What's Up in YA

Let’s Summer: YA Book Talk, July 24, 2023

Hey YA Readers!

I hope many of you enjoyed your Barbenheimer weekend. I won’t lie: I was thrilled my drive-in was making the double feature Barbie and Clueless, as it hit the sweet spot of “low investment” + “extremely entertaining,” which is about all I can handle with movies. My high investment is reserved for reading. Let’s dive into this week’s YA book talk and soak up summer in what might be the most enjoyable way this year: books.

Psst: What do S.A. Cosby, Khaled Hosseini, Sarah Bakewell, and Yahdon Israel have in common? They’ve been guests on Book Riot’s newest podcast, First Edition, where co-founder Jeff O’Neal explores the wide bookish world. Subscribe to hear them and stay to hear Book Riot’s editors pick the “it” book of the month.

Bookish Goods

dinosaur book mark on green background

Reading Is Rawrsome Bookmark by TurtlesSoup

Look how cute this dinosaur bookmark is. As if the colors and dino were not enough, then we get the language play on top of it. Rawrsome indeed. $4.

New Releases

There is a new Karen M. McManus book out today, so I want to acknowledge that before anyone doesn’t see it below and wonders why. You can find out more about that book and the dozen or so other great new YA books hitting shelves in hardcover over here. When you only pick two titles to talk about in each newsletter, sometimes the big ones get set aside for titles which may not have the name recognition.

So today’s highlights? How about a mystery/thriller that’s already been optioned for adaptation and an original fairy tale?

a warning about swans book cover

A Warning About Swans by R. M. Romero

In 1880 Bavaria, Hilde and her five sisters were given coats by their creator Odin. These coats transform them into swans and each comes with a gift unique to them. Hilde is not interested in her gift, which would allow her to help transport souls of dying creators into the afterlife. She uses it anyway, and when helping a hawk cross over, she meets Baron Maximilian von Richter. Hilde is taken with him immediately and makes a deal with the inheritance-less boy: she’ll make him rich if he can take her to the human world.

Hilde does not fit in the human world though, and the story follows what happens as she tries and when she finds herself in the center of a potential love triangle. Then her coat goes missing…

This one is described as Swan Lake meets The Last Unicorn by way of the Brothers Grimm.

their vicious games book cover

Their Vicious Games by Joelle Wellington

Adina Walker knows she’s got to work twice as hard to get half as much, especially at her elite New England school, where she attends on scholarship. She makes one slip, though, and she finds herself on the blacklist of her top Ivy League college.

She is disappointed but plans to see if she can redeem herself. The opportunity to do so lies in Finish, a high-intensity contest held by the founders of her high school. The three-part challenge asks 12 women to compete, and the winner is able to become part of the institution’s family. This recognition? It’ll be the key to anything the winner wants.

Just as Adina prepares for the Finish, she feels something is off. The deeper she is into the games, the more off they become, and soon this is no longer about getting into her dream school. It’s about staying alive.

This debut has already been options for potential adaptation and has been pitched as Ace of Spades meets Squid Games with hints of The Batchelor (sounds like I am describing a fancy dinner, doesn’t it?).

For a more comprehensive list of new releases, check out our New Books newsletter.

Sum-Sum-Summertime Reads

We’re in the thick of summer now in the northern hemisphere. Here in the upper Midwest, this has been the summer of smoke, so outside time has not been as abundant as usual…and even if it were, the heat has been high. I know it’s been even more brutal elsewhere, so you may not have had smoke issues but you still weren’t going outside.

Whether you’re able to get your summer reading outdoors or prefer it from inside, here are some YA books that published this year which have summer written all over them. Literally. Summer is in the title.

ay mija book cover

¡Ay, Mija!: My Bilingual Summer in Mexico by Christine Suggs

Let’s kick things off with a graphic novel. Both the text and art are by Suggs.

Christine’s biracial, and they are spending their summer in Mexico to reconnect with that side of the family. The first week they’re there, they’ll be solo, then their mother will join.

It’s an unforgettable summer of reconnecting with their family, with fumbling and practicing Spanish, with wrestling their gender and sexuality in light of religious beliefs, and more. It’s both full of heart and full of challenge, and it is the kind of story so many biracial readers are going to connect with immediately.

There’s a powerful storyline here, too, about the realities of documentation and how growing up, Christine did not understand why their aunt was unable to visit Mexico like they could.

fat witch summer book cover

Fat Witch Summer by Lizzy Ives

This is an indie press book, which I don’t cover a lot here because traditionally published books are enough in quantity in and of themselves to keep up with. That said, this book looks like it’ll check a lot of boxes for a lot of readers.

Thrash is 16 and isn’t into make-up or clothes, and she doesn’t hate her body, even though she’s fat (that’s something her mom would do). But when Thrash accidentally breaks a mirror and learns she has magic within her, now she’ll be subject to one of three gifts of magic…as decided by her mom. Her mom is convinced the gift of glamour is what Thrash needs.

So when Thrash catches the attention of the popular witches at school, they invite her on a road trip to New Salem University. They’ll go to steal their own gifts since they weren’t bestowed with what they wanted.

Along the way, Thrash will be hiding from her mother, and she and her new friends will discover the true meaning behind their gifts.

the melancholy of summer book cover

The Melancholy of Summer by Louisa Onomé

Let me intro this one by stating Summer is not a season here. She’s the main character.

Summer will turn 18 in a few weeks. Until then, she’ll be surviving by alternating stays at friends’ homes, using the bus pass to get around, and otherwise keeping quiet. Her parents went on the run after they were accused of committing a crime, so she has to keep herself together.

But then a social worker gets involved and now, Summer is being placed with a cousin of hers. She knows little of Olu, except that she was a famous singer and is young herself. Summer is nervous, as is Olu, but this might be the time and relationship both of them need to find themselves again.

no boy summer book cover

No Boy Summer by Amy Spalding

Lydia and her sister agree to a summer without boys. They’re spending it with their aunt and her partner in Los Angeles, about 40 miles from their suburban home, as their parents are going on a cruise. Penny will be spending the summer working on her business acumen while Lydia is taking a job as a barista at her aunt’s cafe. The sisters hope to spend the time getting to know themselves and each other even better, without the distraction of boys.

But…Lydia begins to fall for Fran, a girl who has been described as one who leaves a trail of broken hearts behind her. Lydia can’t help herself though, and between time with her new friends group and her job, she sneaks in time with Fran. While Fran doesn’t want a commitment, she, too, finds herself wanting to get a little more serious with Lydia. The problem? This might be going behind Penny’s back and breaking their rules for the summer. Technically, Fran is a girl, not a boy. But technically, it’s still a relationship and putting a wedge between Penny and Lydia.

the secret summer promise book cover

The Secret Summer Promise by Keah Brown

Andrea spent most of last summer laid up following surgeries for her cerebral palsy. This year will be different. She’s got a list of things to do, and she’s eager to have the kinds of friends who are as game as her.

The problem is her best friend Hailee. Andrea has had a crush on her, and she knows if Hailee knew that, things would change. So Andrea’s bucket list not only includes fun items like a Lizzo concert and paintball and thrifting. It also includes finding a way to fall out of love with Hailee.

when we had summer book cover

When We Had Summer by Jennifer Castle

The #SummerSisters — Daniella, Carly, Penny, and Lainie — work on a bucket list together every summer when they’re all on vacation at the Jersey Shore. Carly comes up with the list, and it includes both serious and big things, as well as fun and small things.

This year, though, is different. Carly died last winter and the three girls find themselves lost and unsure how to celebrate this summer without her. Besides, they’ve all got a lot going on between Daniella’s acceptance to a music academy, Lainie’s family is moving, and Penny has a new boyfriend.

But when the girls discover one last summer bucket list in Carly’s old purse, they’re going to take it on in her honor. Will it keep them together though?

As always, thanks for hanging out. We’ll see you later this week for your paperback + YA book news roundup. Next Monday, we’ll dive into some non-contemporary titles, since we went a little heavy here this week. Deal? Deal.

Until then, happy reading!

–Kelly Jensen, who you can now catch over on substack.