The Best Contemporary Young Adult Books of Summer 2016: Sociopaths, Assassins, and Cosplayers

The Best Contemporary Young Adult Books of Summer 2016: Sociopaths, Assassins, and Cosplayers

The weather outside is heating up and it’s time to pull together our summer essentials: sunglasses, SPF, a beach towel, and a stack of YA novels. This season, we have a lot to choose from. Should we start with the book about the girls behind the Manson murders, or go for the tale about true love and New York Comic Con? Or should we kick the season off with the novel about conjoined twins and their separate dreams, or the moving story of a boy trapped in his own thoughts? Choices, choices. At least we have three sunny months to read through them all.

For the first time ever, we’ve split our young adult preview in two: contemporary and sci-fi & fantasy. So once you’ve put these 10 books on your summer TBR, head on over to the YA SFF preview for even more great reads.

American Girls

She’s got her little book of conspiracies right in her hand

Anna is fed up with her home life. She feels like an afterthought now that her mom has remarried after her parents’ divorce. So she swipes her new stepmom’s credit card and heads to Los Angeles to stay with her half-sister Delia, a struggling actress. It’s there that she meets Roger and is hired to research the Manson girls for a movie he’s working on. The deeper Anna digs, the further she falls down the rabbit hole of this haunting case. Anna can’t get over the fact that these murderous girls were once as normal as she is, and the more she learns, the more she finds they have in common. Alison Umminger’s debut is sure to be one of the most talked-about young adult books of the summer, so don’t miss out.

On shelves: June 7

True Letters from a Fictional Life

Signed, sealed, delivered

Kenneth Logan’s debut novel focuses on James Liddell. From the outside, he has everything he could possibly want. He’s a star athlete, handsome, always on the arm of the adorable Theresa, and he’s a decent student. It’s only in his letters that James reveals his well-kept secret: He doesn’t like his sort-of-girlfriend Theresa, he likes his friend Tim Hawken. In his small Vermont town, James knows that news spreads fast and he isn’t ready to come out as gay just yet. So instead he writes letters that he never intends to send to the people in his life, letters where he’s honest about who he is and what he feels. The letters, of course, find their way into someone else’s hands, and James is forced to live out his worst nightmare when he realizes that his most private thoughts have been mailed to his closest friends and family.

On shelves: June 7

The Loose Ends List

All aboard

An eight-week cruise around the world sounds like the makings of a summer to remember; Maddie just wishes it wasn’t happening because her grandmother is dying. After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Gram books a vacation for her entire family on The Wishwell, a ship specializing in death-with-dignity care. Despite the premise (or perhaps because of it), Carrie Firestone’s debut novel is far more focused on life than death. On the cruise Maddie cherishes moments with Gram and her crazy family, and even starts to fall in love with a boy named Enzo, a British student on his way to Egypt.

On shelves: June 7

The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love

The bold survive

Graham has been head over heels for Roxana ever since he became her neighbor and she asked which Hogwarts house he’d be sorted into (Ravenclaw, duh). They’ve been the best of friends ever since, swapping comic books and obsessing over anything and everything geeky. Attending New York Comic Con is practically a religious pilgrimage for them, and when Graham learns that the creator of their favorite comic will be there, he becomes determined to snag tickets. He figures there’s no better place than NYCC to tell Roxana how he feels. But, as anyone who has been to NYCC knows, the convention can get chaotic, and Graham’s perfect plans start to fall apart. If you’re going to read any book about fandom this summer, make it Sarvenaz Tash’s.

On shelves: June 14

The Memory Book

I will remember you

Starred by both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, this poignant novel by Lara Avery is a must-read of the season. High school senior Sammie McCoy has big plans for her future. First, she’s going to win the National Debate Championships, then she’ll be named class valedictorian, from there she’ll move on to NYU, and then she’ll be able to achieve her dreams of becoming a human rights lawyer. The one thing not on her list is being diagnosed with Niemann-Pick Type C. Not only will it cause her body to deteriorate, but she’ll get dementia at 18. Suddenly, Sammie isn’t just worried about the future, she’s concerned about losing her past and present to this disease. Sammie starts to write down her memories, crafting journal entries about the perfect first date with her crush, the feeling of being intoxicated, and stories about her childhood best friend. With her plan thrown out the window, Sammie does everything in her power to live her life to the fullest and experience everything she can in the short time she’s given. Have the tissues ready for this one, readers.

On shelves: July 5

A World Without You

Stay with me

Bo attends Berkshire Academy, an exclusive and secret school for teens who have superpowers. At least, Bo thinks he does. For years Bo has believed that he could travel through time, telling his family members about witnessing the sinking of the Titanic and the horrors of the Civil War. Unsure of how to help their son, his parents send him to a school where he might receive help and learn to live with his mental illness. The narration is split between Bo, as he struggles to deal with his girlfriend’s suicide (instead believing that he accidentally left her in 1692 on one of his journeys through time), and his sister Phoebe, who feels pressured to keep her own emotions in check so as not to upset her parents. Starred by Publishers Weekly, this novel by Beth Revis is a heartbreaking tale of mental illness and family bonds.

On shelves: July 19


Together or not at all

Seventeen-year-old twins Clara and Hailey know exactly what their future looks like. Conjoined since birth, they’ve spent their entire lives in the small town of Bear Pass, California. It’s a comfortable and monotonous existence, and as their high school graduation grows closer, they start to wonder if it is one they truly want. Hailey, tattooed and pink-haired, dreams of seeing the world and studying great works of art up close—preferably with fellow artist Alek at her side. Clara’s dreams lie in the stars. She’s fascinated by the universe and the vast expanse of the night sky. Studying it has always seemed as out of reach as the stars themselves, but surgery might make both of their dreams come true. Or it could kill them. Sonya Mukherjee’s novel is a captivating tale about sisters with an unbreakable bond who would do anything for each other, even sacrifice their own dreams.

On shelves: July 26


The Assassin Game

It’s all fun and games until someone gets killed

If you’re looking for some thrills this summer, Kirsty McKay has you covered. There isn’t much to do at an elite boarding school located on a Welsh island, so the students have created a secret game to make things more interesting. Each year a team of students known as the Assassins’ Guild initiates members and invites them to play Killer. One member is chosen as the “Killer” and that person stages fake murders through elaborate pranks. When Cate is invited to play, she can hardly believe it. She’s eager to start playing, that is, until Vaughan shows up. They were childhood friends, but he isn’t at all like she remembered. He too is accepted into the Guild, and uses his computer skills to create an undetectable social network. Members of the Guild think this will be the best year yet, but that’s before the pranks turn dangerous. Cate begins to wonder if the “Killer” isn’t playing a game after all.

On shelves: August 2

All We Have Left

Friendship transfers a stranger into a relative

On September 11, 2001, Jessie McLaurin’s life changed forever. Her 19-year-old brother Travis died in the attacks, and her family has never recovered. Years later, still grieving and angry, she takes a can of spray paint and writes an Islamophobic slur across the wall of the Islam Peace Center. She’s caught and sentenced to community service at the Center. But Jessie isn’t our only narrator. The chapters alternate between the present day and 2001 when Travis meets Alia, a Muslim girl trapped with him in one of the towers. Wendy Mills crafts a touching story about loss, trauma, grief, and survival. It’s also an important story about understanding, and the continued rise of Islamophobia makes this a timely and vital read.

On shelves: August 9

Don’t You Trust Me?

Bad girls do it well

Patrice Kindl, best known for her romantic historical novels, steps into a new genre in this tale of a conniving teenager. Fifteen-year-old Morgan is blonde, blue eyed, and possesses a winning smile that instantly wins her the trust of everyone in the room. Oh, and she’s most definitely a sociopath. Emotions like love and fear are foreign to her, and she can’t recall ever having a conscience. When her parents ship her off to a school for troubled teens, she’s confident she can weasel her way out of it. That’s when she meets Janelle, a sobbing mess of a girl being torn from her boyfriend and sent to live with relatives she hasn’t seen since childhood. Originally dismissive of the other girl, Morgan changes her tune once she hears Janelle’s story and proposes that they switch places. Janelle runs off with her boyfriend, and Morgan settles in with a wealthy family who doesn’t have a clue that she isn’t their niece. Let the games begin. Fans of unreliable narrators and bad girls will eat this up.

On shelves: August 30


  1. I appreciate the detailed summaries that you provided, really this makes it much easier. A person can do their best not to judge a book by it’s cover, but often times that is the only thing that you have to go off of. The Memory Book looks particularly good to me, I’ll have for it! Thank you!

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