2020 Finalists: Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Burn (AmazonIndieBound)
by Patrick Ness
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: Wendy

Fans of Patrick Ness will rejoice over this newest title—now he’s bringing us stories about DRAGONS! In this novel, he creates a realistic world set in Cold War America. Sarah Dewhurst and her father have been struggling to keep their small farm operating after the death of Sarah’s mother. In order to get the help they need without paying for (more expensive) human workers, Sarah’s father hires a blue dragon from the Russian Wastes to help prepare the fields for planting. Not only is the dragon problematic because of the tenuous peace between humans and dragons, he is a “Russian” blue dragon. Sarah and her father are poor enough to need a dragon’s help to keep their farm afloat, but that’s not their only challenge: Sarah’s mother was Black and her father is white, and in the Pacific Northwest of 1957, this creates a host of added difficulties for their family. To make matters even worse, this dragon brings word of an apocalyptic prophecy that involves Sarah and their farm. With the strong writing readers have come to expect from Ness, excellent character development, and an exciting multiverse twist, this is a must-read.

Jenna Ehler, West Des Moines Public Library

Cemetery Boys (Amazon, IndieBound
by Aiden Thomas
Swoon Reads
Nominated by: vampirerevenant

When his family bans him from performing the ritual that would give him the supernatural abilities of a brujo, Latinx trans boy Yadriel stubbornly performs the ritual in secret, but things don’t go exactly as planned… He accidentally summons the wrong spirit, the recently-deceased Julian Diaz, high school bad boy who is more than he seems. This story is full of heart, and while it doesn’t shy away from heavier topics like transphobia and homophobia, it isn’t a story about queer pain at all. This novel is hopeful, witty, and bright, and in many ways reads like a warm hug and is something many young queer readers will find comfort in.

Sarah Yael, Sarah the Story Girl

Elatsoe (Amazon, IndieBound
by Darcie Little Badger, illustrated by Rovina Cai
Levine Querido
Nominated by: Jenna @ Falling Letters

Elatsoe is the riveting tale of an asexual Lipan Apache girl with the unique ability to summon the ghosts of dead animals. When her cousin visits her in a dream, warning her that he has been killed and needs to be avenged, she must embark on a dangerous quest to solve his murder – but luckily she has her family and friends on her side to support her along the way! This urban fantasy novel is rich in worldbuilding, fascinating magic systems, and loveable characters, as well as creepy villains and plot twists sure to shock readers! Eerie yet endearing, this exciting novel is a must-read for any teen thirsting for adventure.

Sarah Yael, Sarah the Story Girl

Legendborn (AmazonIndieBound
by Tracy Deonn
Margaret K. McElderry
Nominated by: Dianthaa

When Bree goes to an early college program, she never expected to join a secret society that dates back to the round table. As she learns more about the society and her own past, she begins to uncover secrets that could change her life. Bree is the kind of main character you instantly fall in love with, in the way that you will follow her to the end of the earth or the end of this incredible book. Legendborn weaves a tale of the history of America and the Legends of Arthur that is both exciting and insightful. This book will appeal to fantasy lovers both new and old, and hopefully, more readers will see themselves in Bree and this story.

Grace Barker, Grace Gets Books

Red Hood (AmazonIndieBound
by Elana K. Arnold
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: Tasha

Elana K. Arnold is an unapologetic feminist who pulls no punches and takes no prisoners. Her new book, Red Hood, is a brutal retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fable but in her take on the story, Little Red saves herself. Bisou is a high school student who is attacked by a wolf in the woods the night of the homecoming dance. During the struggle, Bisou fights back and ends up killing the wolf. The next morning, a boy from her school is found dead in the woods in the same location as her fight with the wolf. As the story unfolds, you learn about Bisou’s family heritage and more about the wolves in those woods. This story follows a similar pattern as the author’s previous fractured fairy tale (Damsel), so expect a dark and very intense read. There are graphic depictions of sex and violence in this story, so it is not for every reader. However, before you shy away–our sisters and daughters and friends are learning about sex and violence in this world, sometimes in the worst possible way, and the author does us all a favor by calling that out clearly. Here is an excerpt from a blog post she wrote about Damsel and some of the comments she received about how her work might be considered “too much” for teen readers:

Teen girls don’t need us to protect them from the truths of our world. They need us to arm them. With our belief in their experiences. With our own stories, too. Women, most of you have a memory, perhaps several memories, of assault. I am sorry you carry these burdens.

Women, tell our girls your stories. Arm them with knowledge. And let’s stop pretending they don’t know what is happening around them and to them, every day.
It’s the least we can do. (What About the Girls?)

For those of us who appreciate compelling storytelling with a kick-ass female protagonist who fights against toxic masculinity and violence against women, this is a five-star read.

Jenna Ehler, West Des Moines Public Library

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything (AmazonIndieBound
by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Simon Pulse
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything has been compared to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe meets Roswell. With its focus on the importance of family and friendships, its enveloping portrayal of adolescent growing pains, and its all-too-real and heartbreaking depiction of Mexican American experiences of racism in America, Sia fits these comparisons and more. Raquel Vasquez Gilliland deeply understands her characters, and there is something about Sia’s voice and Gilliland’s writing that feels so real, so raw, so engrossing.

Rine Karr, Rine Karr

The Guinevere Deception (Camelot Rising Trilogy) (Amazon, IndieBound
by Kiersten White
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Deva Fagan

Guinevere is not who she seems in this refreshing take on the classic Arthurian legend. Sent to Camelot to marry King Arthur, Guinevere must learn how to navigate court life whilst protecting Arthur and coming into her own magic and courage. Guinevere is neither a helpless princess nor a simple plot device to further Arthur’s story in this retelling, and with the addition of a little gender-swapping—reminiscent of White’s epic The Conqueror’s Saga—and LGBTQ+ characters, The Guinevere Deception is a delightful journey to a fantastical 5th to early 6th century Britain.

Rine Karr, Rine Karr