The Summer Book Guide: Y.A. Edition

It's summer, summer, summertime, and there is so much good Y.A. available it's hard to keep up. We'll help you get started.

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It's summer, summer, summertime, and there is so much good Y.A. available it's hard to keep up. As always, the list you'll find below is just a starting point; check out bookstores, the wise old Internet, and our Spring round-up for more options (September Girls and The Fifth Wave, for two). As themes go, dystopia continues to be a draw, with much to offer beyond promises of "the next Hunger Games." Contemporary realistic fiction is breaking new ground in terms of humor and fearlessness of topic: We're talking about suicide, sex, love, and tragedy. Throughout the Y.A. world, there's been an impressive diversity of characters, themes, and even genres — note the authors who are transcending and combining disciplines, offering mashups of thriller and fantasy, romance and sci-fi, dystopia and adventure. There's magic and mystery and some fantastic historical fiction (yes, I'm counting the '80s as historical), as well as a book originally published in 1956 that you really should read now. And no summertime list would be complete without a selection of beach reads featuring sun, sand, romance, and friendship. Let's start there:

The Beachiest Reads

Five Summers, by Una LaMarche. (Razorbill, May 16). Best friends since they met at sleepway camp when they were 10, Emma, Skylar, Johanna, and Maddie are reuniting for Reunion Weekend. But things are different now that they're 17. Can they stay best friends? According to Seventeen, "You'll love it if you watch Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants every time it's on TV.") Sold. 

All I Need, by Susan Colasanti. (Viking, May 21). On the last night of summer, Skye meets Seth, and they both feel a connection that's greater than anything they've ever experienced. He leaves for college and they exchange contact information, but questions remain: Is what they felt real? Can they make a long-distance relationship, and their very different backgrounds, work? Soulmates and summer make a perfect pairing.

Romeo Blue, by Phoebe Stone. (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, May 28). The follow-up to Stone's The Romeo and Juliet Code takes place a year after Flissy Bathburn's come to live with relatives in Bottlebay, Maine, and while it was something of an adjustment, she's grown to love her life there. Then a mysterious stranger arrives, because of course he does! This one gets beach read points for romance, a World War II story, spies, and a town named Bottlebay.

The Moon and More, by Sarah Dessen(Viking Juvenile, June 4). Dessen's eleventh novel brings readers back to the beach town of Colby, but this time the focus is on Emaline, a year-rounder who's just finished her senior year in high school and is happy with her life and her boyfriend ... until a new guy comes to town and she starts to wonder if "perfect is good enough."

Rules of Summer, by Joanna Philbin. (Poppy, June 4). It's Downton Abbey in the Hamptons from none other than Regis's daughter. In Philbin's novel, two 17-year-old girls share a beachfront East Hampton mansion for the summer — they're the privileged daughter of the wealthy family who owns the house and the niece of the housekeeper. "Expect a story about friendship, family, and first love (i.e. what happens after that amazing first kiss)," writes the author.

The New Realism

Openly Straight, by Bill Konigsberg. (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, May 28). Lambda Literary Award-winning author Konigsberg takes gay characters in Y.A. a step further with the story of Rafe Goldberg. Out since the age of 14 and sick of being labeled the gay kid, Rafe decides to enroll in a new school across the country and try to live "label-free." Of course, it doesn't quite go like he thought it would. 

Confederates Don't Wear Couture, by Stephanie Kate Strohm. (Graphia, June 4). From the author of Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink, this one's a hilarious contemporary mashup involving romance, fashion, and Civil War re-enactors in Alabama.  

Catch Rider, by Jennifer H. Lyne. (Clarion, June 4). In this update on the classic girl-and-a-horse story, 14-year-old Sid is from the wrong side of the tracks, but she can ride with the best of them. She wants to be a "catch rider," or show rider, a dream that takes her to a very important event at Madison Square Garden.

Since You Asked..., by Maurene Goo. (Scholastic Press, July 1). Goo's savvy, totally fun debut is the blog-worthy tale of 15-year-old Holly Kim, copy editor for her high school newspaper, who accidentally submits an article that burns everyone — and lands her her own column. That prize is not without its complications, though, particularly when it comes to Kim's family's traditional Korean values.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, August 13). This intense, important novel from the author of The Silver Linings Playbook is about an 18-year-old boy who plans to kill his former best friend, and then himself, on his birthday. But first, he has to say goodbye to the four people he cares about most.

If You Could be Mine, by Sara Farizan. (Algonquin, August 20). Sahar and Nasrin, now 17, have been in love since they were six. The problem is, they live in Iran, and they're both women. When Nasrin's parents arrange for her marriage to a well-to-do doctor, Sahar considers a sex change so she can marry the woman she loves.

The Beginning of Everything, by Robyn Schneider. (Katherine Tegen Books, August 27). Ezra Faulkner, tennis champ, was a shoe-in for Homecoming King, until a car accident shattered his knee, his athletic career, and his social life. Everything is different — and then he meets new girl Cassidy Thorpe, and it all changes again.

Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan. (Knopf, August 27). In a story based on true events, Levithan writes of two teenage boys, Harry and Craig, who at 17 attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss. The generation of gay men lost to AIDS form a Greek chorus narrating the story. This widely anticipated novel has one of the most talked-about covers of the year — and the cover has its own story. Note: Boy Meets Boy, Levithan's debut, celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2013.  

Thrillers and Dystopia, Oh My

The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 4). In the first book in Charbonneau's dystopian trilogy, it's graduation day for 16-year-old Malencia Vale. Throughout the celebrations, all she can think about is whether she'll be chosen as part of The Testing, a program that makes the best and brightest new grads into leaders in their post-war civilization. She's chosen, but it may not be the boon she thinks it is, as her father — who's experienced The Testing firsthand — warns her.

Proxy, by Alex London. (Philomel, June 18). In this thriller about friendship and humanity, Knox has everything a boy could want as the son of one of the City's richest families, including a "Proxy," Syd, who will take his punishments for him: "When Knox breaks a vase, Syd is beaten. When Knox plays a practical joke, Syd is forced to haul rocks. And when Knox crashes a car, killing one of his friends, Syd is branded and sentenced to death." But Knox and Syd aren't your average members of their society, and upon realizing the only way to beat the system is to save each other, they flee.

A Midsummer Night's Scream, by R.L. Stine, read by Brittany Pressley. (Macmillan Young Listeners, July 2). Listen to Pressley read a bone-chilling, quintessentially Stine story about a horror movie that went bad, and the new cast of actors who, 60 years later, venture onto the haunted set for a remake of the old flick. It's a perfect, shiver-filled accompaniment to summer thunderstorms.

SYLO, by D.J. MacHale. (Razorbill, July 2). This end-of-the-world thriller has conspiracies, a lethal virus, military quarantines, and a 14-year-old hero named Tucker Pierce. It's the first in a new series from the best-selling author, and it happens to take place on an idyllic island in Maine, which means it could be your beach read, too.

The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon. (Bloomsbury, August 20). The Bone Season has a countdown clock. It's part one of a seven-part series. Film rights have been secured. And yes, it's a dystopia, set in the criminal underworld of Scion London in 2059. Main character Paige Mahoney, 19, is a clairvoyant whose job is getting information "by breaking into people's minds." That's practically enough for a whole book itself, but then she's attacked, kidnapped, drugged, and transported to a secret city called Oxford that's controlled by an otherworldly race.

Flicker & Burn, by T.M. Goeglein. (Putnam Juvenile, August 20). In the second book in Goeglein's Cold Fury series, described as "Jason Bourne meets The Sopranos," Sara Jane Rispoli remains on a search for her missing family as she tries to escape "Ice Cream Creatures" — beings with red, pulsing eyes and pale white skin who chase after her in, well, ice cream trucks. They want to kill her, but they're a clue to her family, as well. 

Magic and Mystery and Romance, Too

The Apprentices, by Maile Meloy. (Putnam Juvenile, June 4). This one skews a little bit younger than Y.A., but I can't get enough of the cover by Ian Schoenherr, and then there's what's inside: The sequel to Meloy's The Apothecary takes Janie Scott to boarding school in New Hampshire and Benjamin to a war in a jungle on the other side of the world, where he experiments with a new formula that will let him communicate with Janie. Magical adventures (and more illustrations from Schoenherr) ensue. 

Far Far Away, by Tom McNeal. (Knopf, June 11). Jeremy Johnson Johnson (his mom and dad both had the same last name) can hear voices — in particular, the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one-half of the Brothers Grimm, who protects Jeremy from a dark evil. McNeal weaves his modern tale in the fairy-tale tradition, and it will haunt and delight.

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking: A 14-Day Mystery, by Erin Dionne. (Dial, July 11). How could you say no to a book that's described as "for fans of The Westing Game and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler"? It's also based on the real-life art heist at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Moxie has two weeks to find the art ... or put herself and those she loves in great danger.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, by April Genevieve Tucholke. (Dial, August 15). This one's a gothic romance set in an isolated hilltop town in Maine during "the high heat of summer." A dangerous stranger named River West comes to town, and eerie things begin to happen in the life of Violet White, whose summer just got more interesting, and maybe terrifying. Deliciously creepy. 

This Side of Jealousy, by Lili Peloquin. (Razorbill, August 20). Book two in Peloquin's Innocents series — described as Gossip Girl for Connecticut's Gold Coast and perfect for fans of ABC's Revenge — continues the story of sisters Alice and Charlie in their new home in Serenity Point, which is anything but.

The Flashbacks 

Chocolates for Breakfast, by Pamela Moore. (Harper Perennial, June 25). Not strictly Y.A., this novel was originally released in 1956, when Moore was just 18 — the author published four more novels before committing suicide at the age of 26. This edition features a foreword by Emma Straub, who calls it "delicious and intoxicating." In Moore's resonating classic, sexually precocious 15-year-old Courtney, a bit of a female Holden Caulfield, copes with her parents' divorce and the splitting her life between New York and California. The coming-of-age novel deals with homosexuality, gender roles, drinking, suicide, and sexuality. It's poignant, edgy, and utterly readable. (Fascinating side note: the popularity of the name "Courtney" for women is thought to have been a result of the initial publication of the book.)

A Moment Comes, by Jennifer Bradbury. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, June 25). It's India in 1947, and three teens, Tariq, a Muslim boy; Anupreet, a Sikh girl; and Margaret, a British cartographer's daughter, represent the inherent divisions in India. As the country awaits the upcoming partition that will separate it into two religious states, the three cross paths, and their futures are changed forever.

The Boy on the Bridge, by Natalie Standiford. (Scholastic Press, July 30). Weaving together love, romance, and intrigue during the Cold War, Standiford presents the story of American college student Laura, who's studying in Leningrad in 1982 when she meets a young Russian artist named Alexei. She falls for him, but she isn't sure she can trust him, even — especially — when he asks her to marry him.

If I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth. (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, July 30). There aren't many Y.A. novels about kids on Indian reservations (Sherman Alexie's amazing Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian being the touchstone) but Gansworth, who has been praised by Junot Diaz and Alexie, offers up a new book on the subject that should become an integral part of the canon. It's 1975 and Lewis "Shoe" Blake lives on the Tuscarora Indian reservation, where "what he's not used to is white people being nice to him." George Haddonfield, an Air Force kid, moves to town, and the two boys become friends over their mutual love for music and especially the Beatles. There's a lot to chew on here, including issues of diversity, identity, poverty, class relations, memory, and friendship. You'll love it for the heart, the humor, and of course, for the rock 'n' roll.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.