YA Winter Books Round-Up

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday December 6, 2022
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YA Winter Books Round-Up

If you're a young adult -or reader of any age- who loves to become lost in a good book and enjoys books featuring younger queer characters, this listing of new and upcoming fiction might be just what you're looking for. There's plenty to choose from and lots of diversity to enjoy, for younger readers and adults as well.

'Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell' by Tobias Madden, $18.99 (Page Street Kids)
Gay teen romance shifts into overdrive in this sometimes heartfelt, but mostly superficial tale of an Australian gamer who attempts to conjure the digital affections of his online crush into a real-life relationship. Noah Mitchell, 17, is relentlessly bullied at school, so his only respite from that harassment is playing interactive online games. A buddy whom Noah plays with but only knows as "MagePants69" has driven his curiosity to new heights as the boy lives in his town, but the rest of the details are unknown, until "M" reveals he is involved in a stage play.

Noah, now obsessed with his crush's identity, sleuths the play's whereabouts and discovers that it's his mother's production of Chicago. Noah insinuates himself into the theatrical assembly but finds that it's a tough juggling act with learning the challenging choreography, finishing schoolwork, and keeping things fun and fresh with his crush, now revealed as Eli Callaghan. This is a sweet, sensitive, and often silly novel that will please anyone who has sought out a mysterious online crush only to find that while it's a lot of work, finding love is always worth the effort.

'The First to Die at the End' by Adam Silvera, $19.99 (Quill Tree Books)
Silvera's diehard fans will enjoy this intensive, emotional prequel to 2017's crushing but hugely satisfying futuristic novel, "They Both Die at the End." That book featured Puerto Rican teen Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus who both must contend with their final day in New York City after being alerted to their impending deaths within twenty-four hours.

This time, Silvera backtracks to the initial launch of Death-Cast, a company that predicts the deaths of its subscribers. It involves the fates of young aspiring writer Orion Pagan and male model Valentino Prince who both receive calls about their looming deaths, but attempt to skirt the inevitable by reaching closure with their budding romance, their families, and what life has afforded them both in the relatively short time they've been alive. Though this a sequel, reading the first book isn't required, but doing so only intensifies the emotional heft and riveting conclusion of this second entry.

'The Frenemy Zone' by Yolanda Wallace, $13.95 (Bold Strokes)
Adult fiction author Wallace dips into YA territory with this fantastic story about a high school senior who processes racism and homophobia after her family uproots itself to a conservative, predominantly white town following the death of her grandfather. As an openly lesbian wrestler, she is the daughter of two fathers, one Black and one Japanese American, which catches the ire of the small minds in her new hamlet.

Her hopes of finishing school without incident are dashed after she meets the town mayor's closeted lesbian daughter Ariel Hall, with whom she initially locks horns with but eventually settles into a friendship that has simmering embers for something more. There are undercurrents of more intricate racial, social, and diversity-related issues embedded in the narrative, and Wallace handles all of these sensitive areas with great respect, knowledge, and intelligence.

'The Ones We Burn' by Rebecca Mix, $21.99 (McElderry Books/S&S)
When a witch is sent to assassinate a prince, things get complicated in Michigan fantasy author Mix's entertaining otherworldly romance. The assassin in question is Ranka, a muscular female blood-witch who, after refusing to marry Prince Galen, is sent by her coven leader to kill him. Her plan is dashed when Ranka sets her eyes upon the prince's fetching twin sister Aramis.

Sparks fly as the twins and their friends attempt to discover the origins of a deadly plague that is converting witches into hellish demonic versions of themselves. This is high queer fantasy reading whose plot and world-building potential speeds along at an impressive clip, while keeping the simmering romance between Ranka and Aramis on the back burner, but never out of reach.

'The Minus-One Club' by Kekla Magoon, $19.99 (Henry Holt & Co.)
This adventurous coming-of-age story from award-winning author Kekla Magoon features Kermit, a high school sophomore who has just tragically lost his sister, Sheila, in a drunk driving accident. He is just one in an underground network of students who have experienced painful devastating loss and trauma, and he subsequently has become inducted into the top-secret Minus-One Club. Like the author herself, Kermit is biracial. He is also closeted, but discovers an attraction to another club member, an open gay student named Matt, while seeking the emotional support he truly needs throughout the remaining years of his high school experience.

While there are a lot of themes and threads flowing through the story, Magoon keeps the narrative alive with plenty of melodrama, interpersonal trouble, the religious homophobia of Kermit's parents, and electric sexual tension as Kermit navigates his life amidst the distractions of sexuality, masculinity, and queer growing pains.

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