Burn Baby Burn

Nora López is finishing high school uncertain about the future. Encouraged to apply to the New York City Community College trades program, she can’t imagine being able to go when her mom, Mima, struggles to pay the rent. When recent murders of young, dark-haired women in the city turn out to be the actions of a serial killer, who begins writing letters to the press signed “Son of Sam,” the growing tension and fear is tangible.

American Girls

Anna, 15, ran away to her older sister Delia’s in Los Angeles using her stepmother’s credit card to buy a plane ticket, a cost Anna’s now expected to repay. Delia’s boyfriend, Dex, writes for a Disneyesque series called Chips Ahoy! Anna spends days with Dex while Delia goes to auditions and appears in her former boyfriend Roger’s independent movie. Meanwhile, Roger has hired Anna to research Charles Manson for his film. The inanity of Chips Ahoy! is stark contrast to the Manson murders, not to mention the uneasy life of beautiful Delia, whom Anna fears is being stalked.

Salt to the Sea

The sinking of the Nazi passenger ship Wilhelm Gustloff, killing an estimated 9,000 evacuees escaping the advancing Russian army in the last days of WWII, inspired this riveting, haunting novel. Joanna and Emilia are refugees; Florian is on the run for reasons he won’t reveal. All three teens are desperate to reach the Polish port where German ships are waiting. Each is struggling with a secret and all are damaged by what they’ve experienced, unable to easily trust, but they form a makeshift family with other travelers.

Anna and the Swallow Man

Seven-year-old Anna is captivated by the tall stranger she meets on the streets of Krakow. Maybe it’s because he is kind to her; maybe it’s that he speaks many languages, like she does; maybe it’s the way he charms a small bird. On her own since the Germans took her father, Anna follows him and the two become unlikely traveling companions.

Carry On

In her novel Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell referenced a Harry Potter-esque fantasy about a wizard named Simon Snow. Carry On is Simon’s story, or the last volume of it. Now 17, Simon is an orphan who’s been attending a wizarding school since he was 11. He’s considered the chosen one among wizards, and the Mage who oversees the school is a father figure to him. Sound familiar? The world of magic is threatened by the Insidious Humdrum, a force that destroys magic and manifests looking like eleven-year-old Simon. Simon’s roommate, Baz, is a privileged boy from an old, arrogant and potentially dangerous wizarding family.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Mikey, his sister Mel(inda), and their friends Henna and Jared, are about to graduate high school. Mel has anorexia and Mikey lives with severe anxiety and OCD, neither fitting the image their high-aspiring politician mother wants their family to project. Henna’s parents plan on taking her to the Central African Republic to do missionary work, despite the war there. Jared feels the weight of being an only child on the verge of leaving his single-parent father. Jared is also a god. Well, technically a quarter-god. And there is the delicious twist in this emotionally rich story about facing a time of transition and uncertainty: The otherworldly is real.

All American Boys

Authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely put the issues of police bias and violence against Blacks and white privilege front and center in this novel that alternates between the voices of high school students Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins. African American Rashad is brutalized by a white police officer who makes a snap judgment of a scene and assumes Rashad was harassing a white woman and stealing at a neighborhood store where he’d gone to buy potato chips. Quinn, who is white, shows up as handcuffed Rashad is being pummeled by the cop on the sidewalk outside.

The Boy in the Black Suit

After his mother dies, Matt finds comfort in an unexpected place: the neighborhood funeral parlor. Owner Mr. Ray offers Matt a job, and in addition to helping get things ready for the post-funeral receptions, Matt likes sitting in on the services. Observing other people who are grieving gives Matt a way to see his own pain from the outside in. Mr. Ray becomes a surrogate father to Matt, and it’s a role Matt welcomes since his own dad, also devastated, has started drinking again and ends up in the hospital. Meanwhile, at one of the funerals, the principle mourner is a teenage girl named Love. Soon Matt and Love become friends and are on their way to falling in love.

X: A Novel

A novelized account of Malcolm X’s early life is full of both a young man’s promise and the pain of racism and struggle of being Black in America. Growing up in 1930s Lansing, Michigan, Malcolm stands out as exceptional in a family that nurtured education and achievement. His outspoken father is killed when Malcolm is six. Seven years later, his mother, struggling to keep her family together and live by her values, is institutionalized. Malcolm leaves Lansing for Boston after a white teacher makes clear he thinks college out of Malcolm’s reach. Malcolm feels betrayed by his father’s promises.

Bone Gap

Teenage Finn is the only person in Bone Gap who believes Roza, a young woman relatively new to town, was abducted. Finn is sure Roza was a prisoner in the car he saw her riding in, but he can’t describe the driver. Everyone else thinks he made up the story and was in love with Roza. In truth, Finn’s older brother Sean is the one in love with Roza, and Finn feels increasingly frustrated by Sean’s distant behavior and seeming lack of concern: Sean clearly assumes Roza left Bone Gap—and him—of her own accord.