Staff Picks: Favorite Teen Books from 2020

2020 may have been a rough year in a lot of ways but it did give us a lot of great books! We sat down to choose our top two favourite books of the year (and it was just as hard as you’d think.)

Vikki, Marketing & Publicity Director

“The lives of four very different women intertwine in WWII-era Scotland. I loved returning to the world of Code Name Verity, one of my all-time fave YA novels.”

The Enigma Game
By Elizabeth Wein
448 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780735265288 | Penguin Teen
A German soldier risks his life to drop off the sought-after Enigma Machine to British Intelligence, hiding it in a pub in a small town in northeast Scotland, and unwittingly bringing together four very different people who decide to keep it to themselves. Louisa Adair, a young teen girl hired to look after the pub owner’s elderly, German-born aunt, Jane Warner, finds it but doesn’t report it. Flight-Lieutenant Jamie Beaufort-Stuart intercepts a signal but can’t figure it out. Ellen McEwen, volunteer at the local airfield, acts as the go-between and messenger, after Louisa involves Jane in translating. The planes under Jamie’s command seem charmed, as Jamie knows where exactly to go, while other squadrons suffer, and the four are loathe to give up the machine, even after Elisabeth Lind from British Intelligence arrives, even after the Germans start bombing the tiny town.

Watch Over Me is another breathtaking offering from Nina LaCour who manages to beautifully and effortlessly reinvent the ghost story and make me want to live on a flower farm in Northern California.”

Watch Over Me
By Nina LaCour
272 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735267466 | Dutton BFYR
Mila is used to being alone. Maybe that’s why she said yes to the opportunity: living in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below. But she hadn’t known about the ghosts. Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster care system. So, when she’s offered a job and a place to stay at a farm on an isolated part of the California Coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home, a real home. The farm is a refuge, but also haunted by the past traumas its young residents have come to escape. And Mila’s own terrible memories are starting to rise to the surface.

Sylvia, Marketing and Publicity Manager

“Fight Like a Girl reminds me of Toronto’s multifaceted neighbourhoods, plus, I love this striking cover!”

Fight Like a Girl
By Sheena Kamal
272 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735265554 | Penguin Teen Canada
Love and violence. In some families they’re bound up together, dysfunctional and poisonous, passed from generation to generation like eye color or a quirk of smile. Trisha’s trying to break the chain, channeling her violent impulses into Muay Thai kickboxing, an unlikely sport for a slightly built girl of Trinidadian descent. Her father comes and goes as he pleases, his presence adding a layer of tension to the Toronto east-end townhouse that Trisha and her mom call home, every punch he lands on her mother carving itself indelibly into Trisha’s mind. Until the night he wanders out drunk in front of the car Trisha is driving, practicing on her learner’s permit, her mother in the passenger seat. Her father is killed, and her mother seems strangely at peace. Lighter, somehow. Trisha doesn’t know exactly what happened that night, but she’s afraid it’s going to happen again. Her mom has a new man in her life and the patterns, they are repeating.

“I love Majesty for the continued look at what it would be like for a Queen and her family to rule America.”

Majesty
By Katharine McGee
384 Pages | 14+ | Paperback
ISBN 9781984830210 | Random House BFYR
Power is intoxicating. Like first love, it can leave you breathless. Princess Beatrice was born with it. Princess Samantha was born with less. Some, like Nina Gonzalez, are pulled into it. And a few will claw their way in. Ahem, we’re looking at you Daphne Deighton. As America adjusts to the idea of a queen on the throne, Beatrice grapples with everything she lost when she gained the ultimate crown. Samantha is busy living up to her “party princess” persona…and maybe adding a party prince by her side. Nina is trying to avoid the palace–and Prince Jefferson–at all costs. And a dangerous secret threatens to undo all of Daphne’s carefully laid “marry Prince Jefferson” plans. A new reign has begun….

Evan, Publicity Manager

“A reviewer referred to this illustrated novel as ‘cozy horror,’ which is the perfect descriptor. Imagine Gilmore Girls taking a trip to Twin Peaks, and throw in some beautiful paintings and fashion.”

Lucy Crisp and the Vanishing House
By Janet Hill
240 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781770499249 | Tundra Books
It has been a year since Lucy Crisp graduated from high school and she still hasn’t found her calling. That is, until she discovers an exclusive arts college called Ladywyck Lodge. On a whim, she applies and is thrilled to be accepted into their program. Lucy moves to Esther Wren, the charming little town where it’s based, and stays in the house her father buys as an investment: a magnificent building built by a sea captain in 1876. The house has history and personality — perhaps too much personality. . . Strange things start happening. Lucy hears voices and footsteps in empty rooms. She sees people and things that should not be there. Furniture disappears and elaborate desserts appear. What’s worse is that the strange events are not restricted to her house. Lucy begins to understand that the town and its inhabitants are hiding many secrets, and Ladywyck is at the heart. As the eerie happenings escalate, Lucy fears she is being threatened — but she is determined not to let fairy potions, spells and talk of witchcraft scare her away.

“Beautiful art tells a story encompassing family history, fairy tales, and a loving coming-out story. This is the first graphic novel by Trung Le Nguyen, and he already proves himself a master of storytelling!”

The Magic Fish
By Trung Le Nguyen
256 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593125298 | Random House Graphic
Real life isn’t a fairytale. But Tiến still enjoys reading his favorite stories with his parents from the books he borrows from the local library. It’s hard enough trying to communicate with your parents as a kid, but for Tiến, he doesn’t even have the right words because his parents are struggling with their English. Is there a Vietnamese word for what he’s going through? Is there a way to tell them he’s gay? A beautifully illustrated story by Trung Le Nguyen that follows a young boy as he tries to navigate life through fairytales, an instant classic that shows us how we are all connected.

Sam, Associate Publicist

“I loved the first book and was thrilled to have more Darius in my life. One of the few books that I think handled a love triangle really well.”

Darius the Great Deserves Better
By Adib Khorram
352 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593108239 | Dial BFYR
Darius Kellner is having a bit of a year. Since his trip to Iran, a lot has changed. He’s getting along with his dad, and his best friend Sohrab is only a Skype call away. Between his first boyfriend, Landon, varsity soccer practices, and an internship at his favorite tea shop, things are falling into place. Then, of course, everything changes. Darius’s grandmothers are in town for a long visit, and Darius can’t tell whether they even like him. The internship is not going according to plan, Sohrab isn’t answering Darius’s calls, and Dad is far away on business. And Darius is sure he really likes Landon . . . but he’s also been hanging out with Chip Cusumano, former bully and current soccer teammate–and well, maybe he’s not so sure about anything after all. Darius was just starting to feel okay, like he finally knew what it meant to be Darius Kellner. But maybe okay isn’t good enough. Maybe Darius deserves better.

“I don’t fall in love with a lot of fantasy novels but when I do, it’s lush, descriptive, and has an ownvoices angle – just like this one.”

Hunted by the Sky
By Tanaz Bhathena
384 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735267022 | Penguin Teen Canada
Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. Gul’s mark is what caused her parents’ murder at the hand of King Lohar’s ruthless soldiers and forced her into hiding to protect her own life. So when a group of rebel women called the Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge.Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. His father is terminally ill, and Cavas will do anything to save him. But sparks fly when he meets a mysterious girl—Gul—in the capital’s bazaar, and as the chemistry between them undeniably grows, he becomes entangled in a mission of vengeance—and discovers a magic he never expected to find.Dangerous circumstances have brought Gul and Cavas together at the king’s domain in Ambar Fort . . . a world with secrets deadlier than their own. Exploring identity, class struggles, and high-stakes romance, Hunted by the Sky is a gripping adventure set in a world inspired by medieval India.