by Morgan Vega
Plot/Idea: Vega's debut novel, Sleeping Around, is a masterpiece of early college angst, complicated friendships, young love, and overcoming trauma. The author expertly weaves together multiple themes, carefully framing difficult subjects—homosexuality, religious trauma, foster care, insecurity—into an accessible, charming novel. This book will appeal to those looking to reminisce about early college life; to musicians; and is an important piece of representation for those who have gone through foster care. Overall, Sleeping Around is a fabulously written slice-of-life story about a girl finding herself.
Prose: Vega's ability to write multiple different personalities, including those who are young, old, queer, religious, etc., while avoiding turning them into caricatures and simultaneously presenting them from the perspective of the author, is striking. The prose is interesting, immersive, and precise.
Originality: Sleeping Around has taken multiple unique themes and melded them together in a mosaic. Not only does the book feature the struggles of growing up within the foster system, but it also has multiple sub-themes throughout, such as a very accurate depiction of pursuing a music degree. Vega has also made sure to mix up the prose of the novel so that the content never grows dull for the reader, featuring phone calls, texts, and other storytelling mechanics. Every detail of the book feels unique.
Character Development/Execution: College is often the place where people's minds are expanded, as they meet classmates and faculty from all walks of life. In the novel, Vega has perfectly captured this aspect, showcasing a wide variety of personalities, all of which interact with the main protagonist, Corey. Vega has also written a highly sympathetic main character—Corey is lovable, but also flawed. Readers will empathize with her throughout the novel.
by Tom Hoffman
Plot/Idea: Written with an eye to acceptance and championing rights for those with disabilities, Hoffman's The Translucent Boy and the Girl Who Dreamed She Could Fly is fun, bizarre, and wholesome.
Prose: Hoffman is skilled at describing complex magical scenes, and making them make sense, which is a difficult task. Sometimes the dialogue can feel a little forced, especially between flirting teenagers, but overall the writing is enjoyable.
Originality: This book is packed to the brim with interesting worldbuilding elements, references to ancient myths, and homages to past young adult books that have paved the way in earlier decades. It all comes together to make a highly unique experience for the reader, both heartfelt and exhilarating.
Character Development/Execution: Although the characters can at times come across as derivative, they are easily differentiated by their stark and unique personalities.
by Ian Hunter
Plot/Idea: Quillan Creek and the Little War is strange, fantastical, and riveting. Hunter weaves together multiple unique stories with their own secrets, loss, and points in history. His characters leap off the pages, with their bonds growing over the course of the book. Hunter's novel is a coming-of-age story that will keep readers interested and wondering what will happen next.
Prose: Hunter is successful at describing complex, technical scenes, such as the loading and shooting of a musket. He also can paint scenery exceptionally well. Occasionally he focuses on details to the point that readers may skim a paragraph or two.
Originality: The worlds Hunter has crafted, and how they fit together, are highly unique and imaginative. He has combined different perspectives, magic, ages, and backgrounds to create a highly interesting and original experience for the reader.
Character Development/Execution: Hunter is talented at writing the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a wide range of characters. The interactions between them are authentic, and their development is clear throughout the novel.
by Kellye Abernathy
Plot/Idea: Abernathy has written a strange and delightful adventure that combines magic with the discomforts and joys and challenges of coming of age. Exploring friendship, love, death, magic, and supporting those who are most in need, The Aquamarine Surfboard is a welcome read for both younger and older crowds alike.
Prose: Abernathy is excellent at describing magical scenes and windswept beach settings, which are aplenty in this novel. Sometimes the verbiage can be a bit awkward, leading but the majority of the novel is beautifully phrased and well-written.
Originality: The Aquamarine Surfboard is extraordinarily unique in its storytelling. Although it does incorporate some tropes, such as the orphaned child searching for meaning, they work well within the context of the novel.
Character Development/Execution: Abernathy excels at bringing to life sympathetic, dynamic characters. She is highly capable of displaying the awkwardness and fun of teenaged relationships, the love between a grandmother and her grandchild, and the terror of an evil villain. Her characters all feel very different even from first meeting them, and carry with them a distinctness that makes them easy to differentiate.
by Ben Gartner
Plot/Idea: This thought-provoking installment in the Eye of Ra series is filled with adventure, action, and fun. The plot is intense and questions scientific ideas that will invite readers to think. The author tackles the nuances of time travel with ease, and the well-researched plot moves at a fast pace.
Prose: The story flows well and strikes a balance between well-described history, science, and action without relying on exposition. The enthusiastic tone throughout keeps the action moving forward while the descriptions of Mexico allow the various locales to come alive.
Originality: While time travel adventures are a familiar staple in YA literature, this series effectively blends science and history, creating a memorable reading experience.
Character Development/Execution: The curious and intrepid protagonists effortlessly lead the reader through the action of the plot.
by CT Liotta
Plot/Idea: What starts out as a fast-paced adventure ends up being so much more as Liotta proves an extremely versatile writer and tackles romance and adventure in this LGBTQ+ novel. Adding suspense throughout at the appropriate moments, Liotta always keeps the reader on their toes, wondering when the next spy is just around the corner. At times, the wavering timeline of the plot can prove a bit confusing.
Prose: The novel is rich in dialogue and gives the reader time to get to know the characters. The contrast between the intense scenes and burgeoning romance is reflected in the pace of the writing.
Originality: Blending a variety of genres in one book and learning that the main character’s real issue is being honest about his relationship makes for an original plot. The author delivers a strong message for those with teens in their lives.
Character Development/Execution: Not only are the themes throughout versatile and genre-defying, but the characters are as well. The main character is able to shift between espionage and romance elements seamlessly and deliver a strong message about growing up and coming out.
by Justine Manzano
Plot: This creative story blends Greek mythology with teenage romance and friendship. Manzano successfully integrates genuine coming-of-age elements with the more fantastical details of the mythological premise.
Prose: Manzano achieves a fine balance between the banter of the dialogue, exposition, action, and description.
Originality: While the use of Greek mythology as a basis for the story is a familiar tactic, the author offers a fresh twist in the form of a love-disillusioned character who becomes entwined with Aphrodite.
Character/Execution: Throughout the story, characters show individual and collective growth. Emotional circumstances--catching a parent having an affair, developing romantic feelings for a friend’s boyfriend, and learning that someone you like just doesn’t share the same feelings--prove relatable and engaging.
by Susan L Markloff
Plot/Idea: The Rise of the Raidin is an exceptional science fiction/high fantasy novel that will appeal to fans of those genres, as well as readers who enjoy high school drama. It may verge on gruesome for some readers, especially the battle scenes which often include a lot of viscera and blood.
Prose: For those who love fantasy books, this work will greatly appeal. The prose is highly specific regarding battle maneuvers, injuries, and attacks that include magical beasts. Overall, the work is well written, clear, and enjoyable, and Markloff's references to pop culture and slang will make readers laugh.
Originality: Markloff has put together a mixture of high school slice-of-life storytelling and intense dragon battles with fantasy armies. This unusual combination harkens to animes and mangas, as well as other beloved fantasy series, such as Lord of the Rings. Markloff has managed to make her book completely her own while incorporating well-worn tropes.
Character Development/Execution: Although the characters are clearly developed, it can be difficult sometimes to tell them apart, as there are many players here and they are introduced rapidly. That said, Markloff does a good job of representing and developing their distinct personalities.
by Emilia Ares
Plot/Idea: Love and Other Sins is an engrossing, emotional read that portrays the angst of lost innocence. Both protagonists will stir coming-of-age memories as they struggle together to overcome their pasts and protect themselves from the future. Ares skillfully shifts perspectives while ensnaring readers in each narrative, and the ambiguous ending will prompt outrage as well as expectancy.
Prose: Ares’s prose is both crisp and casual, and although the story spans two alternating perspectives, it moves effortlessly through each character’s complications. The writing style unites protagonists and readers, intimately melding them together – fans will feel invested in Mina and Oliver’s outcomes.
Originality: This story’s subject matter is not original, but Ares has a firm grasp on storytelling that will sway readers and leave them with a nagging desire to know more.
Character Development/Execution: Mina and Oliver will entrance readers from the beginning, and Ares allows these characters to develop in a natural, unhurried way. Each is irrevocably tied to the other while still navigating their own space, and their mutual bond feels unquestionable.
Blurb: A somewhat brooding, star-crossed story that will draw readers in and leave them satisfyingly unfulfilled in the end.
by Dima Novak
Plot/Idea: Although Novak’s premise initially appears casual, the story’s events nicely illustrate the characters’ moral transformations. Substantial plot twists are lacking, but the storyline’s steady flow culminates in a tidy ending ideal for its intended audience.
Prose: Novak nails the story’s prose with a coherent first-person perspective and relevant phrasing. There are a few awkward moments, but the majority of the writing is fitting for the text.
Originality: Pushing Pawns tells a classic coming-of-age tale, but the author stays mainly in a superficial realm as opposed to creating gritty and resonating circumstances – the result is more of a watered-down version than an unparalleled story.
Character Development/Execution: Novak’s characters start out strong, and readers will expect them to prove tenacious and compelling. Although some of the main players take a surface dive into distressing events, they are never quite fleshed out, leaving an incomplete impression overall.