I read a fair amount of recent Young Adult and Middle Grade books over the last year. These are some of my favorites, in no particular order.
Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall is a YA fantasy involving five sisters who find a body floating in the Rio Grande. Their father has recently run out on their mother, and it happens that their paternal grandmother, whom they haven’t seen in some time, lives near where the dead man came from. They worry the dead man’s family won’t know what became of him, and end up making a trip to Mexico to bring him home, a journey which has magical elements akin to The Odyssey. The characters are really vivid and appealing – all five sisters have distinctive personalities, not just the eldest who’s narrating.
For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund is a science fictional retelling of Persuasion. I loved the characters and their complex problems, and the worldbuilding gave rise to a whole host of interesting conflicts that I wouldn’t mind seeing further explored in future books, because their world and their class system is in flux. Plus there are Science Conflicts. However, I don’t think that particular Austen book can work very well with teenagers, even in a world where they have to grow up quickly, so I was less invested in that aspect. Your mileage may vary on that.
Goblin Secrets by William Alexander is secondary world fantasy, Middle Grade, and very page-turny. I loved the intriguing ways the author used masks both in the worldbuilding and thematically. Also the dustfish. It has elements of Baba Yaga, and steampunk, and of course goblins, who seem to fill the role that traveling folk have in our world. (Somewhat gypsies, somewhat traveling actors, but with other elements as well; they are all fascinating individuals.) And after the satisfying ending, there are a few small mysteries still unsolved.
Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Regan Barnhill is MG – note for younger readers, it has some serious scariness when the queen falls ill after a miscarriage. It has an unusual heroine, a not-beautiful princess. The story is told well and with a number of interesting narrative and pov choices; it comes together as feeling like a new fairy tale. The narrator is the royal storyteller, ostensibly, but there is some omniscient going on. Cool worldbuilding includes a mirrored sky and dragons who must store their hearts outside of their bodies. Both the male and female lead characters have a good bit of agency.
Passion Blue by Victoria Strauss is historical YA (Renaissance Italy), with a slight speculative element that is real to the narrator but may not be objectively real (I think it’s intended to be real, but you can read it either way). The heroine has been essentially sold into a convent and desperately wants out so she can marry as her mother (a nobleman’s mistress) had hoped for her. But inside the convent, there is a rare thing, a painting studio. The heroine happens to be an artist and loves drawing more than anything. I really loved the outcome of this story, and the decisions the heroine made. Also, there was some excellent art-neep.
Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley is fun, humorous fluff in which lots of people have weird psychic gifts; the narrator’s is that she can understand what cats are saying, and have them understand her. Since her mother and sister are geniuses, and her other sister has multiple gifts, and her dad has a really cool gift, Natalie feels somewhat shortchanged, but not in a bitter way. I actually wanted more story about her family. The plot involves a remake of “Ferris Bueller” and a celebrity blogger and Natalie’s friends, one an aspiring actress and the other a celebrity gossip hound. Blessedly, the romance element is minor, and very well-done.
I’m hoping to read more by all of these authors!