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Find more Top 10 YA Books for Adults
You’re all familiar with the Alex Awards, given by YALSA to books published for adults but with strong appeal for teen readers. Well, why should teens get everything nice? Let’s call these the Reverse Alex: books published for teens and youth that will appeal to adult readers. (Xela? Get it? Alex backwards? Maybe we’ll keep workshopping that one.)
This year’s selections were compiled by Maggie Reagan, associate editor, Books for Youth, Booklist and Book Links, who is both a teen-book expert and an adult.
The Astonishing Color of After. By Emily X. R. Pan. 2018. Little, Brown, $18.99 (9780316463997).
Leigh, reeling after her mother’s suicide and inspired by a huge, beautiful red bird who speaks in her mother’s voice, travels to Taipei to meet her estranged grandparents. Dynamic, brave Leigh is a hero to root for, and Pan’s treatment of mental illness and portrayal of Leigh’s grief journey will resonate with adult readers.
Check, Please! #Hockey. By Ngozi Ukazu. 2018. First Second, $16.99 (9781250177964).
Bitty gets a college hockey scholarship that shakes up his gentle, vlogging, pie-baking, figure-skating life in the first bound volume of this überpopular webcomic. Ukazu folds in plenty of hockey terms and highlights team camaraderie while skillfully dismantling themes of toxic masculinity and a slow-burn, same-sex romance is just the icing on the cake (sorry—pie).
Damsel. By Elana K. Arnold. 2018. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $17.99 (9780062742322).
A damsel is rescued by a prince, marries him, and becomes the perfect queen . . . but this pitch-black fairy tale delves into physical, sexual, and psychological violence, leading to a volcanic ending. Adults, too, need to learn to transform sadness and fear into active, productive fury; this book can help.
Dread Nation. By Justina Ireland. 2018. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $17.99 (9780062570604).
This explosive, subversive, fantasy-laced alternate history is set in a Civil War era where Native and Negro children attend combat schools to learn to vanquish the undead. Jane McKeene is a quick study, but her plans to return home to Kentucky are foiled when she becomes embroiled in the plight of missing Baltimore families. The thrilling plot makes this a breathless read, but Ireland’s exploration of topics of oppression, racism, and slavery, along with friendship, love, and independence, makes this a good choice for book groups.
The Hazel Wood. By Melissa Albert. 2018. Flatiron, $18.99 (9781250147905).
In this unsettling debut, Albert takes familiar stories and carefully pulls them apart; the end result is a sort of deconstructed fairy tale that, despite its familiarity, gets under the skin. Highly literary, occasionally surreal, and grounded by the hero’s clipped, matter-of-fact narrative voice, it’s a dark story that readers will have trouble leaving behind.
I, Claudia. By Mary McCoy. 2018. Carolrhoda, $18.99 (9781512448467).
Another retelling, this time of I, Claudius, set in an elite Los Angeles prep school where a self-proclaimed outsider confronts the political machine. In this smart, witty, suspenseful book, it becomes as difficult to tell whether the titular Claudia is manipulating her classmates as it is to tell whether McCoy is manipulating her readers, both to delightful effect.
Sadie. By Courtney Summers. 2018. St. Martin’s/Wednesday, $17.99 (9781250105714).
A teenager sets out to bring her sister’s killer to justice, while a true-crime podcaster visits her dead-end hometown to trace her whereabouts. Alternating between transcripts of the podcast and Sadie’s first-person account of her investigation, Summers’ novel is filled with her trademark biting commentary on sexual assault and the mistreatment of girls and women at the hands of predatory men as she slowly unspools both investigations at a measured, tantalizing pace.
Sea Prayer. By Khaled Hosseini. 2018. Riverhead, $15 (9780525539094).
This looks like a picture book, but it’s really illustrated poetry. In it, acclaimed novelist Hosseini pays tribute to the thousands of refugees who have fled wars and taken a chance on the sea, praying it will lead them to safety. Eloquent and aching, Sea Prayer will resonate with adults and older readers who have some understanding of the current world refugee crisis.
Summer Bird Blue. By Akemi Dawn Bowman. 2018. Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse, $18.99 (9781481487757).
When Rumi’s younger sister, Lea, dies, so does their dream of creating music together. Sent to live with an aunt in Hawaii, Rumi is strengthened by unlikely friendships, and her raw and intense emotions as she plumbs her courage to finish her and Lea’s unfinished song will leave readers breathless. This beautiful story sparkles as its complex characters dare to find footholds in the seemingly inescapable dark.
Tess of the Road. By Rachel Hartman. 2018. Random, $18.99 (9781101931288).
A girl who can’t help screwing up runs away in this fantasy road-trip adventure. Tess disguises herself as a boy, runs afoul of robbers, works as a manual laborer, poses as a priest, and struggles to overcome her own self-loathing. Plus, it is an absolutely essential exploration of rape culture in high fantasy.
We’ll Fly Away. By Bryan Bliss. 2018. Greenwillow, $17.99 (9780062494276).
The friendship between two boys starts to unravel in their senior year of high school. The reader knows it ends badly—the opening pages are the first of many letters Luke writes from death row to his friend Toby—but Bliss’ writing dares his readers not only to see the depths of human complexity but to care.
[Editor’s note: Maggie cruelly included 11 titles on this list, and since I am a bad editor/rabid reader, this top 10 list has a bonus title.]
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