More than once this year, I’ve come across a YA fantasy I was sure I’d seen before, only to realize I was confusing it with a different YA fantasy, whose uber-purple cover, at least in thumbnail form, was nearly indistinguishable from the next purple thumbnail. The young-adult market’s purple fever has only grown from 2017 to 2018, so here’s a roundup that might be of use if you find yourself trying to help a student, friend, or library patron identify a book from the prompt, “I think the cover was purple?” These books are far more varied than their covers’ color palette, which means there’s a purple book for just about everyone—I’ll spotlight a few standouts to prove it.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
For a fantasy lover seeking a female-driven adventure about the power of literacy, check out The Speaker (Putnam, Nov. 2017) by Traci Chee, the sequel to her starred-reviewed debut The Reader. In an otherwise illiterate society, Sefia holds a mysterious and dangerous book of secrets. Booklist reviewer Lindsey Tomsu described the series opener as “a stunning piece of storytelling” about “magic, fighting rings, swashbuckling pirates, assassins, and a kingdom beset by war, where books are illegal.” With the final installment, The Storyteller, released last month (to another starred review), the series is complete.
If a reader asks you to recommend a book with excellent world-building and multicultural, non-Western influence (and, of course, a purple cover), you might hand them Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch (Sourcebooks Fire, Mar. 2017), where high fantasy meets Memoirs of a Geisha. Seventeen-year-old Tea isn’t just a witch, she’s a bone witch: a necromancer and an outcast. Booklist Books for Youth Associate Editor Julia Smith calls this first installment in the series “richly imagined” with a “subtle execution,” promising that those “who enjoy immersing themselves in detail will revel in Chupeco’s finely wrought tale.” The more action-driven (and starred-reviewed) sequel, The Heart Forger, released this past March, and the final installment, The Shadowglass, is expected in March 2019.
For your space-opera lovers, you might suggest Empress of a Thousand Skies (Razorbill, Feb. 2017) by Rhoda Belleza and its sequel Blood of a Thousand Stars, which came out this past February. With futuristic biotechnology, a framed reality-TV star, a murdered royal family, and a secretly surviving heir, it’s sort of like Star Wars meets Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles meets Firefly (*privately sheds a tear for Firefly*). Reviewer Caitlin Kling says “Rhee and Aly both stand out as resilient, resourceful protagonists who are, if not always innocent, at least confident in what they believe.”
If a reader asks for a purple-covered book best described as “compelling and unique—there’s nothing else like it,” consider suggesting That Inevitable Victorian Thing (Dutton, Oct. 17) by E. K. Johnston, because those are the exact words Booklist Books for Youth Associate Editor Maggie Reagan used in her starred review of this speculative tale. A carefully constructed near-future imagining of a world in which the British Empire never fell, this novel is smart, whimsical, and features an LGBT romance.
Interest in short stories is on the rise, and Because You Love To Hate Me (Bloomsbury, Jul. 2017), edited by Ameriie, would make an excellent rec if you or someone you know loves a good villain. The concept behind this collection is particularly unique: 13 authors (including Victoria Schwab, Nicola Yoon, Marissa Meyer, Cindy Pon, Susan Dennard, Renée Ahdieh, and Adam Silvera) were paired with 13 BookTubers, who provided prompts for short tales of villainy (“a young Moriarty” or “Erl Queen retelling in nineteenth-century London,” for example). Booklister Maggie Reagan said simply: “stock up—it’s never been so fun to be bad.”
Fans of Nnedi Okorafor looking for their next read should be directed to Tochi Onyebuchi’s Nigerian-influenced debut Beasts Made of Night (Razorbill, Sept. 2017). When sin-eaters consume someone’s sins, they are left with telltale tattoos—so what happens when the supposedly pure king solicits a sin-eater and is thereby outed? Reviewer Snow Wildsmith praised Onyebuchi for “seamlessly blending fantasy, religion, political intrigue, and a touch of steampunk into a twisting tale of magic.” The sequel, Crown of Thunder, came out this October.
For a geeky update to the Cinderella story, direct readers and yourself to Ashley Poston’s Geekerella (Quirk, Mar. 2017). Booklist reviewer Sarah Bean Thompson penned a very compelling pitch for this stand-alone: “With geekily adorable characters, a show that’s part Star Trek and part Firefly, a cosplay contest, and a food truck fairy godmother, this is a love letter to fandom. Required reading for geeks everywhere.”
William C. Morris Award finalist Starfish (Simon Pulse, Sept. 2017) by Akemi Dawn Bowman follows Kiko, a young half-Japenese woman dealing with social anxiety, a toxic home life, and a crushing rejection from art school as she goes on a journey of self-discovery that helps her find her voice and strength. Reviewer Jeanne Fredriksen called it “a stunningly beautiful, highly nuanced debut” and praised Bowman’s ability to evoke “Kiko’s quiet hurt, pain, and frustration with breathtaking clarity, all the while reinforcing the narrative with love and hope.”
A Season of Daring Greatly (Greenwillow, Feb. 2017) is about high-school senior Jill, who becomes the first woman drafted to play for a Major League Baseball team. Jill struggles with resistance from fans, agents, and players while acutely feeling the pressure to be a role model. For reviewer Carolyn Phelan, “the pleasure of reading this novel comes from the steady, realistic portrayal of Jill’s experiences as a rookie and as a young woman breaking into a man’s sport.”
Science Fiction & Fantasy
For readers wanting something steeped in Norse mythology but slightly darker than Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series, try steering them toward Amanda Hocking’s Between the Blade and the Heart (Wednesday, Jan. 2018), which follows teen Valkyrie Malin as she decides whether to follow the rules (slay immortals, thereby returning them to the afterlife) or save the world. How’s that for stakes? Booklist reviewer Savannah Patterson says the series opener is “packed with action, romance, and fascinating creatures.” The book’s sequel, From the Earth to the Shadows, also released in 2018.
Somaiya Daud’s Mirage (Flatiron, Aug. 2018) is the purple-covered fantasy novel for anyone who ever wanted to put science fiction and Arabic poetry together (and for everyone who didn’t know that’s what they wanted until they read it!). This coming-of-age story centers around 18-year-old Amani, a poet living under occupation who is kidnapped and forced to stand in for her doppelgänger, an evil princess of the occupying empire. Booklist reviewer Qurratulayn Muhammad describes Daud’s debut as “gorgeously written” with “lush and poetic language that brings the setting into vivid color.”
An all-female crew of space pirates? With a captain known across the galaxy as the Bloody Baronness? That’d be Zenith (HarlequinTeen, Jan. 2018) by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings. An epic thrill ride with high stakes (“looming galactic retribution” says reviewer Cindy Welch) and a star-crossed romance (oh yeah, the Bloody Baronness totally used to date a bounty hunter and, well, now she’s his next assignment), Zenith is for readers who liked Guardians of the Galaxy but want something darker and with a #GirlSquad.
Smoke in the Sun (Putnam, June 2018) by Renée Ahdieh completes the duology begun with Flame in the Mist (2017). The books follow quick-witted Hattori Mariko, daughter of a prominent samurai and betrothed of the emperor’s son, as she disguises herself to join a rogue samurai band and fight for the life and love she truly desires (battling some dark magic while she’s at it). Says Maggie Reagan of this second installment, “the pace is nonstop, and Mariko is a heroine worth following to the thrilling conclusion.”
I can’t pitch this one better than reviewer Krista Hutley: Christian McKay Heidicker’s Attack of the 50 Foot Wallflower (Simon & Schuster, Sept. 2018) is a “funny, feminist send-up of B-movie cinema, selectively blind nostalgia, and TV binge-watching.” Illustrated by Sam Bosma, and recipient of a starred review, this “high-concept meta-narrative works on multiple levels, from its good-natured ribbing of common tropes (like “the gay girl always dies”) to its commentary on female agency, but, more importantly, it’s frightfully fun.” There’s just not much else to say except give this to me now!
Muse of Nightmares (Little, Brown, Oct. 2018) is the sequel to Printz Honor book Strange the Dreamer (2017), from National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor. Though the central characters in this story are a god and a ghost, Maggie Reagan says “the attention [Taylor] pays to the people who aren’t the heroes, the care given to ordinary life and its immense importance, elevates this from an entertaining epic to a deeply necessary, sometimes devastatingly so, work of art.”
For a historical fantasy steeped in music and set in nineteenth-century Bavaria (and the goblin world beneath it, of course), look no further than the starred-reviewed Shadowsong (Wednesday, Feb. 2018), the sequel to the also starred Wintersong (2017) by S. Jae-Jones. Maggie Reagan described the first installment as “an exquisitely and lyrically crafted tale of longing, sibling loyalty, and the importance of women in a time when women were so often overlooked. Eerie, unsettling, and, above all, full of music.”
Leah Thomas’s When Light Left Us (Bloomsbury, Feb. 2018) is contemporary fantasy filled with pensive metaphor about a shimmering alien being called Luz that enters the Vasquez family in the wake of their father’s leaving. Luz’s presence heightens their most favored abilities (Hank’s hands, Ana’s eyes, and Milo’s ears), but when Luz leaves, he takes those body parts with him. In her starred review, Kristina Pino says “Thomas gracefully weaves together the past and present in each character’s narrative and offers moving insight into how each of them process losing what they each perceive to be their most important sense or ability. This poignant, strange, and poetic novel is a nuanced exploration of human nature.”
Michael Grant’s Purple Hearts (Katherine Tegen, Jan. 2018) is the third and final installment in the Front Lines series, so convincing you might overlook the thing that makes it alternate history. Otherwise entirely true to the historical record, Grant’s WWII saga tells of a war in which women were drafted right alongside men. Of the starred first installment, Front Lines, Booklist editor Sarah Hunter wrote, “Just as classic war novels demonstrate how war can reveal common humanity, Grant’s exploration of women in battle is no different. Fraught as it is with terror, fighting together breeds deep loyalty, regardless of gender.”
Gunslinger Girl (JIMMY Patterson, Jan. 2018) is a futuristic western set in a post-second Civil War America, in which our brassy heroine on the run lands herself “a decadent, deadly theater act” with her sharpshooting skills. According to Maggie Reagan, this thrill ride is filled with “nonstop action” and a setting that is “undeniably interesting.”
For readers wanting a coming-of-age romance about politics and parents, I suggest Katie McGarry’s Say You’ll Remember Me (HarlequinTeen, Jan. 2018). Love is complicated when you fall for a kid in the governor’s juvenile rehabilitation program . . . and the governor is also your dad. Reviewer Savannah Patterson predicts readers will be “spellbound” as Elle and Drix try to forge the futures they desire for themselves and learn to understand and love someone with completely different baggage.
Questions I Want to Ask You (HarperTeen, May 2018), by Michelle Falkoff, offers a different but no less important story about coming of age. Over the course of the novel’s emotionally-driven mystery—Patrick receives a letter from his supposedly dead mother for his eighteenth birthday—”Pack” faces his insecurities about his weight, his girlfriend, and his future. Reviewer Florence Simmons says the book “leaves the reader feeling proud of Pack’s personal evolution and ends in a place that truly feels like a new beginning.”
For readers wanting something dark and elegant, with gothic motifs, offering space and voice to girls who are angry and complicated, I’d suggest Nova Ren Suma’s A Room Away from the Wolves (Algonquin, Sept. 2018) in a heartbeat. Looking for a taste of freedom, Bina runs away to a boarding house and finds a strange place full of strange girls; she is soon consumed by the task of unraveling her own history, the history of the house, and the places they intersect. Booklister Julia Smith says “Suma’s surreal writing examines the blurred edges of life, lies, freedom, and mother-daughter relationships, leaving the reader with questions and a tangled sense of wonder.”
What happens when you realize the boy you just fell for is the son of the guy who apparently drove your dad to suicide? That’s the set-up to L. Phillips’s Sometime after Midnight (Viking, June 2018). Complete with a glass-slipper test in the form of a blurry picture of sharpied Chucks posted to Instagram, this Cinderella-esque LGBT romance pits two talented musicians (who, of course, collaborate beautifully) against a painful shared history. It airs on the side of soap opera, but Booklist‘s Michael Cart promises “romance fans will forgive all [the superlatives] and simply enjoy the story, over the top though it may be.”
Readers looking for a taste of Bollywood should most certainly check out Nisha Sharma’s debut My So-Called Bollywood Life (Crown, May 2018), which follows NYU film school hopeful Winnie Mehta as she sorts out her thoughts on fate and love in search of her perfect Bollywood ending. Booklister Ilene Cooper praises the novel for “a strong, winsome heroine; a solid supporting cast, including family; and a romantic triangle that rivals any Bollywood plot.”
Are you totally seeing purple everywhere now? Desperately trekking to the library to check out all of these books? Thought so. Will purple continue to reign in 2019, or will a new shade rise to take its place? Only time will tell.