When a search on Goodreads reveals over 700 Young Adult novels with release dates in 2016, it makes a list like this very hard to winnow down. Some of the books listed here are debuts from bold new voices, others are sequels to massive New York Times bestsellers and a few have the potential to be breakout hits. Representing a wide range of genres and promising to deliver thrilling stories, these are the 10 books you should absolutely read this year.
1. Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
Release Date: January 5th from Tor Teen
Why You’ll Love It: You might recognize Susan Dennard from her beloved Something Strange & Deadly trilogy, which wrapped up with HarperTeen in 2014. Her next series, The Witchlands, is primed to be another exciting romp through the supernatural. The first book, Truthwitch, introduces readers to a story of friendship, love and magic—and it’s one of the first books of 2016 you should pick up.?
Description: On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery,” a magical skill that sets them apart from others. In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well. Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.
Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness. Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.
2. This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
Release Date: January 5th from Sourcebooks Fire?
Why You’ll Love It: If Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch is the first big thrill of the year, Marieke Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends is the first big cry. The entire novel takes places over 54 minutes, highlighting different students throughout an Alabama high school who are in the midst of a terrifying school shooting. Some are trapped with the shooter, others are holed up outside, some are running through the streets for help. Each perspective is shocking and intense. You’ll finish this book in a single evening, guaranteed.
Description: 10:00 a.m.: The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve. 10:02: The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class. 10:03?: The auditorium doors won’t open. 10:05: Someone starts shooting. Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
3. Riders by Veronica Rossi
Release Date: February 16th from Tor Teen?
Why You’ll Love It: Veronica Rossi, author of a fantastic Under the Never Sky trilogy, returns with a new adventure about a teen who can transform into one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. A thriller with elements of fantasy and political intrigue, it’s a series to keep an eye on.
Description: For 18-year-old Gideon Blake, nothing but death can keep him from achieving his goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger. As it turns out, it does. Recovering from the accident that most definitely killed him, Gideon finds himself with strange new powers and a bizarre cuff he can’t remove. His death has brought to life his real destiny. He has become War, one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse. Over the coming weeks, he and the other horsemen—Conquest, Famine and Death—are brought together by a beautiful but frustratingly secretive girl to help save humanity from an ancient evil on the emergence.
Now—bound, bloodied and drugged—Gideon is interrogated by the authorities about his role in a battle that has become an international incident. If he stands any chance of saving his friends and the girl he’s fallen for—not to mention all of humankind—he needs to convince the skeptical government officials the world is in imminent danger. But will anyone believe him?
4. Beyond the Red by Ava Jae
Release Date: March 1st from Sky Pony Press
Why You’ll Love It: So far this list has boasted a powerful contemporary read and some intense fantasy. Now, how about some science fiction? Ava Jae’s debut novel focuses on Kora, a young queen who is the first woman to rule her alien kingdom, and the half-human/half-alien soldier forced to team up with her. It’s humans vs. aliens in this thriller from an author bursting with talent. ?
Description: Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.
Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him. When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.
5. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
Release Date: March 8th from Crown Books for Young Readers?
Why You’ll Love It: Told through multiple perspectives, The Serpent King is an intense novel set against the backdrop of rural Tennessee. At the heart of the novel is Dill’s story, and his struggle as the son of a jailed, disgraced minister who dished poisonous snakes to his congregation, hence the title. A story about friendship, family and forgiveness, it’s as funny and witty as it is utterly heartbreaking. With prose that’s beautiful yet devastating, this is sure to be one of your favorite reads of the year.
Description: Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace. He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self.
Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy. Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.
6. The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter
Release Date: March 15th from Philomel Books?
Why You’ll Love It: Told in shifting perspectives, The First Time She Drowned is a gorgeous, lyrical novel that will leave you emotionally gutted—in the best way possible. It tells the story of Cassie, a girl who spent years needlessly locked up in a mental institution and is trying to figure out how to live on the outside. The story moves back and forth in time, filling you in on her tragic back-story while driving you through her troubled current situation. I promise, you’ve never read anything quite like this. Bring tissues.
Description: Cassie O’Malley has spent her whole life trying to keep her head above water—literally and metaphorically. It’s been two-and-a-half years since her mother dumped Cassie in a mental institution against her will for something Cassie claims she didn’t do. Now, at 18, Cassie enrolls in college, ready to reclaim her life and enter the world on her own terms. But as she struggles to find her way forward, the startling truths she uncovers about her own family narrative make it impossible to cut the tethers of a tumultuous past. And when the unhealthy mother-daughter relationship that defined Cassie’s childhood and adolescence threatens to pull her under once again, Cassie must decide: whose version of history is the truth? And more important, whose life must she save?
7. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Release Date: May 3rd from St. Martin’s Griffin
Why You’ll Love It: A fantasy novel inspired by Indian mythology, The Star-Touched Queen spins a tale of love, other worlds and magic. Want a sneak peek of Roshani Chokshi’s writing before the novel debuts? I suggest scoping out her short story, The Vishakanya’s Choice.
Description: Cursed with a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, 16-year-old Maya has only earned the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her world is upheaved when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. But when her wedding takes a fatal turn, Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Yet neither roles are what she expected.
As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds friendship and warmth. But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Beneath Akaran’s magic, Maya begins to suspect her life is in danger.
8. Marked by Jenny Martin
Release Date: May 17th from Dial Books?
Why You’ll Love It: Back in October, we were lucky enough to reveal the cover for Marked, the sequel to Tracked. Unfamiliar with the series? It’s like Firefly mixed with Fast and the Furious, which should be enough to make you hungrily want to read it. Taking place on a planet owned by major corporation, the world of Tracked introduces you to Phee, a young girl caught in the middle of insane corporate corruption with nothing but her street-racing and wits to protect her. The first book is a high-octane thrill ride, and the second promises more of the same. Between the intense racing, love triangles and interplanetary war, it will be impossible to put down.?
Description: Cash, the prince of Bisera and leader of the rebellion, is missing. Phee’s uncle James is dead. And Charles Benroyal, once again, is behind it all. Caught between grief, thoughts of revenge, and traumatizing flashbacks of battle, Phee struggles to aid the resistance and prove her worth, even as she attempts to reconcile her growing romantic feelings for Bear with her loyalty to Cash. But when Benroyal’s attacks grow bolder, no one is prepared for the sacrifices Phee will have to make to win this war once and for all.
9. Autofocus by Lauren Gibaldi
Release Date: June 14th from HarperTeen?
Why You’ll Love It: Nature vs. nurture gets debated pretty frequently, especially if you’re an adoptee. I should know; I am one. It’s one of the many topics at the center of Gibaldi’s second novel, her follow up to last year’s The Night We Said Yes. An adopted teen girl, Maude, goes on a quest to learn about her birth mothe. The result is a beautifully written story of family and friendship—and how family and friends are often one and the same. ?
Description: Family. It’s always been a loaded word for Maude. And when she is given a senior photography assignment to create a portfolio that shows the meaning of family, she doesn’t quite know where to begin. But she knows one thing: without the story of her birth mother, who died when Maude was born, her project will be incomplete.
Maude decides to visit her best friend, Treena, at college in Tallahassee where Maude’s birth mother once lived. But when Maude arrives, she quickly discovers that Treena has changed. With a new boyfriend and a packed social calendar, Treena doesn’t seem to have time for Maude or helping Maude in her search. Enter Bennett, a cute guy who lives in Treena’s dorm. He understands Maude’s need to find her mother. And as Bennett helps Maude, she starts to find that her mother’s past doesn’t have to define her own future.
10. A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
Release Date: August 30th from Razorbill
Why You’ll Love It: Did you pick up Sabaa Tahir’s New York Times bestselling debut, An Ember in the Ashes? If not, fix that immediately, as A Torch Against the Night is the eagerly awaited sequel to Tahir’s epic novel. In the first book, two unlikely heroes have to partner up: Elias, a soldier for the Empire who wants to escape his society, and Laia, a scholar who becomes a slave in order to save her brother. It’s a thrilling read that takes place in a Rome-like setting, promising action and adventure until the final page. ?
Description: A Torch Against the Night takes readers into the heart of the Empire as Laia and Elias fight their way north to liberate Laia’s brother from the horrors of Kauf Prison. Hunted by Empire soldiers, manipulated by the Commandant and haunted by their pasts, Laia and Elias must outfox their enemies and confront the treacherousness of their own hearts. In the city of Serra, Helene Aquilla finds herself bound to the will of the Empire’s twisted new leader, Marcus. When her loyalty is questioned, Helene finds herself taking on a mission to prove herself—a mission that might destroy her.