Best YA Books of 2016

With much fanfare, here it is — CA Library’s Best YA Books of 2016! With so many great books out there, it can be a daunting task to pick out the best of the best. After spending a few weeks compiling titles from various sources, I came up with the books that appear on the most lists.

This year, I again tried to include as many reputable best books lists as I could find. I go to my usual sources of book reviews (School Library Journal, Booklist, etc.), then check out a few other media outlets that have year-end reviews as well. Here are my Top 22 Best YA Books lists of 2016…

Each list is a little different — some include just fiction or nonfiction, some include both, and some include books for all ages, from which I pick the ones written for teens and young adults (again, it’s a daunting task!)

This year, from the 22 lists I drew from, one title showed up on an amazing 15 of them: The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon. Two books were on 10 best-of lists: Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys and The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. Three books appeared on 9 lists: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo and Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree. Two titles were on 7 lists: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo and The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry. A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir and Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s The Smell of Other People’s Houses each appeared on 6 best-of lists. Six titles made it onto 5 best-of YA lists, and four books were on 4. Those 20 books make up the CA Library Best YA Books of 2016 Superlist!

The Best of the Best…

The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon — Natasha: “I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him”. Daniel: “I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that”. “Lyrical and sweeping, full of hope, heartbreak, fate…and the universal beating of the human heart” (Booklist starred review).

Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys — For readers of Between Shades of Gray and All the Light We Cannot See, bestselling author Sepetys returns to WWII in this epic novel that shines a light on one of the war’s most devastating — yet unknown — tragedies. In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia, and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the ill-fated German transport ship Wilhelm Gustloff. “Artfully told and sensitively crafted, Sepetys’s exploration of this little-known piece of history will leave readers weeping” (School Library Journal starred review).

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner — Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace. “Zentner explores difficult themes head on — including the desire to escape the sins of the father and the fragility of happiness — while tempering them with the saving grace of enduring friendship” (Publishers Weekly starred review).

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina — While violence runs rampant throughout New York, a teenage girl faces danger within her own home in Medina’s riveting coming-of-age novel. “A devastatingly intense story, this work is a must-have for all collections, especially where Ruta Sepetys’s books are popular” (School Library Journal starred review).

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo — Amanda Hardy only wants to fit in at her new school, but she is keeping a big secret. When she falls for Grant, guarded Amanda finds herself yearning to share with him everything about herself, including her previous life as Andrew. “Never didactic, this debut is a valuable contribution to the slender but growing body of literature about trans teens” (Booklist).

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge — Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy–a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries. “Hardinge…melds a haunting historical mystery with a sharp observation on the dangers of suppressing the thirst for knowledge” (School Library Journal starred review).

…and the Rest of the Best!

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo — In this sequel to Six of Crows, Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. “Brings high-tension conclusions to the many intertwined intrigues of Ketterdam” (Kirkus starred review).

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry — Dolssa is an upper-crust city girl with a secret lover and an uncanny gift. Branded a heretic, she’s on the run from the friar who condemned her mother to death by fire, and wants Dolssa executed, too. Botille is a matchmaker and a tavern-keeper, struggling to keep herself and her sisters on the right side of the law in their seaside town of Bajas. When their lives collide by a dark riverside, Botille rescues a dying Dolssa and conceals her in the tavern, where an unlikely friendship blooms. “An expertly crafted piece of historical fiction, Berry’s latest is a must for middle and high school libraries” (School Library Journal starred review).

A Torch Against The Night by Sabaa Tahir — In this sequel to An Ember In The Ashes, Laia and Elias fight their way north to liberate Laia’s brother from the horrors of Kauf Prison, a mission that is complicated by hunting Empire soldiers, the manipulations of the Commandant, and lingering ghosts from their pasts. “Strong and compelling characters, particularly Helene, who is fleshed out more than in the previous volume, and a number of action-packed sequences help keep things moving” (School Library Journal).

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock — In Alaska in 1970, being a teenager isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. This deeply moving and authentic debut is for fans of Rainbow Rowell, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, and Benjamin Alire Saenz. Intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare talent. “An excellent debut sure to appeal to teens who prefer relationship-based fiction” (School Library Journal).

Exit, Pursued By A Bear by E.K. Johnston — Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team–the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black. “A beautifully written portrait of a young woman facing the unthinkable, this is a must-buy for high school collections” (School Library Journal starred review).

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley — Sixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him. Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college (she’s being realistic). But how can she prove she deserves a spot there? “Chapters alternate between Sol’s and Lisa’s third-person narrations and brim over with warm, witty, authentic dialogue. Readers will easily come to care about these bright, wonderfully nerdy, flawed characters” (Kirkus starred review).

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows — Lady Jane Grey, sixteen, is about to be married to a total stranger–and caught up in an insidious plot to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But that’s the least of Jane’s problems. She’s about to become Queen of England. Like that could go wrong… “Wonky, offbeat, and happily anachronistic this fantasy adventure politely tips its hat to history before joyfully punting it out of the way. An utter delight” (Booklist starred review).

Scythe by Neil Shusterman — A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control. “Instead of exploring the ways in which men are monsters, [Shusterman’s latest] deals in what happens to men when there are no monsters” (Booklist starred review).

Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King — Sixteen-year-old Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has “done the art.” She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia. “A deeply moving, frank, and compassionate exploration of trauma and resilience, filled to the brim with incisive, grounded wisdom” (Booklist starred review).

The Reader by Traci Chee — Set in a world where reading is unheard-of, Sefia makes use of a mysterious object to track down who kidnapped her aunt Nin and what really happened the night her father was murdered. “With evocative language, fascinating world building, multifaceted characters, and a compelling plot, this is a series fantasy lovers will want to sink their teeth into” (Booklist starred review).

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova — Alex is a bruja and the most powerful witch in her family. But she’s hated magic ever since it made her father disappear into thin air. When a curse she performs to rid herself of magic backfires and her family vanishes, she must travel to Los Lagos, a land in-between as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland, to get her family back. “Córdova’s realistic world-building is the backbone of this engaging read. She spins a fantasy tale based in Latin American culture, with original mythology that rings true” (School Library Journal).

The Raven King by Magge Stiefvater — All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love’s death. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore. “This is a series that is destined for greatness and The Raven King is a crowning achievement” (School Library Journal starred review).

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab — There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. “First in a planned duo, this taut creation about the nature of humanity lingers long after its disquieting finale” (Booklist starred review).

We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson — Abducted by aliens periodically throughout his youth, Henry Denton is informed by his erstwhile captors that they will end the world in 144 days unless he stops them by deciding that humanity is worth saving. “Hutchinson has crafted an unflinching portrait of the pain and confusion of young love and loss, thoughtfully exploring topics like dementia, abuse, sexuality, and suicide as they entwine with the messy work of growing up” (Publishers Weekly).

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