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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why You’ll Love It: After two adult sci-fi novels, Cole makes her YA debut with an absolute bang. A Conspiracy of Stars is a thrilling sci-fi/fantasy blend with gorgeous world building and lush landscapes. I can’t wait to read more from her!
For Fans of: Authors like C.J. Redwine and Marie Rutkoski.
Description: Octavia has only ever had one goal: to follow in the footsteps of her parents and become a prestigious whitecoat, one of the scientists who study the natural wonders of Faloiv. The secrets of the jungle’s exotic plants and animals are protected fiercely in the labs by the Council of N’Terra, so when the rules suddenly change, allowing students inside, Octavia should be overjoyed.
But something isn’t right. The newly elected leader of the Council has some extremist views about the way he believes N’Terra should be run, and he’s influencing others to follow him. When Octavia witnesses one of the Faloii—the indigenous people of Faloiv—attacked in front of her in the dark of night, she knows the Council is hiding something. They are living in separate worlds on a shared planet, and their fragile peace may soon turn into an all-out war.
With the help of Rondo, a quiet boy in class with a skill for hacking, and her inquisitive best friend, Alma, Octavia is set on a collision course to discover the secrets behind the history she’s been taught, the science she’s lived by, and the truth about her family.
Why You’ll Love It: This novel was an immediate New York Times bestseller, and you had better believe the hype. A beautiful, lyrical saga of fairy tales coming true and dark family secrets, The Hazel Wood is as stunning as its cover. Albert is poised to become your new favorite author; don’t say we didn’t warn you.
For Fans of: Lyrical fantasy novels by authors like Holly Black.
Description: Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away?by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began—and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.
Why You’ll Love It: A hilarious novel 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’s just delightful.
For Fans of: Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke and 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?
Why You’ll Love It: One of the most hyped books of 2018, 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.
Why You’ll Love It: Told in a narrative that parallels The Glass Menagerie, Gibaldi’s latest novel follows a 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.
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.
Why You’ll Love It: This novel is an Anastasia retelling…in space…with robots! 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.
Why You’ll Love It: Spalding’s latest is easily the funniest YA contemporary novel I’ve read this year. She consistently writes stories that are brimming with humor and heart, and this charming LGBTQ+ novel is exactly that.
For Fans of: Authors like Morgan Matson, Corey Ann Haydu and Jessica Verdi.
Description: Seventeen, fashion-obsessed and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby has stayed focused on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a prized internship at her favorite local boutique, she’s thrilled to take her first step into her dream career. She doesn’t expect to fall for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Abby knows it’s a big no-no to fall for a colleague. She also knows that Jordi documents her whole life in photographs, while Abby would prefer to stay behind the scenes.
Then again, nothing is going as expected this summer. She’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win a paid job at the boutique. She’s somehow managed to befriend Jax, a lacrosse-playing bro type who needs help in a project that involves eating burgers across L.A.’s eastside. Suddenly, she doesn’t feel like a sidekick. Is it possible Abby’s finally in her own story?
But when Jordi’s photography puts Abby in the spotlight, it feels like a betrayal, rather than a starring role. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?
Why You’ll Love It: A companion novel to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (which we named one of the best YA novels of all time), Albertalli’s latest book focuses on Simon’s best friend, Leah Burke. Whether you adored the first novel or laughed and cried during the movie, Leah on the Offbeat is a must-read.
For Fans of: Authors like Amy Spalding, Lauren Morrill and Lily Anderson.
Description: When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.
So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.
Why You’ll Love It: The sophomore novel from the author of the best YA book of 2016, White Rabbit delivers another intense mystery. A master of writing stories that are as thrilling as they are inclusive, Roehrig has written another gripping title that you’ll be dying to add to your shelves.
For Fans of: YA thrillers by authors like Lamar Giles, Stephanie Kuehn and Lynn Weingarten.
Description: Rufus Holt is having the worst night of his life. It begins with the reappearance of his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian—the guy who stomped his heart out like a spent cigarette. Just as Rufus is getting ready to move on, Sebastian turns up out of the blue, saying they need to “talk.” Things couldn’t get much worse, right?
But then Rufus gets a call from his sister April, begging for help. And then he and Sebastian find her, drenched in blood and holding a knife, beside the dead body of her boyfriend, Fox Whitney.
April swears she didn’t kill Fox, but Rufus knows her too well to believe she’s telling him the whole truth. April has something he needs, though, and her price is his help. Now, with no one to trust but the boy he wants to hate yet can’t stop loving, Rufus has one night to prove his sister’s innocence…or die trying.
Why You’ll Love It: Blending alternate history, fantasy, zombies and horror, Ireland’s Dread Nation is a masterpiece of Young Adult fiction. This is, hands down, my favorite novel of the year. Go. Buy. This. Book.
For Fans of: Genre-blending romps through history, like Susan Dennard’s Something Strange and Deadly and Libba Bray’s The Diviners.
Description: Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.