The year is half over, and we’ve been gifted some amazing books. From an alternate Civil War history with zombies to a contemporary murder mystery, the best novels of 2018 (so far) deliver unique and stunning tales worth savoring.
And the rest of 2018? It promises to be just as incredible, boasting highly anticipated books from Heidi Heilig (For a Muse of Fire), L.L. McKinney (A Blade So Black), Patrick Ness (The Ocean Was Our Sky) and Akemi Dawn Bowman (Summer Bird Blue).
But for now, let’s explore the best novels so far:
20. Furyborn by Claire Legrand
Why You’ll Love It: Maybe you’ve picked up one of Claire Legrand’s stunning, illustrated Middle Grade books: Foxheart and Some Kind of Happiness. With the much-hyped Furyborn, Legrand is now kicking off a new YA fantasy series. Featuring two intersecting timelines over a thousand years apart, The Emperium Trilogy is a series to watch.
For Fans of: Authors like Leigh Bardugo (Six of Crows) and Susan Dennard (Truthwitch).
Description: When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.
A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable—until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.
As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world—and of each other.
19. Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
Why You’ll Love It: When I talked about my plans to start reading this novel, scores of bookish friends warned me about the impending tears. And they weren’t lying. Anger Is a Gift delivers a painful story about finding your strength and your voice amidst oppression. Don’t sleep on this one.
For Fans of: Authors like Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give) and Jay Coles (Tyler Johnson Was Here).
Description: Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.
Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.
When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.
18. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Why You’ll Love It: This is a YA novel in verse about a slam poet, and it’s written by a slam poet. Powerful and beautifully written, you’ll devour every page of this gripping book.
For Fans of: YA books in verse, like Christine Heppermann’s Ask Me How I Got Here and Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.
Description: Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
17. Children of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Why You’ll Love It: One of our most anticipated YA books of 2018, Children of Blood and Bone is one of 2018’s giant blockbusters. Not only has it been topping the New York Times bestseller list for half the year, it’s already been optioned for film and sold into scores of languages. Adeyemi’s imaginative debut is brimming with magic and luscious world building; get ready for the next big author in YA, friends.
For Fans of: Authors like Sabaa Tahir (An Ember in the Ashes) and Leigh Bardugo (Six of Crows).
Description: Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.
16. Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
Why You’ll Love It: Based on the true story of Artemisia Gentileschi, this stunning book-in-verse sweeps readers away to Rome in the 1600’s and can be inhaled in a day. I highly recommend devouring it quickly, and then sitting down to savor the beautiful language.
For Fans of: YA historical novels, like those by Stacey Lee (Secret of a Heart Note), and books in verse, like novels by Christine Heppermann (Ask Me How I Got Here).
Description: Her mother died when she was 12, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.
She chose paint.
By the time she was 17, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women. And in the aftermath of rape, Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.
15. The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk
Why You’ll Love It: One of the best debuts of 2018, Woodfolk’s novel is a story of friendship and loss unlike anything I’ve ever read. Boasting diverse characters and a heart-wrenching story, The Beauty That Remains is sure to leave a lasting impact on your heart. I was gripped from page one, and you will be, too.
For Fans of: Heartbreaking reads by authors like Courtney Stevens (Lies About the Truth), Brandy Colbert (Pointe) and Ashley Herring-Blake (Suffer Love).
Description: Autumn always knew exactly who she was—a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan always turned to writing love songs when his love life was a little less than perfect.
But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered.
Despite the odds, one band’s music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind.
14. Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles
Why You’ll Love It: This is a debut you don’t want to miss. A novel about police brutality and family, Tyler Johnson Was Here follows a teenager who loses his twin brother in a police shooting and has to find a way to hold his family together.
For Fans of: Authors like Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give) and Jason Reynolds (Long Way Down).
Description: When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.
The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.
13. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan
Why You’ll Love It: This hefty YA novel clocks in at nearly 500 pages, and I still wanted it to be longer. It’s a heartbreaking story about family, friends and love, all crafted with a splash of magic. This beautiful book is unlike anything you’ll read this year.
For Fans of: The magic and beauty found in novels by Zoraida Cordova (Labyrinth Lost) and Anna-Marie McLemore (Wild Beauty).
Description: Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.
Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.
12. A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir
Why You’ll Love It: Because it’s the latest book in Sabaa Tahir’s amazing An Ember in the Ashes series! If you’re unfamiliar with this thrilling fantasy epic, you’re in for a treat. From the diverse cast to the lush world to the pulse-pounding excitement on every page, there are a million things to love about Tahir’s books.
For Fans of: High stakes fantasy adventures by authors like Renée Ahdieh, Leigh Bardugo and Kendare Blake.
Description: Beyond the Empire and within it, the threat of war looms ever larger.
The Blood Shrike, Helene Aquilla, is assailed on all sides. Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable, while the Commandant capitalizes on his madness to bolster her own power. As Helene searches for a way to hold back the approaching darkness, her sister’s life and the lives of all those in the Empire hang in the balance.
Far to the east, Laia of Serra knows the fate of the world lies not in the machinations of the Martial court, but in stopping the Nightbringer. But while hunting for a way to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would aid her and is drawn into a battle she never thought she’d have to fight.
And in the land between the living and the dead, Elias Veturius has given up his freedom to serve as Soul Catcher. But in doing so, he has vowed himself to an ancient power that will stop at nothing to ensure Elias’s devotion—even at the cost of his humanity.
11. A Thousand Beginnings and Endings* edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
Why You’ll Love It: This has been a fantastic year for YA anthologies, and A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is my favorite. Featuring an amazing list of authors (including Aisha Saeed, Cindy Pon and Roshani Chokshi) and two rock-star editors, this book boasts 15 brilliant retellings of Asian myths and legends. Standouts include Preeti Chhibber’s gorgeous short, for which this collection is named.
For Fans of: Anthologies, like Meet Cute.
Description: Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits and dire warnings. These are the stuff of fairy tale, myth and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.
Fifteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic and passionate. Compiled by We Need Diverse Books’ Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, the authors included in this exquisite collection are: Renee Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar and Alyssa Wong.
A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place. From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish.
*Editor’s Note: We know this isn’t a novel, but we couldn’t resist adding this gorgeous book to the list.