Let it snow! Snow days are great for snowball fights, igloo forts, and sledding. Once you’re done freezing your toes off, you’ll want to head inside for some hot cocoa and a great book. There’s something for everyone this season, from historical fiction about World War I and the Civil War, to a tale of a big red button that could save the world and a Hawaiian pirate who travels through time. While many of the books are rollicking adventures and good fun, quite a few on this list tackle serious issues that real teens face every day, such as mental illness, anxiety disorders, and gun violence. Whether you’re looking for a light read by the fire or an unflinching novel about real issues, we’ve got something here that you’ll want to pick up.
Follow the rules and no one gets hurt
Parker Grant’s rules are rigid and unbreakable. Some come from her blindness: No touching without warning, no helping unless asked, and don’t think she’s stupid just because she can’t see. Others come from her past: No crying and no second chances. She lost her mom years ago in the same car accident that robbed her of her vision, and three months ago, her dad died of an overdose. Each day she doesn’t cry, she gives herself a gold star. As for the rule about second chances, that’s the fault of Scott Kilpatrick, the boy who broke her heart. His sudden reappearance in her life throws Parker for a loop. She’s dealing with too much already: moving in with her aunt and cousin, trying out for the track team, and learning to cope with her dad’s death. The last thing she needs is Scott trying to weasel his way back into her life. This contemporary novel realistically portrays the bonds of friendship, the challenges of overcoming grief, and the healing process of learning to trust and forgive.
On shelves: December 1
Authors like Sarah J. Maas and Sara B. Larson have been talking this up on Twitter for ages, so many fantasy readers have probably already preordered their copy of Truthwitch. But for those who don’t know, this is the first book in Susan Dennard’s Witchlands series and it takes place in a world where a lucky few are born with a magical skill called a witchery. Safi is a Truthwitch, meaning she can tell if a person is lying or being honest. This comes in handy when dealing with other members of the nobility, though it also places a target on her back once the peace between her continent’s three empires comes to an end. Hunted by mercenaries, princes, and emperors who wish to extort her power, Safi and her best friend Iseult must embark on a wild and dangerous adventure if they hope to keep their freedom (and their lives). Iseult has powers too; she’s a Threadwitch, a person with the ability to see the invisible ties that connect people. This is an enchanting and epic story that will leave readers clamouring for more.
On shelves: January 5
A tough and timely read
This is perhaps the most frightening book on our preview, and as a result, it is not for all readers. Debut novelist Marieke Nijkamp tells the heart-wrenching story of a school terrorized by a gunman for 54 agonizing minutes. Claire is running on the school track when she first hears the shots coming from inside. She doesn’t yet know that her ex Tyler has locked the doors of the auditorium and is holding teachers and her fellow students hostage. Inside the auditorium are students Autumn (Tyler’s sister), Sylv (Autumn’s girlfriend), and Tomás (Sylv’s brother). These three and Claire share their stories in alternating perspectives as they fight to survive and help each other. We think Julie Murphy, author of Dumplin’ says it best, “This book will leave you asking questions that we as a society should have answered a long time ago.”
On shelves: January 5
Faith, fraternity, and freedom
Jon Walter, in his first book for teens, takes readers to a cotton plantation in Mississippi during the final years of the Civil War. Samuel’s life takes a turn when he accepts the blame for a mistake that his 6-year-old brother makes. Instead of being scolded, the orphanage he calls home sends him down South and he’s sold into slavery, stripped of his name, and sent to work on a plantation. Samuel clings to his faith for hope, though the words he uses are the same ones that the white locals use to justify the barbaric ownership of fellow human beings. But Samuel is intelligent and he’ll do whatever it takes to get back to his brother and live as a free man once again. For readers who enjoy this novel and are looking for more books about black identity in America, check out American Ace.
On shelves: January 5
Swim to the surface
This is another novel on our list that deals with school shootings, though its focus is on the aftermath of the events. Morgan is paralyzed by her panic attacks. Ever since the shooting at her high school, which left students and teachers dead, she’s stayed confined in the small apartment she shares with her mother and brother. It’s safer there. In the apartment she can take online classes, follow a routine, and avoid the dangers of the outside world. But summer is around the corner and with it brings longing. As a swimmer, Morgan misses the ocean and the feeling of gliding through open waters. With the help of her family and her hot new neighbor, perhaps her desire to go out into the world and truly live can overcome her darkest fears.
On shelves: January 12
Dust in the wind
Henry Denton has 144 days to save the world… or let it burn. Aliens are planning on destroying the planet and for some reason they’ve given Henry a big, red button that he can press to stop them. The problem is, Henry doesn’t know if he wants to stop them. He’s been a wreck ever since his boyfriend’s suicide, his grandmother is losing her memory, and he is being relentlessly bullied at school. Save this crappy world? Henry isn’t so sure the world deserves to be saved. Enter Diego Vera, an artist from Colorado who believes in living in the here and now. The sci-fi element of this story isn’t too heavy, so contemporary fans, don’t be turned off by the alien talk here. This is a thought-provoking and poignant read about our place in this crazy world.
On shelves: January 19
Be careful what you look for
How far would you go to solve the biggest mystery in your life? When Immy Scott’s father disappears on Valentine’s Day, she’s convinced that he left in search of her mother, who abandoned them shortly after Immy was born. Immy’s father writes medical mysteries and she’s amassed a lifetime of sleuthing skills from reading his books. She adds tips from Lisbeth Salander, Sherlock Holmes, and Rebecca to her literary arsenal, and then heads out to find her parents. Debut author Rebecca Podos crafts an impressive tale of family secrets, obsession, and healing.
On shelves: January 26
And miles to go before I sleep
Anna is only seven when German soldiers come and take her father away. World War II is devastating Poland and she’s an orphan without a protector or place to go. When Anna befriends the Swallow Man, who speaks many languages (including bird), she attaches herself to him and follows him through the woods of Poland. Years pass and the two grow close as they avoid the watchful eyes of Nazi soldiers, and the Swallow Man teaches Anna about survival in the wilderness. He can’t protect her from the harsh realities of the world around them, but he equips her with the tools he can by providing answers to her endless questions. This lyrical novel weaves together elements of historical fiction, folklore, and fairy tales. It’s haunting and moving, and readers won’t soon forget the journey they take with Anna.
On shelves: January 26
The debutante and the demon
Have you seen the kickass trailer for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? While we wait for that killer adaptation to hit theaters, this is the book we’ll be occupying ourselves with. In this Regency tale, the heroine is Lady Helen Wrexhall, a young girl ready to be introduced into society. There are two men vying for her attention: the Duke of Selburn (a respectable man who could give her everything a respectable young lady could want) and the rakish Earl of Carlston (who maybe killed his wife, and is definitely determined to draw Helen into the underbelly of polite society). You see, Helen has begun to notice strange things about herself. Her reflexes have grown quicker and her hearing sharper, and Carlston knows why. There are demons in London’s dark shadows, and she’s one of the few who can help to stop them. The first in a planned trilogy, this is a long read that rewards readers willing to follow it to the end.
On shelves: January 26
Gone but never forgotten
Ruta Sepetys’ latest historical novel tells the oft-forgotten story of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in January of 1945. With World War II raging around them, three refugees seek out the German ship that has promised to evacuate them. The perspective switches between Florian (a Prussian boy), Amelia (a pregnant Polish girl with no papers), Joana (a Lithuanian nurse), and Alfred (a German soldier stationed on the ship). Readers begin the novel knowing that the ship will sink, but the characters’ stories are powerful nonetheless and give readers insight into the lives of four very different people during the war.
On shelves: February 2
Sailing on uncharted seas
Nix is born in Honolulu in 1868, but she doesn’t stay there for long. Her father, Slate, captains a time-traveling pirate ship and together they’ve sailed through time and space, from 2nd century B.C. China to modern-day New York City. Nix is always ready for the next adventure, until she learns that her father wants to take them back to Hawaii, to before her mother died during childbirth. Tampering with the past could have devastating consequences. It could erase Nix entirely from history, but her father is relentless in his pursuit and Nix can’t help wanting to travel there with him. There’s a love triangle thrown in for good measure, making this a spirited and romantic sea adventure for fantasy fans.
On shelves: February 16
Firsts and lasts
Tommy Wallach, the author of We All Looked Up, weaves another powerful tale of endings and beginnings. High school senior Parker Santé hasn’t spoken a word since his father died five years earlier. Unlike those around him, he feels his future is uncertain and skips out on school most days in favor of hanging out in fancy hotels where he can practice his pickpocketing. Parker is doing just that when he meets Zelda Toth, a silver-haired girl who claims to be 246 years old. Parker isn’t sure that he believes her, but he listens as she explains that she’s lived for too long and is planning on ending her life. But first, she plans on spending the last of her money: $5,000. Parker is all too willing to help her blow that much cash, but Zelda has a few conditions first. Starred by by Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, this contemporary novel about what to do with the days you are given is a can’t-miss read of the season.
On shelves: February 23