2019 Finalists: Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Aurora Rising (The Aurora Cycle) (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Rebecca J. Allen

Six cadets are brought together by circumstance. A rescued girl joins their crew; she’s powerful, mysterious, and over 200 years old. When the group uncovers a massive conspiracy, it takes all of their skills to survive. The chapters alternate between the seven crew members, each with distinct voices, including one who seems to be on the autism spectrum, and another who is both disabled and queer. The world is impressively fully built, including a unified religion and complex alien cultures.

Cassandra Gelvin, Don’t Read This to My Kids

Echo North (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Joanna Ruth Meyer
Page Street Kids
Publisher/ Author Submission

When Echo’s father goes missing, she sets out to find him and runs into the wolf that scarred her as a child. The White Wolf agrees to save her father if she promises to live in an enchanted house with him for an entire year. Meyer’s story is a captivating fairy tale retelling mash-up about love being the most potent magic. There’s a strong sense of fairy-tale destiny in some of the events, and in many ways, it reads as if it were an ancient tale handed down instead of a new release. The darkly atmospheric tone contributes to this fantastical, unique take on the fairy tale genre.

Jennifer Naughton, Windy City Reader

Fireborne (THE AURELIAN CYCLE) (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Rosaria Munda
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Kimberly F

What happens after the revolution, and how do you build the society you’ve fought to create? In Munda’s fiery debut, inspired by Plato’s Republic and set in a fantasy world a few years after a people’s revolution, two teenage dragonriders face these questions head-on as they compete to become First Rider. Munda has written a rousing story full of twists and turns that places her multi-layered characters in impossible situations where all choices seem like the wrong ones. The dragons and their relationships with their riders are fresh and exciting, adding new life to an old and beloved fantasy trope. Expertly balancing a thrilling plot with literary depth, Fireborne soars.

Kimberly Francisco, STACKED

Internment (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Samira Ahmed
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Darshana Khiani

Set “fifteen minutes in the future,” this speculative novel about the internment of Muslim Americans is all too realistic. In an authentic teenage voice, Layla Amin tells of how she and her parents are forcibly removed from their homes and imprisoned in the California desert. Teens will feel Layla’s growing terror as her civil rights are violated and violence against the internees grows. But they’ll also root for her as she and some new friends resist and make plans to right the wrong. In an era where many people feel helpless about the real world, Internment can inspire empathy and action among teens, who are poised to change the world.

Kimberly Francisco, STACKED

Sorcery of Thorns (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Margaret Rogerson
Margaret K. McElderry
Nominated by: Kristen

Margaret Rogerson’s sophomore novel, Sorcery of Thorns, reads like a love letter to libraries, books, and readers. The orphaned protagonist, Elisabeth Scrivener, was raised in one of the Great Libraries to become a warden, a protector of the library’s grimoires. When Elisabeth is accused of a murder she didn’t commit, she has to leave her home in the Great Library and make an unlikely alliance with a sorcerer named Nathaniel. While she attempts to clear her name, she uncovers danger, conspiracies, and an evil she never expected.

Mixing high fantasy, romance, and gothic elements, Sorcery of Thorns is an engaging story that presents a fascinating world, a breathtaking plot, and deep themes on morality and family. Our panel also enjoyed the representation of bisexuality in a fantasy setting, the lore of the demons, and the quick pace.

Samantha Randolph, YA Books Central

The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air) (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Holly Black
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

Cardan is now High King, but Jude is pulling the strings. In this dark and broody second installment of the Folk of the Air Trilogy, Black returns to the beautiful and harsh faerie realm, where Jude must fight off attempts to steal the crown while ruling from the shadows. This is no second book slump: Black builds upon the first book, further fleshing out the brutal world of Faerie and peopling her story with delightfully complicated characters both old and new. Secrets, tragedy, and betrayal await Jude on every page of this exciting story that will have teens clamoring for the finale.

Grace Barker, Gracegetsbooks

War Girls (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Tochi Onyebuchi
Nominated by: Benedict

Set in a far-future Nigeria and based on the real Nigerian Civil War of the 1960s, War Girls alternates chapters between two sisters who believe the other to be dead. Separated by the war, the two girls – one a warrior who pilots giants mechs, the other a young technological whiz – slowly and inorexably move toward a reunion that will be like neither of them expects. Each sister has a distinct personality and unique voice, and the world is detailed and fully fleshed out. This book both requires and inspires deep thought.

Cassandra Gelvin, Don’t Read This to My Kids