If the YA book scene of our 1980s youth was the literary equivalent of a rack of Twinkies and Doritos (think Sweet Valley High, Flowers in the Attic), the 2019 landscape is a parking lot of gourmet food trucks—the quality is high, the flavors are intense, and there’s something for every taste. 

By Catherine Hong

Speaking of food, let’s start with one of the summer’s best bets: With the Fire on High, by Elizabeth Acevedo, is about Emoni, an Afro-Latina high school senior who’s trying to do right by her toddler daughter while pursuing her dream of becoming a chef. This novel has it all—a vibrant setting, complex relationships and a heroine to root for. 

On a moodier note, there’s How It Feels to Float, by Helena Fox. Told through the voice of a teen girl named Biz who’s lived for years “floating” on the edge of mental illness, the novel—which might sound like a downer but isn’t—has a mesmerizing Sofia Coppola–esque vibe. 

Novels featuring trans and non-binary characters are getting their due, and will interest teens no matter where they sit on the gender spectrum: Birthday, by Meredith Russo, follows the friendship of two boys in small-town Tennessee as one of them transitions; Something Like Gravity, by Amber Smith, is about a girl who falls in love with a trans boy; and Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens, by Tanya Boteju, is a comedic novel about a queer girl who gets sucked into her town’s drag scene. FYI, dystopian fiction is still going strong. 

The setting of Internment, by Samira Ahmed, is a chilling near-future where American Muslims have been forced into detention camps. It’s an action-packed thriller that will make your teen sit up and think. 

And what would summer be without rom-coms? There’s Something About Sweetie is Sandhya Menon’s follow-up to When Dimple Met Rishi, and it’s as blisteringly smart and funny. This Time Will Be Different, by Misa Sugiura, set in a Silicon Valley suburb, explores race relations and mother-daughter ties—but at heart, it’s the story of 17-year-old CJ Katsuyama looking for love. If I’m Being Honest, by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka, is like Mean Girls meets The Taming of the Shrew, starring Cameron, a popular girl who’s a bitch and knows it. 

Finally, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, by Ben Philippe, is about black French Canadian teen Norris as he relocates to Austin. He’s confronted with the clichés of American high school—the Cheerleaders, Jocks and Loners. But when he meets a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, he realizes there’s more to life than being a snarky teen anthropologist. Sure, we can predict the ending, but just like a summer road trip, getting there is all the fun. 

Catherine Hong blogs about children’s books at mrslittle.com.

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