“Best” lists are hard to create! I can’t count how many times I’ve added, removed, and added to the book, whittled down an absolutely massive original list to just 30. They cover everything from pirates to princesses, from dystopian hellscapes to alternate histories, from magical realism to folklore retelling, from spaceships to aliens, from ghosts to witches and werewolves. Compiled from widely read and widely read reviews, here is my list of the best youth science fiction and fantasy books to publish in 2020.
elaso by Darcy Little Badger
In an American version where magic is commonplace, there lives Ellie, a Lipan Apache teenager who has the power to awaken the souls of dead animals. She investigates after her cousin’s ghost shows up to her to say he was murdered. Aboriginal culture and Western paranormal tropes come together in one compelling story. Come for vampires, ghosts and ancient curses, stay for Kirby, Ellie’s trusty ghost dog.
from the dark Kate Hazel Hall
When they were children, Ali’s best friend Alex drowned in a tragic accident. Alex, now the Summoner of the Underworld King, returns and saves Ali’s life after being bitten by a snake. As the two girls get closer, Alex’s flippant decision sends ripples through the underworld that quickly turn into a powerful, potentially deadly wave.
legend born by Tracy Dern
On the first night of high school classes on a college campus, Bree discovers a dangerous magical world. Knights, demons, and root magic tie in nicely with conversations about colonialism, slavery, racism, and misogyny. Bonus points for a steaming queer love triangle! This remake of King Arthur is one of my most popular YA books of the year.
never look back By Liliam Rivera
Bachata-loving Pheus visits his dad in the Bronx every summer, and this year he meets Eury, a young woman haunted (and a literal, true spirit) by the horrific things she’s seen after Hurricane Maria . A clever, emotional Latin retelling of the myths of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Sword of Stars By AR Capetta and Cory McCarthy (Once and Future #2)
This year, we’ve had the pleasure of two stunning retellings of the Arthurian mythology, and this one is wild and weird. To stop Mercer, our merry team of heroes returns in time to the ancient Camelot. But Merlin’s past mess is a knot too big to untangle easily or quickly. If Ali is to save the day, she needs to be the king she was meant to be.
These violent pleasures Chloe Gong
Romeo and Juliet travel to Shanghai in 1926. The Scarlet Gang and the White Flower are old enemies, but a mysterious plague forces rivals and ex-lovers Roma Montagoff and Juliet Tsai back together. Only they can stop the horrific death from spreading across the city.
it comes from outer space
Sia Martinez and the Moonlight of Everything Begins Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Three years ago, Sia’s mother disappeared in the desert while trying to return to the United States after being deported. Sia wants her back, but doesn’t want her wish to be fulfilled by a crashed alien spaceship. Now a mysterious agency is hunting her mother, and Sia will have to unravel a huge conspiracy.
voice of the stars Author: Alecia Dow
Two years have passed since aliens invaded and killed a third of Earth’s population. Ellie quietly resists Ilori’s rule by hoarding books. When the lab-born Ilori humanoid M0Rr1S finds her, he should hand her over. Instead, they made a connection through music. Hint to escape boldly!
gender roles? I do not know her.
dark red by Annemarie McLemore
Anna-Marie McLemore takes another deep dive into queerness and the gender spectrum, set against the backdrop of 16th-century Strasbourg and the dancing plagues of America today. In the past, a Roma girl and her trans boy faced systemic oppression. Currently, magical realism takes over the lives of the descendant of that Roman girl and the Latin granddaughter of a shoemaker.
Mermaid, witch and sea by Maggie Detian Hall
Florian, a gender-shifting pirate on a slave ship, meets Evelyn, the daughter of a merchant lord who is married to an ally of her father. When Evelyn and her shipmates are taken as slaves by Florian’s captain, the two teens travel across a sprawling colonial empire, encountering mermaids, witches and more than they ever imagined. sea.
Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore
There’s a good reason why, yes, Annemarie twice is one of the two authors on this list. Co-authored by the ever-great Tehlor Kay Mejia, their book tells the story of two teenage girls — former besties Lita Perez and Chicky Quintanilla — who defy oppressive social “rules” by signing up for beauty pageants. Trust me, it works.
life storm By: AR Capetta (Bright Death #2)
In the intense ending of AR Capetta’s Italian-influenced fantasy duo, Teo, a teen who can turn people into objects, and her gender-fluid strega (practitioner of magic) Cielo take on the power of the future to save their soul nation.
cemetery boy by Aiden Thomas
All Yadriel wanted was to show his family that he was a real Brucho. What he gets is the ghost of Julian, a troublesome former classmate. Yadriel agrees to help Julian with his unfinished business so he can travel, but things get more complicated as they get to know each other more.
Lobizona Romina Garber
The Latin Magic Boarding School Book you’ve been waiting for! With strange eyes and an undocumented identity, Manu has been in hiding his whole life. When her mother is captured by ICE, she follows a strange boy into the magical world of Argentine witches and werewolves. Her family history reveals the turmoil beneath the school’s strict and orderly surface.
Survivor by Hannah Abigail Clark
When Mean Girls Yates, Jing, and Daisy hire social outcast Sideways to work magic for their Halloween party, they get more than they ever imagined. The ferocious trio morphs into a powerful foursome as they descend into the wizarding world. Bad boys, dangerous spells and spectacular queer abound.
when we were magicians by Sarah Gary
Look, we all know a book that dies with a penis exploding ends up in my best work. It just had to. Much of the story involves the part of Alexis and her five buddies getting rid of dead boys and exploring their feelings, maybe even falling in love.
black girl magic
The phoenix must burn first Edited by Patrice Caldwell
16 stories from the speculative spectrum covering the strength and defiance of girls and gender nonconforming people from across the Black Diaspora. Most enjoyed listening to Beyonce’s “Lemonade.”
ray bearer Jordan Ifueko (Raybearer #1)
Raised by a hard-hearted woman known only as a lady, Tarisay longed for company. But she was trained (and forced by magic) to kill the crown prince. After securing a place in the competition for the Eleven’s Council for the Prince, Talissey will have to make a choice: Free Will or Fate?
Underwater Song By Bethany C. Morrow
Two best friends, Tavia and Effie, live in an Oregon state full of magical and mythical creatures. Effie struggles with a strange skin condition and excessive anxiety, while Tavia is desperate to keep everyone from finding out she’s a siren. Threads of police brutality, racism, misogyny, and resistance propel this contemporary fantasy from good to great.
Song of Wrath and Destruction Rosanne A. Brown (“A Song of Ghosts and Doom” #1)
The lives of two very different teenagers collide in this fantasy inspired by West African folklore. Malik is blackmailed into agreeing to a game that puts him in the social circle of Karina, the crown prince of Qi Ran, and then he has to kill her. Meanwhile, Karina plots to marry the winner of the contest so she can kill him and use his heart to cast a spell to resurrect her mother. They both want each other to die…and then the attraction gets in the way.
the future is bad
Each of us is a desert Mark Ayutthaya
In a post-apocalyptic desert, Xo wanders from village to village, listening to people’s stories and preventing their nightmares from becoming reality. She meets Emilia, the daughter of a dictatorial mayor, and the two embark on a journey of self-discovery.
machine goddess Author: Lola Beth Johnson
Andra wakes from a cryogenic sleep looking forward to a new space colony, only to find herself enshrined as a goddess nearly a thousand years in the future, on a ravaged desert planet. She was supposed to save the world, but all she wanted to do was go back to Earth.
refuge by Paula Mendoza and Abisher
Becoming an undocumented immigrant in 2032 means navigating a world where everyone is microchipped and monitored by the government. So when Vali’s mother is captured by the deportation forces, she and her younger brother embark on a journey to safety across the continent. Can she get asylum in California?
blast from the past
festive daughter by Carla Lee Coslone
In the summer of 1962, Evie Deschamps’ magic—what her family called “celebration”—was spiraling out of control. The arrival of a creepy white man related to her family’s past prompts her to discover her sphere of power.
Immortality Justina Ireland (Dread Nation #2)
Zombies kill villain Jane McKean and her reluctant sidekick Catherine Devereux head west after escaping Summerland. But Golden State didn’t live up to the hype. Twisting real historical events into zombified alternate histories paid off in the series Ender.
unfaithful eagle by Margaret Owen (Benevolent Raven #2)
Fie, now chief of the Crows, is under threat from Queen Rusana and her terrifying army. With King Surimir dead, Prince Jasimir may not be able to protect the crow and defend his claim to the throne at the same time.
Genie Lo’s Iron Will By FC Yee (Genie Lo #2 Epic Crush)
Genie Lo and her boyfriend Quentin, aka Sun Wukong, the mythical Monkey King, are dragged into a heavenly quest when they graduate from high school. Elves don’t want to deal with little gods, scheming demons, and college apps, but girls have to do what girls have to do.
Rebel Sisters By Tochi Onyebuchi (Girls of War #2)
It’s been five years since the end of the Biafra war, and tension and trauma are always present. Cybernetic humanoid Uzo and soon-to-be doctor medical prodigy Ify become unlikely allies in the fight to stop the spread of a horrific plague.
Shadow inheritor Daniel José Older (Shadowshaper Cypher #3)
Sierra may have unchecked power, but the threat remains. Other families come after Shadowshapers and Sierra may not be enough to protect them. And then there are all those dark family secrets to deal with…
evil spirit by Kat Cho (Gumiho #2)
Half-human, half-gum-tailed brooding teen Mi-young and her confidant and partner Ji-hoon are stunned by the deaths in the previous book. But the worst is yet to come when they learn that she may have inadvertently opened a portal between the real and the supernatural. A perfect blend of Korean folklore and Korean drama.
Alex Brown is a librarian by day, a local historian by night, a passionate writer and author, and has always been a mafia.keep up with her TwitterInstagram and her blog.