Best Books for Young Adults TechnoBuffalo 2019

Young Adult books are how many readers find the stories and characters that they will end up falling in love with. From sweeping fantasy epics to contemporary romance, and everything in between this age category features intense storylines and characters that jump right up and off the page. Of all the YA books out there today the best of the best is Children of Blood and Bone a lush Nigerian inspired fantasy epic that follows Zélie as she tries to return magic to a world stripped of it.

Best Overall: Children of Blood and Bone

For years when people thought of High Fantasy, they thought of homogeneous pseudo-European casts and Tolkien-esque stories. Tomi Adeyemi took that idea and spun it on its head delivering a beautiful Nigerian inspired fantasy. Children of Blood and Bone revitalized the fantasy genre. It features an unapologetically black cast, a fantastic story, and a world that is gorgeous, imaginative and heartbreaking.

The land of Orïsha used to hum with magic until the night it disappeared. Afterward, by order of a ruthless king, the Maji were killed to ensure it would never fully return to the land. They didn't bet on young Zélie's determination to restore magic to the land, no matter what kind of sacrifice it takes. She'll need the help of a rogue princess to strike back against the monarchy, and outwit the crown prince who wants to eradicate magic once and for all. The only question is whether they can do it, and what happens if they do.

This is Tomi Adeyemi's first book and the first book in a new trilogy. It started with the idea of finding a way to explain police brutality, using fantasy as a mechanism to do it, but it goes far beyond that. This book revitalized the fantasy genre, bringing in new blood and new ideas that turned old tropes on their heads. Zélie is a fierce protagonist, but each character in the cast is vivid and three-dimensional.

Children of Blood and Bone is a classic for a new generation of readers. It shows everything fantastic about the Young Adult books in one package — an excellent story, fantastic characters, and a beautiful world that draws you in from the first page. If there is only one book you suggest to the young adult in your life, this should be it.

Pros:

  • Gorgeous Nigerian inspired fantasy
  • Inventive and thrilling story
  • Start of a new fantasy trilogy

Cons:

  • Book may be too lengthy for some readers
  • Heavy subject matter

Best Overall

Children of Blood and Bone

Zélie remembers when the world hummed with magic. A dangerous quest awaits her, but she'll go up against the world to bring it back.

Best Horror: Wilder Girls

Eighteen months ago, something terrible happened at the Raxter school for girls. They call it the Tox, and it takes something from each of them. It killed teachers and turned the bodies of the girls into strange things they barely recognize. The school is cut off from the real world on an island off the coast of Maine, and one of the few rules that remain is that they must not leave the school grounds. They all listen until Hetty's best friend Byatt disappears.

Hetty isn't about to sit back and let her friend go missing. Military quarantine or not, she breaks past the border of the school ground only to find that the island is wilder than even she could have believed. Something far darker is happening to the girls and the island. To find Byatt, Hetty will uncover secrets she never wanted to know.

Pros:

  • Awesome queer representation
  • Super creepy setting
  • Excellent story and characters

Cons:

  • Not suitable for readers who scare easily
  • Certain parts may be too graphic for younger readers

Best Horror

Wilder Girls

The Tox takes something from everyone

Eighteen months ago the Tox hit and put the school under quarantine. When Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her again.

Best Romance: To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Romance is easily one of the most popular genres of books, and that isn't an exception when it comes to YA. Jenny Han shows off how fun and quirky the genre can be with the mishaps of 16-year-old Lara Jean in her novel To All The Boys I've Loved Before. For years Lara Jean has been writing love letters to her crushes and then hiding them in a hatbox under her bed so that they never see the light of day. Until the day they are accidentally sent out, revealing her feelings to the boys she has feelings for.

Not all romance needs to be high tension, crazy stakes, and drama everywhere. This story is a light-hearted romance that will have your teen or tween laughing along with Laura Jean as she works things out with the boys in her life. With a relatable protagonist, hilarious antics, and healthy relationship models, it's a romance that parents can be happy their kids are reading. Teens can even check out the Netflix original movie once they've finished reading.

Pros:

  • Non-toxic relationship models
  • Hilarious story
  • Now a Netflix movie

Cons:

  • Almost 400 pages might be long for some readers

Best Romance

To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Letters to her crushes

When Lara Jean's secret love letters are accidentally sent out, her life goes from controlled to chaos in a hilarious moment.

Best Contemporary: Hate U Give

Angie Thomas's debut novel talks about racism, police brutality, and how the two intersect with black communities. It's easily considered a modern classic. It tells the story of Star, a sixteen-year-old girl torn between her upper-class high school, and the poor neighborhood that she lives in. When police kill her best friend Khalil, she is the only witness to the crime. What she says could tear her community apart, and Khalil's death makes national news as conversations about police brutality bubble up.

The Hate U Give is a contemporary novel that will hit home for Americans of every class and race. It brings the struggle of the Black Lives Matter movement to a novel format and makes it easy for white readers to understand the struggle of being black in America today. It's a chilling story, but it's also hugely influential in today's cultural landscape. It was even turned into a critically acclaimed feature film, reaching an even wider audience.

Pros:

  • Amazing story
  • Character voice jumps right off the page

Cons:

  • Heavy subject matter

Best Contemporary

Hate U Give

Prejudice in today's world

When police kill Star's best friend, and she's the only witness, what she says could destroy her community or get her killed.

Best Fantasy: Wicked Saints

For centuries the countries of Tranavia and Kalyazin have been locked in a bloody war where no one ever seems to win. Tranavia has the power of its armies and blood mages with which to wield their power. In juxtaposition, Kalyazin has saints, those who can commune with Gods and use their power to wreak havoc on their enemies.

The story twines together three different characters. Nadya, a girl raised in a Tranavian convent who can speak to Gods and use their power. Serefin, a blood mage and the crown prince of Kalyazin who doesn't want the destiny set before him. Malachaisz, a monstrous boy with plenty of power and some serious skeletons in his closet. The three of them must work together to assassinate the king, and stop the war, but none of them realize the price they'll have to pay to do it.

Pros:

  • Fantastic cast of characters
  • Lush Slavic inspired world
  • First book in a new trilogy

Cons:

  • Leans towards cosmic horror which may not be suitable for all readers
  • Story is fairly bloody

Best Fantasy

Wicked Saints

Let them fear her

For centuries war has raged. Now a girl who hears the gods, a prince, and a monstrous boy must join together. All to kill the king and end the war once and for all.

Best Upcoming: Slay

Kiera lives a double life. During the day she's one of the only black students at Jefferson Academy, where she is an honors student and a math tutor. By night she plays through the secret MMO game she developed: SLAY. No one knows that Kiera created the game, but when a player is murdered after an in-game dispute, her game becomes public knowledge. Soon after a troll messages her in the game threatening to sue her for anti-white discrimination.

Slay is one of the most anticipated YA debuts of 2019. It follows Kiera as she makes her path, weaving between her real world and her online persona. She'll need to learn what it means to be unapologetically black in a world that is intimidated by her as she comes into her own. The only question is whether she'll lose herself as she tries to protect the game she created.

Pros:

  • Awesome depiction of gaming culture
  • Great characters
  • Fantastic story

Cons:

  • May be a bit long for some readers
  • Isn't available until September 24, 2019

Best Upcoming

Slay

Gaming gets serious

When a murder occurs, it brings Kiera's secret MMO game SLAY into public view. She'll have to protect her game without losing herself in the process.

Bottom line

Young Adult fiction includes dozens of genres that are all written with teens and tweens in mind. They cover all sorts of genres from romance and contemporary dramas to sweeping fantasy epics and terrifying horror reads. Each book that made this list is a fantastic option for the young reader in your life, and they cover a variety of different genres. Out of everything available, the absolute best is Children of Blood and Bone.

A sweeping fantasy epic, this novel is the first book in a new trilogy and the debut of author Tomi Adeyemi. It follows Zélie; a young woman determined to bring magic back to a world that has been stripped of it or die trying. With a Nigerian inspired fantasy world, it doesn't look like any other high fantasy on the market and is a new classic for readers everywhere.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Jen Karner is a self-professed book fanatic who can always be found with a book or two on hand. She also reviews books in her spare time. You can follow her on Twitter

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