The Hate U Give
By Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray, 464 pages, $21.99
On June 3, 2015, an unpublished writer named Angie Thomas posted a question on Twitter. "Are novels that deal with sensitive current issues a no-no?" She was interested in the answer because she'd written a book that dealt, in part, with Black Lives Matter. Less than two years later, The Hate U Give has been published to critical acclaim, become an instant bestseller and movie rights have already been sold. It's a timely book, but it's also a great book. Starr is a 16-year-old girl who witnesses the murder of her unarmed friend, who is also black, by police. The book does more than just follow Starr's painful and infuriating journey as a witness through the justice system – it is also a compelling (and at times hilarious) family saga that connects readers deeply with everyone in Starr's family and neighbourhood. Ignore the YA label – this should be the one book everyone reads this year.
Short for Chameleon
By Vicki Grant
HarperTrophy, 256 pages, $17.99
Cam and his dad make ends meet by running a rent-a-relative business in which they pose as family members for paying customers. Through his wacky work, Cam meets two mysterious dames that turn his world upside down: Raylene is a plucky, beautiful teenager and Albertina is a rough-tongued geriatric. As the madcap mystery unfolds, readers find out that both Raylene and Albertina share one tragic thing in common. Vicki Grant is the author of more than a dozen novels for young people and she excels here in silly Sherlock mode with a whodunit that will appeal to the lower end of the YA range. It's a two-pronged mystery that could do with less wacky-old-lady shtick and more with the teen main characters, but it's one of few options for readers who want a feel-good, gore-free puzzler.
We Are Okay
By Nina LaCour
Dutton Books for Young Readers, 240 pages, $23.99
For a book to be read in one sitting, it has to be compact enough to digest in a couple of hours and be too immersive to put down. Nina LaCour gets the job done in We Are Okay. It's a few days before Christmas and college freshman Marin is alone in her East Coast dorm, anxiously preparing for a visit from her estranged best friend, Mabel. Both girls grew up in San Francisco, but Marin has totally disconnected from her old life. Readers gradually find out why and what the two girls really mean to each other. This is a powerful, purposeful little heartbreaker of a book, with LaCour alternating between saltwater-soaked West Coast flashbacks and the cozy intimacy of a New York State blizzard in the present. A must-read for anyone who has struggled with loneliness.