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Find more Top 10 First Novels for Youth
A wealth of outstanding debut novels graced the pages of Booklist between November 1, 2018 and October 15, 2019, but these were unforgettable.
The Best at It. By Maulik Pancholy. 2019. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $16.99 (9780062866417). Gr. 5–7.
Pancholy fills his engaging, well-paced debut with vivid characters and themes of bullying and belonging, as Rahul, an Indian American boy in a small town, faces down seventh grade and comes out to his parents.
For Black Girls Like Me. By Mariama J. Lockington. 2019. Farrar, $16.99 (9780374308049). Gr. 4–7.
In this #OwnVoices debut, Lockington captures the joy and angst of transracial adoption through beautiful writing and innovative textual formats. Its pages authentically reveal the struggles of 11-year-old Keda, a Black adoptee of white parents.
The Last True Poets of the Sea. By Julia Drake. 2019. Disney/Hyperion, $17.99 (9781368048088). Gr. 10–12.
A traumatic experience sends Violet Larkin spinning out of control, resulting in a mandatory visit to her uncle’s in Maine. With wit and poignancy, Drake threads aspects of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night into her ensuing examination of self and family history.
The Line Tender. By Kate Allen. Illus. by Xingye Jin. 2019. Dutton, $17.99 (9780735231603). Gr. 4–8.
Allen writes with empathy and emotional depth in her story of Lucy, a middle-schooler who finds respite in art and biology as she navigates the death of her best friend.
Malamander. By Thomas Taylor. Illus. by Tom Booth. 2019. Candlewick/Walker, $16.99 (9781536207224). Gr. 5–7.
Violet Parma enlists the help of young Herbert Lemon, keeper of a seaside hotel’s lost and found, in this atmospheric mystery of missing parents and a legendary mer-creature.
Opposite of Always. By Justin A. Reynolds. 2019. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen, $17.99 (9780062748379). Gr. 9–12.
When Jack loses his girlfriend, Kate, to illness, he gets caught in a time loop that returns him to the moment they first met. Reynolds imbues Jack’s endeavors to save Kate with wit and crackling dialogue.
The Other Half of Happy. By Rebecca Balcárcel. 2019. Chronicle, $16.99 (9781452169989). Gr. 5–8.
With poetic prose and true-to-life characters, Balcárcel’s stunning debut depicts the struggles of being bicultural. Seventh-grader Quijana’s endeavor to overcome obstacles and find her authentic self will move readers.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. By Kwame Mbalia. 2019. Disney/Hyperion, $16.99 (9781368039932). Gr. 4–8.
After losing his best friend and his debut boxing match, Tristan Strong is sent to his grandparents’ farm, where a figure from African mythology mischievously comes to life. Action, humor, and grief meld in this cinematic adventure.
We Hunt the Flame. By Hafsah Faizal. 2019. Farrar, $18.99 (9780374311544). Gr. 9–12.
Drawing inspiration from ancient Arabia, this layered fantasy about a young woman’s quest to restore magic to her kingdom gives detailed insight into a cultural experience. A nuanced tale of identity and unlikely allies.
Wilder Girls. By Rory Power. 2019. Delacorte, $18.99 (9780525645580). Gr. 9–12.
Quarantined after being ravaged by the Tox, the students at the Raxter School for Girls patiently await a cure. When Hetty’s friend disappears, however, Hetty breaks out of the school to find her. A bewitching, occasionally gruesome horror story.
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