** NOTE: I’ve been acting as a judge for round 1 of the Cybils YA SF category, but the inclusion of any nominated books here should be taken as my personal opinion and not necessarily indicative of any shortlist, including my own **
An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet: This book took me somewhat by surprise; I had heard good things about it, but I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did. I wasn’t expecting to find a story that touched me so deeply personally. When I step back, I can see that it does a number of things that I love: setting is so important, it’s a story after the war ends, the language is poetic but not overblown, and the characters are complex. But really I don’t want to step back; I want to hold it close forever.
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow: I’ve loved all of Bow’s books; the kind of characters and questions she writes about just work for me. In this case, I was impressed by the fact that this story doesn’t shy away from following through with threats, and yet it never loses sight of hope, or the importance of several different kinds of love. I loved Greta, and Da-Xia, and the thoughtful, complicated take on what makes us human.
Rook by Sharon Cameron: A YA retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel was always going to be a book I had to read, but I wound up being pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s less a straight retelling and more a story that touches on some of the same beats. I found the post-apocalyptic setting, and the characters to be fun and intriguing.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll: A YA graphic novel, with fairy-tale elements (especially Little Red Riding Hood). A lot of times horror stories don’t work really well for me, but in this case Carroll’s superb visual storytelling and the almost-familiarity of the stories were great. The ending is deliciously creepy, and I’m going to be watching for Carroll’s work in the future.
The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn: Hahn’s second novel is a quiet story about the Fates and what happens when they leave their tasks and involve themselves in mortal affairs. It’s thoughtful, sad, and beautifully written. While it does talk about big ideas, it’s definitely character-driven, and Chloe’s voice works so well for the story that’s being told here.
Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson: This near future apocalyptic thriller is Johnson’s second book. I found it really thoughtful, but also just incredibly exciting. I liked the characters, especially Bird, appreciated how diverse the cast of characters was.
Prairie Fire by E.K. Johnston: I wasn’t sure how this sequel to The Story of Owen would go, since that one seemed so strong on its own. As it turned out, Siobhan’s quiet and authoritative voice carried over perfectly, and the story was just as emotionally effective. I appreciated the way Siobhan’s learning to deal with her new physical reality is treated. And the ending had me in tears.
All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings, About a Girl by Sarah McCarry: This was the year I finally read McCarry’s books to date, and WOW. Her language is absolutely gorgeous, rich and lush and powerful. The references to myths add depth to the stories, and the characters are complex and vivid. I especially loved About a Girl and the way we see Tally’s voice change over the course of the story.
A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz: This is perhaps the most unusual book I read all year. Its setting and characters are hard and beautiful and flawed; the tricks it plays with narrative are impressive; the moment when we finally understand what’s happening worked so well for me. I know Moskowitz has written in several genres, but reading this one made me resolve to read her backlist asap.
Pure Magic by Rachel Neumeier: The second book in the Black Dog series. I was really curious to see where Neumeier would go with this story; it definitely held some surprises! I love Natividad a lot, and I really liked Justin, who’s a new character in this book. Plus, the romance works for me. The world, with its shifting tensions and backgrounds, is really interesting. I’m looking forward to the third book.
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older: Sierra’s story weaves in so many big issues: art, family, racism, and cultural appropriation. But they’re all centered on Sierra herself, whose voice I loved. She’s such a well-written character, in both her strengths and flaws. This is Older’s first YA book, and I hope it won’t be his last.
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett: It seems so fitting to me that Pratchett’s last book is a Tiffany Aching book, that it’s about the passing of a responsibility and power to a younger generation. I cried when I read the dedication and most of the way through the book. It’s a wonderful, heartbreaking goodbye to a beloved author, but even more, it’s a lovely book in its own right.
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby: Bone Gap is such a magically beautiful book, with its rich language and echoes of myths and fairy tales. I loved that it takes these echoes of old stories and points out the darkness in them but also reinforces the importance of friendship and love and saving yourself. I especially loved Roza and Petey and felt that they’re at the heart of this book.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson: I’ve loved Nimona ever since it was being published as a webcomic and seeing it as a book gave me a weird sense of pride (although I did miss all the comments from other readers). I love Nimona and the way she’s understood and portrayed. And the setting and other characters are also so enjoyable–I was just as invested on this second read.
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma: This is a weird book which rewards the patient reader. But the story that unfolds deals thoughtfully with friendship between girls, privilege, and revenge. The language is lush and helps to both reveal and obscure the motivations of the characters. And I found the resolution incredibly powerful.
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson: Although these maybe aren’t technically considered YA, Kamala is a teenager and these comics had a very YA sensibility to me. I absolutely love what I’ve read of Kamala’s story to date–Wilson’s smart and snarky dialogue, the thoughtful storylines, and the great art all combine to be hugely enjoyable.