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Best & Brightest Teen Fiction 2020

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This Best & Brightest list was created by Denver Public Library staff to celebrate our favorite recently published teen books. Enjoy!

More of the Best & Brightest Books of 2020

Clap When You Land
Acevedo, Elizabeth
10th grade & up | Novel in Verse, Realistic Fiction. Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people… In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash. Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other." -- From the publisher. This novel in verse is beautifully written and captivating. Alternating perspectives depict a story of grief, finding family and the power of sisterhood. This is an #OwnVoices novel set in the Dominican Republic. Acevedo takes on toxic masculinity and socioeconomic disparities in this compelling story.
The Inheritance Games
Barnes, Jennifer
7th grade & up | Mystery. "Avery has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why — or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch — and his love of brain-teasers, and codes. Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive." --From the publisher. This gripping novel is the ultimate mystery, filled with danger, twists and secrets. It's an ideal book for fans of riddles and puzzles. An immersive, addictive plot and magnetic, but deeply flawed characters create a vibrant world. With short, lively chapters this is a perfect read for reluctant readers.
Felix Ever After
Callender, Kacen
9th grade & up | Realistic Fiction, Romance. "Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after. When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s dead name alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle...." --From the publisher. The artistic main character brings heart to this #OwnVoices novel with realistic depictions of teens navigating the discovery of self-worth and identity, creating a chosen family and withstanding bullying and transphobia. The cast of characters are racially and LGBTQ diverse.
The Edge of Anything
Carpenter, Nora
9th grade & up | Realistic Fiction, Sports. "Len is a loner teen photographer haunted by a past that’s stagnated her work and left her terrified she’s losing her mind. Sage is a high school volleyball star desperate to find a way around her sudden medical disqualification. Both girls need college scholarships. After a chance encounter, the two develop an unlikely friendship that enables them to begin facing their inner demons But both Len and Sage are keeping secrets that, left hidden, could cost them everything, maybe even their lives." --From the publisher. In this poignant, timely novel, as they navigate individual grief, loss and mental health, two teens from different worlds become friends and confidantes. This #OwnVoices story tackles challenging topics with grace and raw honesty, is refreshingly free of romance and takes a compelling look at the power of friendship.
We Are Not Free
Chee, Traci
8th grade & up | Historical Fiction. "Fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco. Fourteen teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted. Fourteen teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps. In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart." --From the publisher. Family history andextensive research form the foundation of this #OwnVoices novel that captures both the horrifying injustices and moments of raw hope experienced by Japanese Americans during the Second World War. Interspersed historic ephemera adds to the powerful narrative that will linger long after the final page is turned.
The Voting Booth
Colbert, Brandy
10th grade & up | Romance. "Marva was born ready for this day. She’s always been driven to make a difference in the world, and what better way than to vote in her first election? Duke Crenshaw is so done with this election. He just wants to get voting over so he can prepare for his band’s first paying gig tonight. When Marva sees Duke turned away from their polling place, she takes it upon herself to make sure his vote is counted. They may have started out as strangers, but as Duke and Marva team up, it’s clear that there’s more to their connection than a shared mission for democracy." --From the publisher. Told in dual perspectives over 24 hours, this novel weaves together a light-hearted romance with serious issues like political activism, the importance of voting, racism and police brutality. The likable and complex main characters are Black in this #OwnVoices novel.
Don't Ask Me Where I'm From
De Leon, Jennifer
7th grade & up | Realistic Fiction. "Liliana Cruz is hitting a wall—or rather, walls. There’s the wall her mom has put up ever since Liliana’s dad left—again. There’s the wall that delineates Liliana’s diverse inner-city Boston neighborhood from Westburg, the wealthy—and white—suburban high school she’s just been accepted into. And there’s the wall Liliana creates within herself, because to survive at Westburg, she can’t just lighten up, she has to whiten up. But a wall isn’t always a barrier. It can be a foundation for something better. And Liliana must choose: Use this foundation as a platform to speak her truth, or risk crumbling under its weight." --From the publisher. Providing a compelling look at the challenges experienced by first-generation youth, such as confronting racism and navigating identity, this #OwnVoices debut uses sharp, slang-filled dialogue to create an authentic, recognizable world. Brisk pacing keeps the story moving as the Latinx protagonist travels through her journey of self discovery and activism.
Not So Pure and Simple
Giles, L. R.
8th grade & up | Realistic Fiction. "Del has had a crush on Kiera Westing since kindergarten. And now, during their junior year, she’s finally available. So when Kiera volunteers for an opportunity at their church, Del’s right behind her. Though he quickly realizes he’s inadvertently signed up for a Purity Pledge. His dad thinks his wires are crossed, and his best friend, Qwan, doesn’t believe any girl is worth the long game. But Del’s not about to lose his dream girl, and that’s where fellow pledger Jameer comes in. He can put in the good word. In exchange, Del just has to get answers to the Pledgers’ questions…about sex ed. With other boys circling Kiera like sharks, Del needs to make his move fast. But as he plots and plans, he neglects to ask the most important question: What does Kiera want? He can’t think about that too much, though, because once he gets the girl, it’ll all sort itself out. Right?" --From the publisher. Written from a Black #OwnVoices perspective, this coming-of-age novel tackles some weighty topics such as reputation, objectification and “nice” guy culture. Populated with realistic characters, the story feels both authentic and relatable, while the hilarious protagonist’s hijinks and blunders keep the narrative from ever being overly heavy.
Raybearer
Ifueko, Jordan
7th grade & up | Fantasy. "Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?" --From the publisher. Witty banter and found family tropes balance out intense court politics and assassination plots in this powerful West Africa inspired fantasy. Drawing from her Yoruba and Edo heritage, Jordan Ifueko has crafted an adventure that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page.
A Good Girl's Guide to Murder
Jackson, Holly
9th grade & up | Mystery, Thriller. "Everyone in Fairview knows the story. Pretty and popular high school senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town. But she can’t shake the feeling that there was more to what happened that day. Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her final project, at first just to cast doubt on the original investigation. But soon she discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove innocence, and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn’t want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger." --From the publisher. A suspenseful, gripping page-turner, this thriller will keep readers guessing from start to finish. A modern-day Nancy Drew, the main character will impress with her sleuthing abilities. This novel features a richly developed and diverse set of characters and plenty of intrigue.
You Should See Me in a Crown
Johnson, Leah
9th grade & up | Realistic Fiction, Romance. "Liz Lighty has always believed she's too Black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But, Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor. When the financial aid she was counting on falls through, Liz's plans come crashing down . . . until she's reminded of her school's scholarship for prom king and queen. There's nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she's willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington. The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?" --From the publisher. Racism, homophobia and economic disparity are explored with a deft touch in this stunning queer Black #OwnVoices debut. Strong character development and snappy dialogue bring first loves and intense family ties to vivid life in this relatable journey toward dream fulfillment.
Unscripted
Kronzer, Nicole
9th grade & up | Humor, Realistic Fiction. "Seventeen-year-old Zelda Bailey-Cho has her future all planned out: improv camp, then Second City, and finally Saturday Night Live. She’s thrilled when she lands a spot on the coveted varsity team at a prestigious improv camp, which means she’ll get to perform for professional scouts—including her hero, Nina Knightley. But even though she’s hardworking and talented, Zelda’s also the only girl on Varsity, so she’s the target for humiliation from her teammates. And her 20-year-old coach, Ben, is cruel to her at practice and way too nice to her when they’re alone. Zelda wants to fight back, but is sacrificing her best shot at her dream too heavy a price to pay?" --From the publisher. In this debut novel, the ambitious and humorously quick-witted main character navigates gaslighting, sexism, sexual harassment, evolving friendships and romance at improv camp. The main character is white, straight and from a blended family, and the supporting cast has diverse representation of other races, the LGBTQ community and albinism.
I'll Be the One
Lee, Lyla
7th grade & up | Realistic Fiction, Romance. "Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering world of K-Pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother, have set for girls like her. What she doesn’t count on are the highly fat-phobic beauty standards of the Korean pop entertainment industry, her sudden media fame and scrutiny, or the sparks that soon fly with her fellow competitor, Henry Cho. But Skye has her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star, and that means winning the competition—without losing herself." --From the publisher. This #OwnVoices novel is both a love letter to K-pop fans and an invitation to the uninitiated to immerse themselves in that world. Populated by LGBTQ diverse characters, this debut novel of friendship, body positivity and romance will have you cheering on the main character until the confetti-filled finale.
Above All Else
Levy, Dana Alison
8th grade & up | Realistic Fiction. "Teenage mountaineering prodigies Rose Keller and Tate Russo have been training their whole lives for the ultimate climb: Everest. But between Rose's ailing mother, Tate's demanding father, and a simmering will-they-won't-they romance, neither teen's head is fully in the game. Everyone on this expedition has something to prove; exhaustion and oxygen deprivation steadily chip away at their ability to make good decisions. The higher they climb, the more isolated each team member becomes. Rose and Tate will have to dig deep to determine what – or who – they value above all else." --From the publisher. This book is perfect for Denver’s teens who love climbing, mountain adventures and a thrill. Both protagonists narrate the story and make readers feel like they are part of the journey. Socioeconomic inequities in tourist towns are discussed, which similarly relates to Colorado’s own tourism industry. The author's note provides further context about Mount Everest and Nepal.
Elatsoe
Little Badger, Darcie. Illustrated by Rovina Cai
5th grade & up | Fantasy. "Imagine an America very similar to our own. It’s got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream. There are some differences. This America has been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Seventeen-year-old Elatsoe lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered, in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect façade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family." --From the publisher. Murdered cousins, ghost dogs and poltergeists keep readers on their toes in this Lipan Apache #OwnVoices novel. Paired with whimsical black and white sketches at the beginning of each chapter, Darcie Little Badger weaves a haunting tale that reminds readers that great power comes with great responsibility.
More Than Just a Pretty Face
Masood, Syed M.
9th grade & up | Realistic Fiction, Romance. "Danyal Jilani doesn’t lack confidence. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he’s funny, gorgeous and going to make a great chef one day. His father doesn’t approve of his career choice, but that hardly matters. What does matter is the opinion of Danyal’s longtime crush and her family, who consider him a less than ideal arranged marriage prospect. When Danyal gets selected for a school-wide academic championship, it’s the perfect opportunity to show everyone he’s smarter than they think. He recruits the brilliant, totally-uninterested-in-him Bisma to help with the competition, but the more time Danyal spends with her…the more he realizes that happiness may be staring him right in his pretty face." --From the publisher. This hilarious #OwnVoices novel features a Pakistani American teenager trying to impress his very traditional parents. Danyal loves to cook, which disappoints his parents because of their customary expectations of gender roles and financial stability. Readers will learn a lot about Islamic culture, arranged marriages and expectations related to social status and class.
Splinters of Scarlet
Murphy, Emily Bain
7th grade & up | Fantasy, Historical Fiction. "For Marit Olsen, magic is all about strategy: it flows freely through her blood, but every use leaves behind a deadly, ice-like build-up within her veins called the Firn. When Eve, a fellow orphan whom Marit views like a sister, is adopted by the wealthy Helene Vestergaard, Marit will do anything to stay close. She decides to risk the Firn and uses magic to secure a job as a seamstress in the Vestergaard household. The closer Marit gets to the Vestergaard family, the more she realizes she and everyone she’s come to love are in danger. When she finds herself in the middle of a treacherous deception that goes all the way up to the king of Denmark, magic may be the only thing that can save her—if it doesn’t kill her first." --From the publisher. Magic has consequences in this lush historical fantasy. Set against a Danish winter, this novel explores racism and the exploitation of the poor in a way that makes this an accessible fantasy for teen readers. A found family trope makes this a perfect pick for fans of The Gilded Wolves.
Cemetery Boys
Thomas, Aiden
8th grade & up | Fantasy, Romance. "When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free. However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave." --From the publisher. In this engaging and magical novel, Thomas addresses topics like traditional cultural views, gender identity and the importance of community. The relatable characters are the heart of this fast-paced story. This is an #OwnVoices novel where the full cast of characters is Latinx and includes LGBTQ representation.
Punching the Air
Zoboi, Ibi Aanu and Salaam, Yusef. Illustrated by Omar T. Pasha
8th grade & up | Novel in Verse, Realistic Fiction. "Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white. Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?" --From the publisher. Lyrical and powerful, this novel in verse tackles the difficult topics of systematic racism and the flawed justice system. Incredibly emotional poetry and enriching illustrations give the reader a sense of hope for the future. This #OwnVoices novel has a main character who is Black and Muslim.