I’ve read Harry Potter and Children of Blood and Bone and title after title of those hot YA books that you’ve probably read (or at least heard about) as well. This summer, I made it my goal to read as many bestselling YA titles as possible: We Hunt the Flame, Throne of Glass, A Darker Shade of Magic, The Lunar Chronicles, Grisha, etc. etc.
However, there are so many good books out there that don’t get the hype they deserve. I want to shine the spotlight on some lesser-known YA titles that deserve your attention.
So let’s get started.
Launch by Jason C. Joyner
Do you like superheroes, mystery, and tech? Then you’ll enjoy Jason Joyner’s debut. Launch released from Little Lamb Books when I was working there as an intern, so I had the privilege of being one of the first to own a copy. I was also there last year when Jason received an award at Realm Makers for this book! I anxiously await the sequel.
Sixteen-year-olds Demarcus Bartlett and Lily Beausoliel are among a select group of youth invited to an exclusive, all-expenses-paid conference at social media giant Alturas’ California headquarters. Led by charismatic founder Simon Mazor, the world’s youngest billionaire, this isn’t the typical honors society. It seems that everyone here has some secret, untapped potential, some power that may not be entirely of this world. An ancient prophecy suggests that if these teens combine their abilities, they could change the course of history. The only question is: Will it be for better or for worse?
Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart
Do you like having your soul ripped out by a book, but in a good way? Yeah, me too. Scars Like Wings is real, powerful, and raw. Erin Stewart holds nothing back, introducing characters that are far from perfect and situations that don’t have easy answers. This book definitely has a broader reach than others on this list, having been published by Delacorte, and I picked up at copy at BEA back in 2019, but strangely I haven’t heard anyone talking about it, so I had to share.
Before, I was a million things. Now I’m only one. The Burned Girl.
Ava Lee has lost everything there is to lose: Her parents. Her best friend. Her home. Even her face. She doesn’t need a mirror to know what she looks like–she can see her reflection in the eyes of everyone around her.
A year after the fire that destroyed her world, her aunt and uncle have decided she should go back to high school. Be “normal” again. Whatever that is. Ava knows better. There is no normal for someone like her. And forget making friends–no one wants to be seen with the Burned Girl, now or ever.
But when Ava meets a fellow survivor named Piper, she begins to feel like maybe she doesn’t have to face the nightmare alone. Sarcastic and blunt, Piper isn’t afraid to push Ava out of her comfort zone. Piper introduces Ava to Asad, a boy who loves theater just as much as she does, and slowly, Ava tries to create a life again. Yet Piper is fighting her own battle, and soon Ava must decide if she’s going to fade back into her scars . . . or let the people by her side help her fly.
The Woods by R. L. Toalson
As of this writing, this book only has 61 ratings on Goodreads, and I am shocked.
The story of how I came across this book wouldn’t make you think I would love it. I picked this one up at BEA (Book Expo of America) in NYC last year. At the time, the title and blurb reminded me concerningly of my own book, Wraithwood, and since Wraithwood was on submission at the time, I was mildly panicked someone might think I’d copied this book. Luckily, the two are actually quite different, and I fell madly in love with it. The eerie, unique worldbuilding. The haunting setting. And most of all, the truly masterful examination of grief and family. This book should be a classic.
Twelve-year-old Lenora’s world is turned upside down after an explosion makes her the lone surviving member of her immediate family. She has nowhere to go, until her estranged Uncle Richard shows up and takes her away to live with him in his lonely mansion. Quiet and stern, he spends most of his time in his study conducting research and experimenting. Lenora is able to explore parts of the mansion and its lovely gardens, but Uncle Richard has one rule for her: Stay out of the woods.
Years ago, Lenora’s cousin, Bobby went into Gilgevnah Woods and never came out. Now, Uncle Richard will do anything he can to destroy them. Lenora knows she is meant to stay away, but her grief and loneliness draw her in.
Upon entering the woods, she finds a world full of enchantment and beauty. Lenora befriends Bela the Scorlaman, keeper of Gilgevnah Woods, who shows her the wonder and the mystery of the place, but also promises to reunite her with her family. Is it too good to be true?
Will Lenora find peace in the magic of Gilgevnah Woods, or will she find something darker?
The Woods is an entrancing magical realism novel from author R.L. Toalson that tackles profound loss, grief, and finally, acceptance.
The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
I have FEELINGS about this book, so hold on to your hats.
When I first started reading this book, I hated it. I thought it was going to be yet another strong female ultra-feminist protagonist with a men-are-pigs story line and a teen girl unrealistically and single-handedly unleashing a revolution. I almost quit then and there.
But I was WRONG.
Instead, our protagonist did indeed start out as an irritatingly typical “strong female protagonist” who was “not like other girls” and looked down on her more conventional peers, but her entire character arc is realizing she was WRONG. The book is about banding TOGETHER with other women, about the small, everyday actions that change a corrupt system, and about not judging by surface appearances. The reason I feel the need to advocate so strongly for this book is that I think a lot of people put it down too quickly before they get to the true heart of the story: women uplifting women. This is a profound book masquerading (a little too well at times) as your typical YA dystopian. And it’s well worth your attention.
No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.
In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.
Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.
With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.
Blaze by Hope Bolinger
This one gets huge points for creativity. How many people would think to set the book of Daniel from the Bible in a modern-day high school–and pull it off? Hope Bolinger, that’s who. At the same time, who can deny that going to high school really does feel in a lot of ways like being shipped off to Babylon? With arson, mystery, and drama, this Bible story isn’t anything like Sunday School.
If you can’t stand the heat, don’t walk into the fire.
Danny knew his sophomore year would be stressful, but he didn’t expect his school to burn down on the first day.
To make matters worse (and they were about to get a lot worse), he — and his three best friends — each receive an email from the principal of their rival, King’s Academy, offering full-rides to attend the town’s prestigious boarding school. Danny wants nothing to do with King’s Academy and says no. His mother has other ideas. So off he goes to be bullied and picked on for not being part of the popular and rich crowd.
From day one at King’s, Danny encounters hazing, mocking insults from girls at the “popular and pretty” table, and cafeteria food that, for such a prestigious school, tastes as if it was purchased from a military surplus supply warehouse. If he survives, Danny will have to overcome his fears of failure, rejection, and loneliness—all while standing strong in his beliefs and walking into the fire.
BONUS: Dear Hero by Hope Bolinger and Alyssa Roat
Did I co-write this book? Yes, that’s why this is a bonus, not one of my top five. But if you like my picks so far, hopefully you’ll find this YA chat fiction up your alley as well.
Cortex and V need a new nemesis.
Up-and-coming teen superhero Cortex is on top of the world—at least, until his villain dumps him. If he’s going to save his reputation, he needs a new antagonist, and fast.
Meanwhile, the villainous Vortex has once again gotten a little overeager and taken out a hero prematurely. Will any young hero be able to keep up with her? Maybe she should work on finding a steady relationship with an enemy she won’t kill in the first round.
So the two turn to Meta-Match, a nemesis pairing site for heroes and villains, where they match right away. But not everything in the superhero world is as it seems. Who are the real heroes and villains? And just how fine of a line is there between love and hate? When darkness from the past threatens them both, Cortex and V may need to work together to make it out alive.
Have any other lesser-known titles we all need to read? Drop them in the comments below!
Note: I don’t get any money off these recommendations, nor have any of the authors asked me to endorse these. (Well, except for my own book, haha!) Yada yada whatever other legal stuff people always say. I just genuinely like to share my favorite books and geek out about them!