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We Were Liars, E. Lockhart
Martha’s Vineyard is the backdrop for We Were Liars, about the enviable—you’d think, anyway—Sinclair family and its handsome generations of rich, well-dressed progeny. But tan lines and summertime laissez-faire only mask a rotten dynamic, the titular sin and a horrible accident that leaves a Sinclair granddaughter injured and without her memory.
Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson, the author of 2001’s critically acclaimed Miracle’s Boys and 29 other books (including three Newbery Medal winners), took a poetic turn for Brown Girl Dreaming, a memoir in verse drawing on her own experience growing up in the 1960s south (she was born in ’63) and subsequent move to New York. Among other acclaim, Brown Girl Dreaming won the 2014 National Book Award in Young Adult Fiction.
I’ll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson
Twin brother and sister Noah and Jude take turns narrating Nelson’s second novel as they navigate their complicated relationship—Jude is the beautiful, outgoing free spirit, while Noah struggles to come out of his shell, and the closet—and their subsequent falling out. The siblings’ stories jump through their high school years, weaving a complicated picture of teenage turmoil.
Belzhar, Meg Wolitzer
Wolitzer (The Wife, The Ten-Year Nap) is another author getting in on the young-adult game this year with Belzhar, about two teenagers riven by a death. Narrative glue comes in the form of The Bell Jar, which Jam, Belzhar’s protagonist, is studying at her Vermont boarding school (did you catch the wordplay in the two titles?). But Belzhar is neither maudlin nor craven, and Wolitzer, who also deployed a teenage cast for her adult readers in last year’s The Interestings, has a knack for her newfound genre.
Half a King, Joe Abercrombie
British writer Abercrombie is thought of by many as a master of the more cynical, violent type of fantasy fiction called “grimdark.” (He even goes by @lordgrimdark to his 19,000 twitter followers.) Half a King is the first in Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy (the second book arrives in February and the third next fall), and his first YA foray. George R.R. Martin is a fan of the Viking-esque story, revolving around around Yarvi’s succession to the throne of Gettland and a coup staged by his own uncle. Yarvi, you see, has a deformed hand, which makes him “half a king” in the eyes of his detractors—and all the more human in the eyes of the reader.
Althea & Oliver, Cristina Moracho
Moracho’s debut chronicles Althea and Oliver, whose years-long friendship veers wildly off course —and from North Carolina to Delaware to New York City—when Oliver receives a medical diagnosis that changes his life. The story is set in the 1990s, so it won’t necessarily be a throwback to anything recognizable to its target audience, but its difference here, and with Oliver’s metaphor-heavy illness are part of what make Althea and Oliver a standout.
Skink—No Surrender, Carl Hiaasen
It’s hard to imagine how Hiaasen, the master of racy, fun Floridian crime novels decidedly for grownups, took one of his strangest characters and made him just right for a younger crowd. But he did, and so here’s Skink, the glass-eyed former Florida governor Clinton Tyree (who got his monosyllabic moniker when he decided to live off the grid). Here, Skink becomes a sidekick—or vice versa—to a good-hearted teenager in search of his cousin who’s disappeared with a guy she met on the Internet.
No One Else Can Have You, Kathleen Hale
Wisconsin-born Hale infuses her “you betcha” accent into the quirky dialogue of this comedic whodunnit that takes place in the writer’s home state. Kippy Bushman sets off to solve the murder of her best friend, Ruth, with Ruth’s diary as her clue guidepost, and she keeps the reader guessing with a slew of totally suspicious, totally oddball characters. It’s like “Fargo” for teens—minus the wood chipper.
The Retribution of Mara Dyer, Michelle Hodkin
Book three in Hodkin’s psychological-thriller Mara Dyer trilogy (there was first The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer followed by The Evolution of Mara Dyer) opens with the stricken teenager on the verge of a particularly terrifying self-discovery. Soon, a fuller understanding of her circumstances—a behavioral health institute; blood everywhere—emerges, and then of course there’s the retribution. Hodkin’s conclusion wraps up unanswered questions for diehard fans but maintains the series’ suspense level.
This One Summer, Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki
The Tamaki cousins return after 2008’s graphic novel Skim to focus on two friends, Rose and Windy, during a confusing, exciting, sometimes sorrowful summer vacation. Charcoal-and-ink illustrations beautifully capture the heartbreak of family depression, and the growing pains a child feels entering scary, thrilling teenagerdom.