Jenny is the splendid and prodigious co-host of the Reading the End bookcast. She blogs about books and other sundries at the funny and entertaining Reading the End, where you can go for even more book recs in genres other than YA. She is also excellent at setting realistic and measurable goals.
Happy Groundhog Day, Mardi Gras, Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year, and Purim, YA lovers! I have eaten a certain quantity of king cake this Carnival season and feel very satisfied with the many eateries that have provided me with delicious doughy accompaniments to my reading. This month I've decided to terrify Trump voters by writing a Valentine's Day rec list of YA books in which the protagonists bang without experiencing the dire consequences that would have befallen them had they inhabited YA books written in the 80s and 90s.
(If you are aware of older YA books in which the protagonists bang and things work out okay for them, please drop a line in the comments. I read almost no contemporary YA fiction when I was myself a young adult, on account of I did not want to learn about how dead I would become if I had sex or used a drug.)
The Scorpion Rules, Erin Bow
One of the joys of The Scorpion Rules is watching each successive plot development unfold in directions that you, the savvy YA reader, did not anticipate; so I feel a little guilty about spoiling this one thing. But it is the case that the heroine of this dystopian (utopian?) thriller is bisexual; and it is the case that I thought I knew at the very start of the book the exact shape of what I assumed would be a love triangle; and reader, I was mistaken. And you should just read The Scorpion Rules.
When the Moon Was Ours, Anna-Marie McLemore
As this column continues, I will try to be cool w/r/t the number of times in a year that I mention Anna-Marie McLemore, but I just think she does such stupendous work, and I continue to be astonished that she makes me love magic realism time after time. When the Moon Was Ours contains a remarkably tender and lovely sex scene between Sam and Miel, which acknowledges and builds upon their longtime best-friendship.
When Dimple Met Rishi, Sandhya Menon
Two When titles in a row! Once we have some more data to work with, we should do a study of whether titles beginning with When are more likely to include teenagers banging. My affection for When Dimple Met Rishi is all of a piece with my bitterness that movie studios seem to have gone out of the rom-com business. I love that Dimple and Rishi are both depicted throughout the book as responsible kids, and that we see them making a choice to have sex responsibly. They even talk about condoms! Just another reason to adore Sandhya Menon.
Release, Patrick Ness
While in fact it is my opinion that Release would have been better as a straight-ahead contemporary YA novel, I love that the protagonist has sex with not one BUT TWO people who may or may not be his true love, and the book is unflinching in its certainty that this is fine. (It is indeed fine. Many of us including yr humble correspondent have had sex with people who were not their true love. Gasp. I know.) I love protagonist Adam Thorne for being frank about the fact that he enjoys and wants sex, even in the midst (especially in the midst!) of a day that will permanently change his life.
Song of the Current, Sarah Tolcser
As well as being a cracking good adventure story of the road trip genre (though in fact it is a sea trip, as the cover and title suggest), Song of the Current is beautifully explicit about consent, and the lead-up to the asterisks is a terrific illustration of how to use consent to make sexy scenes even sexier. Moreover, the sex is between two characters who build a grudging respect, and if y’all don’t already know how I feel about that, YOU SOON WILL LEARN. (I feel very positive about that.)
In case it’s not obvious, I’m heavily in favor of YA fiction depicting healthy sexual behavior and protagonists figuring out how to communicate their interest (or lack of interest) in sex with their partners. So if you have additional recs, as always, drop them in the comments!
Tempests and Slaughter, Tamora Pierce
Okay, look. On the one hand, my fave is problematic and I haven’t reread a Tamora Pierce book in upwards of ten years. On the other hand, Numair Salmalín played a nontrivial role in my sexual awakening as a young teen, and Tamora Pierce is now writing a prequel series just about him, starting with Tempests and Slaughter. And frankly, what do you want of me? You know? I’m just one woman. Tempests and Slaughter is about Young Numair making regrettable friends and coming to terms with his talents. It’s out on 6 February from Random House Books for Young Readers. Don’t judge me.
The Unbinding of Mary Reade, Miriam McNamara
GAY PIRATE GIRLS THIS IS NOT A DRILL. There was simply no way I wasn’t going to highlight this queer pirate story, in which Mary Reade disguises herself as a boy, gets taken on to a pirate ship, and develops a crush on Anne Bonny. As I recover from Black Sails (n.b., I will never, ever recover from Black Sails), I’m going to badly need some queer girls at sea stories, and The Unbinding of Mary Reade will do that for me—as of 6 February, courtesy of Sky Pony Press.
The Prince and the Dressmaker, Jen Wang
Prince Sebastian is searching for a bride—but when he’s not fulfilling his royal obligations, he’s a fashion icon, secretly going out on the town in dresses made for him in secret by his friend Frances. This is the first graphic novel I’ve included in my YA round-ups, and I think it’s a terrific first entry! Jen Wang’s illustrations are equal parts luscious and adorable, with a story that sounds like it’s going to make me feel all the things. Out on 13 February from First Second
The Belles, Dhonielle Clayton
I got a huge kick out of Dhonielle Clayton’s coauthored series about ballet school, and I’m thrilled that she has a novel coming out this month. The Belles is about a world where an elite group of Belles controls the dispensation of Beauty to the regular people of Orléans. Our heroine, Camellia, comes to the royal court to take the coveted position of favorite, but she is soon asked to use her powers in ways that she was not taught to use them. Sounds like somebody’s going to be QUESTIONING EVERYTHING, i.e., catnip to yr correspondent. The Belles comes out on 20 February from Disney-Hyperion.
Pitch Dark, Courtney Alameda
As of Six Wakes last year, I’m very into genres crossing over into space stories, and Pitch Dark is a space thriller to gladden all our hearts. Tuck is tasked with protecting the parks and mountains aboard the USS John Muir, while Laura’s family raids ships for the valuables they contain. But alien attacks force the two of them to work together, and hopefully no forest fires or anything will result, as I hear fire is not a great thing to have in space. Pitch Dark comes out on 20 February from Feiwel & Friends.
Tess of the Road, Rachel Hartman
After loving Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina and not quite clicking into its sequel, Shadow Scale, I’m delighted to see Hartman returning to the world of Goredd with a standalone novel. Tess of the Road is about a girl who doesn’t fit into Goredd society and runs away, disguised as a boy, in search of a better life for herself. She befriends a dragon and has a secret, and if you haven’t read Seraphina yet, it’s not too late to give yourself that gift. Tess of the Road comes out on 27 February from Random House Books for Young Readers.
A Girl Like That, Tanaz Bhathena
Debut novel alert! I typically do not read "girl’s death kicks off events" books, because I have read too many of them and got tired of it, but I’m making an exception. In A Girl Like That, sixteen-year-old Zarin and eighteen-year-old Porus are found dead in a crashed car in Jeddah, and everyone thinks they know Zarin’s story already: an orphan, a troublemaker, the kind of girl you shouldn’t let your own daughters befriend. But the truth (of course) is much more complicated. Told from multiple points of view, A Girl Like That sounds like one of my all-time YA faves, Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down. I can’t wait for it to come out—on 27 February from FSG Books for Young Readers.
("Jenny this is too many books" MAYBE IT IS YOU WHO IS TOO MANY BOOKS SHUT UP)