YA Romance

HOW TO DATE A SUPERHERO (AND NOT DIE TRYING) by Cristina Fernandez

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In a world of superheroes, Astrid Rose has the most boring superpower: an extreme ability to schedule every last second of her time. Technically it’s not a real superpower, like the ones of the figures in capes and spandex who fly around New York either saving or terrorizing the citizens, depending on their moral persuasion, but as a premed Cornell student, it is a very useful ability When she learns that Max, the guy she’s been dating, who she’s known since their freshman year of high school, is the legendary Kid Comet, however, her perfectly planned sophomore year suddenly shatters.

After a nasty run-in with Kid Comet’s nemesis, Astrid gets inducted into a special program for significant others of superheroes, a “prevenge” course designed to prevent the need for the superhero to seek revenge for their loved one’s senseless murder by teaching the significant other survival skills. Astrid doesn’t have time for this program, especially once someone starts sabotaging her lab samples and threatening her internship and her grades. Meanwhile, Max keeps blowing off their dates for admittedly important reasons (like saving lives), and even as she grows to love him more deeply, she grows to wonder whether she’s cut out for this relationship. When a supervillain starts stealing samples from Astrid’s lab, she and Max will both be swept up in a dangerous plot, and Astrid will have to decide what she’s willing to sacrifice: her time? her love? her career? Or maybe even her life…

Set on a college campus, this book exists in that “New Adult” space that has great appeal for both teen young adults and adult young adults (as well of some of us who are even older than that!). The narrative voice hooked me immediately (third person present tense with a tongue-in-cheek vibe that kept reminding me of Slaughterhouse Five, although the subject matter is very different). In the tradition of most great Sci-Fi, Fernandez uses her hard Sci-Fi world as a lens to explore real world issues, in this case, the uncertainty of love and commitment, the fragility of human existence, and how to stop existing and truly live in a dangerous and frightening world. I am head-over-heels for this book, and if you love both Sci-Fi and Rom Coms, you will be too!

THE COMEDIENNE’S GUIDE TO PRIDE by Hayli Thomson

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

Aspiring comedian and daughter of one of Salem Massachusetts’ many witch-themed inn caretakers, Taylor Parker may have just outed herself. When she sent her Salem Witch-themed comedy sketch to SNL’s “diverse writers” internship, she never expected to make it to the finals. If by some miracle she wins, her name will be announced and everyone will find out exactly what makes her so “diverse.”

Taylor honestly isn’t sure how the people closest to her will react to the news that she’s a lesbian. After all, her mom’s best friend, Jenn, is basically Taylor’s gay idol, and Taylor’s friends in the theater department aren’t exactly homophobic. But things get complicated when Jenn returns to Salem pregnant–and in a relationship with with the Impregnator–shaking Taylors respect for her. And then the thing that seems even less likely than winning an SNL internship happens: Charlotte Grey, high school acting goddess, the most beautiful girl in the universe, the girl that Taylor has been in love with since forever (and the most hated person in the drama department) seems to be interested in dating her. Taylor’s stress is mounting. She can’t confide in Jenn until she comes to terms with her being bi. She can’t tell anyone about the SNL internship possibility until she tells them she’s gay. She can’t openly date Charlotte without alienating her friends (and telling everyone she’s gay). But as hard as opening up might be, if she doesn’t start being honest, she might be squashing her chance for the life she’s always dreamed of.

Complex character relationships shine in this YA “coming-out” Rom Com. While worrying about how those close to her will react to her lesbianism, Taylor must grapple with her own biphobia and the ways it has tainted her relationship with a bi mentor. Not only Taylor’s choices, but the choices of her mother and her best friend contain layers of good intentions, flawed assumptions, and subconscious selfishness. There are no villains here, only humans doing their best to love and support one another. If you’re looking for a nuanced Rom Com or a coming out narrative with a unique backdrop, this is a book you’ll want to pick up.

A DISASTER IN THREE ACTS by Kelsey Rodkey

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Saine Sinclair has one shot to make it into her dream college program, an elite track for documentary filmmakers at Temple University, by filming a 40-minute documentary on a local Virtual Reality competition. Unfortunately, the lovelorn millennial who’d agreed to be her subject drops out last minute, and Saine has to pin all her college hopes on another competitor, one who let her down spectacularly during a disastrous game of spin the bottle six years ago that ended their once-close friendship: Holden Michaels.

Privileged Holden isn’t the ideal subject for a heart-wrenching documentary, and his personal history with Saine will definitely make things awkward. Her feelings of embarrassment and resentment crystalized into something closer to hate last year when he dated, and was dumped by, her new best friend, Corinne. Hoping that Corinne won’t freak out about it, Saine agrees to a professional truce with Holden to help each other on senior projects. But as Saine gets reacquainted with Holden and the changes to his life, she realizes he’s not the vapid documentary subject she feared–great news for her admissions project, but terrible news for heart. Because as hard as she works to tease real life into a compelling story for her films, being honest about her own personal drama could cost her Corinne’s friendship and the friendship of the boy she’s might not hate after all.

I’m head-over-heels for this book. Saine’s voice surprised laughs out of me on every page, I swooned for Holden, and I adored that the captain of the cheerleading squad BFF Corinne was a good person trying to be a good friend. Therapy-positive conversations support the story’s more emotionally poignant moments. A great read for fans of contemporary rom-coms with great banter and some deeper themes!

THE ONE TRUE ME AND YOU by Remi K. England

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Unlike her arch-nemesis, the vindictive and supremely self-absorbed Miss North Carolina, Teagan “Miss Virginia” Miller is not disgusted when she learns that the Miss Cosmic Teen USA Pageant will be sharing a hotel with a Sherlock Holmes fandom convention. She’s more petrified. It has taken a lot of work to keep her nerdiness–and her gayness–under wraps to placate the pageant bigots and give herself a real shot at winning that scholarship money. How is she supposed to maintain the illusion with hundreds of hot girls milling around, cosplaying as John Watson?

All hope of keeping her focus evaporates when she meets one of her favorite fanfic writers, Kay. While Teagan has been hoping to keep her queer identity secret for the weekend, Kay is doing the opposite, using the convention as a chance to escape her small town’s prejudices, experiment with using they/their pronouns, and (hopefully) kiss a girl for the first time. Unfortunately, the biggest bully from Kay’s hometown happens to be Miss North Carolina. It would be better for both Kay and Teagan if they avoided one another, just stuck to their own corners of the hotel, and not give Miss North Carolina a chance to destroy them. But love doesn’t always listen to logic, and once they share their authentic selves with one another, will they really be able to go back to keeping those identities hidden?

From the first page, I knew this book would be soaring to the top of my recommended YA RomComs list! The protagonists immediately hook readers with the authentic, heartfelt, and hilarious voices that England so excels at capturing–in their speculative works as well as this new contemporary novel. Through the escapist environment of a fandom convention, England provides a space for their characters to explore their identities, a common experience for all teens at Cons but especially powerful for queer teens who are infrequently surrounded by such an inclusive and accepting crowd. Yet this book is more than just the story of queer teens finding love and acceptance. England does not shy away from the thornier questions of identity and the blind spots and prejudices that their protagonists have toward one another and themselves. This is a book for the teen who isn’t sure whether it’s safe to come out in their community; the teen who isn’t sure whether they’re queer; the teen who isn’t sure what pronouns fit them best–and how on earth to communicate that to others. And this is a book for all readers, queer or straight, enby or cis, who are ready to laugh, fall in love with two incredible people, and be inspired to work a little harder on their own prejudices and accepting the people in their lives. I highly recommend this to all YA Contemporary readers. Though it is targeted at a high school audience, it will be accessible to mature middle schoolers as well.

THE GIRL WHO FELL BENEATH THE SEA by Axie Oh

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Mina didn’t plan to dive into the sea. She had just hoped to reach her older brother on the boat before he did something deadly–like try to save his beloved from the Sea God. For the past hundred years it has been the fate of the most beautiful girl in the country to be thrown into the sea in hopes that she may be the Sea God’s true bride, the only one who can break his cursed sleep and bring an end to the violent storms and wars that ravage the land. But when Mina sees her brother in the prow of the boat facing down the Sea God’s dragon to save the girl he loves, Mina takes fate into her own hands, and dives into the sea in her place.

In the world of spirits, nothing is as Mina expected. As soon as she arrives, three young men slice through the Red String of Fate that ties her to the Sea God–supposedly for his protection–and the leader, Lord Shin, traps her soul in a cage before vanishing. Mina is not about to surrender her soul without a fight, but when she tracks her soul down at Lord Shin’s mansion, she stumbles into an attempted rebellion, and when her soul breaks free it binds her not back to the Sea God but to Shin. Shin takes Mina under his protection, hoping that they can work together to break the Sea God’s curse. But the more Mina sees of the callous gods, the more her faith wavers, and there may be more than a red ribbon tying her heart to Shin. With the fate of her people hanging in the balance and the Sea God’s enemies seeking her life, Mina will have to trust in herself and the stories she was raised on to find the right path to walk.

This feminist reimagining of Korean folklore is immersive with soaring emotions and a swoon-worthy romance. The world had its hooks in me from the earliest pages, and the story was captivating. One of the highlights for me was Mina’s wrestling with her faith as the gods disappoint her and her ultimate realization that she can forge her own fate. I highly recommend this novel to fans of YA fantasy and fairytale retellings!

THE RED PALACE by June Hur

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Hyeon worked her whole life to become a palace nurse. It wasn’t an easy path for her, especially without the support of her father, a prominent justice who barely acknowledges her and her mother, who was once his concubine. Hyeon’s success as a nurse and rise to the prestigious palace position was largely thanks to her mentor, Nurse Jeongsu.

But when a massacre at the student hospital leaves four women dead, Nurse Jeongsu is arrested under suspicion of murder. And when an anonymous pamphlet circulates accusing the Crown Prince of the murders, Hyeon realizes two terrible truths: first, that Nurse Jeongsu will be convicted and executed to divert suspicion from the Palace, and second, that Hyeon herself has unwittingly provided the prince with a false alibi by claiming to treat his illness that night. She knows she must investigate the massacre herself if she has any hope of saving her mentor from execution, even when it means defying her father and forming an unlikely alliance with the young and unconventional police inspector who seems to respect her, despite her being a woman and a commoner, but who has the power to destroy her life–or maybe break her heart. But Hyeon will risk her heart, her job, and her father’s disapproval to uncover the truth. Unfortunately, with so many bloody secrets hidden within the Palace walls, the truth may cost her life.

Suspenseful, romantic, and rich with the fascinating history of the Korean Joseon Dynasty, THE RED PALACE is perhaps my favorite June Hur novel yet! She seamlessly weaves together the story of a young woman struggling to find her place in her family and her society with a based-on-a-tragic-true-story murder mystery–plus, a swoon-worthy romance that delighted my historical-romance-loving heart. I highly recommend this novel for any YA collection and to any teen and adult fans of historical mysteries.

HOW NOT TO FALL IN LOVE by Jacqueline Firkins

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Harper doesn’t believe in love. There’s nothing like working summers hemming dresses for bridezillas that will kill all dreams of a happily ever after. And then, of course, there was last summer’s fling that ended in a broken heart. No, Harper isn’t planning on falling in love ever again. Unlike her best friend, Theo, who seems to fall in love twice a week with girls who ultimately reject him. Harper decides what Theo needs is some lessons in casual dating, and who better to give them than the hardened cynic who is an expert in closing off her heart to love. To prove it, she’ll even casually ask out the hot athlete she’s had a crush on since forever and who she is definitely not going to fall in love with.

There are only two problems with Harper’s plan. First off, she starts falling for Felix almost as soon as they start dating. The bigger problem: she might be falling even harder for Theo…

I was swept away by this earnest, emotional rom-com. Harper’s voice is funny, and her experiences of love are raw and realistic. There were points in the novel when I genuinely wasn’t sure how things would turn out because of the believable complications that Firkins built into her love life. It is refreshing to have a love triangle where all three people are good humans trying to figure out what they want in the world and whether they can fit together in a relationship, and the sex-positive mom was an added bonus. I highly recommend this novel to teen and college-age romance readers! It would be an excellent addition to any YA collection.

THE SUMMER OF LOST LETTERS by Hannah Reynolds

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Until she finds her grandmother’s letters, most of Abby’s summer plans involve trying to avoid her ex. But the minute she starts reading the love letters from a mysterious man named Edward–who apparently wanted to marry her grandmother and still has a necklace that belonged to her–everything changes. Her grandmother never mentioned an Edward, or spending summers with a wealthy family on Nantucket. In fact, all Abby really knew about her grandmother was that she came to America alone as a toddler while her parents perished in Auschwitz. Now, Abby wants to learn more about the grandmother she loved but, as it turns out, barely knew.

After securing a job at a Nantucket bookstore for the summer, Abby is determined to find Edward, get some answers about her grandmother’s past, and get that necklace back–even if it means breaking into his mansion. But she didn’t count on Edward’s grandson, Noah, who is just as handsome and charming as he is determined to thwart Abby’s attempts to poke her nose in his family’s business. As the summer wears on and friendship blossoms into something more both Noah and Abby wrestle with the price of love: how much they are each willing to sacrifice for love of their families and for each other.

From the jacket summary and cover art, I did not expect to laugh out loud at this romance–but the banter! The premise of the romance of the grandparents and the tension between families left room for angst (and there was angst) but the thrust of the contemporary romance is summer fling turns to forever love over a series of adventures and capers. It was sweet, funny, and at times heart-wrenching, full of history and thorny ethical dilemmas, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Highly recommend to fans of YA contemporary romance who like family drama and a bit of mystery.

Amazon.com: The Summer of Lost Letters: 9780593349724: Reynolds, Hannah:  Books

#12DaysOfKidlit 2021

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Happy November!

I know, I know. It’s basically still Halloween. But with supply chain issues and paper shortages, we’ve got to think about the holidays early if we’re gifting books to the kids in our lives. That’s why I’m celebrating the #12DaysOfKidlit. I’m choosing my 12 favorite titles from 2021–6 YA and 6 Middle Grade to highlight (in no particular order). Think of this as a gift guide for the young reader in your lives. I’ll update daily for the next 12 days, adding a new title each time.

But (tragically) even though I read 160+ books this year (!), that doesn’t even come close to the number of books that came out. And since everyone’s reading interests are different, my favorites might not be right for you or the kids on your list.

So…you should play too!

On Twitter and Instagram, use #12DaysOfKidlit to throw up your favorite kids/teen books of the year and see what books others loved! The celebration runs from November 1-12.

Let’s fill everyone’s holiday lists with the best Kidlit of the year!


Today’s Picks:

INSTRUCTIONS FOR DANCING by Nicola Yoon –and– LIKE A LOVE SONG by Gabriela Martins

I received Advance Reader Copies of these books.

I couldn’t pick just one of these because I can’t get either one of them out of my head–and for different reasons. 

INSTRUCTIONS FOR DANCING is a sublime exploration of that eternal human question: is love worth the risk of heartbreak? It’s a romance, so we know the answer has to be yes, but the journey to that answer is raw, complex, and beautiful. 

LIKE A LOVE SONG, on the other hand, is pure fun–a teen pop star and teen actor fake dating RomCom with perfectly executed tropes. The story is grounded by the MC’s struggle with her identity in a racist society–trying to find balance between her place in a community of artists pursuing a dream career and her place in her family and Brazilian community. 

But what these books have in common is that both of the romances were mature and realistic enough that even I–an old(ish) married lady–connected with them in a powerful way, and I think that’s why I loved them both so much. These are romances I will read as a pick me up again and again.


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CANDIDLY CLINE by Kathryn Ormsbee

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book.

I loved this book because I loved Cline. She is such a believable, lovable 13 year old kid, and as much as she’s been put through some difficult stuff (in the story and before it begins) she bounces back, she keeps going, and she finds supportive friends and adults who help her through. Her voice is so honest and hopeful as she navigates her first crush, coming out to family and friends, and protecting herself when people are hateful to her because of who she loves. And of course the main thrust of her story is how she chases down her dream of becoming a singer, so there’s lots of opportunities to cheer this wonderful heroine on.


SIX CRIMSON CRANES by Elizabeth Lim

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book.

Not only was this novel woven skillfully from many, many folklore threads, but it surprised me again and again. Even thinking back on the story now, I’m smiling remembering some of the twists. Some of the folklore was new to me, which was fun. Some was familiar but subverted, which was also fun. And throughout the whole story shone family devotion and the perseverance of the young heroine–no matter how annoying her brothers got.


THE THING I’M MOST AFRAID OF by Kristin Levine

Reading this book felt like taking a vacation (which in 2021, was much appreciated!). The detail of the Austrian setting–not just the landscape, but the culture and community–immersed me entirely in that world. And on top of that, the character’s experience with her panic disorder as she figured out how to accept help and develop more effective coping strategies rang so true to me. I don’t usually see that experience represented in the books I read–or if it is represented, it’s in books that are overall soul-crushingly intense–so to see a character with severe anxiety in an uplifting book about family and hope was incredible.


EAT YOUR HEART OUT by Kelly deVos

As a fan of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, I was grinning all the way through this satirical sci-fi/horror. It delivered on humor, on social commentary, on scares–and because there were so many first person narrators (something I don’t usually like), I had no idea who would live and who would die. As long as one kid made it, there would be someone to tell the story. The question was: who?…


FAST PITCH by Nic Stone

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book.

When it comes to flawless middle grade fiction, this book is it. It tackles the huge and important topic of racism in sports (and other areas of life), features a group of girls kicking butt on and off the field, and has a thrilling mystery that is impossible to stop reading. It is a winner on so many levels, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.


SAY IT OUT LOUD by Allison Varnes

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book.

As a musical theater-obsessed former-tween myself, I am always a sucker for stories about kids finding their voices through the arts. But this one had me particularly excited when the tweens take their voices off the stage to fight for something they believe in. Add the fun, heartwarming friendships and representation of a main character who stutters and you have a book that has stuck with me all year.


THE FOREST OF STOLEN GIRLS by June Hur

I read so many YA mystery/thrillers this year, so why has this historical mystery stuck with me? Part of it was the history. Part of it was the feminism. But I think most of it was the atmospheric quality of the novel. There were no cheap scares here, no gimmicks to draw out suspense. The setting of the village, the disappearances, the murky past, and the untrustworthy community members kept my spine tingling the whole way through.  


A KIND OF SPARK by Elle McNicoll

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book.

It is possible that this one violates the spirit of #12DaysOfKidlit since it wasn’t technically released this year. But I am U.S. based, and it was released here in 2021, and I loved it too much to leave it off my list. The authenticity of the autistic representation was probably the reason I connected with this book so deeply, although the novel has so many strengths. I love middle grade books where children are the moral compass and agents of change in their communities, and the way this particular child forces her community to process the uncomfortable immorality of their pasts and present to move toward a better future…*chef’s kiss* 


More:

ME (MOTH) by Amber McBride

I think the reason this poetic literary novel is still haunting me is the rich soil of history, culture, and spirituality that supports the characters. The emotions are deep and intense, but they are so rooted in the exquisite world-building that the narrative never feels heavy, even when the subject matter is. The characters are always growing up and out from their experience of loss, both in their recent pasts and in their ancestral histories, always climbing toward hope. I am not at all surprised this book is on the National Book Award’s Finalists list.


SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA by Cynthia Leitich Smith

PETER PAN is one of those books I haven’t read my kids because as much as I loved it as a child, every time I pick it up as an adult I’m horrified–partly by the racism on the page but perhaps more by the fact that I had no idea it was there when I was a kid. Those were just things I internalized that contributed to my unconscious prejudices. And maybe that’s why Cynthia Leitich Smith’s SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA blew me away. Because it isn’t a scathing dismantling of Barrie’s classic. It’s a reimagining of the enchanting world that both holds Peter Pan accountable for the racism and other problematic aspects of the original story and somehow recaptures and preserves the spirit, tone, and even narrative style of the original. This is the novel I want to read my children.


THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE US by Eliot Schrefer

I haven’t been shy about my deep and abiding love of Eliot Schrefer’s sci-fi romance. I think one of the reasons it’s stuck with me so many months after I first read it is the way he perfectly captures the spirit of both genres. I would read this if I were in the mood for sci-fi, and I would read it if I were in the mood for romance. It has all of those little melty moments and relationship tensions I want in a love story plus the edge-of-your-seat, cannot-stop-turning-pages, omg-are-they-about-to-die?! moments I love in YA sci-fi. I can’t get this book out of my head, and I couldn’t think of a better title to start off the 12 Days of Kidlit.

YOU CAN GO YOUR OWN WAY by Eric Smith

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Adam throws all of his energy into keeping his family’s pinball arcade up and running; it’s his way of preserving his dad’s memory. But with finances tight, his mom is starting to give up hope and talk about finally giving in to the esports cafe that wants to buy them out. The esports cafe that is owned by Whitney’s dad.

Although they were once best friends, Whitney has barely spoken to Adam since his dad died, and although Whitney’s mom also owns a shop in the old city center by the pinball arcade, her dad represents everything Adam hates–the destruction of classic culture in favor of sleek new technology and of course, money. But Whitney has problems of her own and when an act of vandalism throws them into each others’ paths again, their reluctant reunion will force them to acknowledge the past and confront the obstacles that are keeping them from defining their own futures.

Romantic, funny, and heartwarming, this YA contemporary has a perfect blend of fun and emotional depth. The pinball background and general ’80s nostalgia creates a delightful atmosphere, and I found myself longing to be part of the Old City shop owners’ community with their wonderful, hilarious camaraderie. I highly recommend this to fans of YA contemporary fiction and YA rom coms.