Marissa Grossman is an Editorial Assistant at Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. Like any self-respecting pop culture addict, she watches far too much television and loves all things social media. You can find her on Twitter @marissagrossman.
I might be cheating a little, since this book won’t be available until 2015, but I can’t imagine leaving it off my list. The Law of Loving Others tells the story of Emma, who returns home from boarding school to find that her mother is in the middle of a schizophrenic break. Debut author Kate Axelrod’s stunning, emotional novel takes us inside Emma’s mind as she struggles with the shocking news of her mother’s condition and the questions it raises about her own mental health. Are Emma’s moments of anxiety and distant feelings toward her boyfriend a normal reaction to something so stressful, or could they be a precursor to her own battle with schizophrenia? Can she handle such upheaval in her family, or is she just too fragile? Even if you’ve never had to deal with mental illness in your own life, you’ll definitely relate to Emma’s heart-wrenching journey as she learns what it means to love others–and herself–unconditionally.
Somehow, this South African import has remained a mostly undiscovered gem. Sharing Catcher in the Rye’s wit and prep-school setting, Spud is a rollicking update on Salinger’s classic. The novel takes place in 1990 South Africa, just as Nelson Mandela is being released from prison and the country is beginning its march toward the end of apartheid. It’s a seminal moment in South Africa’s–and the world’s–history, but it’s seen through the eyes of 13-year-old John “Spud” Milton, who’s just trying to get through his first year at boarding school. Though the novel’s setting may be specific, the coming-of-age themes are universal. Spud deals with mischievous roommates, a hilariously eccentric family, his first crush, feelings of alienation, and even death. This novel is filled with moments of intense heartbreak and unbridled joy; it’s cathartic, relatable, and uplifting. If you’re a fan of grounded YA, this one’s for you.
So here’s the thing: if you had seen my three-year-old cousin dressed up as Ladybug Girl for Halloween, you’d adore this series too. Lulu/Ladybug Girl is spunky, fearless, and imaginative. She’s basically everything you could ask for in a children’s book character. And the fact that she has a basset hound named Bingo? Well that’s just icing on the cake.
Ok, this is another one that isn’t available quite yet, but I promise it’s worth the wait. Do you love astrology? Great! Do you know little-to-nothing about astrology? Same here! While Zodiac’s premise may revolve around the astrological signs, it’s really the perfect novel for anyone who loves thrilling adventures, epic worlds, and compelling characters. Romina Russell’s world-building is magnificent, reimagining the Zodiac as 12 different solar systems, each populated with characters who personify the traits of their respective signs. The protagonist, Rho, is a sci-fi Katniss Everdeen: a badass leader with just the right mix of snark and empathy. You’ll fall in love with Rho, a protective and loving Cancer, and you’ll definitely have trouble deciding which of the men in her life you like best: the brooding, sensitive Mathias (a Cancer like Rho), or Hysan, the charming, confident Libra. No matter which sign you are, you’ll adore this jaw-dropping blockbuster of a book.
Find more books on the Young Readers page!