There are so many great Young Adult books coming out in 2016 that it can be a little overwhelming to contemplate which you should add to your "to-read" list. Working in an independent bookstore, our mantra is, "So many books, so little time." I took the liberty of sharing five standout titles that have been or will be released in the first half of this year that you absolutely need to read.
WILD SWANS by Jessica Spotswood (May, Sourcebooks Fire)
Spotswood's first contemporary novel is about many things: first love, delinquent parents, family legacies, but most of all it's about learning not to be beholden to other people's expectations, be they your well-meaning guardian, your peers, or society as a whole. Readers of all ages can learn from Ivy, from her unabashedly feminist best friend, and from all the Milbourn women -- as broken and brilliant as they may have been -- that came before her. Between the vibrant characters and the subtle but striking prose, this book left me in awe. Wild Swans is a credit to its genre: a contemporary coming-of-age story that defies convention and raises the bar for YA.
HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR by John Corey Whaley (May, Dial Books)
Printz Award-winning author John Corey Whaley (Where Things Come Back) delivers his third novel: a funny, heartfelt story about an agoraphobic teenage boy, Solomon, and the pathologically ambitious psych student who inserts herself into his life to try to "fix" him. It's not what you think -- the two of them don't fall in love. (It's a little more complicated than that.) But the deep friendship that grows between them changes both of their perspectives. Highly Illogical Behavior is a charming, heartwarming, and profound affirmation of the importance of connection. John Corey Whaley strikes the perfect balance between humor and heart in this delightful story of friendship, family, first love, and learning that some things are worth going outside of your comfort zone.
INTO THE DIM by Janet B. Taylor (available now, Houghton Mifflin)
Time travel novels are hard to do, and it's even harder to do them right. Janet B. Taylor must have the secret formula, because her debut novel Into the Dim is pitch-perfect. Oblivious to the existence of time travel, the main character, Hope, is still grieving her mother's death when she's summoned to her aunt's estate in Scotland, where she learns that her family is actually part of a secret society of time travelers. From there, the majority of the novel takes place in 12th-century Europe, where Hope and her cohorts cross paths with historical figures like Eleanor of Aquitaine during their quest to find Hope's mother, who may still be alive. Hope is a wonderful character in her lack of competency; she's not a typical YA heroine who has her act together and is fully prepared for the peril she's about to face. She's incredibly smart, but not trained in combat, and she's understandably overwhelmed by the challenges of being transported nine centuries back in time. Into the Dim is a powerful debut that's exquisitely paced and full of memorable characters, all set along the backdrop of a rich historical setting.
SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN by Jeff Garvin (available now, Balzer + Bray)
I can't remember the last time I read a book with a voice as strong and captivating as Riley's. The character felt so vivid, so real, so true that I thought Riley could easily be an actual person and that Jeff Garvin had simply stolen their diary. Riley Cavanaugh is many things: a music lover, a new kid in school, a child of a politician, a sufferer of anxiety, and Riley is also gender fluid. As it is, Riley struggles at school, being bullied for dressing androgynously or for not obviously fitting into a binary classification, so Riley hasn't told anyone except their psychiatrist about being gender fluid. But when she suggests that Riley start an anonymous blog, Riley quickly becomes a prominent voice in the online LGBTQ community. Bold, tender, and poignant, Symptoms of Being Human is an essential portrait of what it means to be just that: human.
IVORY AND BONE by Julie Eshbaugh (June, HarperTeen)
Ivory and Bone is a prehistoric pseudo-retelling of Pride and Prejudice where the main characters are gender-swapped. If this sounds like a gimmick, I promise you Julie Eshbaugh will prove you wrong in her execution. Personally, I've always wanted a Darcy-esque female character in YA, and Mya did not disappoint. She's the headstrong but quick to judge huntress of a rival clan who turns our main character, Kol's, life upside down. Kol makes a great Elizabeth Bennett. A charismatic and engaging narrator, Kol is passionate, intelligent, and, above all, protective of his younger brothers. The clan dynamics mimic the class structure of 19th-century England, but with much higher stakes. The lush, dangerous prehistoric setting lends itself to a fast-paced plot that keeps you glued to the pages, but at its core, Ivory and Bone is about the characters and how they overcome their clans' complicated history, as well as their own misconceptions. This is a truly unique story with compelling characters and a subtle Jane Austen influence.
There you have it: don't overlook these remarkable 2016 releases. And stay tuned for the can't-miss titles of 2016, part II.
*I received these free advance reader copies from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.