2019 Barnes & Noble YA Book Club Recap
Updated: May 10
If you are searching for your next great YA read, look no further! For the last year and a half, I have been making my way through the backlist of the Barnes & Noble YA Book Club, and it has been super fun. In 2019, B&N launched their YA book club, “designed to bring together young adult readers to discuss some of the most anticipated YA books being published.” Each month, B&N announces a new selection, sells a special edition, and hosts discussions of the book in stores all over the country. I’ve now finished all of the book selections from 2019, and they were a variety of great books that I highly recommend. Keep reading to find more information about each title, such as the genre, comparable titles, my review, and more!
Genre: Contemporary romance
Features: College stories, study abroad, unexpected magic
Comparable titles: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell; Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen. If you’ve read Fangirl, you’ll see a lot of Cath in Again, But Better’s Shane: They share a passion for writing and fandom, as well as hesitation to embrace the college social scene. If you’ve read Loveboat, Taipei, you’ll see Shane travel overseas while struggling to balance her dreams against her parents’ expectations, similar to Ever Wong in Loveboat.
“I’m leaving the country because I have no friends”
“Shane has been doing college all wrong…Her life has been dorm, dining hall, class, repeat. Time's a ticking, and she needs a change—there's nothing like moving to a new country to really mix things up. Shane signs up for a semester abroad in London. She's going to right all her college mistakes: make friends, pursue boys, and find adventure!”
I thought I knew what to expect when I opened Again, But Better, and that's part of the reason why I was looking forward to reading it. I was expecting a straightforward story about making decisions and being brave. While this is definitely the story at its core, by the time I was halfway through, it became clear that it was not going to be as straightforward as I thought.
When the story turns upside-down, it becomes clear that there’s a lot to learn from the main character, Shane. First, adventure can begin with a simple choice. Second, there is more than one way to fail and there is more than one way to succeed. Third, having the courage to focus on what you truly want can make all the difference.
Again, But Better inspired me in a lot of ways. It allowed me to examine my own choices and evaluate whether I am making the decisions that are right for ME. It gave me the courage to ask myself: If I could start over, what would I do differently? And what do I really want out of life? How can my choices propel me in the direction I need to go?
Features: Fantasy world, enemies-to-lovers, group adventure
Comparable titles: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Immediately, the teenage girl secretly hunting in the woods to provide for the people she loves reminded me of the legendary Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games. Then, as I dove into the rich fantasy world, in which two young people are pitted against each other, only to discover they are drawn to each other, I was reminded of The Night Circus. We Hunt the Flame was much better, though.
“People lived because she killed.”
“Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the sultan…When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the sultan on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter.”
We Hunt the Flame has got to be one of the slowest slow burns that I've read in a while.
But if you
you'll be glad.
Hafsah Faizal's writing style is absolutely beautiful. There's not much I could say about it that could do it justice, except I was constantly reaching for my notebook to scribble down quotations. One of my favorite lines was from the moment where the title made sense: "We hunt the flame, the light in the darkness, the good this world deserves." That hit me hard.
We Hunt the Flame follows the perspective of two protagonists: Zafira, a huntress, and Nasir, an assassin. They don't meet until about halfway through the book, so the reader gets to know them as individual characters pretty well before getting to assess their chemistry together. I'll admit: when they first met halfway though, I saw hints that a romantic relationship would develop between them and I thought to myself, "I know I like these characters as individuals, but I am not sure if I like them together." However, by the end of the book, I was hooked on the connection between Zafira and Nasir. The way they view and experience love is so similar, it feels natural that they are drawn to each other. Faizal writes attraction so well, I was entranced by the scenes between the two leads.
While the book moves slowly, the reader feels it building and building towards reveal after reveal and surprise after surprise. I lost track of how many times I gasped or said "What?!" aloud while reading this book. And the ending! Right after finishing it, I looked up when the second book in this duology is released. We Free the Stars came out in January, and I am so excited to read it!
Features: Mystery, plague, LGBT
Comparable titles: Lord of the Flies by William Golding; The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The setting of Wilder Girls is an isolated island filled with stranded children who fight and turn against each other, which felt immediately familiar after reading Lord of the Flies in high school. Wilder Girls also had some violence that reminded me of the more brutal scenes in The Hunger Games.
“Something. Way out in the white-dark. Between the trees, moving where the the thickets swarm.”
“It's been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty's life out from under her…But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence.”
Wilder Girls is an exciting and fast-paced speculative story. The cast of characters is entirely female, and each one is fascinating in their own right. I was always wanting to know what was happening next for Hetty, Byatt, and Reese. From the beginning to end, I was chasing explanations through the pages, searching for answers about the sinister Tox that plagues the students and teachers at the Raxter School for Girls. The one drawback in this story is that while there is a lot of masterfully-written buildup and suspense, there is subsequently very little payoff when it comes to explanations or conclusions. However, if you're looking for a distraction that feels immersive and timely, this is it!
Features: Adventure, unlikely pairings, social justice, discussions of race
Comparable titles: All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. In both All-American Boys and I’m Not Dying With You Tonight, there are two authors, one black and one white, writing two teenage narrators, one black and one white. Such a Fun Age also features two main characters, one black and one white. All three of these books feature discussions about racial division on today’s America and the violence and microaggressions black Americans face.
“‘Waiting for Black is on your agenda, not mine,’ LaShunda barks as we leave the building.”
“Lena has her killer style, her awesome boyfriend, and a plan. She knows she’s going to make it big. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to keep her head down and get through the year at her new school…When both girls attend the Friday-night football game, what neither expects is for everything to descend into sudden mass chaos…and they only have each other to rely on if they’re going to survive the night.”
I’m Not Dying With You Tonight is action-packed, with every moment fierce and fleeting as one challenge is immediately replaced with another while two classmates (not friends!) try to make their way home. What really struck me is that there were multiple moments in the story where Lena or Campbell could have chosen to not stand with the other girl. However, they stick together the whole night, right down to the “got home safe” texts women are so used to sending and receiving. The solidarity between Lena and Campbell throughout one crazy, tumultuous night is a testament to the willingness that women, even when they’re strangers, have to look out for each other and keep each other safe in times of trouble.
Features: Fantasy world, enemies-to-lovers, religious/Catholic influences, unlearning prejudice
Comprable titles: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain; We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal. I hated Huck Finn in high school for many reasons. One of them was that we are taught that Huck Finn is a book about overcoming prejudice, but in actuality that theme gets hopelessly buried under a string of idiotic plot points. Serpent & Dove has a much better focus on prejudice being something that is taught, and subsequently unlearned. Also, the fantasy world with it’s magic hidden away and an enemies-to-lovers romance felt reminiscent of We Hunt the Flame.
“There’s something haunting about a body touched by magic.”
“Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned…Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou's, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.”
Serpent & Dove was a little slow going in the first few chapters, but once Lou and Reid started bantering, I was sooooo into it. Lou and Reid lead very different lives, coming from two different groups that fear and hate one another. When they are forced into a union neither of them wants, they both agree to stay, but for different reasons: Lou for protection, and Reid out of duty. First, Lou is pulled into Reid's world. During their time at the cathedral, Reid and Lou open up, simply because they are stuck with each other, and become a team. The connection they form keeps them bound together when ghosts from Lou's past come back to haunt her, and Reid is dragged into Lou's world. At the end of the second act, everything gets turned on its head and, keeping me engrossed in the third act. When the characters wanted to give up, the stakes were raised, which made it even more important that they fight back. The ending was satisfying, yet left me eager to read its sequel, Blood & Honey.
Genre: Historical fiction
Features: Mystery, romance, discovering heritage
Comparable titles: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I’m naming both of these titles because they are the other two general historical fiction books that made an impression on me, in addition to The Fountains of Silence.
“They stand in line for blood.”
“Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson…Photography—and fate--introduce him to Ana, whose family's interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War--as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear.”
Once again, Ruta Sepetys crafts characters and recreates eras that fascinate the reader from page one. The Fountains of Silence has short chapters, rapidly switching perspectives and deeply investing the reader in the story before they even realize it. I fell in love with Daniel and Ana, as individuals and as a pairing, immediately and was eager to turn the page to see what happened next for them. I was fully engrossed for so much of the book, and was surprised when the first part abruptly ended and the second part began. In transitioning from Part One to Part Two, I felt like the story lost a lot of its momentum. However, I still kept racing to the finish, eager to see what secrets would be revealed and how the character arcs would continue. In some ways, I was delighted, and in others, I was disappointed. All in all, I enjoyed reading The Fountains of Silence, but I’m still looking for someone else who has read it so we can compare our thoughts on the ending.
Genre: Science fiction, dystopia
Features: Future world, corrupt leaders, rebellion
Comparable titles: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; Divergent by Veronica Roth. In Scythe, the antagonists reminded me of the Career tribute pack in The Hunger Games. In Divergent, Roth creates a future world that is supposed to solve all the problems of the past, just as Shusterman does in Scythe.
“We must, by law, keep a record of the innocents we kill.”
“A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end lCitra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants.”
I was captivated by this Scythe. Sometimes the gleaning scenes made me a little squirmy (it reminded me a little too much of the death penalty), but the plot fascinated me and I flew through its pages. I was especially intrigued by the characters. Citra and Rowan were both selected by Scythe Faraday to be his apprentice after they stood up to him in a world where people don't challenge scythes. Citra, because she didn't like his behavior, and Rowan, because he insisted on comforting a classmate in his final moments. They both have a strong sense of self and the courage to speak up, but are motivated to speak up for different reasons. Citra calls out what she thinks is wrong, and Rowan bends over backwards to show compassion, regardless of the consequences. These subtle yet key differences make the paths they take over the course of the novel all the more interesting. I cannot wait to read the rest of the trilogy and see what happens next for them.
To see the 2020 and 2021 titles, check out https://www.barnesandnoble.com/b/books/book-club-selections/barnes-noble-ya-book-club/_/N-29Z8q8Z2sxl and #bnyabookclub on Instagram.