Representing a sampling of favorite YA genres, these stand-out, hot-off-the-press novels have been penned by authors of varied ethnic backgrounds and/or feature protagonists who are as wonderfully diverse as the books’ teen audiences. As they take on supernatural enemies, dive into pulse-pounding, do-or-die adventures, or wrestle with matters of the heart, the multidimensional characters introduced here sparkle with individuality, charisma, and relatability. Their experiences and points of view are organically woven into their tales, celebrating our glorious differences along with the universal threads that make us all part of the human tapestry.
Once upon a time…
Based on “One Thousand and One Nights,” Renée Ahdieh’s The Wrath & the Dawn (Putnam, 2015; Gr 9 Up) is lavishly plotted, opulently detailed, and emotionally sumptuous. After her best friend falls victim to the Caliph of Khorasan, the monstrous and merciless young king who marries young virgins only to murder them the next dawn, Shahrzad, 16, boldly volunteers as a bride, determined to seek vengeance upon the ruler even if it means killing him with her own hands. Despite steeling her heart to her task, she’s not quite prepared for the tiger-eyed Khalid, who is surprisingly kind, infuriatingly attractive, and consumed by mysterious inner demons. Keeping herself alive with her mesmerizing stories and considerable resourcefulness, Shahrzad gradually sees beyond Khalid’s facade, realizing that her enemy is not a “madman…hell-bent on senseless brutality,” but “a boy with secrets”—a boy she wants to know better. Meanwhile, the swoon-worthy Tariq, Shaz’s first love, is raising a rebellion to win her freedom; her bumbling, scholar father is dabbling in powerful magic; and Khorasan is threatened by political intrigue and a horrible curse. The Middle Eastern cultural setting is richly delineated as unexpected romance blossoms with the grace and intoxicating aura of the citrus blooms that surround the palace and soars with the arrow-tipped insight of true love. The novel’s breathless climax will leave readers clamoring for a sequel.
In Stacey Lee’s page-turning Western, two misfit girls find adventure, love, and a better future in Under a Painted Sky (Putnam, 2015; Gr 7 Up). The book opens in 1845 in Saint Joseph, MO, where Samantha Young, almost 16, and her Chinese-immigrant father run a busy dry goods store. Though he dreams of heading west to California, Sammy longs to return to New York City to pursue a career as a violinist. Tragedy strikes when her father dies in the fire that destroys their business. Now orphaned, Sammy accepts shelter from their wolfish landlord, and accidentally kills him when he tries to rape her. No one would believe the word of a girl—and a Chinese girl at that—so the only option is to flee for her life. She and new friend Annamae, a 16-year-old runaway slave, disguise themselves as boys and set off on the Oregon Trail, narrowly avoiding capture. When they meet three fun-loving young cowboys, Sammy and Andy ingratiate themselves into their company, hoping to improve their cover as well as their chances for survival on the perilous journey. But secrets can be hard to keep in close proximity, especially when Sammy realizes that she is falling for one of the boys. Filled with heart, humor, and hard-won revelations, Sammy’s first-person narration convincingly interweaves Chinese philosophy and folk beliefs, her passion for music, and her burgeoning sense of identity, while providing a unique perspective on historical events.
Mysteries, magic, and family secrets
The title character in Jennifer Latham’s Scarlett Undercover (Little, Brown, 2015; Gr 6-10) is a smart, sarcastic, take-charge Muslim American, who tested out of high school at 16 and launched her own detective agency in lieu of attending college. Though she’s proven herself as a private eye, she has been unable to solve the murder of her father seven years earlier. When nine-year-old Gemma comes into her office with a request to investigate her brother, whom she believes is responsible for the death of a friend, Scarlett takes the case. In quick succession, she is stalked by two women with strange gold circles in their eyes, an heirloom cherished by her Egyptian father is stolen from the apartment she shares with her older sister Reem, and an oddly familiar pattern (later identified as Solomon’s knot) begins cropping up everywhere. She soon finds herself embroiled in age-old battle between evil genies and the descendants of King Solomon, tasked with keeping them in check, one of whom happens to be Scarlett. Fueled by no-nonsense attitude, cut-and-dried similes, and snappy dialogue, Scarlett’s hard-boiled narrative keeps the action coming fast and furious, while also allowing her to contemplate her relationship with her faith (she is much less observant than her sister), unravel family secrets, and determine the course of her future. A rich multicultural cast, gritty urban setting, and romance complete this enthralling adventure.
Sierra Santiago is looking forward to summertime in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, spent working on her junk lot mural (a fierce five-story dragon), and hanging out with friends. But strange things are happening—somehow, impossibly, the painted face on another mural seems to be changing its expression; Grandpa Lázaro, debilitated by a stroke, conveys an enigmatic and bewildering warning (“They are coming for us. Coming for the shadowshapers”); and a house party is crashed by a creepy walking corpse with ice-cold hands and Sierra’s name on its lips. Oh, and people from the neighborhood are dying under baffling circumstances. As Sierra digs into the mystery with the help of fellow artist and schoolmate Robbie, she unearths family secrets and discovers that she, like her Puerto Rican forebears, is a Shadowshaper (Scholastic, June 2015; Gr 7 Up) with the magical ability to instill ancestral spirits into works of art. She is also squarely in the crosshairs of a maniacal killer who wants the power all for himself. Sierra is a self-assured, passionate heroine who is comfortable in her own skin and proud of her Afro-Latino heritage. Poetic and magnetic, Daniel José Older’s prose integrates authentic street dialogue, Spanish phrases, and vivid descriptions of the setting and its multicultural inhabitants as the action unfurls with scintillating suspense and a salsa beat.
Set in Utah, Valynne E. Maetani’s thriller Ink and Ashes (Tu Bks., June 2015; Gr 7 Up) is narrated by Claire Takata, a 16-year-old whose obsessively inquisitive nature has inspired her to become a self-taught lock pick and snoop extraordinaire. On the 10th anniversary of her father’s death, she stumbles upon a letter written by him in Japanese to her stepdad and is thrown for a loop, shocked to discover that the two men actually knew each other. Suddenly, questions about her family abound. What does the letter say? What exactly was the relationship between her two fathers? Why is her mother so reluctant to speak about her first husband? Did he really die from a heart attack? With the help of her brothers and the posse of neighborhood boys with whom they’ve grown up (they long ago dubbed themselves the Axis Powers), Claire does what she does best. As layers of the past are peeled away, she discovers that her father was a member of the dangerous and deadly yakuza, a Japanese organized crime syndicate, and that his past deeds might be coming back to haunt her. Complete with quirks, insecurities, and an impetuous nature, Claire is a well-drawn and likable protagonist, and her supporting cast is equally multidimensional. Dramatic tension and suspense are balanced by the comfortable camaraderie and funny dialogue provided by the Axis Powers (and relations with her best friend, Forrest, just might be intensifying). The intricate plot twists and fast-paced action will keep readers hooked.
The search for self
Adam Silvera’s More Happy than Not (Soho Teen, June 2015; Gr 9 Up) is set in a downtrodden Bronx neighborhood in a near future that seems bleakly realistic—aside from the existence of the Leteo Institute, a medical facility that offers a “cutting-edge memory-relief procedure.” There are plenty of memories that Aaron Soto, 16, would like to purge—the debilitating poverty of his housing project, the experience of discovering his father’s body in the bathtub of their one-bedroom apartment after he committed suicide; the smile-shaped scars on his own wrists. But he soldiers on, working part-time at the local bodega, playing summertime street games with his group of gone-bad boyhood friends, and hanging out with his girlfriend. Then he meets Thomas, a boy from a nearby project, who shares his passion for comics and fantasy literature, and Aaron finds their growing closeness uniquely satisfying. Wondering if he’s a “dude-liker,” Aaron breaks up with Genevieve and reveals his feelings to Thomas, who does not reciprocate them. Confused, suffering emotionally, and fearing that he will never fit in, Aaron is determined to seek “happy oblivion” via the Leteo procedure—but things do not go as expected. Candidly told in a genuine first-person voice, filled with humor and heartbreak, and replete with authentic characterizations, Silvera’s thought-provoking novel employs a futuristic twist to provide fresh perspective on very real coming-of-age issues and prejudices.
High-soaring sci-fi adventure
It’s 2048, about 30 years after Chinese dictator Ri Xiong Di launched a devastating drone attack that left the world locked into the Second Cold War. Looking for a weapon fast enough to outrun the drones, the U.S. military has been secretly testing experimental Streaker jets that require pilots with swift reflexes and top physical form—in other words, teens. Chase Harcourt, known by her call sign Nyx (as in the mythological daughter of Chaos), is one of two top pilots at Star Academy, whose need for speed is only outpaced by her love of pulling off daredevil stunts. While training for the upcoming trials that will hopefully prove the worthiness of these new jets and ensure government funding, Chase comes across a third Streaker prototype—one that she did not know existed—and pushes limits to find out more, a rash action that results in the deadly bombing of a Canadian installation and the addition to the Academy of a new and pilot. Equally talented, Tristan is also charismatic and trustworthy enough to tempt Chase to reveal the details of her unhappy childhood for the first time. As their relationship heats up, so does the political intrigue, and the future of the free world rests on Chase and her hotshot cohorts. In addition to an audacious female protagonist, Cori McCarthy’s Breaking Sky (Sourcebooks, 2015; Gr 9 Up) features strong characterizations, poetically described battle action, and non-stop thrills.
With his amazing endurance, innate strength and grace, and ability to adjust his movements to the weightless atmosphere of the Cube, Terran-born Carr “the Raptor” Luka, 17, is rapidly gaining fame as a Zeroboxer (Flux, 2015; Gr 10 Up). His popularity with fans is helped along by his own personal brandhelm (publicist). Young and gorgeous, Risha is from Mars (with their home falling on hard times, Earthlings have long resented colonists for the genetic modifications that allow them to survive the Red Planet’s atmosphere), and though relations between “earthworms” and “domies” are strained, he finds himself attracted to her. During a visit home to “balmy Toronto,” Carr’s confidence is shattered when he discovers that his abilities are the result of illegal genetic modification, making him an inadvertent part of a criminal conspiracy along with his mother and coach. Feeling betrayed, he considers coming clean, but his star is on a dizzying rise, he’s falling in love with Risha, and he carries the hopes and pride of all Terrans on his shoulders as he heads toward a much-touted match against a Martian zeroboxing superstar. Incorporating intricate world-building, an astute depiction of the pressure-cooker ambiance of pro sports, diverse and memorable characters, and ethical and social issues, Fonda Lee’s gripping novel is a knockout.
Starring a half-Colombian protagonist, Valerie Tejeda’s Hollywood Witch Hunter (Bloomsbury Spark, July 2015; Gr 10 Up) provides an effervescent brew of eye-of-newt atmosphere, mean girl snark, Los Angeles glitz and glamor, biting humor, and kick-butt action. An evil witch named Belinda has placed a curse on her brethren requiring them to repeatedly steal the youth and beauty of mortal women through murder and ritual sacrifice or else grow old and ugly. It’s been going on for years (no, Marilyn Monroe did not commit suicide), and only a race of men known as Hunters have the capability to protect womankind from these vicious predators. Iris belongs to such a family, and around her 16th birthday she discovers that she is the first girl ever to possess the Hunter gene that allows individuals to detect and dispatch witches. Convincing her reluctant father that she’s worthy of a spot on one of the teams, she’s undergone intensive training in tactics and weaponry but is still on probation and feels pressured to prove herself. So when a young starlet is murdered on her watch, Iris is determined to get to the bottom of the crime. Belinda denies responsibility and she just might be telling the truth. Iris must learn to trust her instincts and abilities—and her feelings for the hot new recruit with chocolate brown hair and sparkling green eyes—in order to take on the formidable new magical force that threatens the balance of power in Tinseltown. Fast-reading, saucy, and delightfully fun.
Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton’s Tiny Pretty Things (HarperTeen, 2015; Gr 9 Up) pulls back the curtain of Manhattan’s American Ballet Conservatory, the super-competitive feeder school for a prestigious professional company where teens live, attend school, and spend hours training. Of course there can only be one prima ballerina and many of the girls will stop at nothing—including bullying, backstabbing, and vicious mind games—to claw their way to the top. Vivacious and friendly Gigi Stewart, a new girl from California and the school’s only black student, wins a coveted role but keeps hidden the heart defect that just might end her dreams of a dancing career. Flawless, blonde Bette Abney balks at losing the choice roles she believes should be hers (and maybe even her boyfriend) to Gigi and tries to drown out her frustrations (and the searing comments of her cruel mother) by popping pills. Perfectionist E-Jun (June) Kim will starve herself into oblivion if it means winning a lead role and convincing her mother that she should remain at the academy. Told in alternating chapters from the characters viewpoints, this tale manages to convey each girl’s individuality and passion for dance while dishing out dramatic suspense, catty confrontations, and delicious dirt.
AHDIEH, Renée. The Wrath & the Dawn. Putnam. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399171611; ebook $10.99. ISBN 9780698185890.
CHARAIPOTRA, Sona & Dhonielle Clayton. Tiny Pretty Things. HarperTeen. 2015. Tr. $17.95. ISBN 9780062342393; ebook $10.99. ISBN 9780062342416.
LATHAM, Jennifer. Scarlett Undercover. Little, Brown. 2015. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316283939; ebook $9.99. ISBN 9780316283892.
LEE, Fonda. Zeroboxer. Flux. 2015. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9780738743387.
LEE, Stacey. Under a Painted Sky. Putnam. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399168031; ebook $10.99. ISBN 9780698173651.
MAETANI, Valynne E. Ink and Ashes. Lee & Low/Tu Bks. June 2015. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781620142110.
MCCARTHY, Cori. Breaking Sky. Sourcebooks. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781492601418.
OLDER, Daniel José. Shadowshaper. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. June 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545591614; ebook $17.99. ISBN 9780545591621.
SILVERA, Adam. More Happy than Not. Soho Teen. June 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781616955601.
TEJEDA, Valerie. Hollywood Witch Hunter. Bloomsbury Spark. July 2015. ebook $4.99. ISBN 9781619638600.
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