartbreak, and forgiveness, this recent-historical novel will appeal to readers of YA contemporary fiction and difficult, gut-wrenching romances. The poetic prose elevates what would already have been a beautiful narrative into something truly exquisite. I highly recommend it to YA readers and book clubs.

RADHA AND JAI’S RECIPE FOR ROMANCE by Nisha Sharma

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Radha was one dance away from winning the international kathak dance championship when her world turned upside down. Her mother was having an affair with one of the judges. Not only did that call all of Radha’s dance achievements into question, but it meant that her family was breaking up. Life as she knew it was over.

After a difficult semester dealing with her parents divorce, Radha and her mother move from Chicago to New Jersey. Radha’s mother agrees to pay for her college tuition next year, under one condition: that Radha enroll and complete all of the requirements for a dance track at a prestigious performing arts high school. Radha agrees, but secretly plans to find a way out of the performance requirement. She lost all her dance joy last winter when everything fell apart. But Radha didn’t count on meeting Jai, a skilled Bollywood dancer with a heap of his own family drama. As Radha and Jai’s friendship deepens, they each realize that the decisions they each thought were best for themselves and their families might put their relationship in jeopardy. Can they overcome the obstacles to connect with their inner joy–and each other?

A sweet, fun romance with a healthy dose of drama and heart. Relationships are key as Radha learns to relate to both of her parents individually while Jai learns to accept his family’s support and let go of his need to take care of everyone around him whether they want it or not. A great pick for fans of contemporary YA romance.

Amazon.com: Radha & Jai's Recipe for Romance (9780553523294): Sharma,  Nisha: Books

FAKING REALITY by Sara Fujimura

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Dakota knew it would be a horrible idea to tell Leo she was in love with him. So then why did she do it? And in the walk-in fridge of his family’s Japanese restaurant–could she get any more ridiculous? Fortunately, the cameras that usually follow her family around for their HGTV reality show aren’t allowed in the Matsuda’s restaurant. The last thing she needs is another public humiliation like last year’s Homecoming.

But Leo’s rejection is just the start of Dakota’s problems. The reality show is in its last season, and the producer wants to give America’s DIY Princess a televised Sweet Sixteen bash. The catch: she’ll need to audition actors to play her date. Could this be the opportunity Dakota needs to get over Leo before their summer trip to Japan? Or will it be yet another humiliating disaster?

I loved the voice and cast of this adorable YA romance. Dakota is a quarter Japanese and Fujimura incorporates Japanese culture and language seamlessly throughout the narrative. I also appreciated the “reality diva” twist: that Dakota stars in an HGTV show where she gets to renovate houses and other building projects. You don’t expect a “TV princess” to show up in steel-toed work boots, and it is awesome. The gradual build of the romance was actually less engaging for me than Dakota’s personal growth, wrestling with issues of privacy and agency and the pros/cons of being a ratings success. Highly recommend to fans of fun, hopeful, but thought-provoking YA contemporary fiction!

Faking Reality (9781250204103): Fujimura, Sara: Books - Amazon.com

THE BOY WHO LIVED IN THE CEILING by Cara Thurlbourn

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Freddie never intended to stay at the Johnson’s house. He snuck in while they were on vacation, just intending to shower and get warm for one night before going on his way. He even put his last two pound coin in their savings jar to pay for the water he used. But when the family comes home early, Freddie panics and hides in the attic. Days turn into months and as Freddie gets increasingly invested in the lives of the family below him–especially the teenage daughter, Violet–he begins to influence their lives in positive ways.

This story about friendship and belonging was a pleasant, light read. The suspense over whether (or rather when) Freddie would be discovered and questions about his past and the family’s secrets added enough intrigue to keep me turning pages. The book did fall short for me in voice and intensity. At the start, the voice felt young (I actually wondered for a few chapters if it was middle grade) and although Freddie experiences panic attacks, I didn’t believe them–didn’t feel them through the writing. For this reason, when the truth about his past was revealed, it came as a shock and didn’t seem grounded in the emotions of the first 80% of the novel. Despite these shortcomings, I’d recommend it to readers looking for a sweet friendship story.

The Boy Who Lived In The Ceiling: Thurlbourn, Cara: 9781079135008:  Amazon.com: Books