Best Young Adult Books We’ve Recently Reviewed
Every day, Hidden Gems subscribers receive the opportunity to review hundreds of complimentary books spanning more than 15 genres – hopefully leaving an honest review on Amazon when they’re done. A regular feature on this blog is a periodic highlight of some true ‘Hidden Gems’ our subscribers discovered in various genres, and why you might want to check them out. Keep coming back for the latest lists, categorized by genre, and learn about some of the best books that we’ve recently sent out. Or, join our list of readers and help discover future gems yourself!
With the summer stretching on, it was only natural that YA books saw a big surge – and that was no exception in the Hidden Gems program, either. We shared some great titles with subscribers, and it was tough to choose our ten favorites of the summer months. Nevertheless, here are the best young adult books that got us and our reviewers excited to stay in and read.
Lifeline by Abby Nash
Lifeline is the debut novel by Abby Lee Nash, a Philadelphia-based author who teaches writing and literature at Bryn Athyn College. A hard-hitting book delving deep into issues affecting teenagers right here and now, the book explores the controversial subject of teenage drug addiction through visceral storytelling and vividly compelling characters.
“The opioid crisis in America is a fascinating topic,” writes reviewer Edaviscr, “and Lifeline explores its connection to a high school student with familial support and a close peer group. Eli’s journey from popular jock to addict intimately illustrates the way the opioid crisis has sprung up across America and not just in at-risk populations. Lifeline’s pace and style along with a healthy blend of humor intermixed with tragedy make it a fast and worthwhile read.”
“Lifeline is an emotionally charged read that goes a long way towards explaining the allure of addiction and the all-too circuitous path out of the pain,” writes Gretchen Haertsch. “This is a novel that confronts recovery head-on and without blinking.”
Two Moons by RE Johnston
Young Adult novels are often pioneering in their exploration of new and edgy subjects – and Two Moons is no exception. Written by Texas-based author RE Johnston, this sci-fi tale is set on a distant world in which all inhabitants vividly recollect a second life they once led, on Earth.
Student Jay Shipman, for example, can remember every detail of a past life as a woman, on Earth. He was once Ri Sun-Hui – a loving mother and brilliant scientist desperate to protect the only thing she cared about; her daughter. When Jay’s home planet of Duorth is threatened, unlocking the secrets of Sun-Hui might be the only way to save his people.
“Two Moons is a fascinating read following characters that our youth can identify with, and it brings so many social, religious, and political concepts to light,” writes reviewer Susan. “I believe this story has wide appeal. Adults will enjoy the thought provoking study in the socio-political environment while young adults will identify with the adolescent who enjoys video games, his friends, and his girlfriend. It has the depth of character and connection to family and young love that ground it in our reality today, while at the same allowing your imagination to soar.”
Waiting for Walker by Robin Reardon
Critics hailed the summer blockbuster Love, Simon, and in many ways this book fits into the same mold – and then breaks it. It’s the tale of teenager Micah, who is grieving the loss of his brother, and struggling with being a closeted gay student in high school. But suddenly, from left field, a whole new dimension to his life is opened up when he meets mysterious Walker; a young man with a secret even more difficult to open up about than Micah’s sexuality.
Reviewer Mark Ian Kendrick wrote a great review about this unique book: “I truly enjoyed this story about young love. Since one of the main characters is intersex, that casts an entirely different feel to this story about young gay people than you’ll find from any other novel on this subject. But it’s not just the story line that’s good here. It’s Robin’s writing style. Oh, can she weave a story! Over and over again she threw me for a loop with plot twists. Three times she ‘did that to me’ – eg, unexpected things happened that drove me to find out what happens next. In the course of these plot twists I watched as Robin slowly and carefully caused Micah to grow and change. Because the story is in first person POV we stayed inside Micah’s head and experienced this growth. It was very well paced.”
Ascendant by Rebecca Taylor
Ascendant is the first book in a series guaranteed to drive history and literature nuts like me insane. The heroine is young Charlotte, a direct descendant of Francis Bacon (which, in this book, was the true identity of William Shakespeare.) When Charlotte’s mother goes missing, she needs to travel the world to find her – and the destiny that awaits her.
The winner of the Colorado Book Award, I felt that Ascendant had a similar style to books like the Percy Jackson series, without the strong mythological elements, while other readers have described it as a Young Adult version of The Da Vinci Code. Reviewers like Richard M. Kennedy agree – writing: “The plot is well drawn and clever, the characters are without question, sympathetic, rich, fascinating and some of them downright menacing.”
Reviewer Alison M was similarly enthusiastic, admitting: “I’m surprisingly dumbstruck by this brilliant story and anxiously anticipating reading the next book in the trilogy. A suspenseful story line full of love triangles, unexpected plot twists and characters that engulfed every heart-wrenching emotion. I’m truly hooked on this new author.”
Midheaven by Rebecca Taylor
Fans of Ascendant didn’t need to wait long to read the follow-up, as subscribers were offered a chance to review it the same month. Midheaven is the the second book in the Ascendant Trilogy, and it continues Charlotte’s journey as she tries to unravel her family mystery.
As the second book in the series, some admitted that it was a little difficult to get into without having read the first part – others disagreed, however; with CrissyGrace writing: “I read Midheaven without having read Ascendant. Usually I get frustrated when I start a series in the middle because I can tell from reading I have missed parts of the story. That was not the case with Midheaven. It is a well written story that just draws you in quickly.”
Karen b praised the female protagonist, writing: “I love the character of Charlotte. She is thoughtful, courageous, and spunky. I really feel for her.”
For those who had read the first book in the series, the experience was even better. Alison M wrote: “This was one series that had me reading hours beyond bedtime! From page one of Ascendant, I was transported into the story & connected easily with the characters. By the final page, I couldn’t wait to continue the story so I downloaded Midheaven at midnight & kept reading!”
Change of Darkness by Jacinta Jade
The Change series by Jacinta Jade is already well-established, and subscribers this month got the chance to read the third installment, Change of Darkness.
As with previous installments, the book follows our heroine Siray, who is in a continued battle for survival against The Faction; and in this book, finds herself starting to wonder if she’s more of a danger to everything she’s fighting for than her enemy itself.
“The author has woven such a fantastic world here,” writes Brittany Garvey in her review, “although this book does need to be read in order, and it is a cliffhanger.”
Fortunately, longer-term subscribers to Hidden Gems had the opportunity to read the previous two installments – and will hopefully get free copies of the ones to come, as well. That makes all the difference, as reviewer Evelyn Dotson recommends: “you MUST read the first two books, and if you do – you will NOT be disappointed. I LOVE the plots, the characters, and the different settings. It’s a MUST read on anyone’s lists.”
Shift by M.A. George
I loved the opening of this tense and vivid Young Adult novel, which sees teenage Perry experiencing increasingly vivid dreams to the point that she starts to question her own sanity. Like in most science fiction and fantasy books, however, Perry’s madness is actually a glimpse into a larger world; and she soon discovers that she has special powers – that come with an equally special responsibility attached.
Kim B explains the premise in her review: “The title of the book gives away the concept here. Perry is “shifting” through different worlds. She’s not the only one who can do it, but there are plenty in every world who can’t. Like learning a new language, Perry struggles to grasp these concepts. When something tragic happens in one of her Scapes, she doesn’t have time to ease into the Shifting. This tragedy has to be rectified quickly.”
Reviewer Sarah Hill praises the strong female protagonist and M.A. George’s skill in bringing her to life on the page: “Perry is stubborn, full of sarcasm and definitely has a “flair for the dramatic”. Like many female leads in YA, she just doesn’t know what she has…until she loses it. However, she still comes off as very human instead of like a stereotype.”
The Sparks by Kyle Prue
Kyle Prue wrote The Sparks when he was just 16-years-old, and has since signed a two-movie deal to see his Epic Feud trilogy brought to the big screen. This means The Sparks will likely make it onto a lot of lists of the best young adult books – but for good reason. It’s the tale of a 16-year-old master assassin, who needs to bring together three warring factions so that together they can combat an ancient and all-encompassing threat to their home city.
What’s remarkable to me about this book is how many of the reviewers are teenagers themselves – Kyle Prue has a real gift for connecting with readers not much younger than he is. Reviewer Brady Hiatt wrote: “Seeing the characters develop over the course of the story was amazing, as their personalities grew, ideals changed, and relationships grew. It was a great read, and while the beginning for me personally was a little confusing the first time, it was an amazing read.”
AudioBook Reviewer wrote: “Kyle Prue did an excellent job of crafting the story line and developing the characters. I enjoyed the bantering back and forth and the final scene of the remaining survivors coming together. The character’s behaviors as each hurdle was discovered and faced was realistic demonstrating clearly how difficult egos can be and what it takes to get past them.”
The Outcasts: The Blood Dagger by Misty Hayes
It’s hell being a teenager – and for Larna Collins, that’s literally true.
That’s the setup to Misty Hayes’ Blood Dagger series, which sees Larna struggle against other-wordly enemies like vampires, and also instantly relateable challenges – like battles against the oh-so-familiar school bullies.
Reviewers have praised the book for so seamlessly blending the fantastical and the relateable, with msb2199 writing: “The book hooked me from the start. The reader is introduced to Larna, the protagonist, in the first page and she is a wonderful character. Spunky, nerdy and funny, Larna isn’t the typical heroine that resides in this genre. In fact, she very overweight and has extremely low self esteem (not the typical shy but secretly hot girl that usually populates this genre). Losing her father at a young age caused her to turn to food as a balm with predictable results. This causes her to suffer greatly from the bullies at her school. Those of us who remember the social hierarchy in high school can imagine how she is treated by her peers.”
Exile by Karen Harris Tully
Last year, the first book in the Faarian Chronicles Trilogy was recognized as a finalist for the Kindle Book Review award, and author Karen Harris Tully had won a litany of fans for her out-of-this-world series that still manages to incorporate many real-world issues.
For example, the not-quite-of-either-world experience of protagonist Sunny; who finds herself exiled to a distant alien planet when the truth of her half-alien heritage emerges. Struggling for survival makes a real change from struggling to make the athletics team – and Sunny’s life has truly changed.
Reviewer Emma wrote: ” It is nice to read a sci-fi/fantasy book with strong, prominent female leads. I really appreciated the author’s way of switching gender roles for some of the characters too. Very refreshing. I definitely recommend this book to the younger generations.”
Larry Bee praised the diversity too, and the imaginative setting and storyline: “It’s a coming of age story of a Teenage girl who learns that she is of 2 worlds and is sent to live in the other world she knows nothing about. This is what makes this story both unique, fascinating and likeable.”