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This next two months will bring many highly-anticipated debuts from young-adult authors. Their books feature witches and party princesses, reluctant romances of all persuasions, doomsday cults, 1925 Chicago and the Vietnamese restaurant version of Romeo and Juliet. These novels might be first-time publications, but they’ve been a long time coming for the authors, all of whom have been writing stories in some form or another since childhood.”
Not Quite Out, by Louise Willingham (February 9, SRL Publishing)
This LGBTQIA relationship novel explores many sensitive issues. The story takes place during the college years of the main protagonists, William and Daniel. The former bisexual, but not ready to commit, the latter a recovering addict who’s very ready for life. While William is “not quite out,” Daniel’s abusive ex is on the lookout for any weakness to work his way back into Daniel’s life. The two deal with their individual demons all the while finding their way back to each other. The publisher’s content warning includes “abortion, PTSD, drug addition, abusive relations, and self-harm,” which makes Not Quite Out all the more enticing.
Hot British Boyfriend, by Kristy Boyce (February 9, Harper Teen)
What better way to run away from a humiliating viral video starring yourself than to study abroad in England? This is exactly what Ellie does, hoping to save face at her new school upon returning with a “hot British boyfriend.” She’s on her way to achieving this quest when she meets Will, who is hot and British, and hopefully will become her boyfriend. This is happening with the help of Dev, one of her classmates who has more in common with Will than Ellie. Acting as a Cyrano of sorts, Dev coaches Ellie on how to connect with Will on his level. But is this really who she wants to be? Hot British Boyfriend is a lighthearted teen romance blended with personal growth and increasing self-confidence.
A Pho Love Story, by Loan Le (February 9, Simon Teen)
Bao and Linh are the Romeo and Juliet of this dueling Vietnamese restaurant love story. Their parents own competing pho restaurants in the same neighborhood where the self-described unremarkable Bao and the arty and dreamy Linh, respectively, work. Despite working the same area, the two have somehow managed to avoid each other. When they do accidentally meet, there is instant chemistry, followed by having to deal with their families’ antagonistic histories. Witty and charming dialogue makes A Pho Love Story a definite romantic comedy rather than a tragedy.
Amelia Unabridged, by Ashley Schumacher (February 16, Wednesday Books)
“Don’t meet your heroes,” the saying goes. This is both true and untrue for the titular character in Amelia Unabridged. Her favorite book series saved Amelia after her father left, and also brought her to her best friend, Jenna. But then Jenna meets the series’ author at a book festival and Amelia doesn’t, which results in a massive fight. Then Jenna dies in a car accident, leaving Amelia adrift. In a twist of magical realism, Amelia receives a rare edition of the series, which she believes is from Jenna. She traces the books’ journey only to come face-to-face with the author. The book explores issues of friendship and grief, and to a lesser degree, romance, eventually resolving the issue of “meeting your heroes.”
Prepped, by Bethany Mangle (February 23, Margaret K. McElderry Books)
Fascinating premise in this thriller/deadpan comedy where the main protagonist, Becca, lives in a doomsday preppers community, a group that is in constant survivalist mode. Becca is intent on getting as far away from this community as soon as possible and taking her younger sister with her—all the while the community is planning on her marrying go-along get-along Roy. When an accident ramps up the doomsday mentality of the community, Roy surprises Becca when he suggests they run away together. Cult stories don’t show up in young adult literature nearly enough and this particular type of mentality is very apt for contemporary society.
Once Upon a Quinceañera, by Monica Gomez-Hira (March 2, Harper Teen)
Imagine being a party princess to make up credits in order to graduate high school. Beats slogging through equations and churning out research papers. Or does it? Carmen Aguilar would beg to differ as pretending to be a princess is far away from her life in Miami. She is partnered with her ex-boyfriend, Mauro, for her cousin’s quinceañera, where she has to deal not only with Mauro, but her estranged aunt and her own canceled party. Miami in not the only hot and sweaty element of this flavorful, telenovela-esque tale of family and relationships.
American Betiya, by Anuradha D. Rajurkar (March 9, Knopf)
A cross-cultural love story, the dutiful “betiya” or daughter, Rani, is on her way to fulfilling her parents’ wishes for her to become a doctor. Then she meets Oliver: white, covered with tattoos and piercings, and an artist. She enters into a secret relationship with him that goes against everything with which her parents raised her. At the same time, Oliver’s family is falling apart and he’s asking more of Rani than she can give. A trip to India brings clarity for Rani in this emotional story of first love.
Sweet and Bitter Magic, by Adrienne Tooley (March 9, Margaret K. McElderry Books)
A debut of magical extremes. Tamsin: “most powerful witch” commits “the worst magical sin,” “cursed with the inability to love.” Wren is a source, which is someone made of magic, but not able to use it until they train with the Coven. Wren is avoiding this and hiding her abilities as she looks after her father. Then a magical plague comes and Wren bargains with Tamsin to find the witch responsible in exchange for Wren’s love for her father. This is a precarious bargain, one in which both sides enter into out of no choice. The more witches, the merrier.
The Secret Recipe for Moving On, by Karen Bischer (March 23, Swoon Books)
No one likes getting stuck in a class with their ex—who dumped them–and their new girlfriend. This is Ellie’s scenario in life skills class. What’s worse, her partners are a loudmouth, a horse-racing obsessive and a tattooed stunt-biker. The best way for Ellie to get over her ex is to beat him at an in-class competition. Then, of course, she ends up connecting with the tattooed stunt-biker.
Wild Women and the Blues, by Denny S. Bryce (March 30, Kensington Books)
Fabulous historical fiction set in 1925 Chicago at the height of jazz. The city is filled with bootleggers, gamblers and gangsters. Honoree Dalcour is in the middle of it all, working her way up to the top of society from her sharecropper origins. Ninety years later, a film student finds Honoree and pulls her secrets out for an illicit tale that has all the elements: music, ambition, passion. Wild Women and the Blues has already won and been nominated for a number of awards, and will be a surefire hit with Bridgerton fans.