2020 YA Titles Not To Miss!

Here’s a look at some of the YA books I’m most looking forward to in 2020.

Screen Shot 2019-10-04 at 3.58.46 PM1. Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena
After A Girl Like That, the story of an Indian half-Parsi orphan growing up in Saudi Arabia, I will read anything Bhathena writes. This Indian-inspired epic fantasy dealing with class and politics looks like a lot of fun.

2. Open Fire by Amber Lough
I had the privilege of reading a draft of this take on the Women’s Battalion of Death, a Russian Revolution-era all-female military unit. I can’t wait for the rest of the world to meet patriotic-but-increasingly-conflicted Katya and follow her journey in WWI.

3. Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen CorcoranScreen Shot 2019-10-04 at 3.59.32 PM
This fantasy novel from a debut Irish author features a romance between an idealistic new queen and her female spymaster, as well as plenty of political intrigue.

4. Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
A fantasy retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes,” tying it to the the dancing plague in 15th century Strasbourg and the persecution of the Romani people. Sounds super interesting, and McLemore’s previous work, though I haven’t read it, is highly praised.

5. All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor
We (for values of we that mean Americans of my generation) all read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry growing up. I’ve always wondered what happened to Cassie and her brothers and friends after The Road to Memphis, and now we finally get answers in this story of grown-up Cassie in the Civil Rights Movement.

Screen Shot 2019-10-04 at 4.00.52 PM6. The Silence of Bones by June Hur
A teenage girl in 1800’s Korea is an indentured servant working for a police detective. Together, they investigate the murder of a noblewoman. This one certainly has a unique setting and premise! I don’t think I’ve read any YA set in Korea before the Japanese occupation.

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White Eagles – Elizabeth Wein

Screen Shot 2019-10-03 at 3.42.48 PMThis is another short novel in the mode of Wein’s earlier Firebird, following an East European female pilot in WWII. In this case, the protagonist is a Polish girl, Kristina, who serves as a liaison pilot in the Polish Air Force and escapes in a small plane when her airstrip is taken over and her brother killed by the German army.

Except there’s a passenger she didn’t expect. Julian, an eleven-year-old Jewish orphan, has snuck onboard her plane and is determined to get to England, sometimes coming into conflict with Kristina, who wants to join the rest of the Polish Air Force in France. Julian is probably the most vivid character in the book, resilient, a bit sneaky, confident, and ultimately very, very young.

With a combination of Julian’s language skills and Kristina’s flying abilities, they cross much of Europe, encountering a variety of people along the way, from Hungarians who help them on the supposition that Julian is an Austrian Boy Scout to an Italian who tries to rape Kristina. Ultimately they make it to France, but will Julian get to England as his murdered father wanted him to?

Compared to Firebird, there was no first-person narration or clever structure, but it was a lot more plausible (no Anastasia myth here!). I liked that Kristina and Julian aren’t instant buddies, but have a hard-earned friendship across cultures and age difference after flying across Europe together. They each have to rely on the other for the skills they don’t have, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

I also liked that this book brought attention to the women who fought for Poland in WWII and the Polish war effort generally. An afterword notes the real-life contributions of Polish exiles in the war effort.

This book was printed specially for dyslexic readers, which involved changing some of the Polish spellings. Lwów becomes Lvov, Krystyna becomes Kristina. This was a little distracting (especially having Polish characters using the Russian name Lvov) but it was probably necessary for the format.

 

 

Passing – Nella Larsen

Spoilers ahead!

I picked this book up on a whim because it was half-price at the bookstore. I assumed based on its title and reputation that it would be mainly about race in 1920’s New York. And it is, but it’s also the mother of all the toxic friendship followed by murder and coverup novels, which I think make a distinct subgenre, especially in YA (this book is not YA at all, though).

Irene, our narrator, is a light-skinned African-American, a married mother of two in Harlem. When she reconnects by chance with her childhood friend Clare, she finds out that Clare is passing for white and has married a racist, but longs for the culture of her childhood. Irene is unwilling to put up with what she considers Clare’s selfishness and desire to have it all, and for the first third of the book, my sympathies were with Irene, who’s dragged into an embarrassing situation by Clare’s carelessness.

Then you see Irene’s own marriage, and how she manipulates her husband coldly in order to keep him from fulfilling his dream of moving to Brazil. This is the first clue that something is wrong with Irene. She’s become so obsessed with safety that she’s willing to manipulate and worse to keep her life the way she likes it.

When she starts to suspect, based on no evidence, that her husband is having an affair with Clare, a chain of events is set in motion that ends with Irene murdering Clare in a moment of fear and rage, and making it look like an accident. Whether the affair actually happened is never confirmed or denied.

Irene herself is both repelled and attracted by Clare, and I can see why this makes Clare seem like the charismatic main character. But the book isn’t really about her. It’s about Irene, a picture of a woman who becomes a villain and gets away with it. The book is entirely from her point of view, and she’s fascinating in a trainwreck way–though she seems at first to be and presents herself as the sensible, responsible one.