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All YA Coverage

Whether you love sprawling fantasies, gothic fables, jubilant rom-coms or page-turning mysteries, 2022 is guaranteed to be a YA lover’s best reading year ever.

This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi
HarperCollins | February 1

Tahereh Mafi has written a bestselling six-volume dystopian series as well as middle grade fantasies and two devastating realistic novels set in the early 2000s. Her fans love her imaginative, emotional storytelling and razor-sharp prose. In 2022, she’ll publish her first work of high fantasy for teen readers, a sprawling yet intimate tale with Persian and Muslim influences. If your ideal reading experience is being transported into an epic and magical story, you’ll want to put This Woven Kingdom at the top of your TBR. 

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
Philomel | February 1

The thing I love most about historical fiction master Ruta Sepetys is how unwilling she seems to be to simply rest on her laurels. At this point in her writing career, Sepetys could forge a comfortable path retreading familiar territory, but instead, she follows her unique instincts for sniffing out compelling stories amid locales and historical moments little-known to most of her American readers, from war-torn northern Europe during the final days of World War II to Barcelona at the height of the Franco regime. In I Must Betray You, she turns those instincts to 1989 Romania, and the result is a can’t-miss read for fans of historical fiction and thrillers alike.

Mirror Girls by Kelly McWilliams
Little, Brown | February 8

Kelly McWilliams is the daughter of acclaimed children’s author Jewell Parker Rhodes, and her 2020 debut, Agnes at the End of the World, proved that she’s a talented storyteller in her own right. Mirror Girls is an ambitious step forward for McWilliams. A historical horror novel that reads like The Vanishing Half meets “Lovecraft Country,” it’s the story of biracial twin sisters who are separated at birth and reunite under mysterious circumstances in the small Georgia town where they were born.

Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi
Knopf | February 15

Akwaeke Emezi is one of the most exciting and visionary writers working today, and I’m thrilled that they’re returning to YA shelves with this prequel to their 2019 National Book Award finalist, Pet. Bitter will reveal the story of Pet’s mother, the eponymous Bitter, and add new dimensions to the world Emezi created in Pet.

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir
Razorbill | March 1

It’s hard to think of a more successful or more influential YA fantasy series of the past decade than Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes quartet, which ended in December 2020 with A Sky Beyond the Storm. All My Rage explores vastly different territory: It’s a work of contemporary realism about two teens coming of age in a small town in the Mojave Desert. Like the novel’s protagonists, Tahir grew up at her family’s 18-room motel in the Mojave Desert, and All My Rage draws inspiration from her personal experiences. Changing genres and creating such a personal story is an ambitious move, but Tahir is a storyteller I’d follow just about anywhere. 

The Rumor Game by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra
Disney-Hyperion | March 1

In December 2020, Netflix released the first season of “Tiny Pretty Things,” adapted from Clayton and Charaipotra’s 2015 YA novel of the same name. It was an addicting mix of a high-pressure environment (a ballet school) and a twisting, shocking plot that kept me up past bedtime on more than one occasion. Clayton and Charaipotra have both released books individually since publishing Shiny Broken Things, the sequel to Tiny Pretty Things, in 2016, but they’re reuniting in 2022 for a brand-new standalone thriller about rumors, secrets and lies set at an exclusive prep school. It’s got the makings of a late-night read written all over it.

Gallant by V. E. Schwab
Greenwillow | March 1

I’m going to throw some words and phrases at you right now: Fog. Gloom. Mysterious. Crumbling old house. Ghostly. Candlelight. A door to the unknown. Secrets. Haunting. Enchanting. If those are vibes you find yourself inexplicably drawn to, bestselling author V. E. Schwab has written a book especially for you. The less I say here about Schwab’s return to the YA category, the better, because as with all tales of mystery and magic, half the pleasure’s in the discovery itself.

Great or Nothing by Joy McCullough, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood
Delacorte | March 8

How many reimaginings and adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel Little Women is too many for me? To quote an iconic scene from the 2004 teen comedy Mean Girls, the limit does not exist. I regularly sing along to the soundtrack of the 2005 Broadway show while driving to work. I inhaled Bethany C. Morrow’s 2021 remix, So Many Beginnings, set in 1863 in a Virginia colony of newly emancipated people. Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation was the last movie I saw in a theater before the pandemic. (I loved it, obviously.) So I truly cannot wait to see what this reimagining will hold. The details are already tantalizing: It’s set in 1942, with each March sister’s perspective written by a different YA author. Jo builds planes! Laurie is an army pilot! Amy is a Red Cross volunteer in London! Beth’s point of view will be in verse! I look forward to swooning, sighing and ugly-crying all over again when it hits shelves in March.

Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters
Viking | March 15

Julian Winters has published three of the most beloved LGBTQ+ realistic fiction YA novels in recent memory through a small, independent publisher called Interlude Press. This spring, Winters will release his first book from one of the so-called Big Five publishers, a move that’s sure to make his rising star shine even brighter. Right Where I Left You has all the ingredients that readers loved in Winters’ previous books, including authentic teen characters and heartfelt depictions of friendship, romance and the search to figure out who you are and what you really want.  

Kiss & Tell by Adib Khorram
Dial | March 22

Adib Khorram’s first two novels told the quiet but deeply powerful story of queer biracial teen Darius Kellner. Darius the Great Is Not Okay and its sequel, Darius the Great Deserves Better are master classes in creating a unique and authentic narrative voice. In his third book, Khorram seems to be interested in turning up the volume—literally. The protagonist of Kiss & Tell is the only gay member of a newly successful boy band, but he’s struggling with his heart and with the pressures of the spotlight. Readers who enjoyed the showbiz romance of Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich’s If This Gets Out or the music-loving heart of Leah Johnson’s Rise to the Sun won’t want to miss it. 

This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke
Knopf | April 5

Although they’ve published two YA novels and two picture books (including What Are Your Words, which is the most accessible introduction to personal pronouns I’ve ever read) and edited two anthologies, Katherine Locke isn’t a household name—yet. This Rebel Heart could very well be the book to change that. Set in the midst of the 1956 revolution in communist Budapest, the story promises an intriguing juxtaposition of history and magic that fans of Julie Berry, Naomi Novik, Gavriel Savit and Ruta Sepetys will love.

Nothing Burns as Bright as You by Ashley Woodfolk
Versify | April 5

While we’re on the subject of authors who should be household names, allow me to get out my megaphone and sandwich board and stand out on the sidewalk to sing the praises of Ashley Woodfolk. Woodfolk’s first two novels are two of the best works of YA contemporary realistic fiction of the past decade, and she was one of six contributors to Blackout, the collaborative YA romance hit of summer 2021. To read a Woodfolk novel is to lose all sense of time and be swept away in her character-driven storytelling and effortless prose, and Nothing Burns as Bright as You looks to be her most explosive novel yet. 

An Arrow to the Moon by Emily X.R. Pan
Little, Brown | April 12

Emily X.R. Pan’s 2018 debut novel, The Astonishing Color of After, was a New York Times bestseller and received a number of awards, including a Walter Honor and a YA Honor from ALA’s Asian/Pacific American Awards. It was the uncommon debut novel whose ambition was matched by its creator’s skill, so while Pan’s second book looks even more ambitious, I’m so excited to watch her pull it off. Like Pan’s debut, An Arrow to the Moon will blend romance, emotional storytelling, Chinese mythology and fantastical elements for an unforgettable combination.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
Wednesday | May 3

Casey McQuiston burst onto bookshelves in 2019 with her adult romance debut, Red, White & Royal Blue, a book that reads like “The West Wing” meets “The Crown” but with much more kissing, and then didn’t let their foot off the gas one bit in their second book, One Last Stop. So when, in the summer of 2021, McQuiston announced that she would be publishing her first YA novel, to say that it was exciting would be an understatement. I Kissed Shara Wheeler is set at a conservative school in Alabama and, like One Last Stop, will incorporate elements of both mystery and romance. 

Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert
Flatiron | June 28

The Hazel Wood, Melissa Albert’s first YA novel, spent more than half of 2018 on the New York Times bestseller list. Since then, Albert’s fans have devoured a sequel, The Night Country, as well as a companion set of short stories, Tales From the Hinterland. Our Crooked Hearts will capture the same intoxicating potion of dark magic and sharp prose that readers loved in Albert’s previous books, but since it’s a wholly original story unconnected to the Hinterland world, it’s also a perfect entry point to Albert’s work for new readers.

2022 is poised to become YA fans' best reading year ever.

Four years ago, after attracting the unwanted attention of Poseidon and being cursed by Athena, Medusa and her sisters fled to a distant island. Her winged sisters take to the skies every day, leaving Medusa alone with only the snakes on her head for company. One day, Medusa discovers Perseus, a handsome boy stranded on the island. Slowly, they open up to each other, unaware that their blossoming relationship will become the spark of a tragedy.

Jessie Burton’s Medusa is a feminist retelling of the classical Greek myth of Medusa and Perseus, brought to life with full-color illustrations by Olivia Lomenech Gill. The book adds complexity to a character many readers may know only as a monstrous Gorgon, famously capable of turning anyone who looks at her into stone. Here, readers meet Medusa not as a monster but as a hopeful girl who bears both psychological and physical scars. 

Burton’s narrative powerfully explores the effects of abuse. Medusa tells her story, giving readers a firsthand glimpse into the trauma she’s experienced, its long-term ramifications and the twisting rationalizations that others use to defend her abusers. As she transitions to adulthood and navigates healing, identity and romance, she often looks to the women in her life for guidance and insight. Medusa’s sisters, Stheno and Euryale, and even Athena herself offer varying perspectives on maturity and femininity, and Medusa is able to consider their conflicting views while also developing her own way forward. 

Gill’s illustrations provide visual representations of Medusa’s thoughts and feelings. Sketches of birds and ocean life ground the story in the seaside isolation of Medusa’s island. Some of the images, such as one of Medusa and her sisters flying into the night sky, have a collage-like quality that endows the story’s mythical subjects with genuine human emotion. Gill’s colors mirror Medusa’s emotional journey: Medusa’s joy shines through in vivid blues and greens, her curiosity about Perseus is a soft yellow, and her horrific past is a dark and bloody red. 

Throughout the book, Burton’s prose and Gill’s art work in harmony to offer two intertwined ways of learning who Medusa really is. By placing her at the center of the tale, they give an epic voice to victims whose stories often go ignored and untold. Readers who love nuanced retellings of myths will not want to miss it.

Medusa adds complexity to a character typically known only as a monstrous Gorgon, and readers who enjoy nuanced retellings of myths will not want to miss it.

For the inhabitants of the frozen planet Tundar, survival is a daily struggle. Powerful corporations and crime syndicates rule through greed and fear, and everything from the weather to the wildlife can kill you in an instant. The only resource the desolate planet can offer the interstellar economy is exocarbon, a rare metal that can only be mined during Tundar’s annual sled race in which would-be miners drive teams of genetically engineered vonenwolves across hundreds of miles of deadly wilderness to reach the dig site first. With fame and fortune on the line, racers are just as likely to be killed by another team as they are by Tundar’s giant osak bears and blizzards.

Sena Korhosen knows this all too well: Five years ago, both of her mothers died in the race. Since then, Sena has sworn off all things race-related. When circumstances force her to rescue Iska, a wounded fighting wolf, and enter the competition she despises, Sena must use everything her mothers taught her and more in order to survive to the finish line.

Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves makes full use of its perilous setting. Debut author Meg Long spends a significant amount of time familiarizing readers with the culture and creatures of Tundar, as well as exploring Sena’s reluctance to race, which effectively builds a sense of danger and dread for the looming competition. While some readers might find such methodical world building a little slow out of the gate, particularly for a story about racing, the novel’s third act will reward patient readers with all the brutal, fast-paced survival action they could ever want.

Sena’s grief over the loss of her mothers and her deepening connection with Iska form a quiet emotional counterpoint to the novel’s harsh setting. Sena’s memories of her mothers are a source of pain, love, protection and strength, all of which she finds mirrored in the wounded wolf she’s tasked with healing. Whether Iska is helping Sena cross a frozen wasteland or melting her frozen heart, the bond between girl and wolf is lovely and touching. Readers will root for them as they’re swept along on their wild ride.

This sci-fi survival story makes full use of its perilous setting, to which its hero’s bond with a wounded wolf forms a quiet emotional counterpoint.

In the summer of 2020, amid an unending news cycle of fear and death, millions of people all over the world took to the streets to protest the murders of not only George Floyd but also many other Black people by police officers. In Ain’t Burned All the Bright, award-winning author Jason Reynolds and artist Jason Griffin portray this claustrophobic spiral from the perspective of a young boy.

The book begins in medias res: “And I’m sitting here wondering why / my mother won’t change the channel,” the narrator says, “and why the news won’t / change the story.” In sections titled “Breath One,” “Breath Two” and “Breath Three,” the narrator’s seemingly mundane desire to change the channel transforms into fearful imaginings of his family being consumed by smoke, water or illness.

Reynolds’ words are spare, scattered in brief lines or, occasionally, single words filling an entire page in thick, powerful letters. The narrator shifts between the minutiae of everyday life, as when his “sister talks to her homegirl / through the screen of her phone,” and the things that complicate it: “and they talking about a protest.” On the opposite page appears the most carefully rendered image in the whole book, a detailed portrait of George Floyd.

Griffin’s diaristic collage art is the linchpin of the book. Dynamic and visceral, it is composed with paint, pencil and notebook paper, as well as with Reynolds’ text itself, which Griffin has printed and cut out in small strips of short phrases and placed into each spread. Griffin incorporates Reynolds’ stark but carefully chosen words into larger scenes of fires, floods, houses and skies, creating a surreal experience across the book’s more than 300 pages. He skillfully juxtaposes vast spaces of black and white with color and texture; canvas tape and speckled paint make images feel urgently three dimensional, while the blank spaces feel expansive. Many of the illustrations recall the densely saturated colors and silhouette figures of artist Kerry James Marshall.

In the book’s final pages, Griffin depicts a large leaf growing out of a pot, its delicate green reaching the top of the page. The image calls to mind a poem written by Ross Gay in the year after Eric Garner’s death. In “A Small Needful Fact,” Gay writes that Garner, whose final words were “I can’t breathe,” worked in horticulture for New York City’s Parks and Recreation Department, where he might have planted seedlings, which “continue / to do what such plants do . . . like making it easier / for us to breathe.” As it ends, Ain’t Burned All the Bright doesn’t offer any platitudes, and the narrator still wants to change the channel. But he does, despite everything, remember to breathe.

Dynamic and visceral, Ain’t Burned All the Bright artistically portrays the claustrophobia of the summer of 2020 from the perspective of a young boy.

The true story of the final group of people who were forcibly brought to the United States and enslaved is rendered powerfully and poetically in African Town, a novel in verse by Irene Latham and Charles Waters.

The poets (co-authors of two previous books, Can I Touch Your Hair? and Dictionary for a Better World) offer a tangible and memorable way for readers to bear witness to the lives of the 110 Africans brought to the U.S. in 1860 by Captain William Foster aboard a ship called the Clotilda. They were pawns in a cruelly casual bet made by a wealthy Mobile, Alabama, landowner named Timothy Meaher. Meaher bet $1,000 that, despite a decadeslong ban on the importation of enslaved people, he could pay Foster to smuggle people into the U.S. without getting caught.

Throughout the book, the poets move between voices and poetic forms as they imagine the long and terrible journey. They embody the despair of a religious man named Kupollee down below (“We are inside a / terrible story. When will it end?”); the denial of Foster, above (“I can’t think of them as humans. I won’t.”); and the anguish of the Clotilda herself (“If I’d been built with a heart, it would be broken”).

Read our Q&A with Irene Latham and Charles Waters.

Among the 14 voices that narrate this history is Kossola, a young man eager to learn from his Yoruba elders at home and who, once in America, encourages fellow survivors to find home within each other. Teens Abilè̩ and Kêhounco forge a sisterhood that unites them in grief and love. And Meaher, well, he holds fast to his beliefs, repugnant as they are.

Readers will feel heartened to learn that, after the Civil War ended and the Clotilda survivors were freed, they worked together to create a community that was theirs alone, and that the African Town (now Africatown) of the book’s title still exists today in Alabama. In fact, Joycelyn M. Davis, an Africatown resident descended from Oluale, one of the survivors, wrote the book’s introduction.

Plentiful back matter includes a glossary, timeline and bibliography, news about Africatown’s present and future plans and more. A section called “Poetry Forms/Styles” offers fascinating insight into the authors’ creative process; their descriptions of the poetic forms employed in the book are little poems in and of themselves.

African Town is a book that should be both taught and treasured.

This powerful novel in verse recounts the true story of the final group of people who were enslaved and forcibly brought to the United States.

Poets Irene Latham and Charles Waters have collaborated on two books for young readers. Their third book together, African Town, is a novel in verse for teen readers about historical events known by far too few Americans. In 1860, decades after the federal government had banned the importation of slaves, a group of 110 Africans were forcibly brought to the United States and enslaved. After the Civil War, the group’s survivors created a community that still exists today, now called Africatown. In many voices and poetic forms, Latham and Waters powerfully chronicle their story. The poets discuss the origins of the project and the responsibility they felt to do justice to the survivors—and to their living descendants.

African Town is your third literary collaboration. How did these collaborations begin?

This all started with an email from one poet (Irene) to another (Charles) in February 2015, with an invitation to work on poems for a potential book from Lerner Publishing Group. The aim was to write about universal subjects with the topic of race as a through line, which turned into Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship. The book was the brainchild of Lerner Editorial Director Carol Hinz. If it wasn’t for Carol, we never would have worked together in the first place. We’re eternally grateful to her.

How did African Town start?

It feels like our previous two books together—and the degree of difficulty involved in creating them—prepared us for undertaking this project, which was quite challenging and rewarding. We were surprised by our lack of knowledge about this vital story, and we hope our book helps remedy that for others.

We learned of this history when we were presenting together at the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery, Alabama, in the spring of 2019. We were so inspired by these courageous humans—how they endured so much, and how bound they were to one another. They were ripped from their lives, and yet they continued to dream and to do. Every step of the research brought us to another “wow” moment, and we wanted to help bring the story to young readers.

“We imagine intergenerational families sharing this book and having rich discussions about our past, our future and how resilience and hope are cultivated at home.”

Your previous books together were written for younger readers than African Town, which is for teens. How did you settle on telling this story for teen readers?

The age of the characters and the brutality of parts of this history demanded that this book be marketed as young adult, but we approached it as a “family” story. We imagine intergenerational families sharing this book and having rich discussions about our past, our future and how resilience and hope are cultivated at home—however (and wherever) one defines that word.

What research did you do to ensure you could immerse yourselves in the characters’ experiences?

Thank the universe we were able to visit Mobile, Alabama, in late February 2020, about two weeks before the country shut down due to the pandemic. We visited Africantown, spent time outside the Union Missionary Baptist Church, which was founded by the Clotilda survivors, stood next to the bust of Kossola outside the church, visited the Old Plateau Cemetery also founded by the Clotilda survivors, went on the Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage Trail, visited the History Museum of Mobile, pored over documents at the Mobile Public Library’s local history and genealogy library, and spent time at Kazoola Eatery & Entertainment, meeting the kind people of Mobile and soaking up the atmosphere.

As you researched, what did you learn that was the biggest revelation for you?

One of the biggest revelations was how little we actually know about the women who were onboard the Clotilda. The main sources of information were male-focused, like Kossola’s many interviews and William Foster’s journal. Holes in research are gifts to historical fiction writers, and it became important to us to recognize these incredible humans and to create rich, full female characters.

African Town speaks to readers in so many different characters’ voices, including the Clotilda herself. How did you decide who would write whom?

Our decisions about who would write which character were dictated by where each of us was in the research. We each ended up writing both Black and white characters, and then we spent a lot of time revising together. The Clotilda was perhaps one of the most delicate to write, because we cast her in an all-knowing, voice-of-the-world kind of tone. The Africans in the hold don’t necessarily know what’s happening to them, but the Clotilda does.

“It wasn’t always easy to join these courageous humans on their journey, but it was life-changing.”

At the end of the book, you share details about the various poetic forms you paired with each character and why you chose them. Are there certain forms you each tend to favor? Did you learn any new ones?

We worked hard to match form with personality. With so many voices, we were looking for ways to distinguish each one. Varying the form and shape of the poems on the page helped a great deal. This is where writing our previous book Dictionary for a Better World proved helpful because that book had 47 different poetry forms. We both tend to favor free verse when writing, but we have come to enjoy nonets and tricubes among others.

Even though it was challenging to craft, we’ve come to respect and be proud of using tankas, a short Japanese form of five lines and 31 syllables, for the character of James. It’s such an elegant and difficult form to pull off. We were partially inspired by the verse novel Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes, which is written only in tankas. We felt the form matched James’ personality and mien. Another one we’re proud of is the form used for Cudjo Jr. It was a combination of the poetic styles of E.E. Cummings and Arnold Adoff—with our own twist on it.

How did you feel about doing justice to the real people, events and places in the book?

Both of us knew that since we were writing about many instances that happened to real people, it was vital to be as thorough as possible in research so that we might “get it right.” The mantle of responsibility felt a lot heavier than our previous two books, which dealt with our own lives. We spent hours and hours discussing personality, relationships and motivation—which, due to gaps in information available, was often left for us to imagine.

It’s been important to us to involve the descendants as much as possible, and we’re so grateful for the warm welcome we have received from the community. Our hope is to honor their ancestors, to work with them to make this history more accessible, and to share with young readers a story that impacted us on a very personal level. It wasn’t always easy to join these courageous humans on their journey, but it was life-changing. We feel so lucky to know these characters so intimately. Their resilience continues to inspire us.

Read our starred review of ‘African Town.’


Author photo of Irene Latham and Charles Waters courtesy of Eric Latham.

Acclaimed poets Irene Latham and Charles Waters give the past a voice in African Town, their new novel in verse about the last group of Africans brought to America and enslaved.

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