This Best & Brightest list was created by Denver Public Library librarians to celebrate our favorite recently published teen fiction. Enjoy!
Best & Brightest Teen Fiction of 2018
The Poet X
9th grade & up. Novel in Verse. Written in verse, this is the story of Xiomara Batista also known as “The Poet X”. She is an American-born daughter of Dominican immigrants, who journals in free verse to work through issues like her parents’ strict expectations, her burgeoning sexuality and her growing rejection of her religious upbringing. Acevedo creates a poignant novel that tackles serious issues of sexism, sexuality and religion with humor and strong emotion. The poetry is both lyrical and visceral. The use of Spanish phrases and slang immerse readers in Xio’s Dominican culture, and reinforces the power and importance of words.
Children Of Blood And Bone
9th grade & up. Fantasy. In the first novel of her debut series, Orïsha Legacy, Tomi Adeyemi pulls readers into Orïsha, a rich fantasy world heavily influenced by her West African heritage. In Orïsha, magic has been abolished and former Magi are persecuted by a ruthless monarchy. The story is told in the alternating voices of Inan and Amari, children of the cruel king, and Zélie and Tzain, siblings from a tribe of Magi. The four find themselves on a fast-paced quest searching for magic artifacts long thought destroyed. Wrapped in this fantasy story, Adeyemi tackles timely themes of discrimination, persecution and the desire for change. A complex and fascinating magic system and top notch world-building bring the setting to vivid life. This is a page turner that will take the reader on an exciting adventure and leave them waiting impatiently for the next book in the series.
Leah On The Offbeat
9th grade & up. Humor, Romance. Leah, a drummer and artist, and her tight knit friend group are all trying to enjoy traditional rites of passage like prom and figure out their futures during the last few months of their senior year. Leah has been crushing on one of the girls in their group (unfortunately, her best friend’s ex-girlfriend), and is scared to tell her friends that she is bisexual, even though they all support their openly gay friends. This delightful, funny story set in the same universe as Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda, contains complex, intersectional characters and messy, beautiful relationships. Themes of bigotry, racism and body image are tackled in a heartfelt and realistic way. It is also a sweet romance, with just the right mix of snark and charm, as self-conscious Leah finds her voice while staying true to the beat of her own drum.
Undead Girl Gang
7th grade & up. Thriller. Everyone assumes Riley killed herself in a suicide pact with popular girls, June and Dayton. Only Riley’s best friend Mila knows the truth. Luckily, Mila’s a witch. When she tries to raise Riley from the dead, her spell works too well, and she raises all three girls. Mila and her pseudo-zombie posse only have one week to figure out who killed them before they return to the grave. While the girls search for their killer, they learn each of them has hidden depths, and their appreciation for one another grows in ways unforeseen in their living days. Mila’s wry sense of humor provides biting and insightful commentary about beauty standards and stereotypes. Initially hooked by a story of witchcraft and friendship, readers will find themselves questioning the judgements they make about others in this wonderfully profound girl power anthem that will appeal to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Devils Unto Dust
9th grade & up. Thriller. Set in the desert of West Texas, this compelling zombie western focuses on Willie, a 17-year-old girl who has been protecting her siblings since an epidemic infected people turning them into shakes that attack living people and leave destruction in their wake. Willie’s family is surviving until her layabout father robs one of the most feared shake-hunters. Finding herself responsible for her father’s folly, Willie finds herself in the company of not one, but two shake-hunters, including the devilishly handsome Ben as they make a dangerous journey across the unforgiving desert. The descriptive, exquisite writing, especially about the desert and the dystopian world in which Willie and her family live, is vividly compelling. The characters and their relationships are complex, their motivations complicated, and their world both fascinating and horrifying. This book is a must read for zombie and family drama lovers alike!
7th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. Mei Lu is a 17-year-old college freshman at MIT, and her parents have strict plans for her: become a doctor and marry a Taiwanese man of their choosing. Unfortunately, Mei is increasingly crippled by germaphobia, she has fallen for someone her parents would never approve of and she has a passion for dancing. She has been putting on a flawless act for her overbearing parents, but when she reconnects with her estranged older brother Xing, the show may be over. What happens when you can’t stay on the path that has been chosen for you? As Mei becomes more confident in her strengths and abilities, her relationships with her father and mother change in heartbreakingly authentic ways. Mei’s dynamic, droll voice draws readers into this charming and hilarious #OwnVoices story with themes of filial piety and personal growth.
Lovely, Dark, And Deep
7th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. Viola has always wanted to work as a global journalist, covering stories in remote places and standing up for people who need a voice. But her dream is shattered when she suddenly develops a life threatening photosensitivity to all light, including the sun, her phone and her computer. The only bright spot in her seemingly dim future is a burgeoning romance with Thor lookalike, Josh. Vi’s determination to thrive despite her illness elevates this from a story about a character struggling with a disease to a relatable story about finding a path into the the light. Humor and unique storytelling devices, including text message conversations and lists of ideas to deal with difficult themes, create an engaging reading experience. Readers will laugh while rooting for Vi to find her happy ending.
7th grade & up. Fantasy. In the fantasy world of Orleans, people are born with wrinkled grey skin, red eyes and hair like straw—except for the Belles. Belles are born full of color and can magically transform others to make them temporarily beautiful. Camellia dreams of being chosen as Belle to the royal family, but when she gets her wish, she realizes her society is deeply flawed. Can Camellia be true to herself and to societal pressure and expectations? This gripping tale of court intrigue, cruelty, the misguided admiration of beauty above all, and standing up for what’s right combines an intriguing premise with an intricate, detailed fantasy world that is a feast for the senses. This page turner is a realistic and powerful portrait of beauty that focuses on blackness as inherently beautiful, explores how beauty is constructed and encourages readers to question what they perceive as “beautiful.”
Tyler Johnson Was Here
7th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. Tyler and Marvin Johnson are twins, but they couldn’t be more different. Marvin is a self described geek and Tyler spends his time with known drug dealers. After a shooting at a party, Tyler disappears resulting in pain and uncertainty for Marvin and the boys’ mother. Embracing one’s self-identity, regardless of what society says about color or community, is the central theme of this powerful and moving debut novel. Themes of hope, forgiveness, the importance of education, standing up for one’s rights and the strength found by standing together are also explored. An unflinchingly honest look at what racially motivated police violence does to a family and a community, this book is a perfect follow-up to last year’s The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
Jazz Owls : A Novel Of The Zoot Suit Riots
6th grade & up. Historical Fiction, Novel in Verse. A story of music, dancing, immigrants, violence and ultimately hope, this novel in verse is set in Los Angeles in the 1940s amidst WWII and the proliferation of jazz in America. The infamous zoot suit riots, in which white soldiers attacked young men of color seen around town wearing zoot suits, are depicted through the eyes of one Mexican American family. The energy and rhythmic motion of jazz music is built into the poems. The varied perspectives and vivid characterization bring this moment in history to life. Though set in the 1940s, this book will resonate with modern readers through its depiction of both the struggles and the strength of immigrant families, leaving them with a sense of hope for the future.
How We Roll
6th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. When Quinn has a chance to become someone new, she decides to use “Guinevere”, a long strawberry blonde wig that covers her baldness. Her new persona also allows her to separate 8th grade in Colorado, a year filled with harassment and shame, from her bright and popular freshman year in Massachusetts. Wearing a wig helps Quinn feel closer to normal, but when she sees a classmate who doesn’t have such an easy way to hide his suffering and anger she wants to help. Nick lost both of his legs in an accident and doesn’t want Quinn’s help or her friendship. Can these genuine characters figure out a way to trust other people and believe in themselves again? Authentic treatment of characters with alopecia, autism and serious injury demonstrate that no one is defined by one single facet. This heartwarming book is an uplifting tale of self-discovery and love.
9th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. High school senior Cameron hopes her cosplay designs will be enough to get her into CalTech’s design school, but when her creations take first prize in a big competition she finds herself under attack via online comments from enraged male fans. To complete her character portfolio for her college application, Cameron disguises herself as a boy to find inspiration at the town’s only comic store run by an angry dude, who doesn’t like or understand female fans. While maintaining her disguise, Cameron becomes entrenched in the world of RPGs and fandoms. She’s also falling for Lincoln, a fellow Dungeons and Dragons player. But the closer she gets to Lincoln, the closer she is to revealing her secret. A warm, relatable protagonist, Cameron’s struggles with identity, bullying, and stereotypes ring true. Scenes of Cameron’s costume designs will fill readers’ minds with exquisite flashes of color and creative inspiration. Each character exhibits depth and development over the course of the novel, contributing to the message about the importance of being true to oneself.
Tess Of The Road
8th grade & up. Fantasy. Free-spirited and independent, Tess disgraces her family by drinking too much and punching a new relative’s nose at her sister’s wedding. To avoid a forced exile in a nunnery, Tess embarks on a perilous journey through the medieval fantasy kingdom of Goredd, finding safety disguised as a boy. When she is reunited with a long-lost quigutl friend, a reptilian creature named Pathka, Tess also finds a fellow outcast, and a way to work through her extremely difficult past. What does consent and romance look like in a world with dragons and magic, and how does a girl like Tess find her own way? The carefully layered story is peeled away in an expertly paced and engaging manner. Tess of the Road features the same rich world-building, complex plot and unique characters that enthralled fans of Seraphina and Shadow Scale, which tell the story of Tess’s older half sister.
8th grade & up. Humor, Realistic Fiction. Michael is not speaking to his father who’s forced them to move, yet again, to a new city. The move means Michael has to start at a new Catholic high school. The problem? Michael is an atheist. Soon he teams up with a firebrand feminist, a gay Jewish student, a Celtic polytheist and a Unitarian Universalist to form Heretics Anonymous, and the group begins a guerilla campaign against hypocrisy that will change the school forever. This is a hilarious book full of authentic, complex and lovable characters. While similar in many ways to movies, such as Saved and Easy A, the variety of religious perspectives evelates this story to offer a profound, nuanced commentary on faith. Henry navigates a delicate line between affirming Michael’s atheist views and encouraging openness and respect for those with religious beliefs in a way that is both serious and lighthearted.
Monday's Not Coming : A Novel
8th grade & up. Mystery, Realistic Fiction. Where is Monday? When 14-year-old Claudia comes back after summer vacation, she’s dismayed that she can’t get a hold of her best friend, Monday. When school starts and Monday doesn’t show, Claudia is sure that something’s wrong, but she can’t get anyone to believe her. As months pass, she talks to teachers, school administrators, Monday’s family, her own family and even the police, but no one seems to care that her best friend has gone missing. Based on the very real tragedy of dozens of missing black teenage girls in the DC/ Maryland area, this fast-paced story is written in an authentic teenage voice, providing important social commentary about how race, class and gender affect the protection and care society affords people. Great for teens who love twisty psychological thrillers like Gone Girl, unexpected plot reveals will keep readers guessing until the very end of this devastating, yet essential book.
The Loneliest Girl In The Universe
9th grade & up. Science Fiction. After several mysterious tragedies, Romy finds herself alone in deep, dark space, travelling towards EARTH II to begin a new colony. Single-handedly running the whole ship and preparing for her lonely new existence, she is delighted when another, faster ship is launched to sync up with her arrival. Meanwhile, the conflict on EARTH I has escalated. Now Romy’s only human contact is with the captain of the approaching ship, and he seems perfect. As their relationship deepens, her ship deteriorates, which forces Romy to face the horrors of her past and present in this science fiction thriller. Building slowly to a gripping climax, this unexpectedly creepy space journey with a relatable protagonist is perfect for a gloomy night spent imagining what you would do…all alone in the universe.
Darius The Great Is Not Okay
7th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. Darius, an awkward teenager dealing with depression and a fraught relationship with his father, is nervous about his first trip to Iran. While there he meets his mother’s family, and their neighbor, Sohrab, who becomes his first friend and a catalyst for major change. Iran itself comes alive with superb descriptions of sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Darius’ awareness of himself, his culture and the world grows as the story progresses. The evolution of characters feels realistic and inspired, and his family members are especially complex. This story will resonate with teens struggling with depression, as well as anyone who has felt out of place in one’s own family, school and culture.
Summer Of Salt
7th grade & up. Magical Realism. Having spent their whole lives on a small island called By the Sea, twin sisters Mary and Georgina, descended from a long line of witches, are on the cusp of their 18th birthday. The lifeblood of the island is the tourists who visit each year to see Arabella the bird, an ornithological wonder who may or may not be the twins’ 300-year-old aunt. But this summer is different. Arabella is missing, Georgina is falling for beautiful tourist Prue and Mary is inexplicably fading away. Summer of Salt perfectly captures all of the fears, anxieties and hopes that come with entering the world as an adult for the first time. Thematically, it’s also a moving tribute to female love, friendship, power and solidarity. This unique mystery is perfect for fans of magical coming of age stories with distinctive and eerie settings.
7th grade & up. Thriller. Grant Franklin Tavish V has blood on his hands. After he causes a fatal car accident, everyone in his privileged world wants to move on and pretend it never happened, but Grant is consumed with guilt. Under the guise of a timely rite of passage, he plans to go cave diving along the Appalachian Trail and never return. However, his fatalistic plan goes wrong right from the start when the cave collapses, trapping Grant and group of teens far below the surface. When the survival of innocents rests on his shoulders, will Grant use his skills and knowledge to guide the others to safety even while he suspects the group is being hunted? This compulsive read mixes survival with horror as readers will race to the heart pounding conclusion.
Tortot The Cold Fish Who Lost His World And Found His Heart
7th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. Set in a fantastical world ruled by royalty that bathes in pickle juice to maintain their “good looks,” Tortot is a cold-hearted field cook who serves in the neverending war. Soldiers are dying all around him but Tortot is unphased as long as he is cooking for the winning side. That is until he finds a deserter in his kitchen: a boy named George who has lost his brothers and his legs in battle. Unmoved by George’s plight, Tortot decides to shelter him for just one night. This moment of humanity changes Tartot forever, allowing him to finally find his heart. Stunning illustrations, both full page spreads and spot illustrations placed alongside and around the text, are sprinkled throughout the book, making each page come alive with action. Revelatory flashbacks and moments of humor juxtaposed with moments of suspense all contribute to this wholly unique and extraordinary tale. Originally written in Dutch and published in Amsterdam, this entertaining book will inspire reflection about war, politics, apathy and loss.
9th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. Flight Season is about taking care of someone: a child, a parent, a friend, a patient. It’s the summer after her freshman year of college, and Vivi is reeling from her father’s unexpected death. Her mother is adrift, Vivi’s academic career is looking precarious and she finds herself struggling with her hospital internship. Told from three distinctive, yet intertwining perspectives, Vivi, nursing student TJ, and their incorrigible patient Angel all share their surprisingly heartrending perspectives. A poignant story of connection and self-discovery, this is a must read for realistic fiction fans who crave complex and profoundly human characters.
All Out : The No-longer-secret Stories Of Queer Teens Throughout The Ages
7th grade & up. Historical Fiction. A wonderfully diverse anthology featuring stories by 17 masterful young adult authors, All Out celebrates queer relationships throughout history. This highquality collection of historical fiction and retold folktales covers a wide range of cultures, time periods and identities, ranging from 14th century Sherwood Forest to late 90s Massachusetts. No matter the time period or setting, each protagonist is on a personal journey of learning, loving, self-discovery and growth. Standout stories include “Molly’s Lips” by Dahlia Adler, “Every Shade of Red” by Elliot Wake and “Burnt Umber” by Mackenzi Lee. The positive, hopeful tone of all the stories in this collection will appeal to fans of romance and coming-out stories. A Thousand Beginnings and
A Thousand Beginnings And Endings : 15 Retellings Of Asian Myths And Legends
7th grade & up. Magical Realism. With stories set in the past, present and future, this collection of Asian folklore, fairy tale and mythology retellings will invigorate fantasy fans. The unique stories are wide-ranging, providing entry points for many types of readers. By turns enchanting, romantic, magical, powerful and tragic, this collection is a joy to read. Each story is followed by a description of the original myth or tale that inspired the current version, as well as its significance to each author. In this way, cultural context and meaning are shared with readers. Although the stories are short, each one packs a punch and offers the reader a new perspective about love, religion or life itself.
The Astonishing Color Of After
8th grade & up. Magical Realism. This is the extraordinary story of a teenage girl, Leigh, and her physical and emotional journey after her mother commits suicide. After her mother’s death, Leigh travels to Taiwan to meet her mother’s family and in the process learns about her mother’s past. Leigh’s obsession with a bird that she is sure is embodied with her mother’s spirit spins the story into the realm of fantasy. If only she could capture that bird, perhaps her mother could tell her what she needs to know. Pan intertwines Leigh’s journey through Taiwan with poignant snapshots of Leigh and her mother’s past, immersing readers in the deep grief and profound joy of Leigh’s relationship with her mother. The poetic language and rich imagery paint vivid pictures as the descriptions unfold. This exploration of grief, forgiveness and love is powerful and unforgettable.
7th grade & up. Science Fiction. It’s been a year since Beatrice’s boyfriend, Jim, died under suspicious circumstances. When she goes out with her estranged friends for a night she doesn’t expect to wake up with little recollection of how they got home. A stranger arrives and informs them that they are stuck in a “Neverworld Wake”, a moment in time between life and death, and that they must unanimously decide which one of them should survive while the rest die. In a Groundhog Day-like scenario they relive the same 12 hours over and over until the decision is made. Like sinking into a dream, readers are pulled into an immersive experience with mysterious layers that slowly unfold. Pessl doesn’t shy away from creating deeply flawed characters that adeptly explore the consequences of each action. This twisty, eerie tale is thought-provoking and suspenseful, taking readers on an unforgettable journey.
The Agony House
7th grade & up. Mystery, Thriller. In an effort to start over, Denise’s newly wed parents have put all their eggs into renovating a 100 year old New Orleans home. Their hopes for a lucrative bed and breakfast are disrupted by paranormal phenomena, but Denise Farber may have found the solution to their troubles in an old comic book stashed in the attic. A handful of comic segments are interspersed between chapters, building towards an intense, twist ending. Amidst the haunted house story, conversations between the family and their new community provide commentary on the relevant issue of gentrification.
The Museum Of Us
9th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. When 16-year-old Sadie wakes up in the hospital after a car accident, she frantically looks for her best friend George, but no one can find him. No one, not even her parents and closest friends, even know who he is. Placed on a psychiatric hold under suspicion of being suicidal, Sadie faces a decision—to continue hiding her secret life with George or confront painful truths about her past. Compelling prose creates a window into Sadie’s struggles with mental illness and past trauma, as well as the rich, interior daydream world that transports her to magical places. Angst, anguish, loss and grief combat for Sadie’s attention in this empathetic portrait of a resilient teenager.
The Summer Of Jordi Perez : (and The Best Burger In Los Angeles)
7th grade & up. Realistic Fiction, Romance. 17-year-old Abby runs her own plus size fashion blog, and is thrilled when she lands a coveted summer internship at her favorite boutique. That’s a big deal! But Abby’s personal life is less than stellar. She’s never kissed a girl and what if she never does? Much to her surprise, she’s launched into a whirlwind romance with fellow intern Jordi Perez, a mysterious and beautiful photographer. But the girls’ differing views on online privacy and consent—regarding photographs, not sex—as well as competing for the same paid job at the end of the internship, threaten to tear them apart. The hilarious, yet profound text, a combination of narrative, dialogue and inner monologues, develops characters that are well-drawn and nuanced. At its core, a light-hearted and entertaining fashion-infused romance, this novel also touches on topics of self-esteem and confidence.
9th grade & up. Mystery, Thriller. Sadie Hunter has endured so much in her 19 years, but when her younger sister’s body is found she can’t not act. Convinced her sister’s murderer and a man who sexually abused her are one and the same, she sets out to enact her own justice. When Sadie’s car is found abandoned, her concerned neighbor seeks the investigative skills of a podcast reporter. The book alternates between Sadie’s first hand perspective and that of the podcast months later. Gritty, yet sensitive, this relentless page-turner covers intense subjects, including sexual and emotional abuse, substance abuse, pedophilia and neglect. This harrowing, gripping book will find an audience with fans of true crime and vigilante justice stories.
Mapping The Bones
7th grade & up. Historical Fiction. What if Hansel and Gretel were Jewish twins during the Holocaust, and the witch was actually a Nazi doctor with an especially horrific oven? The year is 1942, and Polish twins Chaim and Gittel and their parents are relocated to the Lodz Ghetto. Tensions rise when a second family moves into their already cramped quarters. The families decide to flee to the nearby Lagiewniki Forest, where partisan fighters are trying to safely transport Jews to freedom in Russia. After a skirmish in the woods, Chaim, Gittel and their two friends are captured and brought to Sobanek concentration camp, where the all too real horrors begin. Superbly fleshed out characters are developed through complex relationships and Chaim’s heartbreaking poems that begin each chapter. Chaim and Gittel support one another, even as they are forced to make unthinkably horrible life or death decisions. This haunting retelling of an old folk tale set during a dark time in modern history is a unique addition to the canon of young adult fiction.