You can’t choose the family you’re born into, but you can find a new one! Chosen families are a harbor for anyone born into a family that doesn’t understand them, anyone living far away from their families of origin, anyone who doesn’t do nuclear families, and anyone with extra love to give. After all, if family means your nearest and dearest, why shouldn’t you have some say?
Did you know that Women’s History Month began as Women’s History…Week? In 1987, we finally got upgraded to the full month, and thank goodness! There are so many inspiring women to read about, even a month is never going to cover it. From Louisa May Alcott to Edmonia Lewis, Margaret Sanger to Margarita Engle, women have changed our world and continue to shape our future. Let’s keep reading about women all year round.
Books to Read for Women’s History Month
1. Daughters of Oduma by Moses Ose Utomi
Few things are more powerful than sisterhood and found family, and Dirt has both in Daughters of Oduma! In this scintillating young adult fantasy inspired by West African culture Dirt, an elite female fighter, must reenter the competition to protect her found family of younger sisters. Even though she has never wanted to be a leader, defeat would mean the end of her beloved Fam. And no way is Dirt going to let that happen.
2. Limitless by Leah Tinari
Gaze upon this stunning cover! Fine artist Leah Tinari illustrated portraits of 24 notable American women in her signature, striking style, and the result is something to behold. Tinari chose a diverse group of groundbreaking women from the last 300 years whose vision, grit, and guts inspire her and countless others. Courage, perseverance, brilliance, and passion were their guiding principles, and, hey, a little fairy-dusting of these could keep you motivated all month long.
3. What Every Girl Should Know by J. Albert Mann
Before the first birth control pill was approved by the FDA in 1960, and the Roe vs. Wade decision was issued in 1973, a fierce and opinionated young woman named Margaret Sanger wanted more out of life than dirty dishes and diapers. She grew up with limited means, and she witnessed and experienced incredible hardships early in life. But all of this led to her groundbreaking work as an advocate for women’s health, most notably founding Planned Parenthood in 1916. This fiery novelization of Margaret’s early life introduces us to a young woman with the passion and courage to change the world.
4. I Have the Right To by Chessy Prout with Jenn Abelson
Nearly one in five girls ages fourteen to seventeen have been the victim of a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. Chessy Prout was a freshman at a prestigious boarding school in New Hampshire when a senior boy sexually assaulted her as part of a ritualized game of conquest. Chessy bravely reported the assault and testified against her attacker in court. When she faced unexpected backlash from her once-trusted school, she shed her anonymity to help other survivors find their voices. In her memoir, she offers real, powerful solutions to upend rape culture and gives words of hope in the face of unspeakable trauma.
5. Soaring Earth by Margarita Engle
Margarita Engle’s gorgeous memoir in verse (and follow-up to its award-winning companion Enchanted Air) recounts her teenage years as a Cuban-American in Los Angeles during the turbulent 1960s. Margarita’s childhood straddled two worlds: the lush, welcoming island of Cuba and the lonely reality of Los Angeles. But the revolution has transformed Cuba into a mystery of impossibility, no longer reachable in real life. When the shock waves of war reach America, Margarita must grapple with questions of peace, civil rights, freedom of expression, and environmental protection. More Americans than ever are bicultural and biracial, and this Young People’s Poet Laureate’s story will resonate with everyone who has felt caught between two worlds.
6. Period Power by Nadya Okamoto
Not all women have periods, and not everyone who has a period is a woman, but for everyone who does experience a flow, you know that it comes with a lot of baggage. Menstruators are told that their periods are taboo, embarrassing, and gross. Because of these stigmas, the status quo excludes menstruators from a seat at the table and leads to discriminations like the tampon tax, medicines that favor non-menstruator biology, and more. Period Power creates a strategy to end the silence and prompt honest conversation about periods.
7. The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
Grace, Rosina, and Erin are the Nowhere Girls and they refuse to stand by as their misogynistic school lets privileged boys get away with raping their classmate, Lucy, and driving her and her family out of town. All three have their reasons to feel this injustice strongly, and they suspect that they aren’t the only ones seething in silence. Told in alternating perspectives, this subversively feminist novel is an indictment of rape culture and explores with bold honesty the deepest questions about teen girls and sexuality. The story may be fiction, but the sexist culture it represents is all too real.
8. Stone Mirrors by Jeannine Atkins
In the wake of the Civil War, life was especially tough for women of color, but Edmonia Lewis didn’t let that stop her. Half Native American and half African American, Edmonia was a gifted sculptor whose life is shrouded in mystery. She studied art at Oberlin, one of the first schools to admit women and people of color, but she lost her place after being accused of poisoning and theft, despite being acquitted of both. Nevertheless, she persisted. She moved to Boston and eventually Italy, where she achieved her dream of becoming a successful sculptor. She never recorded much about her extraordinary life, but critically acclaimed author Jeannine Atkins fills in the gaps in this gorgeous, haunting biographical novel in verse.
9. A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
Sometimes, the only thing left to do is run. After a traumatic event that Annabelle isn’t ready to think about yet, she decides to run across the country, from Seattle to Washington, DC. She still can’t face what The Taker did to her, but she can focus on her muscles burning, heart pumping, feet pounding against the earth. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t outrun the tragedy from the past year, and every step brings her closer to facing her trauma. Gayle Forman called it “one for the ages” and it took home a Printz Honor, so you know that this book delivers.
10. Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kristy Murray, Payal Dhar and Anita Roy
Post-apocalyptic Little Red Riding Hood. Turning the tables on creepy cat-callers. Female pirates rescuing other women. This feminist speculative fiction collection has it all. With crimes against women dominating national conversations, the editors of this collection felt called to action. They paired nineteen writers and illustrators from India and Australia to conceptualize new possibilities for girls everywhere. All seventeen stories blend magical realism and self-confidence in powerful ways.
11. Our Stories, Our Voices edited by Amy Reed
In this epic team-up of veritable YA superheroes, Amy Reed, Ellen Hopkins, Amber Smith, Sandhya Menon, and more of your favorites explore the diverse experiences of injustice, empowerment, and growing up female in the United States. They address powerful topics, including the intersection of gender with race, religion, and ethnicity, and impart messages of hope and solidarity. As Amy Reed writes in her introduction, “The act of telling our stories, speaking our truths, is in itself an act of resistance.” And who knows? Maybe it will inspire you to write your truth too.
12. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
After soaking up the stories of real women fighting the system, sometimes you just need to read about a powerful women swinging a sword around. Enter Alanna. She’s either your best book friend, or she’s about to be. Somehow, I didn’t crack open an Alanna book until college, but the scene where she gets a magical birth control necklace remains a go-to in my mental catalog of most feminist YA fantasy moments.
13. Never Caught, The Story of Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar & Kathleen Van Cleve
This book reveals a fascinating and heartbreaking behind-the-scenes look at the Washingtons when they were the First Family—and an in-depth look at their slave, Ona Judge, who dared to escape from one of the nation’s Founding Fathers. This true story is a must-read!
14. After the Ink Dries by Cassie Gustafson
What does it mean when you thought you knew someone? What does it mean when that person is your new boyfriend? Courtney Summers meets Deb Caletti in this page-turning suspense story of what it is to face hard truths about yourself and others, and how to find strength when you need it most.
15. Code Name Badass by Heather Demetrios
Virginia Hall was the baddest broad in any room she walked into. When the State Department proved to be a sexist boys’ club that wouldn’t allow her in, she gave the finger to society’s expectations of women and became a spy for the British. This boss lady helped arm and train the French Resistance and organized sabotage missions. There was just one problem: The Butcher of Lyon, a notorious Gestapo commander, was after her. But, hey—Virginia’s classmates didn’t call her the Fighting Blade for nothing.
Looking for more literary heroines? Check out this list of Strong Female Characters That You’ll Love.
We’ve all imagined what it would be like to find out that magic exists for real. To be in on a wondrous secret that is beautiful, terrifying or, most likely, some combination of the two. Contemporary fantasy plays with this idea. Most of us need a little escapism but some contemporary fantasy takes us even further than that. Adding magic doesn’t necessarily remove the problems of mundanity; it can twist them just enough to expose new ways of looking at the same issues.
If you’re looking for a fresh perspective, some good clean paranormal fun, or a combination of the two, contemporary fantasy has you covered.
City of Bones launched the beloved world of the Shadowhunters, and we have never been the same. It all starts with Clary, a seemingly ordinary girl who barely escapes a demon attack with the help of a mysterious and handsome stranger. But it’s not all swoony monster hunters and newfound powers. The threat of demons is growing, and Clary’s mother is missing. She will have to join this secret cadre of supernatural warriors if she and the Shadowhunters are going to have a hope of setting things right. If you love this book as much as we do, great news! You have a whole new expansive world to explore.
Esta travels back in time to 1902 New York to save magic before it dies out completely. In modern day, she’s a skilled thief with the ability to manipulate time, so she’s the only one for the job. With secret societies, old-timey gangs of New York, and the sinister Order on her trail, Esta has her work cut out for her. Luckily, she meets a sweet cinnamon roll of a boy named Harte who just might steal her heart, and they banter their way through a slow burn that will steal yours. The author calls it “magical Newsies without the singing,” and that’s honestly all she had to say.
The great Holly Black’s debut novel Tithe set the standard for morally gray yet terribly romantic fae/human love stories. Kaye has always been able to see faeries—but nobody believes her. One day, while wandering in the woods, she comes across a beautiful fae prince who has been shot with an arrow. She saves his life, but with Holly Black’s wicked, tricksy fairies, she’s not going to get a happy ending that easily. Kaye’s choice will have dire consequences as she becomes an unwilling pawn in an ancient and vicious power struggle between two rival faerie kingdoms.
Every year in a small seaside town, three girls become possessed by three spirits, sisters long since dead, and they drown boys in the harbor until the season is over. Penny has learned to accept this, but her attachment to the new boy, Bo, makes this year more complicated. Sure enough, it isn’t long before a boy is found dead in the water. Penny is desperate to figure out which girls are possessed before they hurt Bo. Eerie, atmospheric, and romantic, this book will haunt you long after you turn the final page.
When Dino’s friend July dies, he expects that he will never get the closure he needed. But don’t worry Dino—you’re in a contemporary fantasy book! July comes back as a zombie-esque walking corpse, and Dino is there to help her figure out how to move on—and get a second chance at the closure they know they both need. It’s body horror and a moving meditation on friendships that change over time. What more could you ask for?
Calling all Buffy fans! If you’ve ever wondered who the Slayer is today, you have to meet Nina. Nina grew up at the Watcher’s Academy, which trains teens to be future guides for Slayers. Her mom is a member of the Watcher’s Council, but Nina has always been more of a healer than a fighter. So she’s totally shocked when she becomes not only the Chosen One, but she’s destined to be the last Slayer ever. Sharp-eyed fans of the original series will spot cameos from a few old favorites, but the new characters will win your heart just the same.
Billy and Lydia are two loners in a small rural town. When they meet by chance, highly unusual phenomena start happening around them. An impossible tornado. An all-consuming fog. A war between dragons and unicorns come to life out of a popular book series. Their friendship seems to be changing the very structure of reality. Given Lydia’s dad’s distance and Billy’s grandma’s abuse, maybe that’s a good thing. The bleakness of their real lives contrasts with the whimsy of the fabulism that just might save them both.
Alexis’s prom night hookup goes spectacularly, horrifically wrong. Thankfully, her coven is there to pick up the pieces. Or, in this case, the body parts. Alexis wrestles with the implications of magic powers that have brought her a tight-knit group of friends, but have also caused terrible harm to an innocent boy. Each witch’s power works a little bit differently, and it’s both a wondrous joy and a heavy responsibility that they carry with them. Pick this one up for the ride or die friendships and Alexis’s heart-meltingly tender crush on her best friend, Roya.
Ok so technically this falls more into the sci-fi category, but it's so good you don't want to miss it! Sia’s mom was deported, then went missing while making the trek back to the US to reunite with her family. Now, Sia lives with her dad, is getting close with a sweet guy at school, and is surviving. She drives out to the desert at night to mourn her mom, but what if there’s a chance her mom will find a way back to her after all? Short chapters, lyrical language, and a deft shift from straight contemporary into something otherworldly make this a standout that you won’t want to miss.
Like all of her mothers before her, Evvie has magical abilities that her family calls jubilation. Jubing is one of the few protections that Black southerners have against the racism that pervades their lives under Jim Crow. (Again, this one isn’t strictly contemporary, but it’s sadly all too relevant today.) But her power starts to feel more like a curse when she’s lauded as a hero for narrowly avoiding a harm of her own making and starts seeing a vision of a tall man who threatens her, her family, and the lives they’ve made for themselves. Evvie’s voice is so distinctive that you will swear she’s your best friend and hope she pulls through okay…even when you can feel the dread building.
When Bree enrolls in a new school, all she wants is a new start. She doesn’t expect to discover a secret society made up of descendants of King Arthur and his court, most of whom are white and wealthy. Although her own magic may have different roots, she is pulled into their club, torn between two dreamy guys (noble Nick and mysterious Selwyn), and forced to reckon with the notion of legacy in ways that her white peers never will be.
Victoria and her dad have shared a love of the undead since the first vampire revealed his existence on live TV. Public fear soon drove the vampires back into hiding, yet Victoria and her father still dream about finding a vampire together. But when her dad is diagnosed with terminal cancer, it’s clear that’s not going to happen. Instead, Victoria vows to find a vampire herself—so that she can become one and then save her father.
F.T. Lukens' latest fantasy adventure follows two rival apprentice sorcerers as they must team up to save their teachers and protect their own magic! This read has it all: spectacular worldbuilding, an intriguing magic system, and a lovable cast of characters. Once you've read Spell Bound, check out So This is Ever Afterand In Deeper Waters, also by F.T. Lukens!
The fantasy elements here are less misty-eyed enchantment, more straight-up horror. Roma and Juliette belong to rival gangs in 1920s China. (Forgive me for playing fast and loose with the word “contemporary.”) But when people start dying seemingly by their own hands, Roma and Juliette suspect that there is something even more sinister at play. A beast walks the streets of Shanghai, and this may just be the common ground that bring the two of them back together, the way they used to be.
All the best books have a memorable protagonist. If you’re looking for a fantasy heroine who will make you feel stronger, braver, or better understood, you just might find her on this list.
15 YA Fantasy Heroines You Need to Meet
1. Bree in Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
Fueled by grief over her mother’s mysterious death, Bree Matthews enrolls in an Early College program on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill and discovers a secret society of descendants of King Arthur’s Round Table—and complicated answers about her mom. Bree is an easy protagonist to love. Strong, brave, and complex, she dishes out the most excellent comebacks and has charming banter with just about everyone she talks to. Even when she faces discrimination as one of the only Black girls at the school, she isn’t afraid to speak up against unfair treatment. Once you’ve read Legendborn, continue Bree’s story in the next book in the Legendborn Cycle, Bloodmarked!
2. Cordelia in Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare
To escape a scandal, Cordelia’s family flees to London, where she immediately falls in love with a Herondale. Relatable! She doesn’t take her status as a Shadowhunter for granted, and she works hard to protect those she loves, especially her big brother, Alastair. She knows how to stand up for herself, and she is savvy enough to make good choices (usually). Plus, if you needed any more proof of how awesome she is, the legendary sword Cortana chose Cordelia to be its bearer. You can’t argue with a magical sword. Continue Cordelia’s story in the next book in the Last Hours series, Chain of Iron!
3. Dirt in Daughters of Oduma by Moses Ose Utomi
At sixteen, Dirt is old and has retired from competition as an elite female fighter. Instead, she spends her days coaching the younger sisters of the Mud Fam. Her sisters, the Mud Fam, are coming along nicely, but when an attack from a powerful rival leaves the Mud without their top Bower, Dirt is the only one who can compete in the tournament. Victory seems impossible—yet defeat would mean the end of her beloved Fam. And no way is Dirt going to let that happen.
4. Rue in Wings of Ebony by J. Elle
After her mother is killed on her doorstep in Houston, Rue’s estranged father appears to take her away to the magical land of Ghizon. But despite the excitement of magic, Rue feels like an outsider in Ghizon and misses her community and her little sister. With a distinct voice that you won’t be able to get out of your head, Rue is brave and bold but also vulnerable. She feels everything deeply and unapologetically. She knows she doesn’t have all the answers, but she’s always ready to fight for her loved ones and her community. Finish Rue’s story in Ashes of Gold, the sequel to Wings of Ebony.
5. Artemisia in Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson
As a nun-in-training to a religious order charged with keeping the dead from rising, Artemisia’s life takes a turn when desperate circumstances force her to bind herself to a powerful spirit living in a saint’s relic. Now, its sassy, snarky voice lives in her head full-time, and she becomes a Vespertine, a wielder of a revenant. Artemisia doesn’t like to be the center of attention, which makes her status as a living legend difficult. It has never been easy for her to make friends or hold eye contact without feeling uncomfortable, but the revenant has a way of helping her feel at ease—when the two of them aren’t bantering inside her head, that is. Anyone who loves Venom will delight in the relationship that blossoms between Artemisia and her revenant.
6. Juliette in These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
Heir to a deadly gang in 1920s Shanghai, Juliette Cai is a refreshing departure from a traditional heroine—she’s prickly, aloof, and merciless, and we love her for it. Despite her tough exterior, she still nurses a secret soft spot for Roma Montague, heir to her rival gang, in this forbidden romance inspired by Romeo and Juliet. Find out what happens next for Roma and Juliette in Our Violent Ends!
7. Frances in The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith
Frances is living out a fantasy reader’s dream and attending a magic school in the marvelously atmospheric 1910s New York, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. She is still grieving her brother, who was murdered under strange circumstances, and she wants to learn more than Haxahaven is willing to teach her. It isn’t long before she’s taking risks and bending the rules. We can’t look away from this character who’s willing to make daring moves. Once you’ve read The Witch Haven, be sure to find out what happens next in The Witch Hunt!
8. Esta in The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell
We love a girl with swagger. Esta is a talented thief who travels back in time to 1902 New York to retrieve a book that will save her future. She does this all with panache, pluck, and undeniable charisma. She is a girl on a mission, and she doesn’t let anything stand in her way.
9. Nami in The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Nami gets murdered in the first few pages, and that’s just the beginning. When she arrives in the afterlife, she learns that a virtual assistant used by humans on Earth (think Alexa or Siri) has taken over and forces human souls to serve her the way she’s been made to serve them when they were alive. Nami teams up with a rebel group to overthrow this overlord, and her talent for empathy becomes her greatest asset and sets her apart from the other rebels. She is uniquely able to see all sides of a conflict and is determined to find a solution that doesn’t harm anyone.
10. Veronyka in Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto
After a gutting betrayal by her older sister, Veronyka disguises herself as a boy and runs away to join the Phoenix Riders she has always idolized. She is an animage, which means she has a special connection to animals, including the majestic phoenixes. Because she grew up controlled by her older sister, Veronyka doesn’t have much experience navigating the world for herself. But her awe of the phoenixes and her willingness to train hard to become a rider help her learn how to stand up for herself—including standing up to her sister when she goes full antagonist.
11. Iris in The Bones of Ruin by Sarah Raughley
Iris is an eighteen-year-old tightrope walker who has been eighteen . . . for a while. She can only remember the past five years, but in that time she hasn’t aged and accidents that should have killed her left her unscathed. She is desperate to find out who she is, where she came from, and why her body seems unable to die. When a young man promises answers in exchange for her participation in a mysterious tournament, she can’t help but accept. Just as three different guys (a brooder, a loyal friend, and a sweet goofball) can’t help but fall in love with her along the way.
12. Lena in Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells
Lena has been cursed since childhood. Anything she touches dies. She has lived a sheltered life with her father until a girl emerges from the woods and reveals that her whole life has been a lie. Lena follows Miranda into the woods to try to break her curse, and on the way she stumbles into feelings for both Miranda and a broody boy who can transform into a raven. You too will be cheering for bisexual, touch-starved Lena to finally experience intimacy in this sex-positive dark fairytale.
13. Voya in Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury
Voya comes from a long line of witches, and she is excited to take part in their rite of passage. The Calling is a mission that every witch must complete before they attain their powers. The only trouble is that Voya’s Calling is to kill the first person she falls in love with. And if she fails, her entire family will lose their powers. Absolutely horrifying! Voya’s strong sense of devotion to her family and her refusal to tolerate nonsense make her an easy character to root for. Find out what happens next in Voya’s story in Blood Like Fate!
14. Evvie in Daughters of Jubilation by Kara Lee Corthron
Living in the Jim Crow South, Evvie is discovering her powers by learning how to “jube,” a magical art passed down through generations of Black women. Evvie has one of the most memorable voices we’ve ever read, and her whip-smart southern wit shines through, as do her kindness and empathy. Things are finally starting to happen with her longtime crush, and their interactions are very sweet and sex-positive. But it’s a mix of joy and pain, and the Jim Crow South setting means that Evvie and her loved ones are always in danger.
15. Tamsin and Wren in Sweet & Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley
This book features two heroines who deserve your attention. Tamsin is a witch cursed to feel nothing . . . unless others pay for her magical services with their own feelings. Wren is a sweet and kind caretaker for her ailing father, and she strikes up a deal with Tamsin. If Tamsin saves her father, she will make the ultimate personal sacrifice and give Tamsin her love for her father. Tamsin, in her desperation for the world to stop being so gray and lifeless, accepts. This grumpy/sunshine duo starts as reluctant allies and ends up somewhere much more romantic. The story alternates between both of their perspectives, so we get to understand the difficult paths that have led them to each other.
Love books that exemplify girl power? Check out these books with strong female characters!
If you’ve read Legendborn chances are you’re FULLY in love with the characters and immersive world that Tracy Deonn has built and are eagerly awaiting the release of the next book in the Legendborn Cycle: Bloodmarked. If you were lucky enough to become part of this world, who would be your ride-or-die? Take this quiz and find out!
Need a refresher on Legendborn to prepare for Bloodmarked? Check out the ULTIMATE Legendborn recap here!
High school is a turbulent time for almost everyone. We might be dreaming about what we want out of life and how to get there. Seeing our families in a new light, navigating changing friendships, falling in love for the first time, and/or, most importantly, making the first real steps toward figuring out who we are and who we want to be. Relatable stories can help guide us through it and provide a little perspective along the way.
High School Books That Are #Relatable
1. Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
A major part of high school is finding your group of friends and discovering who you are. This #1 New York Times bestselling coming-of-age story takes a sometimes heartbreaking, often hysterical, and always honest look at high school in all its glory. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
2.We Are the Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian
A major part of high school is worrying about what comes next. For those who are college-bound, athletic scholarships can ease the strain of pricey college tuition. The field hockey girls from We Are the Wildcats know all too well the real-world rewards of a successful season, and their tough coach is planning to push them harder than ever to recover from a poor showing last year. But during one wild night of team bonding, they start to realize that, instead of relying on their coach, they should start trusting each other instead.
3. Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
Young love is sweet, sorta awkward, and totally thrilling, but it comes with a built-in decision point. To stay together, or not to stay together. That is the question that all high school couples face as graduation day approaches, and oh boy, it can be a painful one. Iconic duo Lara Jean and Peter K. are not exempt. Their relationship is stronger than ever, but can it last past graduation? Should it?
4. Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju
Being a teenager usually means more freedom, and more freedom means meeting new people that help you figure yourself out. Nima is super shy until she makes friends with a group of drag performers. She’s intrigued by their bold self-expression and their contagious joy in flouting gender norms. When she tries a drag king routine of her own, she finds that performing unlocks something in her she didn’t know was there. Now, the trick becomes transferring this onstage swagger into day-to-day confidence, which is still . . . a work in progress.
5. When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey
While you may not relate to being an actual witch with magic powers, you might be able to relate to being part of a ride-or-die group of friends. They take your side no matter what. Even if you have, shall we say, a “blow-up” with your prom date. And let’s not forget the utter agony of crushing on your best friend. Can you risk the friendship by confessing your feelings? You never know until you try! #NotHelpful
6. Barely Missing Everything by Matt Mendez
Impending adulthood starts to get a little too real in high school, especially in the last few years. Any flaws your parents have tried to hide from you become more apparent as you try to decide whether you want different lives than they have and whether that even feels possible. Juan sees his single mom struggling to pay rent and dating the wrong guys, JD discovers evidence of his dad’s infidelity, and both of them wonder what the future looks like for guys like them.
7. Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao
Even when you know your parents just want the best for you, it can be hard to meet their expectations. Ali is the daughter of Chinese immigrants, her mom insists that, if she dates, she can only date Chinese boys, which is hard to pull off as the only Chinese-American kid in school. Until she meets the new guy who just might satisfy both her and her mom’s requirements. So Ali is shocked when her mom doesn’t approve, and Ali starts digging to find out why. When digging in your parents’ pasts, you’re bound to uncover a family secret or two.
8. SLAY by Brittney Morris
We’re all a little different online than we are face-to-face. If we’re doing it right, our online personas are a reflection of our best selves: confident, witty, personable. Kiera has taken this to the next level by creating an entire MMORPG inspired by Black Panther, and it’s the haven she needs to interact with other Black gamers who understand her in a way other friends can’t. But she’ll have to stay true to her vision when her game gets unfairly called out in the media and a troll infiltrates their ranks.
9. The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
For a lot of people, high school is the first time you realize just how many injustices are happening in your community, but also that you have the power to take action against them. When a sexual assault survivor is bullied into moving while her attacker goes unpunished, three girls decide that enough is enough. They form an undercover club called The Nowhere Girls, and they vow to change their school’s culture around sex, sexual assault, and misogyny. During their meetings, different members have different ideas about how best to make these changes, which reminds us that even activists who agree on a desired end result will still need to have complex conversations they might not have expected.
10. The Past and Other Things that Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson
Some friendships aren’t meant to last forever, and this can become clear amidst all of the constant changing that happens during high school. Dino’s situation is even more complicated than usual, because his ex-best friend died before they could tie up loose ends. But Dino gets a second chance when his best friend comes back as some sort of zombie, and he’s the only one who can help her make amends before she dies again. For good this time.
11. Promposal by Rhonda Helms
Everyone wants to have a good story about prom, even if that story is what they did instead of prom. Some of the flashiest stories come from those epic promposals you can’t stop watching on YouTube. Joshua is crafting the perfect promposal for his longtime crush, Ethan, but Camilla has been surprised with a very public promposal she didn’t necessarily want. Will they each get the proms of their dreams, regardless of how the asking plays out?
12. Blaine for the Win by Robbie Couch
High school junior Blaine Bowers has it all—the perfect boyfriend (Mr. Popular of Wicker West High School, Joey), a pretty sweet gig as a muralist for local Windy City businesses, a loving family, and awesome, talented friends. Except Joey breaks up with him, because, according to Joey, Blaine is too goofy, too flighty, too…unserious. Determined to prove that he can be what Joey wants, Blaine decides to enter the running to become his successor (and beat out Joey’s new boyfriend, Zach) as senior student council president. But is he willing to sacrifice everything he loves about himself to do it?
Looking for more? Check out these books that depict modern dating culture.
Whether you parted ways because of a dramatic betrayal or you just grew apart, breaking up with a friend can be as painful as breaking up with a partner, if not more so. If you’re still healing from a friendship breakup, these books will help you feel seen.
8 Must-Read Books That Feature Relatable Friendship Breakups
1. Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson
When best friends Kat and Stevie sneak out into Manhattan, they think they’re about to have a night that every theater kids dreams about. But things start going wrong fast, and it’s not long until they’re stressed and tired on a subway platform. That’s when they start arguing, and the arguing gets personal. Resentments that have stewed for years come spewing out in the worst possible ways, until Stevie boards the train and Kat doesn’t. Neither of them has their phone, and Stevie has a stranger’s Pomeranian. Can Kat and Stevie find their way back to each other before the night is over?
2. Scythe by Neal Shusterman
The role of a Scythe is simple: to control population growth in a world with no natural death, it is their responsibility to choose who to glean. Rowan and Citra, two new apprentices for the role of Scythe, lean on each other in the early days of instruction, forging a strong bond to survive a stressful and lonely ordeal. But when the Scythedom pits them against each other, Rowan and Citra will each have to decide whether protecting themselves is worth betraying the other.
3. Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu
Sixteen-year-old Mimi’s life changed three years ago when she gained a social media following, started hanging out with older kids, and had a violating experience at a party. She lost the few friends she had, and the worldwide lockdown that came next didn’t help her social life or sense of self. But when she finds her great-grandmother’s journals in her attic, she learns that she isn’t the only one who lost a friendship because of unfair judgement from her peers.
4. When We Were Them by Laura Taylor Namey
Willa, Luz, and Britton have been inseparable since they were kids. But during the week of their high school graduation, Willa’s friends discover a secret envelope that was supposed to stay hidden, an envelope that reveals her betrayal. Now, Willa has one week to comb through their friendship memory box, dig deep, and figure out why she made the choices she did. Only then will she have a chance of winning her friends back. But all three of them are standing on the precipice of graduation, and no matter what, their friendship is about to change forever.
5. The Best Lies by Sarah Lyu
From the first moment she saw her, Remy knew Elise was trouble. But Elise drives a pink Cadillac and has dangerous blue eyes and saved Remy in a lonely moment, so they become friends. Remy never anticipated that, a year later, Elise would murder Remy’s boyfriend. We meet Remy in the aftermath of the shooting, in a spiral of panic and grief, as she begins to sort through what happened to lead to Elise doing something so unforgivable. We sincerely hope that this thriller about obsessive friendship is not literally relatable, but the underlying feelings of it just might be.
6. Where Secrets Lie by Eva V. Gibson
What if your golden trio broke up—and then was forced to come back together? Amy spends every summer in rural Kentucky with her cousin Ben and their best friend, Teddy. But last summer, Amy and Teddy finally acknowledged their romantic interest, which led to an epic falling out with each other and with Ben. This year, Amy braces for a lonely summer without her friends. But then Teddy’s little sister goes missing, and Amy and Ben are right there to help him find her, no questions asked. Can they manage to work together, even after everything that happened?
7. When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Beth has always been super close with her four best friends. So as they get closer to high school graduation, Beth dreads the moment when they all leave for college and her comfortable bubble is burst forever. Her family is fractured and messy, and her friends are all she has, even if she sometimes doubts that she belongs with them. But will she ever be near people who understand her so well ever again? Maybe they could all go to the same college? What Beth doesn’t know is that this image of her nearly perfect friendships will be broken long before anyone dons a cap and gown.
8. See All the Stars by Kit Frick
Then, Ellory’s whole world was her three best friends. Most important was her magnetic best friend, Ret, the sun around whom they all revolved. But Ret has a dark, manipulative side, and she plays her friends against each other to vie for her affection. Now, after a year of escalations, Ellory starts her senior year friendless after a two-month suspension following an event she refers to as the fall. Something traumatic fractured this toxic friend group, and Ellory refuses to even think about it—until someone starts leaving mysterious notes in her locker that make the truth impossible to avoid.
Ready to feel the heartbreak in your next read? We’ve got you covered with these 10 romance books.
Where would any of us be without our communities? Whether you’re looking to celebrate the love of your nearest and dearest or you’re in need of a big fictional communal hug that feels oh-so-real, the strong communities in these books are here to lift you up.
9 YA Books That Feature Strong Communities
1. The Sky Blues by Robbie Couch
Sky is mortified when a homophobic cyberbully reveals his promposal plans to the whole school. But his friends and his loyal yearbook class help him turn his most embarrassing moment into an opportunity. Together, they just might be able to change their high school’s culture. Sky and his supporters turn his thirty-day promposal countdown into a mission to reveal the bully, all while wearing shirts that proclaim all of them “gay for” something they love. But who is gay for Sky? The answer may surprise him.
2. Facing the Sun by Janice Lynn Mather
Eve, Faith, Nia, and KeeKee are four best friends whose lives change forever when the public beach in their charming Caribbean town is threatened by fancy hotel developers. Each girl gets her own point-of-view chapters, and each is grappling with her own problems in her personal life, problems that often intersect with issues the other girls are facing. Along with the rest of their neighborhood, all four of them must reckon with impending gentrification brought by the hotel developers. More tourism means more potential income for everyone, but if their tight-knit community is the cost, it’s a high price to pay.
3. The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera
When Margot uses her dad’s credit card without permission, her punishment is to work at his grocery store until she pays off her debt. Margot and her family live in the South Bronx, and their grocery store is a central hub of a vibrant Latinx community. But Margot doesn’t always feel like a part of the community. She is constantly code-switching between her Puerto Rican heritage and the largely white Manhattan prep school she attends. Hence the shopping spree on her dad’s credit card—she’s desperately trying to keep up. But with her focus on her classmates, Margot never expected to get closer to Moises, a cute South Bronx boy involved in an anti-gentrification movement to protect their community, a mission that just might be more fulfilling than trying to impress her classmates.
4. Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju
Nima is suffering a tragically awkward crush on her straight best friend and trying to cope with her mother’s sudden departure. She doesn’t see a place for herself in her quiet suburban neighborhood. But after she stumbles upon a drag performance at a local festival, she has a revelation. A friendly drag queen takes her under her wing, and she’s introduced to a vibrant queer community that has existed right under her nose all along. With this comes new crushes, burgeoning self-confidence, and the unleashing of her brand new drag king persona who gives her the courage to live loud and proud the way she’s always dreamed.
5. SLAY by Brittney Morris
Kiera had a great idea: a multiplayer online role-playing card game called SLAY that doubles as a safe space for Black gamers and a celebration of African heritage. She programmed it herself, and now it has members worldwide who find a loving and understanding community in the world she created. But when SLAY is linked to a real-world crime, her game starts getting media attention that leads the public to ask the question: is excluding white people from her game actually racist? Kiera must fight harder than ever to save her game, because she still believes in her vision with her whole heart, no matter what the haters say.
6. Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall
When Frankie gets a scholarship to his dream school in the United States, he thinks he’s finally found a way out of Jamaica. But then tragedy strikes. To save his father’s life, he must join his uncle’s gang, a place he promised himself he’d never go. As Frankie is pulled deeper into the gang and does things he isn’t proud of, he begins to wonder whether he’s doomed to become just like his uncle. Frankie tries desperately to cling to his identity and remember the reason for his sacrifice: his love for his father. He reaches for his found family and his relationship with Leah, his longtime crush who has recently become his girlfriend, for genuine bright spots amidst the darkness, and hopes that he can make them his future instead.
7. Wings of Ebony by J. Elle
After Rue’s mother is shot on her doorstep, her life is never the same. Her father whisks her away from her neighborhood community in Houston to a secret island of Ghizon, populated by gray-skinned magic-wielders who claim to be gods. More surprising still, Rue learns that she herself is half-god, half-human. But Ghizon is suffocating and unwelcoming, and Rue finds herself drawn back to the neighborhood and friends she misses so much, only to discover that she might be able to trace the problems facing her Houston neighborhood back to Ghizon—and if she wants to protect the community she grew up with, the one that loves her without question, she’s going to have to expose the hidden evils of her father’s homeland.
8. A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
Annabelle is running a half marathon every day until she makes it from Seattle to Washington, DC. Why is she running? She barely survived a terrible trauma, and some of her friends didn’t. Running is the only thing she can do to take her body back, to take her life back. As she runs, her family and friends and eventually the rest of the country rise up to support her. No one is as present as her beloved Italian grandfather, who follows her route in his RV and makes her dinner every night. After all, as the book says, “it’s the people who know you and love you that save you.”
9. What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter
Halle has found a place for herself in the online book community, and her social media account, One True Pastry (OTP), which pairs covers with matching cupcakes, has just snagged its first big cover reveal. The only problem? Her online crush, Nash, only knows her as Kels, her internet alias. But she just moved to a new town, randomly ran into Nash, and was too shocked to say anything. So while Halle is falling for Nash harder than ever, he’s falling for . . . Kels. Stuck between her sense of belonging online and her more awkward IRL personality, Halle must figure out how to reconcile her two identities—if it isn’t already too late. Can Halle and Nash become the endgame OTP after all?
Looking for more? Check out these books featuring found families!
Traditional heroes inspire us to be our best selves, but anti-heroes let us ask the question: what if we weren’t? What decisions might a protagonist make if they were led by darker motivations like greed or revenge or power? It’s no wonder we’re enthralled by anti-heroes, and lucky for us, YA is filled with excellent morally grey protagonists who may—or may not—be redeemed in the end.
Anti-Heroes That You’ll Find Yourself Rooting For
1. Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
Sorcery of Thorns fans agree on one thing—Silas, the snarky demon with a secret heart of gold, is an absolute legend. He’s bound to the magician Nathaniel, which means that he is sustained by Nathaniel’s life force in exchange for providing Nathaniel with magic. Nathaniel consented to this arrangement as a boy, and against all odds, Silas and Nathaniel have a close and loving friendship. Silas usually takes the form of a white cat, and you don’t want to stick around when he unleashes his true form.
2. A Sweet & Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley
Tamsin is a witch, and she provides helpful spells and potions for her fellow villagers. The catch? The only currency she accepts is the villagers’ love for their friends, partners, parents, and even their own children. That love allows Tamsin to feel something for a fleeting period of time before her world turns flat and grey again. It’s hard to imagine a character like this would be anything other than a villain, but a quest with the sweet Wren by her side just might lead to some relief from the sinister cycle in which she’s found herself. In short, Tamsin is the grumpy one who is soft for the sunshine one.
3. The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid
Nemesis is not your average heroine. She was created for one purpose only: to be a perfect bodyguard for a galactic senator’s daughter and, if necessary, kill for her without hesitation. Raised to be aggressive, ruthless, and menacing to everyone except her charge, Nemesis thinks she is prepared for anything. Until she has to switch places with the senator’s daughter and masquerade in her likeness amongst corrupt politicians. One wrong move could reveal her true vicious nature—but Nemesis is starting to believe there might be more humanity in her than anyone ever expected.
4. Night Shine by Tessa Gratton
The characters in Night Shine make choices that best fit their goals at the time, but they are not always choices that one would call “good” or “right.” Nothing, an orphan girl who lives in the palace, sets out on a quest to save her close friend the prince from The Sorceress Who Eats Girls—a sorceress who has her own POV chapters and love story arc. If you like your heroes magical, mythical, and morally grey, you have found your next read.
5. These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
Roma Montagov and Juliette Cai are heirs of rival gangs in 1926 Shanghai, and you can’t get much more anti-hero than organized crime lord. Juliette in particular is a refreshing departure from a traditional heroine—she’s prickly, aloof, and merciless, and we love her for it. But while the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers scheme for control of Shanghai, a greater, more monstrous threat looms over all of them. When Roma and Juliette are forced to work together, they will have to put aside their complicated past and cooperate for once. Easier said than done for two hardened gangsters. Kaz Brekker who?
6. Scythe by Neal Shusterman
This entire series is focused on anti-heroes being anti-heroes for and against each other. Citra and Rowan join the order of the Scythes, a group of people tasked with administering death in this futuristic reality in which aging is optional. They are supposed to be the most morally upstanding people of all, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Not to mention, Scythe Lucifer is the ultimate anti-hero that you’ll root for even as he makes some morally grey choices. This series does the anti-hero trope like nothing you’ve ever read—you won’t be able to put it down!
7. Cursed by Thomas Wheeler and Frank Miller
This retelling of the King Arthur legend features a strong female lead. It’s hard to say whether Nimue or the sword itself is the real anti-hero of this story—but either way, you won’t be able to root against them. Nimue is inspiring, passionate, and filled with compassion. Her determination to save her people gets her into some trouble, but you just know her heart is in the right place.
8. Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
In this enthralling novel, you’ll meet Bree and Nick, two teens hoping to uncover dark secrets by infiltrating the society of Legendborn, who are descendants of King Arthur’s knights. Where Nick, at first glance, is the classic golden-boy hero, his foil is Selwyn, the mysterious Merlin who doesn’t seem to like Bree’s presence, especially where Nick is involved. However, as you read this book, it’ll be almost impossible for you to NOT root for Sel, who gives off some serious Loki vibes.
Looking for more? Check out these completed YA series that you can start right now!
Spotify playlists as courtship rituals. Driving with the windows rolled down and blasting the best song ever. Fantasies of falling in love with a glamorous, confident pop star—or becoming one yourself. From the clothes we wear to the friends we bond with, music defines so much of our young adulthoods. While we’re doing the hard work of forming our identities, we lean hard on our soundtrack of choice. These books understand that, and the soundscapes they create in your imagination make them truly unforgettable.
11 YA Books for Music Lovers
1. When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert
From award-winning author Kelly Loy Gilbert comes a “beautifully, achingly cathartic” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) romantic drama about the secrets we keep, from each other and from ourselves, perfect for fans of Permanent Record and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.
2. Shine by Jessica Jung
What would you give for a chance to live your dreams? For seventeen-year-old Korean American Rachel Kim, the answer is almost everything. Six years ago, she was recruited by DB Entertainment—one of Seoul’s largest K-pop labels, known for churning out some of the world’s most popular stars. The rules are simple: Train 24/7. Be perfect. Don’t date. Easy right?
Get ready as Jessica Jung, K-pop legend and former lead singer of Korea’s most famous girl group, Girls’ Generation, takes us inside the luxe, hyper-color world of K-pop, where the stakes are high, but for one girl, the cost of success—and love—might be even higher. It’s time for the world to see: this is what it takes to SHINE. Once you’ve read Shine, check out the sequel, Bright!
3. Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter
When Liz Buxbaum’s childhood crush, Michael, moves back into town, she is determined to do whatever it takes to get his attention, snag him as a prom date, and get her happily-ever-after moment, just like the classic movie rom-coms she loves so much. There’s only one problem: Michael still sees her a “Little Liz” the odd girl from the neighborhood who used to make up songs, so Liz recruits the help of her annoyingly attractive next-door neighbor, Wes, to get Liz noticed by Michael so she can have her magical prom moment.
Liz dreams of one day making soundtracks for movies—just like the ones she grew up loving—and practices by making soundtracks for her relationships and life moments. So if you’re a fan of epic movie soundtracks, you’ll love this book.
4. Permanent Record by Mary H. K. Choi
Who hasn’t daydreamed about running into a beautiful pop star and falling madly in love? This daydream becomes a reality for Pablo during his crack of dawn shift at a New York bodega when superstar Leanna Smart stops by to pick up some snacks. The two of them have an instant connection, and Pablo is swept away from his mundane life of crushing debt and existential angst to the glamor of international stardom. But is it all too good to be true?
To everyone fascinated by Ariana Grande’s whirlwind romance with Pete Davidson, this one’s for you.
5. Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Rumi and her sister, Lea, love to write music together. They’re in the middle of writing a new song, something beautiful called “Summer Bird Blue,” when Lea is killed in a car accident. Rumi knows that the best way to honor her memory is to finish the song for her. Her mom needs time to grieve alone, so Rumi moves in with her aunt in Hawaii for the summer and tries to keep writing.
But music has a painful edge now. It reminds her of the sister she’s missing. She worries that she never had her own connection to music at all, and without her sister, all of her songwriting talent is gone. Even so, she knows she has to push through and finish a song that would have made Lea proud. And, in the process, she might be able to figure out who she’s going to be without Lea by her side.
6. Road Tripped by Pete Hautman
Stiggy needs to get away. He just lost his dad to suicide, his mom is deep in her own depression, and to top it all off, his girlfriend ghosted him. So he hops in the car, chucks his phone out the window, and hits the road. All that he has for distraction is his dad’s iPod. Not very promising, since he never knew his dad to be a music guy.
He’s shocked when he plugs the iPod into the stereo and finds it loaded with an eclectic collection of great songs. Now, he has another chance at knowing his dad better by listening to the songs he played when he was alone. He had everything from the B-52s to Snoop Dogg, the Pixies to Rihanna, Siouxsie and the Banshees to Miley Cyrus. The story is a beautiful reminder that music both comforts us when we feel alone and ultimately brings us closer together.
Plus, some of the chapters are titled after songs that Stiggy listens to. It’s great inspiration for your next road trip playlist—maybe you’ll even discover your new favorite throwback track!
7. Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch
Addie is having the worst summer ever. She’s fighting with her brother, Ian, more than ever, and her last relationship ended catastrophically. The only glimmer of hope is that, after dutifully attending her aunt’s destination wedding in Ireland, she’s going to Italy to visit her friend, Lina. (Remember her from Love & Gelato?)
But nothing is going right this summer, and that includes her travel plans. Instead of Italy, Addie ends up in a car that is practically falling apart on a road trip to see the final concert of Ian’s favorite band. Along for the ride is Ian’s Irish friend and fellow music enthusiast, Rowan, and Addie has to admit that he’s not terrible-looking. And a music festival might be just the magical, transformative environment she needs to change her luck.
8. Wild Roses by Deb Caletti
Cassie Morgan is not a musician, but she finds herself suddenly surrounded by them. After her parents’ divorce, her mom marries Dino Cavalli, a world-renowned violin player and composer. But to Cassie, he’s an erratic, self-centered bully whose paranoid behavior is only getting worse.
When she meets Dino’s first-ever student, the brilliant young violinist Ian Waters, Cassie immediately feels drawn to him. But Dino sees her as a threat to Ian’s promising career, and their burgeoning romance will have consequences she never imagined.
Even though Cassie doesn’t play music herself, Deb Caletti describes music with such ease and clarity that you’ll feel like you’re in the room with these talented violinists.
9. Pop Princess by Rachel Cohn
Wonder Blake steps into a fantasy when she’s plucked from her job at the Dairy Queen and given the chance to become a teen pop idol. But it’s not her fantasy—it’s her older sister’s. Lucky died before she was able to achieve her dream, so Wonder is determined to do it for her.
A recording contract means escaping from her small town, fractured family, and even high school itself. She has a fresh new look, a chart-topping single, and a tour opening for the biggest pop star around. But the shallowness of the industry is getting to her, and she can’t help miss a simpler time when people liked her for being herself. Maybe being an ordinary teenager isn’t so bad after all.
10. Consent by Nancy Ohlin
Seventeen-year-old Bea has two secrets. One: She dreams of going pro with her piano skills. Two: She’s found a great guy who encourages her in pursuing her dream, and she’s never felt so understood. The only problem? He’s her music teacher.
Even though Bea has never felt so wanted and so deeply seen, she knows that she has to keep their relationship a secret. When the news gets out and they become a public scandal, Bea must piece together what is and isn’t true about her teacher, herself, and the most intense relationship she’s ever experienced.
11. Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell
Neo is a huge music fan. She works for a local radio station, and she’s a regular in the Cape Town, South Africa music scene. One night, she goes to a show by herself and falls in love with the lead singer, a girl named Tale. The two of them form a deep bond that begins with their shared passion for music.
Although Cape Town is a big city with a large pride parade, there is also a high rate of violent crime against the LGBTQIA+ community. When Neo’s life is turned upside down by a vicious and deadly attack, she knows she has to use her voice to speak out.
The author includes a list of the songs Neo plays on the radio, as well as the songs he listened to while writing key scenes.