1) "My Heart and Other Black Holes" by Jasmine Warga
Two teenagers make a suicide pact in this poignant, first-person debut.
Sixteen-year-old Aysel’s life “can be neatly divided into two sections: before my father made the nightly news and after.” Since her mentally ill father murdered a local boy with Olympic hopes, Aysel feels as though her only escape from the public shame is suicide. She also worries that her father’s madness is genetic and exists inside her as well. Through a website that matches suicide partners, Aysel meets Roman, a kind, attractive, athletic boy who feels responsible for the drowning death of his little sister. Even though Aysel harbors a passion for science and Roman a love of basketball, they are determined not to let each other “flake out.” Together they begin enacting a fake relationship designed to lull Roman’s overprotective mother into allowing Roman more freedom so they can carry out their fatal plan. But when Aysel begins falling in love with Roman for real, she knows she can no longer follow through on their pact. Can she convince Roman that his life is worth living before it’s too late? Any teen who’s ever felt like an outsider will be able to relate to Aysel’s and Roman’s fully realized characters. The countdown at the beginning of each chapter to the couple’s death date (the same day Roman’s sister died) will help propel readers forward to a hopeful if not entirely unexpected ending.
Earnest and heartfelt. (author’s note, resources) (Fiction. 13-17)
2) "We All Looked Up" by Tommy Wallach
The end of the world turns into a life-changing opportunity for four high school seniors.
High school is all about labels. In this stunning debut set in present-day Seattle, there’s Peter the athlete, Andy the slacker, Anita the overachiever and Eliza the slut. Just as each notices a strange blue star in the sky one night, the president announces that the star is actually an asteroid with a path that is 66.6 percent likely to hit and destroy the Earth in two months. Told from the teens’ alternating viewpoints, sometimes with cleverly overlapping details, this edgy story follows how each copes with impending doom with brilliant imagery and astounding depth. Knowing that all life will probably end in just weeks, the four teens abandon their labels and search for meaning in the time they have left. Inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, they forge a “karass”—an unbreakable, and indeed life-changing, bond—as they explore purpose, evil, faith, independence, friendship, sex and love together. In the background there is also social commentary to be gleaned as the world becomes a dangerous place and martial law becomes a farce. But just like the asteroid that dots the night sky, Wallach pierces his darkness with tenderness and humor.
A thought-provoking story that will bring out readers’ inner philosophers. (Fiction. 14 & up)
3) "The Conspiracy of Us" by Maggie Hall
A friendless teen discovers she's the key to a millenia-old epic prophecy—making her an invaluable pawn of the world's great powers.
Sixteen-year-old Avery West has a Plan: don't make friends, so as to remain unhurt when she inevitably has to change schools. Her single mother is a military contractor (something to do with a mandate), and Avery never lives anywhere long. At least Avery's learned to hide her violet eyes behind colored contacts, so she's only friendless instead of mocked. Avery's plan doesn't take into account the two gorgeous young men who appear fascinated with her: suave Jack and scruffy Stellan. The boys insist they're taking her to meet long-lost family and whirl Avery across the Atlantic to Paris (an unplanned trip about which she's remarkably sanguine). There, she learns of a conspiracy almost as old as Western civilization. Political leaders, actors, sports heroes and businessmen have come from just 12 families for nearly 2,000 years. Avery's place in all this has to with a prophecy called, surprise surprise, the mandate. Avery's thrust into a cinematic, puzzle-solving action-adventure that takes her from Paris to Istanbul. Though she's overwhelmed by "boy drama," she knows her quest is "way more important." Thrill as Avery's outfitted in Prada and Louboutin! Gasp as she jumps from a fire escape into a gunfight! Swoon as sexy Europeans fight for her hand!
This series opener won't win any prizes, but it will appeal to those who want puzzles and action mixed with their fashion and romance. (Thriller. 12-14)
4) "More Happy Than Not" by Adam Silvera
In a Bronx neighborhood of the near future, it’s no secret that at least one person has taken advantage of the Leteo Institute’s new medical procedure that promises “cutting-edge memory-relief.”
Reeling from his discovery of his father in a blood-filled bathtub, there are lots of things that Aaron Soto would like to forget—the smile-shaped scar on his own wrist attests to that. Puerto Rican Aaron meets a boy named Thomas from a neighboring (and sometimes rival) project who shares his love of comic books and fantasy fiction. The two develop a friendship that makes Aaron wonder if he’s a “dude-liker,” leading to a breakup with his girlfriend. When Thomas doesn’t reciprocate, Aaron considers the Leteo procedure for himself. This novel places a straightforward concept—what if you could erase unwanted memories?—squarely within an honest depiction of the pains of navigating the teen years and upends all expectations for a plot resolution. Debut author Silvera has an ear for dialogue and authentic voices. He scatters references to his characters’ various ethnicities in an unforced manner—of a midnight showing of a movie based on their favorite fantasy series, Thomas says “I was the only brown Scorpius Hawthorne.” Thomas is the foil to Aaron’s conviction that there’s an easy way out in a multifaceted look at some of the more unsettling aspects of human relationships.
A brilliantly conceived page-turner. (Speculative fiction. 13-17)
5) "The Sin Eater's Daughter" by Melinda Salisbury
A peasant girl transplanted to the royal court repeatedly confronts death in her new life as executioner, entertainer and bride.
Raised as the Sin Eater’s daughter and apprentice, Twylla expected to deal with the deceased by eating food symbolizing their sins (to free their souls) and to grow morose and morbidly obese like her mother. But four years ago, she came to the court of Lormere and became Daunen Embodied—the king and queen are the other divine representatives—only to find herself delivering death instead of salvation. Petrified that Lormere will become like Tregellan (a science-minded democracy) or Tallith (abandoned for 500 years), mad queen Helewys controls the court through fear and religion (and even darker means). Twylla is literally untouchable—her skin seemingly made poisonous through a mystical ritual and mysterious potion. She misses her sister and still mourns her dead friend, but she nevertheless longs for companionship. Accordingly, two men vie for her affection: her new, Tregellian guard, Lief, who encourages her to question her faith, and her betrothed, Prince Merek, who pushes for political upheaval. Torn between the boys and her beliefs, Twylla suffers identity crises, court conspiracies and cruel revelations before being able to redefine herself. Through Twylla’s deliberate, present-tense narration, Salisbury weaves a complex tale of romance, religion, fairy tales and politics.
A slow but satisfying read with impressive depth and emotion. (Fantasy. 14 & up)
6) "The Wrath and the Dawn" by Renee Ahdieh
A lush, hypnotic, swoony re-imagining of the “Arabian Nights” framing story.
Sixteen-year-old Shahrzad jilts her sweetheart to wed the “murderer, monster, madman” Khalid Ibn al-Rashid, Caliph of Khorasan, planning vengeance for his serial murders of his brides, including her beloved cousin. Clever, stubborn, and reckless, Shahrzad wields stories like weapons as she piques her new husband’s interest and maneuvers through palace intrigue. But she never envisaged that the cold, brilliant, tortured boy king could kindle her desire, nor that her spurned betrothed would raise a rebellion to rescue her. Redolent of perfumes and spices, luxuriant with jewels and silks, this debut pulls authentic details from across cultures and centuries and mixes them with magic and mysticism to concoct an exotic storybook world—albeit with violence and candid sensuality that take it well out of the realm of children’s books. While the steamy love triangle takes center stage, secondary characters add excitement with their treacherous schemes, murderous plots, and soapy melodrama. Witty, brash, and passionate, Shahrzad makes a good foil for both her impossibly valiant and infatuated first love and for the angry and self-loathing Khalid, cursed to make impossible choices. As the disparate plot threads intertwine to a heartbreaking climax, the conflagrant cliffhanger will leave those readers enthralled by the forbidden romance both yearning for and dreading the concluding volume.
Dreamily romantic, deliciously angst-y, addictively thrilling. (Fantasy. 14 & up)
7) "Magonia" by Maria Dahvana Headley
A girl with a rare fatal disease discovers a magical secret about herself.
Aza Ray Boyle, nearly 16, is sentenced to death by a breathing disorder medical science calls Azaray syndrome (though Aza herself thinks it should be called "Clive" or maybe "the Jackass"). Somehow she keeps surviving: hating the hospital, snarking at her teachers, loving her batty family, and completely relying on her anti-social best friend, Jason. When the worst happens, Aza's shocked at how unprepared she really is. She's even less prepared to wake up on an airship, surrounded by blue-skinned sailors and giant bird people who call her Aza Ray Quel. Aza, it seems, is the lost savior of the sky people of Magonia, stolen away and hidden on land. Politicking and conspiracies confuse Aza (and set up a sequel). She really ought to relish being special as she masters her newfound powers of singing and working with a bird familiar (shaky worldbuilding leaves the magical structure somewhat hand-wavy). The painful, sarcastic beauty of Aza's interactions down below in the everyday world begs comparisons to John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (2012), yet passive savior Aza of Magonia is a pale shadow of her nonmagical self.
Striking an uneven balance between gorgeous realism and banal fantasy, this requires readers tolerant of books with split personalities. (Fantasy. 13-15)
8) "Shutter" by Courtney Alameda
Horror grips San Francisco when a murderous ghost eludes the Helsing Corps, a famed band of monster hunters.
The last descendant of the Van Helsing of Dracula fame, Micheline disobeys her father when she runs alone into a haunted hospital, convinced she can exorcise the violent ghost that’s taken over the pediatric ward. Instead, the ghost overpowers her, inflicting her and the three young colleagues who follow with deadly soulchains that will kill them all in seven days. Worse, the ghost knows Micheline’s name. Escaping after her dad confines her to her room, she gathers her team and embarks on a mission to trap the ghost—a particularly strong one—by capturing it on film. Racing against time and the progression of the soulchains, Micheline and three other Helsing reapers desperately devise new methods to combat the ghost, even as other monsters get in their way. When Luca, a denizen of the plane between life and death called the Obscura, appears to Micheline with dubious advice on how to proceed, she has even more decisions to make. Alameda keeps the fear dripping from the walls as she plunges headlong into this full-scale thriller. She invents threatening and gruesome monsters, packs her heroes into seemingly inescapable plights, and adds mystery with the introduction of Luca and the identity of the terrifying ghost. There’s even a bit of forbidden romance.
A page-turner for thriller fans. (Horror. 13-18)