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The Best YA Books Of 2020

Here are our standout YA picks of this year.

Farrah Penn / BuzzFeed

1. Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Balzer & Bray/Harperteen

Why we love it: Punching the Air is a powerful, emotionally resonant, and tender story by Yusef Salaam of "the Exonerated Five" and bestselling author Ibi Zoboi. The two teamed up to write a poignant, achingly gorgeous verse novel about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Amal Shahid, an artist and poet, has his world turned upside down when he is convicted of a crime he didn't commit and sent to prison, finding refuge only in his art. With a system against him, he's unsure if he'll ever achieve justice. A must-read YA novel of 2020.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

2. We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Philomel Books

Why we love it: One of the first things that stood out about this novel was the unflinchingly poetic voice. Honest, gritty, and at times heart-wrenching, these characters take you on an emotional journey. To escape dangerous threats, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña travel from Guatemala through Mexico with the end goal of reaching the US border in this unforgettable story about resilience and survival.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

3. These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

Margaret K. McElderry Books

Why we love it: These Violent Delights will sweep you away into a rich, luscious, and gritty world, and it's perfect for those looking for an adventurous escape. This Romeo and Juliet retelling is set in 1920s Shanghai and follows Roma Montagov and Juliette Cai, both leaders of rival gangs who must work together to save their city from a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River. Told in multiple POVs, it's compelling, high stakes, and extremely immersive.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

4. Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Simon Pulse

Why we love it: This immersive blend of contemporary/sci-fi is truly unique. Gilliland has a poetic and dreamy way of writing characters, so it's not hard to be drawn into the story and its mystery. Sia Martinez lives in a small Arizona town and is dealing with the deportation of her mother, whom she hasn't seen or heard from in three years, so she believes her to be dead. There's a splash of romance that happens when a new boy named Noah moves into town, but the speculative element comes into play when Noah, Sia, and Sia's best friend get caught up in a space mystery after a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia's car and is carrying her mother, who is very much alive. Gilliland presents topics of immigration, assault, racism, grief, and abuse and writes about them in a careful, yet realistic manner.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

5. Today, Tonight, Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Simon & Schuster

Why we love it: Honestly, Today, Tonight, Tomorrow was the book we all needed to read in 2020. Filled with sharp, funny dialogue, impeccable pacing, and exquisite enemies-to-lovers romance, you'll be hard pressed to find a cuter story. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair are high school rivals. On the last day of senior year, Rowan is determined to beat Neil one last time at a game of Howl: a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle. But when their class begins teaming up to take them down, they must work together to win. And the more time they spend together, the more they realize that the other isn't as bad as they once thought...

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

6. You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Scholastic

Why we love it: Johnson's debut is a heartwarming, joyful, and an emotionally satisfying read that will leave you grinning by the end. When the scholarship Liz was counting on to pay for college falls through, she decides to run for prom queen in her small Indiana town to win a scholarship. However, things get complicated when Liz starts falling for Mack, who is also running for prom queen. Please do not miss out on this adorable queer rom-com.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

7. Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Abrams

Why we love it: Raybearer is an incredible YA fantasy filled with gorgeous storytelling, lush atmosphere, and perfect pacing. Tarisai, raised in isolation by a mother known as the Lady, is sent to the capital of Aritsar to compete with others to be chosen for the Crown Prince's Council of 11. Tarisai craves the acceptance and belonging that this position offers — a real chance at having a family. And she immediately forms a bond with the prince. But the Lady has other plans for her, planting a curse on her before she leaves for the capital compelling her to fulfill a command: kill the Crown Prince.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

8. Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour

Dutton Books for Young Readers

Why we love it: In her followup to We Are Okay, LaCour gifts us with another impactful, stunning novel. After graduating high school and aging out of the foster care system, Mila is offered a teaching job, which includes a place to live, in an isolated portion of Northern California. While the farm acts as a refuge, Mila is still haunted by memories of her past.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

9. The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Balzer & Bray/Harperteen

Why we love it: Bursting with brilliant and powerful prose, Atta's YA verse novel is a coming-of-age story about a multiracial (Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican) gay teen who learns to embrace who he truly is when he discovers drag. You can't help but root for, cry for, and celebrate Michael as a character. This one shines.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

10. I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

Margaret K. McElderry Books

Why we love it: Brooklyn teenager Anna Cicconi thinks she's lucked out when she finds a summer nanny job in the Hamptons. But when she arrives, she finds that the community is still reeling from the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who bears a resemblance to Anna. As she delves deeper into Zoe’s disappearance, she begins to believe that they are connected — and that she herself is responsible for what happened to her. Interspersed with Anna’s perspective are transcripts from Martina’s podcast, which — you guessed it — are produced like mini podcast episodes in the audiobook, complete with theme music, interviews of varying audio quality, and ambient sound. It had us completely engrossed.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

11. Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Balzer & Bray/Harperteen

Why we love it: Felix is a Black trans boy who has never been in love, yet desperately wants to experience it. He worries his marginalization won't lead him to finding his happily ever after. When a student publicly posts his deadname, Felix seeks revenge — but he doesn't expect his catfishing plan to land him in a quasi–love triangle. Callender crafts a beautiful, thoughtful novel about self-discovery and self-worth full of authentic characters who question and confirm their own identity and the love they deserve.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

12. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

Harperteen

Why we love it: Inspired by West African folklore, this YA fantasy follows crown princess Karina, who is determined to use magic to resurrect her assassinated mother — all she requires is the beating heart of a king. She'll offer her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition, a competition that refugee Malick plans to enter. His younger sister has been abducted, and for her return, he strikes a deal to kill the princess. But as Karina and Malick's attraction for each other grows, it's unclear if they will be able to go through with their assigned tasks. Brown pairs gorgeous storytelling with a stunning, atmospheric setting for an incredibly epic tale.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

13. Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Swoon Reads

Why we love it: Cemetery Boys is the captivating paranormal story we needed this year, one that focuses on culture and identity and acceptance. It follows a trans Latinx protagonist named Yadriel who wants more than anything to prove to his family he is a true brujo — and for his identity as a boy to be accepted. When he uses his gift to try and summon the spirit of his dead cousin, things don't go as planned because he accidentally summons the ghost of Julian Diaz, a (cute) bad boy who Yadriel just might be falling for.

Get it from Bookshop or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

14. White Fox by Sara Faring

Imprint

Why we love it: Faring's writing is filled with dreamy, glimmering prose wrapped up in a sinister and compellingly dark mystery. White Fox follows two sisters, Manon and Thaïs, who return to their Mediterranean island home 10 years after their mother's disappearance. They're drawn to their mother's unfinished screenplay, scouring it for clues that reveal she might be alive. But what they don't expect is to uncover even darker secrets.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

15. Turtle Under Ice by Juleah del Rosario

Simon Pulse

Why we love it: This verse novel follows the points of view of two sisters, Row and Ariana, who are grieving the loss of their mother in different ways. Ariana doesn't know who she is without her, while Row struggles to be understood. When Ariana up and leaves one snowy night, Row has to figure out where she's gone and if she'll return. Juleah unravels the emotional complexity of grief in this poignant, hard-hitting, and evocative story.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or through your local indie through Indiebound here.

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