You can see all of those posts collected in our Young Adult category there.
Ella and Lina
We're now featuring reviews for YA (ages 12+) books alongside our middle-grade reviews on our main page!
You can see all of those posts collected in our Young Adult category there.
Ella and Lina
Karou lives her life weaving between two worlds.
There's the world of modern-day Prague where she goes to art school and laughs with her friend Zuzana in eerie cafes. Where her ex-boyfriend puts on street entertainment for tourists, her sketches are of mundane events, and no one believes the stories Karou tells about monsters who exchange wishes for teeth and inhabit a world hidden behind the most ordinary doors.
But those stories are real enough. Sometimes realer than Karou herself feels.
And when scorched hand prints begin appearing around the world, Karou finds it harder to separate her two lives--or keep out of a foreign war encroaching on her world.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is truly extraordinary. Having read Laini Taylor's Dreamdark series and loved it, I had high expectations for this book--expectations which came nowhere near what this book was actually like. Somewhat like Raybearer, this book was nearly impossible to describe. Taylor's writing and incredible atmosphere which pulled me in from the first page, sketching a world which, despite being set in the modern day, has more than enough room for demons. Realism and the fantastic seem to be blurred and indistinct, almost inseparable, with a dash of clever humor thrown into the mix. Later in the book, when events started to become more clear, Daughter of Smoke and Bone did what many other books with atmospheric, riveting beginnings do not: it kept it up. Despite the sense of place being clearer, despite understanding more deeply what was going on, the atmospheric touch of the surreal never faded, with the middle and end every bit as satisfying and beautiful as the opening. I truly loved Karou and the enigmas of her story; the twists of this book--which has a plot only barely second to its deft writing--were extraordinary. At no point did I grow bored or complacent while reading this, and I certainly never truly knew what would happen next. The rest of this series has jumped right to the top of my to-read list, and I can't wait to dive back into Karou's magical, dangerous world. I highly recommend Daughter of Smoke and Bone to readers ages fourteen and up looking for a luminous, breathtaking fantasy novel full of detail and mystery.
Tarisai has grown up in Bhekina House, a strange, mysterious building full of rumors and spirits, where she is surrounded by tutors who avoid touching her skin and a vast grassland which she is forbidden from venturing into. For as long as she can remember, her life has been full of secrets--and her mother, known only as The Lady, visits Bhekina House too infrequently to provide any answers. More than anything, Tarisai longs for the Lady's love and connection, but her long absences curtail any such dreams.
When Tarisai is sent away from Bhekina House, though, it is not with her freedom. She must now compete for a spot on the crown prince's council--a group of individuals from across the Aritsar empire bonded by the prince's magical Ray--a position that would offer the connection and family Tarisai has always wanted. But she is ensnared by a cursed command: when she loves the prince and is chosen for his council, she must kill him.
Caught between her birth and past and a new future she may not be able to forge, Tarisai must find the strength to choose her own path--or lose the family she has only just found.
As I found myself struggling to write a review for Raybearer which accurately described this book to its fullest, I eventually came to the conclusion that nothing so brief could truly encapsulate this story. I picked up this book after hearing about it for months, and it exceeded even my highest expectations. Ifueko delivers an exquisitely written, superbly plotted story full of complexity, originality and magic. I was sucked in from the first sentence and was caught up in its magic even before I finished the first page; the combination of engrossing, beautiful writing and a vivid, atmospheric world make it compelling and incredible. Tarisai is a strong, fierce, determined protagonist who refuses to let her fate be controlled by another, whose conflicts and choices are relatable and never felt contrived, who makes this book character-driven even in the midst of a complex plot full of twists and surprises. Raybearer is brimming with unique twists and details which make the world feel expansive and vividly realized. I highly recommend Raybearer to readers ages twelve and up--it's one of my favorite books, period!
In the Martial Empire, there is no true justice, only the bleak ruthlessness served on its enemies and even its own people by its highly trained soldiers--or, even more feared, by the brutal, elite warriors known only as Masks. Laia knows the Empire's destructiveness well--its soldiers killed her parents and sister years before. Now she lives with her grandparents and older brother, Darin. But Darin has been acting strangely lately, and when he's imprisoned for treason, shattering her life, the charges do not surprise her: joining the Scholar's Resistance, which seeks to topple the Empire. With her little family gone and determined to help Darin, Laia goes to the one group of people she is certain will help her: the Scholar's Resistance. If he was working with them, she reasons, they will surely be willing to break her out of prison.
And they agree--for a price. Laia must go to spy on Blackcliff, the training academy for Masks, for the Resistance. Not only that, but she must do so as a slave for the Commandant, Blackcliff's notorious, perceptive leader--a mission which is, by all accounts, impossible to survive.
Meanwhile, Elias is Blackcliff's best student, hailed by many as on a path to greatness. But all he wants is to escape the brutal world he has grown up in, deserting the Empire for one of the better, kinder surrounding countries. When Elias is chosen as one of four contestants to compete to be the Martial Empire's next ruler, however, all those options slip away. And as the competition unfolds and Elias realizes truly how much more death his life is primed to entail, he must ask himself: which future, of all the possibilities, is he willing to live?
As Laia and Elias cross paths and their actions unfold, they realize their choices will determine far more than just their own lives. They will determine the fate of the Scholar's Resistance, the Emperor, and even the Martial Empire itself.
An Ember in the Ashes is an riveting novel full of intricately drawn settings and startling twists, blended together into a series opener so deftly imagined and skillfully written that I will literally follow its characters wherever they go next. Sabaa Tahir's detailed worldbuilding was one of the highlights of this novel for me; her Martial Empire, often echoing ancient Rome, feels fully imagined and well-drawn. Elias and Laia are both deeply strong and sympathetic protagonists, fully fleshed out and interesting, who, when faced with even the hardest choices, always felt as though they were making good decisions, something I always appreciate. I also feel the need to mention Helene, one of the supporting characters, who constantly surprised me and was one of the best characters in this book. Tahir's writing pulled me in from the first pages and kept me reading throughout, always with the right mix of suspense, plot twists, and difficult choices. I highly recommend An Ember in the Ashes to readers ages fourteen and up who love intense, layered high fantasy.
Natasha Kingsley has one day to be saved by destiny. To be clear, she doesn't believe in destiny; life is a series of random events and coincidences to which people desperately try to ascribe meaning. She believes in chemistry and physics and data and facts. But with her family about to be deported from New York City to Jamaica tomorrow, she's desperate enough to give destiny a chance.
Daniel Bae's parents have his life all planned out for him: go to a fancy college, become a doctor, have a family, be happy. And with his obnoxious (and usual parental favorite) older brother Charlie having just flunked out of Harvard, the pressure is on. Today, Daniel will interview for Yale, aka Second-Best School, and commit himself to the life his parents have planned for their Second-Best Son. But he has a few hours before getting locked into that future--and with it, he decides to wander the city, work on his poetry, and indulge in his wild dreams while he still can. After all, who knows what destiny might have in store for him?
When Natasha and Daniel stumble into each other on this life-defining day, they quickly realize that there's something special here. Destiny? Fate? Random chance? True love? Over the course of a single day, they traverse the city, struggle for the futures they want, and discover each other. Maybe it's true love and destiny, or maybe love really is just chemistry and coincidence. But there's something between them worth exploring, and whether it's random chance or the will of the universe, this one, life-changing day gives them the opportunity to do just that.
The Sun Is Also A Star is one of those books I've heard a lot about and been meaning to read for a while, and it completely lived up to my high expectations. The chapters are short and mostly alternate between Natasha and Daniel, but they also give glimpses into the minds and lives of a variety of other characters, both major and minor, who they interact with, and touch on subjects from the history of the Black women's hair care industry to that of the multiverse theory, all of which weave back into the story seamlessly.
I especially liked the story's exploration of the ways tiny moments and interactions can create enormous ripples or profoundly change a person's life--this style could easily be confusing or unfocused, but Yoon's thoughtful, beautiful writing, plotting, and characters deftly weave The Sun Is Also A Star into a kaleidoscope of stories, questions, ideas, and lives, all centered about this one day and the two central protagonists. I don't generally like romances, but these many intersecting pieces of the story--and the fact that the characters are all excellent--made me enjoy this one, and gave it a broader, more intriguing scope and depth than a traditional romance novel.
The story's explorations of destiny, coincidence and true love are grounded both by real, fascinating concepts in the sciences, especially astrophysics, and by the believable, perhaps equally fascinating impact that minor interactions and occurrences have on the various characters and their lives. Insightful, absorbing, and irresistible, I would recommend The Sun Is Also A Star to readers ages fourteen and up looking for a story about the wonder of everything from tiny personal moments to the universe itself.
By Piranha T.
Sheetal's mother is a star--and when she left Earth to return to her place in the sky, it changed Sheetal's life forever. Now, ten years later, her presence in Sheetal's life has faded to memories and oddities which make it impossible for her to fit in in modern-day New Jersey. Far more than her ethereal singing voice or the star songs she sometimes hears at night, it's Sheetal's hair that keeps her in a constant struggle to be seen as 'normal'. Sure, black dye can mask the silver, glowing hair Sheetal inherited from her mother, but it never lasts as long as it should--and lately, the silver has been showing through faster and faster than ever before.
Oh, and of course, all the secrets she's keeping don't make anything easier, either.
Sheetal has managed to keep her star side under control for years, but the delicate balance she used to have on her life is beginning to come undone. At first it's just the dye fading from her hair faster than ever before, and the star song becoming more and more insistent--almost as if it's calling her... But when she lashes out at her father and burns him with celestial fire, Sheetal finally has to accept that she can no longer ignore the half-star part of her--and that the only place to find something which will heal her father is the home of the stars themselves.
But the stars have other plans for Sheetal, and no matter how much she finds herself falling in love with their sparkling, shimmering world, she's having more and more trouble reconciling it--and herself--with the Sheetal she used to be. And when the stars ask her to choose between her two worlds, she has to confront the truth about humans and stars--and to ask herself what she's willing to give up.
Star Daughter is a fantasy novel filled with magic, mystery, and starlight helmed by a strong, relatable protagonist. Thakrar's prose is exquisite and engrossing, and carries the story to complex places and relationships with a constantly interesting tale; she manages to capture both how Sheetal speaks and thinks as a modern-day teen and the magic and uniqueness of the setting. I particularly enjoyed the layers of the supporting cast throughout the book, which helped make it a consistently captivating read. The stars' world feels complete and beautifully imagined, and Sheetal's development as she enters it was especially notable to me. I also love the cover! I recommend Star Daughter to readers ages thirteen and up who enjoy fully realized and interesting stories with unique settings and strong characters.
Camino Rios, raised by her tía in the Dominican Republic, dreams of training as a doctor in the United States. She loves assisting Tía, who is a healer, and while her dreams might seem like a long shot, they're not completely out of reach. Camino is a strong student and talented healer--and if she went to Columbia, she would be near her beloved papi, who spends most of his time working in the US to support her and Tía. By the summer before her senior year of high school, Camino's plans seem to finally be falling into place--at least, until she arrives at the airport to pick up Papi for his annual summer visit, and his plane never arrives.
Yahaira Rios is a fashion-loving former chess champion who quit the sport last year as a rising star. She and her mother live in the Bronx--with her papi, when he's not on one of his frequent business trips. But after stumbling across a carefully hidden family secret, she hasn't talked to him in almost a year.
And now she never will again.
When news of the plane crash arrives, Camino and Yahaira are pulled into a web of grief, secrets, and betrayal which threatens to pull their families apart. But just when it feels that they've lost everything, one more secret is revealed--one which helps both girls face the future and understand the complexity of the stories the crash has revealed.
Written in gorgeous, rhythmic free verse, Clap When You Land is a stunning exploration of grief, forgiveness, and the many types of love that hold a family together. Acevedo deftly weaves Camino and Yahaira's lives and worlds, making each distinct and deeply relatable, and ultimately creating an immensely believable combination of friction and connection between them. Her writing is impeccable and absorbing, and it's a joy to watch the story unfold. I've wanted to read her books for a while now, and this was the first I've checked out--I'm now definitely planning on reading her others! I would highly recommend Clap When You Land to readers ages 14 and up.
By Piranha T.
Sabriel is hardly like the other girls at her boarding school in the modern realm of Ancelstierre. She was born in the magical and mysterious Old Kingdom, where her father, the necromancer Abhorsen, still dwells. He has taught her how to use the seven bells which are the root of the craft of necromancers, journey through Death, and bind the creatures who lurk there. And when Abhorsen disappears, Sabriel finds herself in need of all these skills as she is pulled into an ancient conflict in the Old Kingdom--and discovers a plan more nefarious than she ever could have imagined.
Sabriel is an engrossing read, starring a capable, clever, and believable heroine. This book, widely acknowledged as a modern classic, is set in a well-developed fantasy world with intricate, dangerous magic and a plot with mysteries that keep you wondering at the ending. This is the first book in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, Clariel and Goldenhand), all of which are excellent. I highly recommend Sabriel and the entire Old Kingdom Series to readers ages twelve and up.
Note: This review is adapted from our original, posted on our fiction page several years ago. Sabriel remains one of our favorite books! You can read the original review here.
Arthur's soon-to-be-bride Guinevere travels toward Camelot, accompanied through the unfamiliar landscape by a group of the new king's best knights, as all of Camelot eagerly awaits her arrival and the coming wedding.
But the approaching wild-haired girl is not the real Guinevere--and being queen is the least of her worries.
When Guinevere-not-Guinevere arrives in Came-lot, she has no idea where to begin. There is the blur of the wedding and feasts and celebrations, of course, and an endless stream of new people whose names she immediately forgets. She has never seen so many people. But she did not come for them--she came for Arthur. Merlin's warning was vague (well, when isn't he vague?) but his message was clear--the king is in grave danger, and he needs someone beside him who is powerful and willing to bend the rules.
Of course, Merlin didn't say what the threat actually is. He just sent her here, equipped only with the magic of a forest witch. And somehow simple knot magic doesn't seem like it'll be enough.
As Guinevere begins to uncover a web of secrecy in Camelot's walls and beyond, she discovers a web of deceptions hiding far below the surface, and a plot which could destroy Arthur's fledgling rule.
But how do you stop a gathering storm of secrets when you might be the biggest one of all?
I always enjoy reading retellings of classic stories and myths, especially ones like the Arthurian legends which I've read many versions of, and The Guinevere Deception didn't disappoint. White's Guinevere is intriguingly mysterious, but also resourceful and funny, and her magic is quite interesting. The portrayals of other central characters are also excellent, and I especially liked Lancelot--the characters feel unique, yet still fit with the impressions of them which I've gotten from other versions. And the plot reimagines many elements of the original stories as well, leading to some excellent twists. I would recommend The Guinevere Deception to readers ages twelve and up who enjoy magic, action, and court intrigue, and I'm looking forward to the next two books in the Camelot Rising trilogy!
By Piranha T.
Malik is a refugee, searching for a future for himself and his sisters in the capital city of Ziran. The ruling Sultanas have exploited his conquered homeland for generations, but if Malik and his siblings--his older sister Leila, commanding and competent, and younger Nadia, naive and excitable--can find jobs in the city during the expansive festival of Solstasia, they'll be able to make a better life for themselves and their family. But as they enter Ziran, Nadia is captured by an obosom--a dangerous and powerful ancient spirit--and Malik strikes a bargain. The obosom will release Nadia, but only if Malik kills Princess Karina Alahari, the Sultana's daughter, before the conclusion of the Solstasia festival.
Karina Alahari has always been the irresponsible princess, who all doubt will ever be equipped to become Sultana after her mother, an analysis with which she agrees. When her mother is killed, she knows she has no chance of ruling well in her stead. But then she discovers an ancient rite of resurrection, which she could use to bring her mother back to life, which requires the heart of a king. And Karina knows how she can create one: by offering her hand in marriage as the prize for the Solstasia competition. A plan which Malik has no knowledge of when he manages to enter the contest, knowing only it will help him get close enough to Karina to kill her.
Malik and Karina are slowly drawn together over their deviant desires over the course of the festival. But there are forces at work which neither understands, and only by comprehending them can either hope to succeed.
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is a powerfully drawn, multilayered fantasy novel full of twisting plot threads and unusual magic. Malik and Karina are wholly unique and interesting, two of the best protagonists I've met in young adult fantasy, and fall outside of cliches in this genre to propel this story forward and make it even more engrossing. The plotting is skillful and full of surprises, and although more than once I thought I knew where this story was going, I never quite did. Perhaps best of all is the atmosphere and setting of this book. Roseanne A. Brown weaves together folktales to create a distinct and magical setting, and the world she evokes in Ziran and the surrounding empire is already a favorite. I can't wait to read the sequel! I highly recommend A Song of Wraiths and Ruin to readers ages thirteen and up.
For Older Readers
Although we're continuing to focus this blog on middle-grade (8-12) books, we've read some stories for older readers which we also enjoy. Some of these we've already reviewed because we've loved them so much, but we wanted to give them and some older reads their own place so that if you’re a reader who is beginning to grow out of middle-grade, we’ll still have some favorite books to recommend.
Young Adult vs. Middle Grade
The difference between ‘middle grade’ and ‘young adult’ books mainly has to do with themes, not the complexity of the story. On this page, we’ll give recommendations for readers ages 12-14+, for those reasons.