YA has always been fertile ground for stories of discovery, of courage, of challenging the status quo–all while being products of their time. That said, it really should be no wonder that more and more of the YA novels now reflect a social consciousness to match the political and social unease the world experiencing. Readers are craving racial/religious/gender diversity and representation on our bookshelves, and authors and publishers are rising to meet them. This richness and depth makes us want to dub 2017 as the Year of the Woke Teen.
But in YA literature, being woke is far from being just another marketing trend. YA books have long explored themes of social injustice, and the value that they add to today’s ongoing conversations are priceless, as evidenced by these praiseworthy titles that we at The Passed Note are hailing as the year’s best:
Long Way Down (Jason Reynolds) – All his life, Will has been told to follow The Rules: 1. Don’t cry. 2. Don’t snitch. 3. If someone you love gets killed, find the person who killed them and kill them. Now he grapples with the hardest choice of his life as he takes an elevator seven floors down. Told in sparse yet powerful verse, this story will stay with you long after you turn the last page. If you can only read one YA book this year, consider making it this one.
What Girls Are Made Of (Elana K. Arnold) – This is one of the year’s most YA divisive books, and for good reason. Arnold uses lyrical prose to give unflinching descriptions of virtue and virginity and the worth of a woman in today’s society. It can be a triggering read, so be forewarned by checking out our spoiler-free review here. This was shortlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
American Street (Ibi Zoboi) – Treading the fine line between gritty and magical, Zoboi’s tale chronicles Fabiola Toussaint’s immigrant experience from Haiti to the streets of Detroit. The last thing Fabiola expected was to enter the US without her mother. By relying on her own strength and faith, she discovers that the “shit you do for fam” can be both transformative and heartbreaking.
A Crown of Wishes (Roshani Chokshi) – The sequel to the 2016 best-seller The Star-Touched Queen, this novel uses rich, re-imagined Indian mythology as the backdrop to the journey of a princess turned prisoner of war. For The Passed Note staff member Megan, ‘the stubborn, brave, and determined protagonist is #goals, and the romance is sweet and funny, without being overly predictable.’
I Believe in a Thing Called Love (Maurene Goo) – 2017 was also the year for falling in love K drama style. Overachiever Desi Lee is wins at life but fails at getting a boyfriend, so she turns to her Appa’s beloved K dramas to find the formula for success. Fans of K drama will appreciate the nods to popular series and tropes, but those new to it will find that Goo wields her plot devices and cultural references with care and subtlety.
Goodbye Days (Jeff Zentner) – The last thing that Carver Briggs wanted was to lose his best friends in a horrible distracted driving accident. But that’s what happens when he sends them a text, and his loss is compounded by survivor’s guilt and the threat of a criminal investigation. While the circumstances surrounding Carver’s trauma is current, themes of friendship and redemption are certainly timeless.
Words in Deep Blue (Cath Crowley) – This Australian YA novel may echo stories of grief and moving on found in favorites like Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever and Gayle Forman’s I Was Here, but it does this with incomparable grace and language. Rachel’s struggle to get over her beloved brother Cal’s death is moving, and her will-they/won’t-they romance with estranged best friend Henry is honest and believable. As a bonus, Henry’s family owns a secondhand bookstore with a special section called the Letter Library, to which I think most readers will be drawn.
An Enchantment of Ravens (Margaret Rogerson) – There is a lot to recommend here. Solid world-building, sympathetic characters, and a compelling plot all work to make the town of Whimsy and its complicated relationship with the Fair Folk come to life. Rogerson’s Isobel and Rook are well-drawn and intriguing. The Passed Note’s Devon enjoys how this ‘quick easy read… celebrates the beauty of humanity.’ Read more of her review here.
One Dark Throne (Kendare Blake) – The three sister-queens Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe remain at odds after the Quickening, giving a whole new meaning to sibling rivalry. The Passed Note’s Meg can’t get enough of this series. She says: ‘It’s the second in a series, and brought back all the horror and intrigue of the first one. Her three main protagonists are dynamic and exquisitely written. Her world building is breathtaking.’
Saints and Misfits (S.K. Ali) – What’s a girl to do when her sexual predator not only remains in close proximity, but is also one of her community’s most admired people? Where can she turn? Janna Yusuf is a Muslim girl who keeps her hair covered and prays religiously but that isn’t enough to deter the monster at her mosque. ‘The shame should have been all his but I chose to carry it around this whole time,’ she reflects. Ali captures Janna’s fears with ease and clarity, and her story of fighting back will resonate with many readers.
Girl in Pieces (Kathleen Glasgow) – Charlie is a cutter. “I need to hurt myself more than the world can hurt me, and then I can comfort myself,” she admits, and as the novel unfolds, readers will discover the many ways that the world can hurt a young girl.The novel tackles self-harm and abuse so while it can be occasionally uncomfortable, readers will find its raw honesty moving. Our fearless leader Stephanie heartily recommends this.
The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas) – I’ve often felt that this is the definitive YA book of the year (if there is such a book). Starr’s struggle is ripped from today’s headlines, and it can’t have come at a better time. Starr Carter’s rich-city education affords her a little bubble of safety, but it all but disappears when she sees her friend Khalil shot by a cop right before her eyes. While she unpacks the complicated layers of grief and rage, she also uses these to challenge the world around her. The Passed Note’s Sydney calls this ‘a topical, compelling novel that uses fiction as a form of activism’; you can read more of her review here.
There were so many other amazing books released this 2017 that it was hard to keep this list short. Worth mentioning are Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End, Natalie C. Anderson’s City of Saints and Thieves, and many more. With this year’s powerful offerings, we can only hope that 2018’s titles will remain just as strong.