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.

Penguin Teen Canada Trivia Night: Fright Night

This fall, we’re testing our general knowledge and hanging out with some of our fave authors in a three-part trivia series! Join us for part two on Wednesday, October 28th at 7pm EST on Zoom. We’ll be joined by Nina LaCour (Watch Over Me), Kate M. Williams (For Better or Cursed), and Renée Ahdieh (The Damned) who will be asking questions about ghosts, witches, and vampires. RSVP here and we’ll “see” you there!

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.

For Better or Cursed
By Kate M. Williams
384 Pages | 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780525707417 | Delacorte BFYR
Esme Pearl’s life used to be all about bumming rides and babysitting. All that changed when Cassandra Heaven came to town, and they discovered their complicated, and connected, legacy: Esme and Cassandra are Sitters, supernaturally gifted teens armed with an ever-changing grimoire of Sitter witchcraft to help them protect the innocent and keep evil demons at bay. But just as Esme is starting to adjust to – and maybe even like – her new normal, life lobs another glitter bomb her way. The Synod – the Sitterhood’s governing circle – has called a Summit, a once-in-a-generation gathering that promises training, education, and whole lot of icebreakers. Esme should be excited – a Summit might mean she can finally get the answers she desperately wants – but she can’t shake a building sense of panic. Especially since Cassandra’s not acting like herself; Esme’s dad is MIA; Pig is out of dog food; Janis is scared to be alone; and there’s a guy who seems too good to be true, again. Worst of all, it soon becomes clear, there’s no one watching the kids. It’s obvious the Summit is a hot mess, but will it be a deadly one, too?

The Damned
By Renée Ahdieh
416 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984812582 | Putnam BFYR
Following the events of The Beautiful, Sébastien Saint Germain is now cursed and forever changed. The treaty between the Fallen and the Brotherhood has been broken, and war between the immortals seems imminent. The price of loving Celine was costly. But Celine has also paid a high price for loving Bastien. Still recovering from injuries sustained during a night she can’t quite remember; her dreams are troubled. And she doesn’t know she has inadvertently set into motion a chain of events that could lead to her demise and unveil a truth about herself she’s not ready to learn. Forces hiding in the shadows have been patiently waiting for this moment. And just as Bastien and Celine begin to uncover the danger around them, they learn their love could tear them apart.


Questions or concerns? Follow us on Twitter or email us at YoungReaders@penguinrandomhouse.com!

Putting the YA in FRIYAY: Penguin10 Reveal

If you were following us last year, you might have seen the Penguin10 pop up – the ten YA books we thought everyone should read in 2019. Well, we’re doing it again this year – and we’ve just revealed the list with some help from Heather T. Smith! Check out the list below for the ten books you need to read this fall!

Watch Over Me
By Nina LaCour
272 Pages | Ages 14+
ISBN 9780735267466 | Dutton Books for Young Readers
Release date: September 15, 2020

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.

Barry Squires, Full Tilt
By Heather T. Smith
232 Pages | Ages 12+
ISBN 9780735267466 | Penguin Teen Canada
Release date: September 22, 2020

It’s 1995. When the Full Tilt Dancers give an inspiring performance at the opening of the new bingo hall, twelve-year-old Finbar (Barry) Squires wants desperately to join the troupe. Led by Father O’Flaherty, the Full Tilt Irish Step Dancers are the most sought-after act in St. John’s, Newfoundland (closely followed by popular bagpiper, Alfie Bragg and his Agony Bag). Having watched Riverdance twice, Barry figures he’ll nail the audition. And good thing too — it’d be nice to be known for something other than the port wine stain on his cheek. With questionable talent and an unpredictable temper, Barry’s journey to stardom is jeopardized by his parents’ refusal to take his dreams seriously. Thankfully, Barry has the support of a lively cast of characters: his ever-present grandmother, Nanny Squires; his adorable baby brother, Gord; an old British rocker named Uneven Steven; a group of geriatrics from the One Step Closer to God Nursing Home; and Saibal, a friend with whom Barry gets up to no good.

How It All Blew Up
By Arvin Ahmadi
272 Pages | Ages 14+
ISBN 9780593202876 | Viking Books for Young Readers
Release date: September 22, 2020

Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew coming out to his Muslim family would be messy–he just didn’t think it would end in an airport interrogation room. But when faced with a failed relationship, bullies, and blackmail, running away to Rome is his only option. Right?
Soon, late nights with new friends and dates in the Sistine Chapel start to feel like second nature… until his old life comes knocking on his door. Now, Amir has to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth to a US Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom.

Breathless
By Jennifer Niven
400 Pages | Ages 14+
ISBN 9781524701963 | Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release date: September 29, 2020

Before: With graduation on the horizon, budding writer Claudine Henry is making plans: college in the fall, become a famous author, and maybe–finally–have sex. She doesn’t even need to be in love. Then her dad drops a bombshell: he’s leaving Claude’s mother. Suddenly, Claude’s entire world feels like a lie, and her future anything but under control.
After: Claude’s mom whisks them away to the last place Claude could imagine nursing a broken heart: a remote, mosquito-infested island off the coast of Georgia. But then Jeremiah Crew happens. Miah is a local trail guide with a passion for photography–and a past he doesn’t like to talk about. He’s brash and enigmatic, and even more infuriatingly, he’s the only one who seems to see Claude for who she wants to be. So when Claude decides to sleep with Miah, she tells herself it’s just sex, nothing more. There’s not enough time to fall in love, especially if it means putting her already broken heart at risk.

The Magic Fish
By Trung Le Nguyen
256 Pages | Ages 12+
ISBN 9780593125298 | Random House Graphic
Release date: October 13, 2020

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.

The Enigma Game
By Elizabeth Wein
448 Pages | Ages 12+
ISBN 9780735265288 | Penguin Teen Canada
Release date: November 3, 2020

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 .

City of the Uncommon Thief
By Lynne Bertrand
400 Pages | Ages 14+
ISBN 9780525555322 | Dutton Books for Young Readers
Release date: November 10, 2020

In a walled city of a mile-high iron guild towers, many things are common knowledge: No book in any of the city’s libraries reveals its place on a calendar or a map. No living beasts can be found within the city’s walls. And no good comes to the guilder or foundling who trespasses too far from their labors. Even on the tower rooftops, where Errol Thebes and the rest of the city’s teenagers pass a few short years under an open sky, no one truly believes anything uncommon is possible within the city walls. But one guildmaster has broken tradition to protect her child, and as a result the whole city faces an uncommon threat: a pair of black iron spikes that have the power of both sword and needle on the rib cages of men have gone missing, but the mayhem they cause rises everywhere. If the spikes not found and contained, no wall will be high enough to protect the city–or the world beyond it. And Errol Thebes? He’s not dead and he’s certainly not safe.

The Bitterwine Oath
By Hannah West
320 Pages | Ages 14+
ISBN 9780823445479 | Holiday House
Release date: December 1, 2020

San Solano, Texas, is a quaint town known for its charm, hospitality, and history of murder. Twice now, twelve men have been brutally killed, and no one knows who did it. A shadowy witch? A copycat killer? Or a man-hating murderess?
Eighteen-year-old Natalie Colter is sure that the rumors about her great-great-grandmother’s cult of wronged women are just gossip, but that doesn’t stop the true-crime writers and dark tourism bloggers from capitalizing on the town’s reputation. It’s an urban legend that’s hard to ignore, and it gets harder when Nat learns that the sisterhood is real. And magical. And they want her to join.
But everything becomes more urgent when people start getting “marked” as new victims–including Levi Langford, the boy whose kiss haunted Nat for a year.

The Cousins
By Karen M. McManus
336 Pages | Ages 14+
ISBN 9780525708001 | Delacorte Press
Release date: December 1, 2020

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they’ve never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they’re surprised . . . and curious.
Their parents are all clear on one point–not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother’s good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it’s immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious–and dark–their family’s past is.
The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn’t over–and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.

The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person
By Frederick Joseph
224 Pages | Ages 12+
ISBN 9781536217018 | Candlewick
Release date: December 1, 2020

Speaking directly to the reader, The Black Friend calls up race-related anecdotes from the author’s past, weaving in his thoughts on why they were hurtful and how he might handle things differently now. Each chapter features the voice of at least one artist or activist, including Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give; April Reign, creator of #OscarsSoWhite; Jemele Hill, sports journalist and podcast host; and eleven others. Touching on everything from cultural appropriation to power dynamics, “reverse racism” to white privilege, microaggressions to the tragic results of overt racism, this book serves as conversation starter, tool kit, and invaluable window into the life of a former “token Black kid” who now presents himself as the friend many readers need. Backmatter includes an encyclopedia of racism, providing details on relevant historical events, terminology, and more.

Make sure you’re following us on Twitter and Instagram for more info as these books start to come out!

Not sure where to start? Take our quiz to find out which of the Penguin10 is your perfect match!

 


Can’t make it tonight? Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of chances to catch up with the Penguin Teen Canada team and talk YA books – check out our full schedule of #PenguinTeenSocial events coming up this month!

Putting the YA in FRIYAY: 5 Bittersweet YA Romances

This week we celebrated National Bittersweet Chocolate day. Here are 5 YA romances that are equal parts bitter and sweet, best enjoyed with your favourite chocolate.

We Are Okay
Alone in an empty dorm during a snowstorm, Marin waits for her best friend Mabel to visit. When Mabel arrives, Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid between them. Nina LaCour’s Printz Award-winning novel is a contemplative, intimate look at grief and love. Marin and Mabel’s relationship is complicated and nuanced, growing from a deep friendship to something more.
Add to Goodreads here.

The Sun Is Also a Star
With a nod to the popular New York Times article, “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love,” this epic love story between Daniel, son of Korean immigrants and wannabe poet, and Natasha, whose family is on the brink of being deported to Jamaica, has lots of highs and lows to keep you turning those pages. Look out for the film coming later this year!
Add to Goodreads here.

No One Here Is Lonely
This upcoming genre-bending novel made our Top 5 Sci-fi YA Novels we’re looking forward to in 2019, but it also qualifies as a romance. Eden is falling more and more in love with her crush, Will, only it’s not really Will, but a digital version of him created by an AI after-death service. Quill and Quire called this book “Ghost meets Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters,” and we are on board with that!
Available on February 5th, 2019
Add to Goodreads here.

Odd One Out
In Odd One Out author Nic Stone presents a fresh, stereotype-busting take on that classic romance trope, the love triangle. Coop develops feelings for his best friend Jupiter, who has a crush on the new girl, Rae. Rae is into Jupiter, but maybe also Coop . . . a surprising and rewarding read.
Add to Goodreads here.

Salt to the Sea
This gut-wrenching novel follows four refugees fleeing the horror of WWII for the ill-fated ship The Wilhelm Gustloff in pursuit of new lives. But even amid great tragedy, there are glimmers of love.
Add to Goodreads here.