Several articles reporting on the book industry have noted a healthy surge in novel sales during the pandemic, noting that in stressful and unpredictable times, a genre that reliably brings joy has clear appeal. The following YA titles provide hours of enjoyable diversion. These books, many of which appeal to mature readers, are intelligently written and skillfully crafted, nourishing the mind and elevating the spirit.
A real love by Elise Bryant (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, Jan. 4): It’s college summer and change is in the air for two Southern California teens. Lenore, who is black, and Alex, who is black and Korean, are repeatedly thrown together after their families are seated at the same dinner table during a Mediterranean cruise. They have an immediate physical chemistry, but things start out rough and there are hurdles to overcome before love takes over and they can happily sail into the sunset.
When you get the chance by Emma Lord (Wednesday Books, Jan. 4): Fans of musical theater will love this story about New Yorker Millie Price, a white teenager who dreams of Broadway. She grew up with a single father and no idea who her mother is. The accidental online discovery of her father’s youthful LiveJournal offers three possible candidates for her mother’s identity. In addition to her investigation, there is a charming romance between enemies and lovers between Millie and Oliver Yang, the Chinese-American stage manager of her school theater.
My lovely colleague by Jennieke Cohen (HarperTeen, Jan 11): This tribute to My beautiful lady takes place in an alternate early 19ecentury England ruled by Queen Charlotte and a realistic representation of London’s ethnic diversity. The snooty Lady Helena Higgins, top student at the Royal Culinary Academy, decides to turn working-class food vendor Elijah Little into a gentleman. Helena’s friend and fellow culinary student Penelope Pickering (who is Filipina and white) and Elijah (who is Jewish) fall for each other in this delightful romp.
Sunny G’s series of rash decisions by Navdeep Singh Dhillon (Dial Books, Feb 8): The prom is a time when emotions run high, especially for Sunny Gill, a Punjabi teen from California mourning the death of his brother. He also just revealed surprising changes for a young Sikh man: he no longer wears his turban and shaves his beard. When Sunny and Hmong, American classmate Mindii Vang, spontaneously set off for an event devoted to his favorite fantasy series, it sparks love and deep emotional growth.
No filter and other lies by Crystal Maldonado (Holiday Home, Feb. 8): Maldonado’s sophomore novel is another thoughtful and uplifting exploration of what it’s like to be a brown girl with a body that doesn’t meet the oppressive dominant beauty standards. Kat Sanchez leads a double life: online she is Max, a thin, blond white girl; in real life she is a fat Puerto Rican and white teenager who struggles with self-acceptance. An online encounter with body-positive Elena, a lavish, irresistible, pink-haired white girl, shakes things up when Kat has to reckon with the high stakes involved in hiding who she really is.
Ready when you are by Gary Lonesborough (Scholastic, March 1): Two boys fall in love in a powerful, compelling coming-out story from debut author Lonesborough (Yuin). Jackson and Tomas, two Indigenous Australian teenagers, come of age in an environment where homophobia is rampant and racism against Aboriginal people is rife. Despite these obstacles, a beautiful romance develops that will sweep readers away in this novel set against the well-developed backdrop of a tight-knit community and beautiful natural environment.
Laura Simeon is an editor for young readers.