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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Becky Albertalli (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)

In a book that's both a timeless look at first love and a timely contemplation of identity, debut novelist Albertalli introduces a boy named Simon who embarks on an online relationship with an classmate—which one, he isn't sure—while working to understand what his attraction to men means for himself, his friends, and his family.

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A Song for Ella Grey

David Almond (Delacorte)

Almond's haunting contemporary reworking of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice embraces themes of love, friendship, and loss as he examines the intense relationship between friends Claire and Ella, which is thrown into tumult by the appearance of a strange musician on a beach in Northern England.

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Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

M.T. Anderson (Candlewick)

Continuing to push boundaries and defy expectations with each new book, Anderson forays into nonfiction with an ambitious recounting of the Siege of Leningrad merged with a biography of composer Dmitri Shostakovich. With its portrait of an uncompromising artist, spy-novel levels of intrigue, and thorough examination of WWII atrocities, it's a book to captivate a broad range of readers.

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The Game of Love and Death

Martha Brockenbrough (Scholastic/Levine)

Blending Depression Era history, aeronautics, music, and the machinations of the personified forces of Love and Death, Brockenbrough offers a star-crossed, cross-cultural romance between a jazz musician and an aviatrix. The combination of painful real-world struggles and the novel's supernatural overlay is completely immersing.

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Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans

Don Brown (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Brown pulls no punches in this visceral work of graphic nonfiction, which openly confronts—in both its text and harrowing artwork—the destruction that Hurricane Katrina inflicted on the city of New Orleans, as well as a governmental response plagued by problems of its own.

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Saint Anything

Sarah Dessen (Viking)

In a novel that carries all the hallmarks of Dessen's work, particularly her ability to capture the emotions and uncertainties of teenagers trying to understand their place in the world, she delivers an astute and engrossing portrait of a family left in disarray by a drunk-driving accident.

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Magonia

Maria Dahvana Headley (Harper)

Haunting, strange, and threaded with sharp wit, Headley's wild fantasy sweeps readers into a thrilling world of airships, flying whales, and shapeshifting bird creatures, as 16-year-old Aza—terminally ill on Earth, yet peculiarly at home in the skies—tries to uncover who or what she is.

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All the Bright Places

Jennifer Niven (Knopf)

In a year that saw several strong portrayals of mental illness among teens, Niven's romance between Finch and Violet, both troubled by thoughts of suicide, is one of the most memorable, in its skillful entwining of heartbreak, tragedy, and the ability to persist.

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Shadowshaper

Daniel José Older (Scholastic/Levine)

Readers crisscross the streets of a deliciously imagined modern-day Brooklyn, one rife with not just gentrifying forces but deadly supernatural ones. Older's fearless heroine, Sierra Santiago, dazzles as she uncovers ancient, ancestral powers, ones she'll need to save the vibrant borough she calls home.

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The Shepherd's Crown

Terry Pratchett (Harper)

It's difficult to see this final Tiffany Aching novel as anything less than a gift from the late Pratchett, whose fantasies have enriched and inspired generations of readers. This last trip to Discworld doesn't disappoint, closing some doors while opening others, leaving readers of all ages with questions to ponder and possibilities to imagine.

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All American Boys

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (S&S/Atheneum/Dlouhy)

Amid ongoing protests and conversations about police brutality and communities of color, Reynolds and Kiely's gripping novel—narrated alternately by a black teen beaten by a police officer and a white teen with connections to the same officer—is as unfortunately timely as it is intensely relevant.

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Bone Gap

Laura Ruby (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)

Through the disappearance of a young woman named Roza, Ruby spins an unpredictable, magic-tinged rural mystery, one that is reluctant to give up its secrets. The author explores heady topics—truth, beauty, and power, among them—in this haunting and richly complex story.

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The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick)

Newbery Medalist Schlitz's novel about 14-year-old runaway Joan, who becomes a housekeeper for a Jewish family in 1911 Baltimore, sparkles. Joan's foibles and naiveté allow for growth on multiple fronts, and Schlitz gives her a kindness and guilelessness that make her misadventures and triumphs captivating.

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X: A Novel

Ilyasah Shabazz, with Kekla Magoon (Candlewick)

Shabazz, Malcolm X's daughter, and Magoon craft a visceral fictional account of the making of an activist, nailing both Malcolm's hardscrabble coming of age, which informed the man he became, and his engagement with racial topics that reverberate against present-day headlines.

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Challenger Deep

Neal Shusterman (HarperTeen)

In a provocative and personal exploration of mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, Shusterman thrusts readers into the mind of 15-year-old Caden, whose narrative shifts hauntingly between life with his family and his journey aboard a ship venturing toward the deepest part of the Marianas Trench.

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Nimona

Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)

Nimona is a character for the ages: a shapeshifting, wisecracking, take-no-prisoners spitfire, who wreaks havoc on the modern-meets-medieval land of Stevenson's graphic novel, while sparring with her sort-of ally, the disgraced Lord Blackheart. It's a colossally entertaining story that offers food for thought on everything from morality and heroism to the nature of good and evil.

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Trouble Is a Friend of Mine

Stephanie Tromly (Penguin/Dawson)

Blistering, sharp-edged dialogue helps make Tromly's debut one of the year's funniest YA novels, one that also delivers a cracking mystery. As New York City transplant Zoe and pushy loner Digby investigate a range of puzzles in their upstate New York town, their relationship sings as they lob zingers back and forth. It's just about all one could hope for in a 21st-century teen sleuth story.

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MARTians

Blythe Woolston (Candlewick)

If Amazon and Walmart controlled virtually every aspect of American life, the result might be something like what Woolston imagines in this deeply unsettling and powerful novel. Woolston draws from drones, technology dependence, media saturation, and corporate dominance to create a future America best visited only in the pages of a book.

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