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The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean

David Almond (Candlewick)

A postapocalyptic novel with few peers in terms of its daring and ambition, Almond’s story of Billy Dean—born on the “day of doom” that heralded World War III—draws its power from the phonetic language used to represent Billy’s voice as he works to understand himself and his world. A challenging read that pays big dividends as it explores themes of connection, betrayal, and redemption.

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The Impossible Knife of Memory

Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking)

Suffused with empathy, this honest examination of the far-ranging effects of PTSD follows 17-year-old Hayley as she tries to preserve her relationship with her father, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who is suffering mentally and physically from his tours of duty. It’s yet another emotionally astute and compassionate performance from Anderson.

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Through the Woods

Emily Carroll (S&S/McElderry)

Hey, kid, want to give yourself nightmares? Look no further than this profoundly chilling collection of comics, five stories in all, that combine lavishly illustrated historical settings with terrifying visions of otherworldly and psychological terrors. Abduction, possession, cold-blooded murder, parasitic tentacled fiends—they’re all here, and more.

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Pointe

Brandy Colbert (Putnam)

Colbert’s debut is a hard-hitting and unflinchingly realistic portrait of Theo Cartwright, a talented African-American ballet dancer whose ambitions are threatened by an eating disorder and the reappearance of her abducted best friend. A gritty, unsettling story featuring flawed characters who are all the more human for their mistakes and destructive decisions.

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The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

Candace Fleming (Random/Schwartz & Wade)

Fleming expertly traces the fall of Russia’s famous ruling family in the early years of the 20th century. Using extensive primary sources to underscore the conditions that set the stage for revolution, Fleming’s book reads like a gripping historical thriller.

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Half Bad

Sally Green (Viking)

First in a planned trilogy, British author Green’s debut is a spellbinding and brutal story of magic and witchcraft in an alternate England. Caught between worlds, Green’s tormented hero, Nathan, leaves an indelible mark as he attempts to reconcile his desire to know his father, a hated Black Witch, with the fact that he is being trained to kill him.

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Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty

Christine Heppermann (Greenwillow)

Caustic and comic, raging and relevant, Heppermann’s poems pinpoint sexism, eating disorders, misogyny, body image, and myriad other crucial themes, interlacing them with fairy tale elements, characters, and language. The juxtapositions are brilliant, sometimes ferociously so, as Heppermann proves that big bad wolves aren’t the only ones with teeth.

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The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim

E.K. Johnston (Carolrhoda Lab)

In this deliciously imagined contemporary fantasy, debut novelist Johnston crafts a version of Earth in which dragons are a persistent and very real threat. Families of dragon slayers do battle with the dragons, and bards like 16-year-old Siobhan are never far from the action as they sing these warriors’ praises. A rollicking story that, primeval threats aside, has much to say about modern society.

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Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

A.S. King (Little, Brown)

Drinking the remains of a petrified bat allows teenager Glory O’Brien to see glimpses of a horrific future rife with misogyny and war—yep, just your average YA premise. King’s fans have come to expect the unexpected from her fiction, and this is one of her most potent and political books to date.

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Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

Susan Kuklin (Candlewick)

In this revealing collection, six transgender teenagers tell their stories in profiles shaped with Kuklin, and often accompanied by her photographs. The individuals, who self-identify as transgender, gender-neutral, or intersex, candidly share their self-doubts, ongoing struggles, experiences with intolerance, failures, and successes. A critical resource for both transgender teens and society at large.

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We Were Liars

E. Lockhart (Delacorte)

Privilege and pain are intimately connected in Lockhart’s knotty examination of the lies we tell ourselves and others. As amnesiac Cady Eastman tries to piece together the mystery of what befell her family two years earlier on a private island off Cape Cod, readers are treated to an engrossing and unpredictable psychological thriller.

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Say What You Will

Cammie McGovern (HarperTeen)

A romance between a girl with cerebral palsy and a boy with obsessive-compulsive disorder could easily turn maudlin, but McGovern sees past her characters’ diagnoses without minimizing the problems they are up against. The risks these teenagers face by opening themselves up to each other will be recognizable to anyone who has fallen in love.

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I’ll Give You the Sun

Jandy Nelson (Dial)

Nelson explores the resilient—but not unbreakable—bonds of family and the process of healing from past wounds in a novel that unfolds through the alternating perspectives of twins Noah and Jude. As the story circles inward toward the event that drove a wedge between the once inseparable siblings, gloriously imaginative and evocative language revels in the dizzying aspects of making art and falling in love.

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Threatened

Eliot Schrefer (Scholastic Press)

In a thematic companion to his 2012 novel, Endangered, Schrefer crafts a thrilling survival story, set in contemporary Gabon, about a 13-year-old orphan named Luc who finds a home with a group of chimpanzees in the wake of tragedy. Schrefer writes with compassion, an eye for detail, and a keen awareness of the many threats facing both humans and chimpanzees alike.

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Grasshopper Jungle

Andrew Smith (Dutton)

In what amounts to a gonzo history of the end of the world—courtesy of rampaging and ravenous giant grasshoppers—Smith dives headlong into topics that include ethically dubious scientific advancements, the influence of history on the present, and teenage sexuality (which, like said grasshoppers, could also be described as rampaging and ravenous). It’s outrageous, thought-provoking, and a wild, wild ride.

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This One Summer

Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (First Second)

Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki are startlingly good at evoking the rituals, claustrophobic close quarters, and languorous days of a summer getaway in this gorgeously melancholic graphic novel, set in a Canadian beach town. The summer proves transformative for friends Rose and Windy, as well as for the adults in their lives, and readers will feel their sorrows, thrills, and longings intimately.

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Leslye Walton (Candlewick)

In lush language suffused with elements of fable, folklore, and magical realism, Walton crafts a rich, multigenerational saga that explores the lineage of 16-year-old Ava, born with a pair of wings. Despite the novel’s supernatural trappings, including a profusion of ghosts and inexplicable events, its melding of the beautiful and brutal feels fully real.

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Noggin

John Corey Whaley (S&S/Atheneum)

Sure, Whaley’s sophomore novel has a killer hook—Travis’s cryogenically frozen head is reattached to another body after he dies of leukemia—but readers will quickly understand that the author is more interested in hearts than heads. Travis’s efforts to find his bearings and acknowledge that the world kept moving without him will resonate with any readers feeling disconnected from their lives and/or bodies.

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Belzhar

Meg Wolitzer (Dutton)

Wolitzer brings a heady dose of magical realism to her enchanting first YA novel, which follows teenager Jam Gallahue’s time at a therapeutic boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” adolescents. Through an intensive study of Sylvia Plath’s life and work, Jam and her fellow classmates in a specialized English class face the demons and traumas that have brought them together.

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