6 YA Short Story Collections with Wide Teen Appeal

These recent short story collections centering around college, mental health experiences, trans identity in fantasy, and more will appeal to a wide range of YA readers.

These recent short story collections centering around college, mental health experiences, trans identity in fantasy, and more will appeal to a wide range of YA readers.

Avachat, Aashna, ed. Study Break: 11 College Tales from Orientation to Graduation. 288p. Feiwel & Friends. Mar. 2023. Tr $20.99. ISBN 9781250848055. 
Gr 11 Up–This is an appealing short story collection for college-bound juniors and seniors looking for a taste of what the experience might be like. The authors are from Generation Z, just a few years removed; who better to telegraph the nuances of academic life and newfound independence? In tales that move from fall to spring semester in chronological months, each author pens a story of college life. While some are about partying and relationship drama, others are explorations of choosing a major and identifying a religious affiliation on campus regardless of what their mother thinks. With these four examples, the range is as wide as the authors had creativity to share. Mentioned in the opening, the collection was born from a need for more representative teen fiction set in college. It delivers. The stylistic format of semesters and months replicates the rollercoaster of college emotions: nervousness at freshman orientation to graduation elation. No single story stands out because they are all evenly matched in tone to the atmosphere of the anthology, a testament to each author’s individual strengths. The identity and experiences of both the authors and their characters are diverse. VERDICT If the purpose was to provide more college-age voices in teen literature, consider it done. Readers will look forward to more works by these authors and new endeavors in this age and experience category. A worthy purchase.–Alicia Abdul

Carpenter, Nora Shalaway & Rocky Callen, eds. Ab(solutely) Normal: Short Stories That Smash Mental Health Stereotypes. 336p. Candlewick. Apr. 2023. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781536224146.
Gr 8 Up–Using mental health as the unifying theme of these short stories is a strong fit as reading for teens, their trusted adults, and community. The 16 short stories, while fictional, were all carefully chosen based on the contributing authors’ own experiences related to mental health challenges either as a lived experience or similar experience that is noted in the introduction by the editors. Authors in this collection were given the autonomy to write the stories in their preferred format, whether it be verse or graphic, with results such as Nikki Grimes’s verse approach to “Avalanche” that are worthy of celebration. In addition, each author wrote a note that appears after their story to share their personal connection. That personal touch gives each story extra weight and strengthens the collection. The recognition of a range of mental health needs from OCD and PTSD are as present as anxiety and rarely discussed premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Viewed as a whole, the stories are paced well, and all give credit to an empathetic reader as the writers share their experiences through fiction. Readers who related to [Don’t] Call Me Crazy, edited by Kelly Jensen, will pick up this title as well. VERDICT The range of writing styles and techniques employed by notable authors about mental health makes this a strong addition to the shelves.–Alicia Abdul

Charaipotra, Sona & Samira Ahmed, eds. Magic Has No Borders352p. ­HarperTeen. May 2023. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780063208261.
Gr 7-10–This collection of short stories featuring South Asian characters and magic fills a void while celebrating culture and genre. With a vivid front cover and artwork introducing each short story, it invites a wide range of audiences. Each tale features Southeast Asian myths or legends intertwined with diaspora experiences of culture, religion, and geographic location. Notable authors, such as Sabaa Tahir and Tracey Baptiste, and newer voices, such as Naz Kutub and Tahir Abrar, set the tone for a deeply imaginative reading experience. Contributing authors raise the bar in this volume with their thoughtful interpretations, which range from fun to frightening. This collection is aimed at a wide audience of teens, whether this mirrors experiences they have had or not. Some selections include notes at the end that provide an enriched understanding of the tale; all would have benefitted from this, but regardless, every tale is magic and needs no explanation. The editors made a conscious effort to be inclusive of underrepresented groups across different genres for teens featuring South Asian characters. VERDICT As short story collections go, this strong selection featuring South Asian characters is joyous and original. Add it to the shelf.–Alicia Abdul

davis, g. haron, ed. Transmogrify!: 14 Fantastical Tales of Trans Magic. 416p. HarperTeen. May 2023. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780063218796.
Gr 9 Up–This anthology was created with the intention of giving trans identities more visibility in fantasy for teens. Davis explains in their foreword that the focus of the collection would be in representing identities that have been missing. So, 14 stories by authors on the continuum wrote their hearts out in fun, meaningful, and fantastical ways, guided by the hands of davis, as editor, someone who is no stranger to publications including anthologies for teens. Recognizable authors, such as Cam Montgomery, anchor a collection that also features newcomers, such as Dove Salvatierra, whose first published work is their short story here called “Espejismos.” The imbalance of the collection does not come from the prior resume of the authors, but from the lack of development the fantasy short stories need to thrive. Readers will want more from each of the stories. A lack of worldbuilding in this short format prevents a fully realized setting, leaving more questions than answers for avid fantasy readers. Yet, the characters are richly entertaining, such as Ari in Reneé Reynolds’s “Verity,” who attends a magical school and loves the library, or Ella in Mason Deaver’s “­Genderella.” The visibility outweighs these issues, though, as the fantasy is secondary to the celebration of intersectionality and genre. VERDICT The cover includes the quote that “magic is for everyone,” and this short story collection lives up to it with trans characters at the forefront. A strong purchase for YA shelves.–Alicia Abdul

Schmidt, Bryan Thomas & Henry Herz, eds. The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie. 350p. Blackstone. Apr. 2023. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781665047036.
Gr 9 Up–Mixing the fantastical with the historical, Schmidt and Herz have collected 16 short stories surrounding the life and times of Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize–winning scientist. Each writer uses one segment of her life, whether it be her childhood, experiments and discoveries, or her marriage and children, to blend factual and fantastical imaginings of a curious woman living in a man’s world of science in 1800s Europe. Readers should not be fooled—this is not historical fiction, nor is it a nonfiction collection of her life, but a wide-ranging, genre-bending exploration of Curie, using her name, but playing loose with most of the facts. This approach makes it hard to categorize and contextualize. Several of the short stories include a “science note” at the end about what was real; more often, the stories are not based in fact, and that is distracting while also appearing disingenuous to her greatness as a scientist, though the editors state that this is not their intent. Their intent is to inspire a new generation of STEM thinkers by blending it with speculative fiction. That value is recognized with the skilled pen of Jane Yolen, who writes four verse pieces interspersed in the collection, which injects a seriousness to the fantastical elements. VERDICT This falls short in totality. Preferred reading goes to nonfiction about ­Marie Curie rather than this collection loosely inspired by her life.–Alicia Abdul

Strong, Karen, ed. Cool. Awkward. Black. 336p. Viking. Jan. 2023. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593525098. 
Gr 7-10–With the lineup of popular Black authors that Strong assembled to write Black characters in the geekdom for teens—among them Roseanne A. Brown, Julian Winters, and Ibi Zoboi—it wasn’t going to be hard to see the personally geeky sides of the authors themselves revealed in their fictionalized characters. Each story uses a corner of the nerdy world for characters to interact, be it outside a comic convention, playing word games online, invited into an inner circle as a protector of a book to keep a magical being at bay, or as a theater kid. This collection set out to bring all types together, but it also provides a range of genres for readers to enjoy. The success of being multi-genre while appealing to the awkward kids is evident in the adventures within each story, moving seamlessly from magic to reality, whether the character is trans or into the solar system. Reading it feels like a mystery box where every story is the most coveted prize. Each story had room to expand, because the short stories are not just several pages, but a dozen pages or more. To cut them shorter would have been a disservice. The energy that each story brings matches the others. The evenness of each wasn’t about being duplicative, but instead complementary. Three standouts that showcase the variety offered in the collection are “The Book Club” by Shari B. Pennant, “Corner Booth” by Leah Johnson, and “Honor Code” by Kwame Mbalia. All main characters are Black. VERDICT All told, the collection is strong for several reasons and a necessary purchase for teen anthologies in the library.–Alicia Abdul

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