Fall 2016’s Unputdownable Contemporary Young Adult Books: Rap Queens, Mean Girls, and a Transgender Fairy Tale

Fall 2016’s Unputdownable Contemporary Young Adult Books: Rap Queens, Mean Girls, and a Transgender Fairy Tale

Young adult readers are truly in for a treat this season. In fact, you might just think Christmas has come a few months early when you get a look at these books. The season kicks off strong with thought-provoking novels about gender nonconformity and rape culture. Come October, fan favorites Nicola Yoon and Jennifer Niven both have new titles coming out. Plus, we’ve got two novels that have just a dash of magical realism for readers who want a bit of fantasy in a fully realistic world, and there’s also a contemporary transgender fairy tale retelling! We hope you made room on your TBR shelf this summer—you’re going to need it.

Lucy and Linh

So fetch

Lucy Lam is not looking forward to the first day of school. Her parents, who immigrated to Australia from Vietnam to give their children a better life, are incredibly proud of the scholarship she received to Laurinda Ladies’ College, an exclusive private school. But Lucy knows she’ll stick out in that world of excess and wealth. After all, her family considers snacks from the dollar store to be a major treat. When she arrives and first meets the Cabinet, her worst fears are confirmed. The Cabinet is made up of three girls who rule the school with an iron manicured fist. And for some reason, they take a liking to Lucy and take her in under their wing. In letters to her friend Linh, Lucy shares all of the intimate details of her new life. Alice Pung’s novel is not only about growing up, but about deciding who you want to be and who you want to emulate.

On shelves: September 6

Girl Mans Up

All I’m askin’ is for a little respect

Sixteen-year-old Pen doesn’t mind that she doesn’t conform to typical gender norms. She loves other women, feels most comfortable in her brother’s clothes, and doesn’t care that she’s more butch than femme. It’s who she is. Unfortunately, her conservative Portuguese parents don’t agree with her choices. They’re constantly demanding her respeito (respect) and want her to dress like a stereotypical girl to make them happy. And they aren’t the only ones trying to boss Pen around. Her childhood friend Colby treats Pen with respect, but doesn’t seem to think other women deserve the same treatment. When she pushes back, he calls her loyalty into question. As Pen grows closer to two of Colby’s exes, Blake and Olivia, she finds that respect and loyalty come easily when people are accepted for who they are and treat others with understanding. M-E Girard’s novel is a thoughtful exploration of gender, sexuality, and relationships.

On shelves: September 6

The Female of the Species

Was I born a cute, vindictive, little bitch or… did society make me that way?

Anna Craft’s rape and murder continue to haunt the small town she lived in, and no one is more affected than her sister Alex. When Anna’s killer walks free on a technicality, Alex takes matters into her own hands and ensures he’ll never hurt anyone ever again. But this isn’t the tale of a badass vigilante. Alex is troubled by what she’s done. Killing the man who murdered her sister doesn’t bother her, but her capacity for violence does scare her and she decides it’ll be safer for everyone if she keeps her head down from now on. But it’s hard to stay invisible in a small town, and before she knows it, she’s befriended Peekay, the preacher’s daughter, and caught the eye of Jack Fisher, star athlete and valedictorian. Mindy McGinnis weaves a dark and harrowing tale about the poisonous nature of rape culture, the claustrophobia of small towns, and the disastrous things that happen when a girl struggling for control loses her grip.

On shelves: September 20

Last Seen Leaving

Gone girl

When Flynn’s girlfriend January goes missing, Flynn is the main suspect. He’s willing to do almost anything to help find her, but he has secrets of his own that prevent him from being fully honest with the police about what happened the night she went missing. So instead, Flynn decides to investigate on his own. In the months leading up to her disappearance, January’s senator stepfather transferred her to private school, causing the two friends to grow apart. With the help of Kaz, January’s very attractive coworker, Flynn realizes that he didn’t really know January. Caleb Roehrig’s debut is both a gripping mystery readers won’t be able to put down and an honest tale about self-acceptance.

On shelves: October 4

Holding Up the Universe

The world on her shoulders

Jennifer Niven’s debut young adult novel, All the Bright Places, resonated with teens everywhere. Her second, Holding Up the Universe, is another moving tale of two teenagers finding solace in each other. Libby Strout worked hard for three years to shed the pounds that led the media to label her the Fattest Teen in America. Feeling ready to take on the world, she decides to stop being homeschooled and enroll in her local high school. That’s where she meets Jack Masselin. To say they don’t get along is an understatement: She punches him when he ropes her into a cruel game and the two end up in group counseling. But as time goes by, they start to open up to each other. Libby shares how her mom’s death tore her world apart when she was eleven. Jack tells her that he has prosopagnosia, a condition where he can’t recognize faces. He wouldn’t even recognize himself if it weren’t for his signature Afro. Romantic feelings develop between the two, but the true heart of the tale lies in personal growth and learning to love yourself.

On shelves: October 4

Beast

Tale as old as time

Fifteen-year-old Dylan is known as Beast at his high school, due to the fact that he’s built like a linebacker (not a bit of him’s scraggly or scrawny) and almost every last inch of him is covered in hair. With a glance, people think they know him. They don’t realize he dreams of being a Rhodes scholar or that he does everything he can to help support his widowed mother. After a particularly rough day, he slips (perhaps accidentally, perhaps not) from his roof and breaks his leg. The accident lands him in a counseling group for self-harmers. Dylan is determined to silently coast through and completely zones out during the first few sessions. But when he finally notices Jamie, everything comes sharply into focus. She’s a true beauty, to say the least, but as he gets to know her he also comes to admire her passion for photography and her ability to call him out when he isn’t being honest or real. Honesty is important to Jamie, and she’s been completely truthful from the start. She told everyone in their counseling group that she was transgender. But Dylan wasn’t listening. Starred by both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, this enchanting tale about breaking stereotypes and accepting people as they truly are is not to be missed.

On shelves: October 11

Rani Patel In Full Effect

Watch the Queen conquer

Psychiatrist Sonia Patel makes her young adult debut with Rani Patel, a young girl who’s been sexually abused by her father for years. When she learns that her father’s also been having an affair with a woman barely older than she is, Rani shaves her head—something widows traditionally do in India. The new look earns her the attentions of Mark, an older guy who frequents her parents’ store, and it also helps her budding hip-hop career. Soon Rani, aka MC Sutra, is first female rapper on the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i. Empowered by the rhymes that she creates, Rani starts to rebuild her confidence and even begins to reconnect with her mom. Rani’s tale is one of healing and strength, and she’s sure to inspire readers everywhere.

On shelves: October 11

Still Life with Tornado

Blue period

For the first time in her life, Sarah can’t create art. There are a few reasons why (the art show, the trip to Mexico), but she doesn’t like to linger on any of them for too long. Instead, she decides to drop out of school in search of meaning that might inspire her once more. Sarah wanders the streets of Philadelphia, where she eventually encounters a 10-year-old version of herself (and later a 23- and a 40-year-old version). Though touched with magical realism, this is otherwise a wholly contemporary story about a girl who needs to come to terms with her family’s toxic and painful history before she can start dreaming of the future. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly praises author A.S. King: “The presentation of the surreal as real, the deeply thoughtful questions she poses, the way she empowers her teenage characters to change the trajectory of their lives—King writes with the confidence of a tightrope walker working without a net.”

On shelves: October 11

The Sun Is Also a Star

This is true love. You think this happens every day?

As readers eagerly await more news about the film adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything, they can indulge in Yoon’s latest young adult novel. Daniel’s the son of two Korean immigrants who expect big things of him: attending an Ivy League school, and the initials M.D. appearing next to his name. He’s followed their dreams to a T, and never dared hope to follow his own. But when he sees Natasha for the first time, he can’t help but think that fate threw them together. Natasha doesn’t believe in destiny or anything resembling it. She believes in facts, and the fact is that her undocumented parents are about to be deported to Jamaica. She needs to focus on helping them and not on the boy determined to win her heart. The one thing they both agree on is that a single moment can truly change your entire life.

On shelves: November 1

Merrow

Part of your world

Don’t be fooled by the mermaid tail. The fantastical elements of Ananda Braxton-Smith’s novel lie in the mythology around Neen Marrey’s home on Carrick Island. Neen’s mother, Ven, disappeared when she was only 3, shortly after Neen’s father drowned. For years, people in the small town have whispered rumors that Ven was a merrow who finally returned to the sea. Neen’s Auntie Ushag doesn’t feed into the tales, but Need starts to wonder if there’s any truth to them. Neen’s story plays out in stunning and evocative language resulting in a historical novel that is a gift to all lovers of stories.

On shelves: November 8

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