Any “Best Young Adult Books of February” list feels like it has to revolve around Valentine’s Day. Well, while there are a few stories here with romances that’ll make you swoon, this isn’t a list brimming with sweet Valentine’s hugs.
We’ve got a C.J. Redwine novel with murderous assassins, a Rhoda Belleza sci-fi epic with drama to rival Game of Thrones and a Kim Liggett horror with an immortal-worshipping cult.
You know, snuggly Valentine’s content.
It’s not all hugs and kisses in this February roundup, but every novel on this list deserves a read.
1. American Panda by Gloria Chao
Release Date: February 6th from Simon Pulse
Why You’ll Love It: A hilarious contemporary YA about a teen wrestling with her parents’ expectations and a crush on a classmate, American Panda is a heartwarming exploration of identity and love. And hey, it’s set in college! There aren’t many YA novels exploring that age, and it is just delightful.
For Fans of:
Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, and novels by authors like Lauren Morrill.
Description: At 17, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth—that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?
2. The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson
Release Date: February 6th from Simon Pulse
Why You’ll Love It: Shaun David Hutchinson writes some of the most imaginative, stunning YA novels out there, and his latest is another awesome entry in his fantastic catalog. A teen girl has an array of powers and gifts, performing miracles all around her town…while the apocalypse inches closer.
For Fans of: Adam Silvera’s inclusive and moving stories, complete with the speculative quirks.
Description: Sixteen-year-old Elena Mendoza is the product of a virgin birth.
This can be scientifically explained (it’s called parthenogenesis), but what can’t be explained is how Elena is able to heal Freddie, the girl she’s had a crush on for years, from a gunshot wound in a Starbucks parking lot. Or why the boy who shot Freddie, David Combs, disappeared from the same parking lot minutes later after getting sucked up into the clouds. What also can’t be explained are the talking girl on the front of a tampon box, or the reasons that David Combs shot Freddie in the first place.
As more unbelievable things occur, and Elena continues to perform miracles, the only remaining explanation is the least logical of all-that the world is actually coming to an end, and Elena is possibly the only one who can do something about it
3. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
Release Date: February 6th from Freeform
Why You’ll Love It: Probably one of the most hyped books of 2018, Dhonielle Clayton’s debut solo title (she coauthored the brilliant Tiny Pretty Things duology with Sona Charaipotra) introduces readers to a world in which magical Belles control the essence of beauty. Believe the hype; this book kicks off a new series you absolutely won’t want to miss.
For Fans of:
The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski and Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.
Description: Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life and change the ways of her world forever.
4. The Traitor Prince by C.J. Redwine
Release Date: February 13th from Balzer + Bray
Why You’ll Love It: Do you love fairy tale retellings? Then you’ll adore the latest novel in C.J. Redwine’s New York Times bestselling Ravenspire series. Each book stands on its own, but they all exist in Redwine’s fantastic world. She flips these tales around, and the result is always an exciting, unique take on a classic.
For Fans of: Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles series.
Description: Javan Najafai, crown prince of Akram, has spent the last 10 years at an elite boarding school, far away from his kingdom. But his eagerly awaited return home is cut short when a mysterious imposter takes his place—and no one believes Javan is the true prince.
After barely escaping the imposter’s assassins, Javan is thrown into Maqbara, the kingdom’s most dangerous prison. The only way to gain an audience with the king—and reveal Javan’s identity—is to fight in Maqbara’s yearly tournament. But winning is much harder than acing competitions at school, and soon Javan finds himself beset not just by the terrifying creatures in the arena, but also a band of prisoners allied against him,and even the warden herself.
The only person who can help him is Sajda, who has been enslaved by Maqbara’s warden since she was a child, and whose guarded demeanor and powerful right hook keep the prisoners in check. Working with Sajda might be the only way Javan can escape alive—but she has dangerous secrets.
Together, Javan and Sajda have to outwit the vicious warden, outfight the deadly creatures and outlast the murderous prisoners intent on killing Javan. If they fail, they’ll be trapped in Maqbara for good—and the secret Sajda’s been hiding will bury them both.
5. Blood of a Thousand Stars by Rhoda Belleza
Release Date: February 20th from Razorbill
Why You’ll Love It: The sequel to one of Paste’s favorite YA books of 2017, Blood of a Thousand Stars picks up where Rhoda Belleza’s debut left off—racing around the galaxy. It’s an exciting blend of sci-fi and fantasy, and you’ll be enamored by this series.
For Fans of: The thrilling sci-fi worlds of authors like Claudia Gray, Amie Kaufman and Beth Revis.
Description: Empress. With a revolution brewing, Rhee is faced with a choice: make a deal with her enemy, Nero, or denounce him and risk losing her crown.
Fugitive. Framed assassin Alyosha has one goal in mind: kill Nero. But to get his revenge, Aly may have to travel back to the very place he thought he’d left forever—home.
Princess. Kara knows that a single piece of technology located on the uninhabitable planet Wraeta may be the key to remembering—and erasing—the princess she once was.
Madman. Villainous media star Nero is out for blood, and he’ll go to any means necessary to control the galaxy.
Vicious politics and high-stakes action culminate in an epic showdown that will determine the fate of the universe.
6. Heart of Ash by Kim Liggett
Release Date: February 20th from G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Why You’ll Love It: It’s the sequel to my favorite Young Adult horror novel ever. Period.
The second book in Liggett’s duology, Heart of Ash picks up where Blood and Salt left off. Full of magic and history, these books are not to be missed, and they are criminally underrated. Pick up both novels, but read them with the lights on.
For Fans of: Books by authors like Holly Black, Laurie Faria Stolarz and Amy Plum.
Description: Ash may have escaped the immortal-worshipping cult that killed her mother, but the love of her life is still under its thrall. Dane has been possessed by his diabolical ancestor Coronado, a man who’s fabulously wealthy, dripping with fame and the leader of Europe’s most dangerous immortal network.
Dane begs Ash to join him at Coronado’s castle in Spain, and he swears that his blood bond with Ash is stronger than Coronado’s hold over him. Ash is desperate to help Dane vanquish Coronado without having to sacrifice herself to the darkness. But when you’re all in, blood and salt, the only way to hold on to the light might just be by setting everything on fire.
7. A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena
Release Date: February 27th from Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Why You’ll Love It: The story of a teen girl who finds herself surrounded by gossip and thrown into the chaos of an investigation surrounding a car accident, Tanaz Bhathena’s debut is a stunning page-turner of a novel from a bold new diverse voice. A Girl Like That proves that Bhathena is an author to watch.
For Fans of: Authors of hard-hitting contemporary YA, like Courtney Stevens or Ashley Blake, and authors that tackle identity, like Akemi Dawn Bowman.
Description: Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school. You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that 18-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia?
When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that.
8. Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston
Release Date: February 27th from Balzer + Bray
Why You’ll Love It: This novel is an Anastasia retelling…in space…with robots. Ashley Poston’s space opera reimagining of a classic is completely original and utterly gorgeous. An adventure that will leave you wanting more, Heart of Iron is a shoe-in for one of my favorite reads this year.
For Fans of: Epic sci-fi and darling robot romances. Blend your love of Rhoda Belleza’s Empress of a Thousand Skies with the graphic novel series Alex + Ava.
Description: Seventeen-year-old Ana is a scoundrel by nurture and an outlaw by nature. Found as a child drifting through space with a sentient android called D09, Ana was saved by a fearsome space captain and the grizzled crew she now calls family. But D09—one of the last remaining illegal Metals—has been glitching, and Ana will stop at nothing to find a way to fix him.
Ana’s desperate effort to save D09 leads her on a quest to steal the coordinates to a lost ship that could offer all the answers. But at the last moment, a spoiled Ironblood boy beats Ana to her prize. He has his own reasons for taking the coordinates, and he doesn’t care what he’ll sacrifice to keep them.
When everything goes wrong, she and the Ironblood end up as fugitives on the run. Now their entire kingdom is after them—and the coordinates—and not everyone wants them captured alive.
What they find in a lost corner of the universe will change all their lives—and unearth dangerous secrets. But when a darkness from Ana’s past returns, she must face an impossible choice: does she protect a kingdom that wants her dead or save the Metal boy she loves?
9. Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Release Date: February 27th from Random House Books for Young Readers
Why You’ll Love It: You should be psyched for another Rachel Hartman book. Tess of the Road is set in the world of Seraphina, one of the best YA dragon books ever written. The world building is gorgeous, the creatures are vivid and Hartman is a masterful storyteller. Pick up this novel, and savor every page.
For Fans of: Obviously the Seraphina series and YA fantasy novels full of dragons and hidden magic, from The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Gray to the Talon series by Julie Kagawa.
Description: In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess, stubbornly, is a troublemaker. You can’t make a scene at your sister’s wedding and break a relative’s nose with one punch (no matter how pompous he is) and not suffer the consequences. As her family plans to send her to a nunnery, Tess yanks on her boots and sets out on a journey across the Southlands, alone and pretending to be a boy.
Where Tess is headed is a mystery, even to her. So when she runs into an old friend, it’s a stroke of luck. This friend is a quigutl—a subspecies of dragon—who gives her both a purpose and protection on the road. But Tess is guarding a troubling secret. Her tumultuous past is a heavy burden to carry, and the memories she’s tried to forget threaten to expose her to the world in more ways than one
10. This Tiny Perfect World by Lauren Gibaldi
Release Date: February 27th with HarperTeen
Why You’ll Love It: Told in a narrative that parallels The Glass Menagerie, Lauren Gibaldi’s latest novel is about a teen theater geek who finds herself wrestling between small-town life and a future in the city—while being torn between two boys she adores. It’s another warm-hug-of-a-book from this Paste favorite author.
For Fans of: YA contemporary novels by authors like Amy Spalding, Stephanie Perkins and Kasie West.
Description: Penny loves her small-town Florida life, and she has her future mapped out. She’s going to community college after graduation to stay close to home and her best friend, Faye. She’ll take over the family diner that her dad has been managing since her mother died. And one day, she’ll marry her high school sweetheart, Logan.
But when she unexpectedly lands a scholarship to a prestigious summer theater camp, she is thrust into a world of competition and self-doubt. And suddenly, her future gets a little hazy. As she meets new friends, including Chase, a talented young actor with big-city dreams, she begins to realize that maybe the life everyone (including her) expects her to lead is not the one she was meant to have.