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Ain’t Burned All the Bright

Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin (Atheneum/Dlouhy)

A mixed-media collaboration by two longtime friends delves into recent events in America as voiced by an unnamed Black narrator. In spare lines that emphasize the weight of recurrence, Reynolds describes fears around day-to-day safety, while Griffin’s collages capture a constant state of worry, together building to affecting visual moments that invite the reader to find solace in the everyday.


As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow

Zoulfa Katouh (Little, Brown)

Set amid the Syrian Revolution, this powerful debut follows teen Salama’s struggles balancing duty to her country and to herself. The narrative’s speculative trappings—Salama’s trauma manifests as an advice-dispensing, PTSD-induced hallucinatory companion named Khawf—combined with a touching portrayal of first love, unflinchingly depicts both the costs of revolution and the strength it takes to fight for one’s beliefs.


Beating Heart Baby

Lio Min (Flatiron)

In Min’s luminous debut, teenage Santi joins an award-winning L.A. marching band and falls for drum major Suwa, a trans boy who finds Santi as annoying as Santi finds him enchanting. This achingly romantic novel, told via personal-feeling prose and split into two parts that mimic sides of an album, is an homage to music, art, and the power of found family.


Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Robin Wall Kimmerer, adapted by Monique Gray Smith, illus. by Nicole Neidhardt (Zest)

Smith, who is Cree and Lakota, breaks down myriad Indigenous nations’ relationships with nature in this young readers adaptation of Potawatomi botanist Kimmerer’s 2013 adult bestseller. Crisp pen and ink wash illustrations by Navajo artist Neidhardt both complement and elevate smartly streamlined language that stays true to the narrative’s core concepts, invites collaborative discussion, and acts as a call to action.


The First to Die at the End

Adam Silvera (Quill Tree)

On the eve of the historic launch of a death-predicting corporation, queer teens Orion and Valentino make the most of the time they have left together in this heart-wrenching standalone prequel to They Both Die at the End. Via vulnerable alternating perspectives interspersed with vignettes that explore varied supporting characters’ relationships with death, Silvera crafts a breathtaking and thought-provoking narrative that explores difficult existential questions without eschewing optimism.


Hell Followed with Us

Andrew Joseph White (Peachtree Teen)

After creating the Flood, a fatal infection responsible for humankind’s decimation, an ecofascist cult forces trans boy Benjy to become the perfected virus’s host in this gripping near-future dystopian debut. Using evocative and visceral language, compact storytelling, and inventive worldbuilding, White delivers a rousing and timely tale of tenacity and a transformative depiction of apocalypse through a queer lens.


The Honeys

Ryan La Sala (Push)

Gender-fluid Mars investigates their twin sister’s mysterious death in this gripping summer camp mystery. Featuring deliciously creepy horror scenes and a nuanced, self-assured protagonist consumed by grief and longing for acceptance, La Sala’s tantalizing horror novel is a tribute to the healing and revolutionary power of solidarity.


I Kissed Shara Wheeler

Casey McQuiston (Wednesday)

When universally beloved Shara Wheeler suddenly kisses Chloe Green, then disappears, the event kicks off a scavenger hunt and a school-hierarchy-subverting alliance in McQuiston’s YA debut. Crisp writing, humorous asides, and fully fleshed characters and relationships—many queer—keep classic plotlines fresh in this heady novel that centers themes of authenticity and autonomy amid shame culture.


I Must Betray You

Ruta Sepetys (Philomel)

In this ominously suspenseful historical novel by Sepetys, canny aspiring writer Cristian Florescu keeps his true observations secret during the corrupt authoritarian Ceaușescu’s tenure in 1989 Bucharest. As Romania hurtles toward political change in Cristian’s tense first-person prose, the narrative foregrounds stark historical realities and unblinkingly confronts deprivations and cruelty with perseverance and hope.


The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen

Isaac Blum (Philomel)

Yehuda “Hoodie” Rosen, who lives in a mostly non-Jewish town, wrestles with forbidden first love while navigating the aftermath of a hate crime against his Orthodox Jewish community in this immersive debut. Blum tackles themes of acceptance and injustice via an intricately detailed Orthodox Jewish cast, a steadily building anticipatory atmosphere, and Hoodie’s complex, sarcastic voice.


Man Made Monsters

Andrea L. Rogers, illus. by Jeff Edwards (Levine Querido)

One Cherokee family combats myriad mythical creatures and monsterlike men in a spine-tingling, generation-spanning horror collection. Cherokee author Rogers expertly crafts gripping, grisly horror elements via engaging prose while artfully tackling themes of colonialism and its effects on entire generations for a simultaneously frightening and enthralling read. Striking white line art on black backgrounds by Cherokee artist Edwards add to the haunting atmosphere.


Right Where I Left You

Julian Winters (Viking)

After their grand summer plans are derailed, queer best friends Isaac and Diego navigate first love, evolving relationships, and fear-inspiring change in this bighearted friends-to-lovers romance. Employing a winsome cast and compassionate prose, Winters skillfully explores myriad facets of LGBTQ experiences. The boys’ intimate connection, facilitated by healthy communication and individual vulnerability, is one to be cherished.


Rust in the Root

Justina Ireland (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)

This electrifying, fantastical steampunk take on the Great Depression features queer Black mage Laura and enigmatic Skylark, who uncover dangerous, archaic magic while investigating mysterious disappearances. Ireland mingles an in-depth understanding of human nature with a wildly ambitious reimagining of the era, balancing matters of race, gender, and sexuality in this thoroughly unique historical magical fantasy.


Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice

Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes, illus. by Dawud Anyabwile (Norton Young Readers)

With collaborators Barnes and Anyabwile, Smith details his life leading up to his historic Olympic protest, and its aftermath, in this potent graphic memoir. Grayscale art features kinetically illustrated athletic competition, tense racial dynamics, and an intricately detailed Black family. This immediate-feeling story, whose nonlinear chronology highlights prominent events during the civil rights movement, is a stirring celebration of resistance.


The Weight of Blood

Tiffany D. Jackson (HarperCollins/Tegen)

Biracial high school senior Maddy Washington’s abusive and racist white father forces her to live as white in Jackson’s bone-chilling rendition of Stephen King’s Carrie. This striking horror variation expertly employs true-crime fanaticism to form a socially conscious narrative that skillfully explores internalized and externalized anti-Blackness and structural racism.


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