It’s both a good and bad problem that there are more great young adult novels to read than ever before. While this year is already off to a great start with amazing new books, we’ve compiled an eclectic list of some 2020 releases that you may not have had a chance to read, from queer summer camp thrillers, to poetic supernatural coming-of-age stories.
We guarantee there’s something on this list for everyone, and they all share one thing in common: high quality storytelling. As you compile your summer reading list, consider adding the books below and let us know what makes the cut.
If you’re looking for a thriller with a deeper message this summer, look no further than Surrender Your Sons, which follows Connor Major, a recently out gay teenage boy living in a small, conservative Illinois town under the influence of a charismatic and domineering man known as the Reverend. Even worse, Connor’s mother is also under the Reverend’s influence, leading him to be kidnapped and taken to a gay conversion therapy camp on a desert island run by the Reverend and his all-powerful church called Nightlight.
When Connor arrives, all he wants to do is leave and go back home to his boyfriend, but he soon realizes there’s a larger conspiracy at play and a greater mystery to untangle. As he gets to know the other campers, Connor realizes he isn’t the only one he needs to save. Surrender Your Sons is a necessary and compelling story about pain, trauma, and survival.
A subtle and modern YA retelling of You’ve Got Mail, I Kissed Alice follows Rhodes and Iliana, two students competing against each other for a scholarship at an arts high school in Alabama. Rhodes and Iliana despise each other, even though they share a mutual best friend. What they don’t know is that they share something deep in common—they are in love with each other’s fanfiction alter egos.
Cloaked under the secrecy of online usernames, they unknowingly work together on an Alice in Wonderland fanfiction webcomic. As the real-life competition heats up, they grow closer to learning the truth about each other, and the two have to decide what they’re willing to sacrifice in order to make the leap from online to IRL. I Kissed Alice is a sweet, queer romance that will have you swooning on every page.
Perhaps one of the most unique novels on this list, Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything is a poetic ode to finding one’s place in the universe. When the novel begins, Sia is processing the grief of her mom’s deportation at the hands of her small town’s bigoted sheriff, whose equally hateful son walks the hallways of her high school every day.
As she struggles to find meaning and move on with her life, a class project with the new, mysterious, and cute boy in her class takes her to the middle of the desert, where she finds something wholly unexpected that may unlock the key not only to the loss of her mother, but to the entire universe. Sia Martinez is a beautifully written testament to love, family, heartbreak, and magic.
The St. Rosetta’s Academy series of young adult fairy tale retellings kicked off in 2020 with Of Curses and Kisses, the author’s take on Beauty and the Beast. When Princess Jaya arrives at St. Rosetta’s International Academy, she has one goal in mind: woo Grey Emerson in order to break his heart and avenge her younger sister.
But as they grow closer, she learns Grey has secrets of his own. With each ruby that falls from the rose pendant around her neck, time seems to be running out. Together, Jaya and Grey have to find out whether they can undo heartbreak and damage sewn into their families and create a new future for themselves. Of Curses and Kisses is a thoughtfully crafted romantic retelling. (As a bonus, the sequel, Of Princes and Promises, just came out, a retelling of The Frog Prince.)
Grown is a heartbreaking and heart-stopping thriller about Enchanted Jones, a high school girl who falls under the spell of legendary singer and star Korey Fields. All Enchanted wants to do is sing, and when she catches Korey’s eye, her life changes forever. In the midst of their secret, whirlwind romance, Korey winds up dead, and Enchanted may be the one to blame.
Alternating between the present with police interviews, and the past which progresses further in Enchanted and Korey’s relationship, Grown allows the reader to live firmly in Enchanted’s head while drawing their own conclusions about what happened in the relationship. Grown is a thoroughly felt story about reclaiming one’s voice after it’s seemingly stolen forever.
The second in a series, but a standalone on its own, Category Five follows a group of teenagers in Puerto Rico after the events of hurricane Maria. In the wake of the destruction, developers are taking advantage and buying up the land. But that’s hardly the worst of it—a series of mysterious deaths appears to be linked to the supernatural. Together, friends Lupe, Javier, and Marisol must solve the mystery of what is happening on Vieques and find a way forward to save themselves and their home. Category Five is a delightfully suspenseful summer read with plenty of heart and care, too.
In a very subtle and fresh queer spin on Romeo and Juliet, Verona Comics follows Ridley and Jubilee, the children of two rival comic book titans. Ridley is anxious and on the verge of losing it altogether, frustrated at his own inability to win his stern and abusive dad’s approval. Jubilee is a fiercely competitive cellist who’s hoping a change of scenery might help her music. When the two meet at a comic convention, everything soon changes as they’re both surprised at their feelings for the other.
In a desperate bid for his father’s approval, Ridley agrees to use Jubilee to spy on Verona Comics, her stepmom’s comics company, and Ridley’s dad’s rival. As they grow closer, Ridley’s anxiety and Jubilee’s ambition threaten to tear them apart, not to mention their parents’ intense rivalry. Will love conquer all, or was it doomed from the start? Verona Comics is a well-crafted and heartfelt queer romance with plenty of humor to keep you turning the page.
(featured image: Flux and Katherine Tegen Books)
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