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April 4, 2023

8 Spring Young Adult Novels You Have to Read

by MK French

There are so many great books coming out this season and I wanted to highlight some of the young adult fiction titles that you won't want to miss this spring. While there are several fantasy novels, there are also romance, horror, and even a graphic novel on this list. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu

book cover of young adult romance novel Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu
March 2023; Roaring Brook Press; 978-1250852816
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); YA romance

Winter Young is an international pop star, selling out stadiums to rabid fans. Sydney Cossette is the youngest spy to join a covert ops group, with no time for romance. But a major crime boss gifts his daughter a private concert with Winter for her birthday, Sydney becomes Winter's bodyguard so she can investigate the organization. Winter is now the newest spy recruit, but Sydney is unaffected by his charms. Or is she?

This book is billed as Kingsman crossed with the Bodyguard, and we have our moments with the experimental spy gear early in the story as well. Winter has his own moments where you feel sorry for him: his older brother died years ago, his mother can barely look at him, and he has the love and admiration of fans but no real close friendships. Sydney had opted to join the group to get out of her small town, the alcoholic father who had been abusive, and the dying mother.  Both are highly competent nineteen-year-olds, and the moments of physical attraction are eclipsed by the seriousness of the job: the man they're looking to investigate trafficks in weapons, people, and all kinds of illegal goods, and may be shipping a material that would make an incredibly dangerous bomb that could wipe out Europe. Definitely the high stakes worthy of a spy novel.

Winter has his own powers of observation, which had been honed from being ostracized when young as well as being a star that had been attacked in the past. He isn't the shallow musician type, and I really liked the chapters from his POV. He was all in and eager to help. Sydney is prickly and harder to get to know, which is very deliberate on her part. Even so, I didn't feel too distant in her part of the book at all. We had enough twists along the way, with the mission getting compromised and people not being exactly who we thought they were.  I don't want to spoil it, but it's such a fun ride to get through, I kept reading while trying to move around the house doing something else at the same time because I had to know what happened next.

Marie Lu has written many fun and engaging series, and this book is no different. I hope we see more of the Panacea group, and that this is the start of a new series. 

Buy Stars and Smoke at Amazon

Silver in the Bone by Alexandra Bracken

book cover of young adult fantasy novel Silver in the Bone by Alexandra Bracken
April 2023; Knopf Books; 978-0593481653
audio, ebook, print (496 pages); YA fantasy

Tamsin Lark has no magic and breaks into crypts as a Hollower to find treasures to sell. It wasn't her first choice, but her thieving foster father left her and her brother Cabell suddenly, and it's the only way she can survive. Ten years after that, rumors still say that her foster father had vanished with a powerful ring from Arthurian legend. A run-in with her rival Emrys makes Tamsin hope that the ring could free Cabell from a curse that threatens both of them. Others want that ring, and many would kill to have it for themselves. Tamsin must work with Emrys to get the ring, exposing a deadly secret with the power to awaken ghosts and shatter her last hope of saving her brother.

I was sucked into the story right away. The prologue gives us the last time Tamsin and Cabell were with their foster father Nash, where Tamsin's inability to see magic without a hand of glory is a liability. It still is ten years later, and others in the community look down on her and her brother as rejects. She's still looking for a way to break the curse on Cabell and takes on whatever jobs she can to make ends meet. Her photographic memory helps, but she also doesn't have the resources that the richer and more prestigious guild members have. Emrys isn't exactly what she thought he was, but he also played a dangerous game in the search for the ring, working with those only too willing to harm Tamsin and Cabell while keeping them safe.

The search is more complicated than Tamsin thought it would be, of course, and Avalon isn't anything like what we thought it would be. It's dangerous, as cursed as Cabell is, and the survivors are wary. I was fascinated by this section of the book, and what the characters go through. There were so many scenes that pulled at my emotions, and my heart went out to Tamsin. She went through so much, and the events in this book only pushed her more and more out of her comfort zones. The final quarter of the book was one jaw-dropping revelation after another, and then it ends in something of a cliffhanger. I normally hate those, but this cliffhanger creates so many questions in addition to the "WHAT?! You can't end it like that!" feeling that I forgive it. And want book two NOW so I can find out what happens next.

Buy Silver in the Bone at Amazon

Blood Debts by Terry J Benton

book cover of young adult fantasy novel Blood Debts by Terry J Benton
April 2023; Tor Teen; 978-1250825926
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); YA fantasy

Thirty years ago, a young woman was murdered, a family was lynched, and there was the largest magical massacre that New Orleans had ever seen. In its wake, the magical queen was dethroned. Now, sixteen-year-old twins Clement and Cristina Trudeau mourn their father and care for their sick mother. They accidentally discover she's not sick, she's cursed by someone who will come for them next. Cristina stopped practicing magic after she cast an ancient spell that killed her father, and Clement uses magic as a distraction. While they no longer speak to each other, they must team up to defend their family and solve the murder, or else New Orleans may see another massacre.

We switch primarily between the perspectives of the twins and Valentina, Cris' former best friend and the granddaughter of the current council family. They're subject to thirty years and generations of secrets, and the enmity between them all is due to misunderstanding, jealousy, and in Valentina's case, a drive to prove herself as well. Add this to a backdrop of political and racial landmines, and it's a very tense world for the Trudeau twins. Cris discovers that her boyfriend wasn't who she thought he was, and magic isn't the terrible thing she feared it was. Clement finds love and has a running gag with Yves about the meaning of life; its heartbreaking when he decides what it actually means. As the story progresses we see more of their family and the influence of the council, as well as how far the corruption goes.

The magic is first presented as sun vs moon, with the voodoo-inspired generational magic coming from the moon. It can do very impressive things, and the gods invoked are real and can manifest if they choose to. Sun magic, using crystals or jewelry as well as other incantations is a different realm and one that isn't called to be regulated. Most of that is in the background, but I have no doubt that it will make an appearance if future books are set in this world. We have a satisfying ending, but lots of loose ends left. I can't wait to see what happens next for the city and the Trudeau family. All magic and choices have consequences, which are fascinating to see. 

Buy Blood Debts at Amazon

Pieces of Me by Kate McLaughlin

book cover of young adult novel Pieces of Me by Kate McLaughlin
April 2023; Wednesday Books; 978-1250264343
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); Young Adult

Eighteen-year-old Dylan wakes up in an apartment she doesn’t recognize, surrounded by people she doesn't know. She finds out that she’s been missing for three days. This leads to being diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, the result of a secret from her past so terrible she’s blocked it out. Her only distraction is developing a relationship with Connor, one of the strangers in that apartment. As she figures out her past, Dylan wonders if will it heal her or fracture her further.

The opening chapters really hook you in as Dylan realized she was missing three days, and tried to figure out why. She has a history of missing time, off behavior, and people who called her by different names. When flashbacks begin, we learn what kind of trauma led to the fracturing of Dylan's personality. None of it is graphic or on the page, but enough is there that we get the idea. The real draw is that we're in her head as she learns about her diagnosis, figures out how to communicate with her alters, and navigates the system. This is a situation that also affects her family and the burgeoning relationship with Connor, who really is a nice guy who does his best to stay with her and understand what happened. Dylan's parents, twin brother and best friend might not always get it right, but they try hard to figure out how to deal with the development and progression of treatment, especially when it gets rough. The book is well-researched and heartfelt in its presentation, giving us a glimpse into the complicated world that people with DID live.

Buy Pieces of Me at Amazon

A Hunger of Thorns by Lili Wilkinson

book cover of young adult fantasy novel A Hunger of Thorns by Lili Wilkinson
April 2023; Delacorte Press; 978-0593562666
audio, ebook, print (432 pages); YA fantasy

As the daughter of witches, Maude ran wild with her best friend Odette. When she lost her magic, she also lost her best friend. In time, magic became more about glamour patches and psychic energy drinks. Odette wanted forbidden, dangerous magic, and two weeks ago she went searching for it. Maude is the only one that doesn't think she's dead. She’s sure she can find Odette inside the ruins of Sicklehurst, an abandoned power plant built over an ancient magical forest. No one else remembers it or what might be inside, and most stories about those kinds of places include a monster.

The world-building from page one is fantastic. The world not only has magic, it's been the cause of battles and constrained by laws and conventions so that it's become commonplace and sold in malls. The commercial lure of these charms, disposable and cheap, drives the business of the large magical companies. There's also a dark undercurrent, one that leads school principals to oversee magical children like Maude and all but herd them into desired paths. "But if you stay home all the time, stories never happen. Sometimes you need to break something in order for the story to leak through the cracks." I love that line, and how it perfectly encapsulates fantasy stories. 

Maude for the longest time is caught up in saving Odette, even though they aren't friends anymore, even though she has no magic and doesn't feel brave. But she knows stories and the logic of them, and that someone needs to save the princess. Everyone has a gift, even if they don't realize it or know how to use it. She goes on her quest, making mistakes even though she should know better. She loses track of what she's meant to do, of how others have tried to help and failed. Her realization in the finale is quite a doozy, and I absolutely adored it. The individual responsibility is there, as are the talents of each person involved. Constraints choke off function and healthy responses, and there's no way to heal from the past just by sealing it off and pretending it was never there. It's such a great representation for so many things, tucked into a fantasy tale. Maybe endings aren't quite what they expected, but it fits and had me grinning in the end. The novel is beautifully written, lyrical and full of longing, grief, and the need to belong. 

Buy A Hunger of Thorns at Amazon

The Cherished by Patricia Ward

book cover of young adult horror novel The Cherished by Patricia Ward
April 2023; HarperTeen; 978-0063235113
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); YA horror

Jo was left a house and a mysterious letter from her absent grandmother. She never expected to receive anything, and the property feels strange once she arrives. The tenants are odd, and there is a dark presence behind the shack behind the house. If this is real, then her father's delusions might not have been delusions after all.

The first half of the book is definitely the normal world: Jo feeling different from her very highbrow and cultured maternal grandparents, and the passive-aggressive country club life she never fits into. She's a teenager that isn't listened to and resents it, so she leaps at the thought of inheriting a place separate from them. She always believed her father had schizophrenia, and that his stories of fairies and their dangers were manifestations of that. It's what she was told and what her mother believed until we find out that it's very real. Fairies had stolen away children, and the portal they use is on her grandmother's property. 

Introducing us to this world happens a little at a time, and Jo realizes what it means long before her mother does. She also realizes the real meaning behind her grandmother's letter, the hard but necessary work that has to be done, and what happens to the children that are taken. We see how hard it is, how exhausting and thankless that task is, and know it must be repeated. It's a chilling realization for her and for us, too. There's no easy solution, but it's a thrilling ride to get to the conclusion of the book. I really enjoyed the book, and the odd little Vermont town she must protect.

Buy The Cherished at Amazon

Harley Quinn: Ravenous by Rachael Allen

book cover of Harley Quinn: Ravenous by Rachael Allen
April 2023; Random House; 978-0593429907
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); YA superhero

Harleen Quinzel wakes up with no recollection of the past few months, and she tries to put her life back together. She starts classes at Gotham University and an internship at Arkham Asylum. Harleen is soon paired with the notorious Talia al Ghūl at Arkham. Talia is brilliant, making Harleen question what is good and bad. Talia becomes more of a mentor than a patient, leading Harleen’s dark impulses to surface again. The only way to stop the terror that haunts the halls of Arkham Asylum may be to let her darkness out.

This is the second book of the Harley Quinn origin trilogy. I missed the first book, but there are enough context clues that I didn't feel like I was missing out. Harley had been in a girl gang and helped take down a professor that was using students in experiments. She's interning at Arkham Asylum and wants to do well, as she's a poor orphan at the university. At the same time, working within the constraints of polite society takes so long; this is the frustration that Talia senses and taps into. Pamela Isley is here as well, a reimagined origin that puts her in Harley's orbit as her new best friend and someone invested in social justice and environmental issues. 

As the novel progresses, we're given clues to the mysterious figure stalking the halls of Arkham Asylum at night, though if you're familiar with the overall DC Universe you know who it is. The tension is then when and how will Harley find out, and what will she do about it. This takes up the second half of the novel and is far more exciting to read. She juggles her different impulses and truly wants to protect others, even if it's from herself. She doesn't know who to trust, even if we do, and the conclusion of the novel is a fun showdown that still leaves room for more. Harley's had several different backstories at this point, but this is a really fun version to work with.

Buy Harley Quinn: Ravenous at Amazon

Hungry Ghost by Victoria Ying

book cover of young adult graphic novel Hungry Ghost by Victoria Ying
April 2023; First Second; 978-1250766991
ebook, print (208 pages); YA graphic novel

Valerie Chu is quiet, studious, and thin. No one knew she was binging and purging for years. Tragedy forces Val to reevaluate her priorities, choices, and her own body. The path to happiness may be far from her hometown and her mother's toxic projections―but first, she will have to find the strength to seek help.

The book is in graphic novel format, so it reads quickly. From the start, Valerie's mother tells her just to taste food, not really eat it. She's to be a good girl and do everything right, stay thin and bring pride to her parents. Valerie's mother even berates her sister's food on holidays for having too many calories. The strain is constantly there, and we can see it in how Valerie is drawn in each panel. Even in her happier moments, that tension is there and never leaves her. The disaster that hits her family forces her to reevaluate her priorities and take the steps necessary to set boundaries and seek help. 

This is an honest look at disordered eating, with features of bulimia and anorexia. The world of disordered eating isn't always neatly classified, and we can see here some of the ways it can develop and be maintained. The stress reaches a breaking point before it's potentially lethal for Valerie, but not everyone gets that chance. The novel has contact information for various organizations at the end so people can learn more and get support if they or people they know need help. 

Buy Hungry Ghost at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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