New in YA: August Picks from Our Teen Advisory Board

This spring, we started a Teen Advisory Board made up of passionate YA readers from Houston-area middle and high schools. They've been busy reading (and reading and reading) ever since, looking out for fun genre reads, topical pageturners, swoonworthy rom-coms, and everything in between.

Good news, folks: There are lots of amazing YA books coming out this fall. Read on to learn about our Board's top YA picks for August across a variety of genres—including the first book selected for our brand new YA First Editions Club subscription program (sign up by August 10 to start your subscription in September!). Whether you're a bookworm, book blogger, influencer, collector, weekend reader, or just someone who loves a good story, you're sure to find something you'll love below.

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

Reed’s excellent writing shines and reflects the sad truth of today's America in this masterpiece of a debut novel. This novel stars Ashley Bennett, a wealthy African-American girl who attends a predominantly white private school that reeks of quiet discrimination in Los Angeles. Ashley's story of her struggle to find herself in a world with so much background noise is told, as she looks around and starts to notice the stark contrast between her life of luxury and the disturbing treatment of African-Americans on the news and in real life everywhere she turns. This timely book takes place in the early 1990s during the protesting of the brutal treatment of Rodney King, with riots and looting in the background that adds to this intriguing plot. As Ashley goes through this formative journey of self-discovery, she starts to see how all of the seemingly small acts of discrimination in her own life lead to a much bigger picture that affects Ashley and the people she loves more than she originally thought.

I thoroughly enjoyed and devoured this book!! This novel was an excellent piece of literature, and although this book was set in the 1990s, it highlights the inequity African-Americans face in America today. Reed's writing flowed page after page, and her vivid language instantly transported me to Los Angeles. I learned so much from this book, and it was impossible to put down. I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for an insightful fictional read that ties in real-life events and gives insight to the terrifying, discriminatory, culture African-Americans still face today.
—Gabriella T.

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Start a subscription to our YA First Editions Club, and you’ll receive this book in your September mailing. You’ll also get a bookplate signed by the author, a branded bookmark, and an invitation to a virtual author event with Christina Hammonds Reed!

They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman

Jill Newman is under pressure. It's senior year and she is on scholarship at her fancy private school. Jill must maintain top grades to keep it, so that she doesn't disappoint or further financially burden her parents. Being part of the secret society "The Players" helps. She has access to the answer keys to all the tests at school, and very accurate study guides to the SAT and ACT. However to get to this point she had to complete several deadly challenges her freshman year. But this year, the first year with the girls in charge of the selection of newbies, Jill vows that things will be different. She has to do all this while still grappling with the loss of her best friend Shaila, who was murdered by her boyfriend Graham during their freshman initiation. She had known both of them since middle school, which is why when she gets texts claiming Graham's innocence she risks everything to investigate. She soon learns that nothing in her town of Gold Coast is as it seems.

This book was gripping—it had me staying up way too late to see how it ended. I feel like the author Jess Goodman really understands the stress and feelings of high school students. I would recommend this book mostly to readers who love romantic and dramatic books.
—Anna S.

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Illegal: A Disappeared Novel by Francisco X. Stork

In an attempt to liberate kidnapped girls and expose a notorious cartel, Sara steals a valuable possession from a dangerous cartel leader. Doing so, she puts not only her life, but also her family's lives, in danger. The ramification of her actions prompts the separation of her family, comprised of Sara, her mother, and her brother Emiliano.

In order to achieve justice for the girls, Sara and Emiliano decide that it is best for them to split at the border. Sara's journey takes place in a detention facility along the border, where she hopes for asylum. Through her experiences, she notes the inhumane treatment of the asylees in the stark facility. While Sarah is struggling to maintain her faith in the detention center, Emiliano struggles to assimilate into the city. His journey takes place in Chicago, where he is an undocumented immigrant who is determined to finish what his sister started. This story highlights the starkness of being an undocumented immigrant located in both detention centers and rural areas. It acknowledges that regardless of the condition, immigrating to America brings forth challenges as well as optimism.
—Bailey Z.

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More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood

This novel follows the life of a self-starting teenage chef, Jilani, who struggles heavily in school but makes up for it with his good looks and funny jokes. When he is asked to represent his history class in a highly exclusive academic competition at his academy, everyone is shocked to see Jilani chosen for such a coveted position due to his lack of academic motivation. Enlisting the help of his lifelong crush Kaval and a new marriage prospect Bisma, Jilani embarks on an extensive journey into his identity and cultural heritage, which eventually leads to a better understanding of the future he seeks.

I really enjoyed this book because it was a mixture of different elements including historical opinions, descriptive cooking scenes, romantic encounters, and ancestry. The story had a nice range of characters that all tested Jilani, leading to his strong character development. I also felt that this story was nicely paced and many scenes in this book were rich in detailed description. All of these ingredients fused together to create a story that flowed nicely and led to a swoonworthy ending.
—Gabriella T.

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Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Ten-year-old Della has not had it easy. After her mom was arrested, she and her older sister Suki lived with their mom's boyfriend, Clifton. Until one day Clifton does something terrible and Della and Suki are forced to flee. They end up in foster care and both sisters have to adjust to their new lives as well as figure out their plans for the future. Della is caught up in her own struggles at school, where she constantly gets in trouble for cursing, so she doesn’t even realize how deeply her sister is suffering until the day that Suki tries to take her own life. All of a sudden, Della’s world is completely shaken, and in the aftermath, she must decide how to confront horrible new truths and use her voice to stand up and speak out.

Fighting Words is a bold and stunning late middle grade / early teen book that tackles the topic of child sexual abuse. I really appreciated how this book didn’t shy away from difficult themes and went into the details of trauma and therapy. Although there are difficult scenes, I think the author was tasteful in choosing the most impactful details while leaving other parts vague and being careful of its younger audience. I was extremely impressed and moved by Della’s story, and I found her a compelling character who felt vivid and real. This book is so important because it sheds light on deeply traumatic experiences faced by so many children throughout the world, while also tackling seemingly minor aggressions like young boys touching girls without permission on the playground. This book demonstrates the longterm dangers of permitting these inappropriate behaviors, and teaches the importance of consent and not feeling ashamed to speak up when something is not okay. Highly recommend.
—Charis W.

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Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

Sheetal has always just wanted to be a normal teenage girl, but deep down she knows she isn’t. Sheetal is half star. Her mother taught her as much as she could about the stars before she had to return to the sky. After a tragic accident where she loses control of her powers and hurts her mortal father, her aunt Radhikafoi reveals a letter from her mom. The letter takes her on an adventure to Svargalok with her best friend Minal to save the one she loves. When she arrives, she is entered into a competition by her family to decide who the next ruling house of the stars will be. But the competition turns out to be more than it looks like on the surface. Along the way, Sheetal meets old and new friends and gains a number of enemies.

This book was quite enjoyable. I learned a lot about Hindu mythology, which was something I knew almost nothing about before.
—Jillian P.

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The Whitsun Daughters by Carrie Mesrobian

The Whitsun Daughters is a heart-plucking, haunting story of three young sisters struggling to find a way out of an unplanned pregnancy in their rural farming community during modern times. A female figure from a distant past watches over and reflects in vivid detail her own story lifetimes ago of her own fight for her life and future. As the story progresses, so do the three sisters as they navigate the physical and psychological challenges that often present themselves for three developing young women. The ghost that watches over all of them provides commentary on the sisters' story, while also detailing her own from when she was alive on that very farm.

Overall, I found this book delightful. I have never read a story as short, yet complex, and compelling as this one. I love the extremely poetic, yet at times, vulgar and straightforward dialogue and narration. Mesrobian balances a compelling historical narrative against a bold, modern, and relatable teenage take of the life of three sisters. A fascinating read for anyone interested in both historical fiction and contemporary classics.
—Jillian H.

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