Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen: This is actually the first Sarah Dessen book I’ve ever read, and I’m really glad I picked it up. I really appreciated that Dessen writes a story that’s engaging and enjoyable and that at the same time shows a very realistic situation that rang really true for me.
P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han: The sequel to last year’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I really appreciated how Lara Jean’s interests and personality are portrayed with no judgement; she’s allowed to love traditionally feminine things, to care about her family and friends, to be interested in and confused by boys without being shamed for that. It’s sadly rare. And I also just really liked these stories; they’re such fun teen romances.
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour: This was such an enjoyable book, with a perfect summer romance feel. I really appreciated the way the story does look at issues of race and class, and I felt like it was a great balance of enjoyment and substance. Emi’s maturing over the course of the book was depicted very naturally, and I felt like LaCour does a great job of showing both her strengths and flaws without judgement.
Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee: Lee’s debut is historical fiction set during the California Gold Rush in 1849. I really liked the mixture of seriousness, adventure, and humor, and I so loved the way the story is centered on Sammy and Andy. They are each others’ major strength and support and while there is some romance, their relationship is really the heart of the book. I’m looking forward to Lee’s next book, Outrun the Moon
Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowan: I’ve really been enjoying this slightly wacky Elizabethan spy series. In the second book, Beatrice has to navigate some tricky relationships and deal with her family and its past. I especially like the relationship between the different maids and the way they disagree while still backing each other up against the outside world and those who want to take advantage of them.
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy: Willowdean and her voice made this one for me–I loved how complicated and messy and human she is. She’s not a message in human form; she’s entirely herself. This is all too rare, and I loved it. I also appreciated how much of the book is about her friendships with other girls, which I think helps to make her story even richer and more complex.
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds: Matt’s life has been pretty messed up ever since his mom got sick and died, so it might seem a little strange that he decides to work at a funeral home. But in the end, it turns out to be a great decision, and a life-changing one. This book is on the quiet side, but I really appreciated the way it engages with questions about family and loss, and how it answers them without providing simplistic or easy answers. It also has some funny moments, and Matt’s voice is very strong.
Kissing Ted Callahan and Other Guys by Amy Spalding: I love Amy Spalding’s books, and I’m sad that I somehow missed writing about this one! It’s a really fun book, but it’s also–as I often find with Spalding–quietly questioning certain patterns in society. In this case, I liked how Riley is able to be interested in several guys without judgement, and the way the plot refuses to go in a cliched direction.
All the Rage by Courtney Summers: This was a hard read, but it’s so, SO important and valuable. I found Romy heart-breakingly believable and vulnerable; her journey through the course of this story really touched me. It’s a book about fallout, about finding a way through, and finding yourself again. It’s such a (sadly) timely book, and one that will resonate with so many readers.
This Side of Home by Reneé Watson: Watson’s YA debut is an incredibly thoughtful and nuanced story about growing up, about your home changing around you, and about learning to see your family in a new way. It looks at gentrification and its effects in a way that I think will resonate with a lot of readers around the country (it certainly did with me). It’s an important book, but it’s not didactic or preachy in any way.
Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein: Wein’s latest book returns to Ethiopia, where her earlier Aksum series was set. I loved the story of Emilia and Teo, and their relationship as siblings. The story opens a fascinating and horrifying window into the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia, which is a too-forgotten part of history.
Six Impossible Things & Wildlife by Fiona Wood: Australian imports, which I highly recommend reading in the original publication order (they were published back to front over here). These are really character driven books, and I appreciated how well Wood captures the voice of smart and slightly pretentious teenagers. They’re kind of heart-breaking, but in a beautifully written way.