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2018: A year in YA

Written by · Published Dec 6, 2018

Catwoman: Soulstealer, We Are Young, The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

It’s been another exciting year for Young Adult books. YA expert Emily picks out her top titles of 2018.

Re-imaginings

A trend I’ve loved seeing in the past few years has been authors putting new spins on stories and characters we think we know, and 2018 has not been an exception.

Catwoman: Soulstealer, by Sarah J. Maas

“Two years after escaping Gotham City’s slums, Selina Kyle returns as the mysterious and wealthy Holly Vanderhees. She quickly discovers that with Batman off on a vital mission, Batwing is left to hold back the tide of notorious criminals. Gotham City is ripe for the taking.

“Meanwhile, Luke Fox wants to prove he has what it takes to help people in his role as Batwing. He targets a new thief on the prowl who seems cleverer than most. She has teamed up with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, and together they are wreaking havoc. This Catwoman may be Batwing’s undoing.”

The Surface Breaks, by Louise O’Neill

“Deep beneath the sea off the cold Irish coast, Gaia is a young mermaid who dreams of being human - but at what terrible price?”

Read Emily’s review of The Surface Breaks

Batman: Nightwalker, by Marie Lu

“Returning home from his lavish 18th birthday party, Bruce Wayne stops a criminal’s getaway - disobeying the police and crashing his car during the chase. Sentenced to community service in Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum, he encounters some of the the city’s most dangerous and mentally disturbed criminals. Among these, Bruce meets the intriguing Madeleine who has ties to the Nightwalker gang that is terrorising Gotham City. She’s a mystery Bruce has to unravel but can he trust her? The Nightwalkers target the rich, and Bruce’s name is next on their list.”

Read Emily’s review of Batman: Nightwalker

Epic fantasy beginnings

So many YA fantasy series have started with a bang this year. Here are three of the best.

The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black

“One terrible morning, Jude and her sisters see their parents murdered in front of them. The terrifying assassin abducts all three girls to the world of Faerie, where Jude is installed in the royal court but mocked and tormented by the Faerie royalty for being mortal.

“As Jude grows older, she realises that she will need to take part in the dangerous deceptions of the fey to ever truly belong. But the stairway to power is fraught with shadows and betrayal. And looming over all is the infuriating, arrogant and charismatic Prince Cardan.”

Read Emily’s review of The Cruel Prince

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi

“Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

“Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.”

Read Emily’s review of Children of Blood and Bone

The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton

“In the opulent world of Orleans, beauty can be deadly. Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

“But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favourite - the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orleans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognised as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favourite is not everything she always dreamed it would be.”

Read Emily’s review of The Belles

Brilliant mental health representation

As ever, YA had led the way with honest, unflinching portrayals of mental health issues.

Starfish, by Akemi Dawn Bowman

“Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

“But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.”

Read Amélie’s review of Starfish

I Was Born For This, by Alice Oseman

“For Angel Ahmadi, life is only about one thing: The Ark - a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are currently taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything - her friendships, her dreams, her place in the world.

“Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark too. He’s their frontman - and playing in a band is all he’s ever dreamed of doing. It’s just a shame that recently everything in his life seems to have turned into a bit of a nightmare. Because that’s the problem with dreaming - eventually, inevitably, real life arrives with a wake-up call.

“And when Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly thrust together, they will discover just how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.”

Read Amy’s review of I Was Born For This

Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes?, by Holly Bourne

“Welcome to Camp Reset, a summer camp with a difference. A place offering a shot at ‘normality’ for Olive, a girl on the edge, and for the new friends she never expected to make - who each have their own reasons for being there. Luckily Olive has a plan to solve all their problems. But how do you fix the world when you can’t fix yourself?”

We Are Young, by Cat Clarke

“On the same night Evan’s mother marries local radio DJ ‘Breakfast Tim’, Evan’s brand-new step-brother Lewis is found unconscious and terribly injured, the only survivor of a horrific car crash. A media furore erupts, with the finger of blame pointed firmly at stoner, loner Lewis.

“Everyone else seems to think the crash was drugs-related, but Evan isn’t buying it. With the help of her journalist father, Harry, she decides to find out what really happened that night. As Evan delves deeper into the lives of the three teenagers who died in the crash, she uncovers some disturbing truths and a secret that threatens to tear her family - and the community - apart forever.”

Feminist fiction

YA has produced some wonderful books that promote girl power and totally destroy certain ideas this year.

The Exact Opposite of Okay, by Laura Steven

“Izzy O’Neill here! Impoverished orphan, aspiring comedian and Slut Extraordinaire, if the gossip sites are anything to go by.

“Izzy never expected to be 18 and internationally reviled. But when explicit photos involving her, a politician’s son and a garden bench are published online, the trolls set out to take her apart. Armed with best friend Ajita and a metric ton of nachos, she tries to laugh it off - but as the daily slut-shaming intensifies, she soon learns the way the world treats teenage girls is not okay.”

Read Emily’s review of The Exact Opposite of Okay

Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies: amazing women on what the F-word means to them, by Scarlett Curtis

“A collection of writing from extraordinary women, from Hollywood actresses to teenage activists, each telling the story of their personal relationship with feminism, this book explores what it means to be a woman from every point of view.

“Often funny, sometimes surprising, and always inspiring, this book aims to bridge the gap between the feminist hashtag and the scholarly text by giving women the space to explain how they actually feel about feminism.”

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, by Mackenzi Lee

“A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind: avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enrol in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

“But then a window of opportunity opens: a doctor she idolizes is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.

“In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.”

Gritty realism

YA has never shied away from tackling tough issues and I just about managed to whittle down my list to four books.

Clean, by Juno Dawson

“Meet the patients of the Clarity Centre: Kendall, the trans anorexic model-wannabe, Vicodin addict Saif, OCD hoarder Guy, over-eater Ruby, washed-up reality TV survivor Brady, and last but definitely not least, spoiled heiress Lexi Volkov.

“Lexi hit rock bottom. After almost overdosing in a penthouse suite her brother stages an intervention and takes her to the Clarity facility for troubled young people. After a gruelling and painful detox, Lexi enters group therapy and meets her fellow ‘inmates’. Through her therapy sessions and a ten step programme, Lexi gradually opens up about her destructive life.”

Read Emily’s review of Clean

A Thousand Perfect Notes, by C. G. Drews

“Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music - because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.

“When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?”

Dear Martin, by Nic Stone

“Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League - but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighbourhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr King to find out.

“Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up - way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty police officer beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.”

Read Amy’s review of Dear Martin

Run, Riot, by Nikesh Shukla

“Taran and her twin Hari never wanted to move to Firestone House. But when the rent was doubled overnight and Dad’s chemo meant he couldn’t work, they had to make this tower block their home. It’s good now though; they feel part of something here.

“When they start noticing boarded-up flats and glossy fliers for expensive apartments, they don’t think much of it - until Hari is caught up in a tragedy, and they are forced to go on the run. It’s up to the teenagers to uncover the sinister truth behind what’s going on in the block, before it blows their world apart.”

Sci-fi

Each of these three series welcomed a new addition this year and are just brilliant. I’ve included the first book of each series so you know where to start with these incredible stories!

The Extinction Trials, by S. M. Wilson

“Stormchaser wants to escape her starved, grey life. Lincoln wants to save his dying sister. Their only chance is to join an expedition to deadly country to steal the eggs of vicious dinosaurs.

“If they succeed, their reward is a new life filled with riches. But in a land full of monsters - both human and reptilian - only the ruthless will survive.”

Read Emily’s interview with S. M. Wilson →

Ascension, by Victor Dixen & Daniel Hahn (trans.)

“Six girls, six boys. Each in the two separate bays of a single spaceship. They have six minutes each week to seduce and to make their choices, under the unblinking eye of the on-board cameras. They are the contenders in the Genesis programme, the world’s craziest speed-dating show ever, aimed at creating the first human colony on Mars.

“Leonor, an 18 year old orphan, is one of the chosen ones. She has signed up for glory. She has signed up for love. She has signed up for a one-way ticket. Even if the dream turns to a nightmare, it is too late for regrets.”

Scythe, by Neal Shusterman

“In a world where disease, war and crime have been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed by professional scythes. Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythes’ apprentices, and despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation, they must learn the art of killing and understand the necessity of what they do.

“Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe’s apprentice and as Citra and Rowan come up against a terrifyingly corrupt Scythedom, it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to kill the loser.”

Read Emily’s review of Scythe

Poetry in motion

There have been some astounding YA books I’ve read this year that are written completely in the form of poetry. Here are my top two choices.

Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds

“After Will’s brother is shot in a gang crime, he knows the next steps. Don’t cry. Don’t snitch. Get revenge. So he gets in the lift with Shawn’s gun, determined to follow The Rules.

“Only when the lift door opens, Buck walks in, Will’s friend who died years ago. And Dani, who was shot years before that. As more people from his past arrive, Will has to ask himself if he really knows what he’s doing.”

Read Emily’s review of Long Way Down

The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo

“Xiomara has always kept her words to herself. When it comes to standing her ground in her Harlem neighbourhood, she lets her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But X has secrets - her feelings for a boy in her bio class, and the notebook full of poems that she keeps under her bed. And a slam poetry club that will pull those secrets into the spotlight. Because in spite of a world that might not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to stay silent.”

Cute contemporaries that tackle huge issues

This year I’ve noticed a trend in wonderful, sweet love stories that take a powerful turn to highlight some important social issues, which I hope continues well into 2019.

Rosie Loves Jack, by Mel Darbon

“Rosie loves Jack. Jack loves Rosie. So when they’re split up, Rosie will do anything to find the boy who makes the sun shine in her head. Even run away from home. Even cross London and travel to Brighton alone, though the trains are cancelled and the snow is falling. Even though any girl might find that hard, let alone a girl with Down’s syndrome.”

American Panda, by Gloria Chao

“At 17, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies. With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth - that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

“But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?”

Read Emily’s review of American Panda

Skylarks, by Karen Gregory

“When she was little, Joni used to have dreams that she could fly. But these days her feet are firmly on the ground - they have to be when money’s tight and her dad can’t work and the whole family has to pull together to keep afloat.

“Then she meets Annabel. Annabel is everything Joni isn’t, and yet there’s a spark between them. Though Joni barely believes it at first, she thinks they might be falling in love. But when Annabel’s parents find out about the relationship, it’s clear they believe there are some differences that are impossible to overcome.”

UKYA

A lot of the YA authors you hear about are American, so I like to champion ones from the UK. Here’s some homegrown talent that I think more people should know about.

Bookshop Girl, by Chloe Coles

“Bennett’s Bookshop has always been a haven for sixteen-year-old Paige Turner. It’s a place where she can escape from her sleepy hometown, hang out with her best friend, Holly, and also earn some money.

“But, like so many bookshops, Bennett’s has become a ‘casualty of the high street’ - it’s strapped for cash and going to be torn down. Paige is determined to save it but mobilising a small town like Greysworth is no mean feat. Time is ticking - but that’s not the only problem Paige has. How is she going to fend off the attractions of beautiful fellow artist, Blaine? And, more importantly, will his anarchist ways make or break her bookshop campaign?”

Read Amy’s review of Bookshop Girl

A Sky Painted Gold, by Laura Wood

“Growing up in her sleepy Cornish village dreaming of being a writer, 16-year-old Lou has always wondered about the grand Cardew house which has stood empty for years. And when the owners arrive for the summer - a handsome, dashing brother and sister - Lou is quite swept off her feet and into a world of moonlit cocktail parties and glamour beyond her wildest dreams. But, as she grows closer to the Cardews, is she abandoning her own ambitions - and is there something darker lurking at the heart of the Cardew family?”

Read Amy’s review of A Sky Painted Gold

Floored, by various authors

“When they got in the lift that morning, they were strangers. Sasha, who is at the UK’s biggest TV centre desperately trying to deliver a parcel; Hugo, who knows he’s by far the richest - and best-looking - guy in the lift; Velvet, who regrets wearing the world’s least comfortable shoes to work experience; Dawson, who isn’t the good-looking teen star he was and desperate not to be recognized; Kaitlyn, who’s slowly losing her sight but won’t admit it, and Joe, who shouldn’t be there at all, but who wants to be there the most. And one more person, who will bring them together again on the same day every year.”

Read Amy’s review of Floored

Out of the Blue, by Sophie Cameron

“When angels start falling from the sky, it seems like the world is ending. But for Jaya the world ended when her mother died, two weeks before the first angel fell.

“Smashing down to earth at extraordinary speeds, wings bent, faces contorted, not a single angel has survived and, as the world goes angel crazy, Jaya’s father uproots the family to Edinburgh, intent on catching one alive. But Jaya can’t stand his obsession and, struggling to make sense of her mother’s sudden death and her own role on that fateful day, she’s determined to stay out of it.

“Then something extraordinary happens: an angel lands right at Jaya’s feet, and it’s alive…”