No matter how much fun your family is having on vacation, there’s nothing quite like a good book for those moments when you all need a little break from each other. This year’s best middle grade and young adult novels feature so many diverse characters and situations that there’s bound to be something for even the pickiest readers in your family—even if they aren’t natural bookworms.
I’ve divided the list below into two sections: young adult novels for teens and mature tweens, and middle grade books and graphic novels for kids in the eight- to 12-year-old range. Where applicable, I’ve also included links to the audiobook versions as well. Every book listed here was first published in 2018.
The Best Young Adult (YA) Books of 2018
The YA books listed below are appropriate for most teenagers and mature tweens. Obviously you know your kids better than I do, so make sure the book’s content and themes are a good fit for your child before purchasing. (Scroll about halfway down the page for middle grade book recommendations for younger kids.)
Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen
From the publisher: “After her mother is shot at a checkpoint, fifteen-year-old Sarah meets a mysterious man with an ambiguous accent, a suspiciously bare apartment, and a lockbox full of weapons. He’s part of the secret resistance against the Third Reich, and he needs Sarah to hide in plain sight at a school for the daughters of top Nazi brass, posing as one of them. If she can befriend the daughter of a key scientist and get invited to her house, she might be able to steal the blueprints to a bomb that could destroy the cities of Western Europe.
Nothing could prepare Sarah for her cutthroat schoolmates, and soon she finds herself in a battle for survival unlike any she’d ever imagined. But anyone who underestimates this innocent-seeming girl does so at their peril. She may look sweet, but she’s the Nazis’ worst nightmare.”
What the critics say: “A powerful, bleak, and penetrating portrait of an isolated young woman excelling in unimaginable danger.” —Kirkus Reviews
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
From the publisher: “Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans—especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.
To win a place at the Court, she must defy him—and face the consequences. In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.”
What the critics say: “Black is a master at world-building, conveying integral details without that information ever seeming tedious or encyclopedic, whether you’re well versed in faerie or a newcomer to the genre… the experience of reading a novel like this is something like being surrounded by magic.”―The New York Times Book Review
What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
From the publisher: “Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it. Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.
But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them…? Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated. Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited. But what if they can’t nail a first date even after three do-overs? What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work and Ben doesn’t try hard enough? What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play? But what if it is?”
What the critics say: “A charming, sweet-natured love story between two very different boys.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
From the publisher: “Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. ‘A place,’ he said, ‘where learning is a game.’
Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym ‘Truly, Devious.’ It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.
True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.”
What the critics say: “Remember the first time reading Harry Potter and knowing it was something special? There’s that same sense of magic in the introduction of teen Sherlock-in-training Stevie Bell. Parallel mysteries unfold with cleverly written dialogue, page-turning brilliance and a young sleuth just as captivating as Hercule Poirot.”—USA Today
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
From the publisher: “Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.”
What the critics say: “… Adeyemi keeps it fresh with an all-black cast of characters, a meaningful emphasis on fighting for justice, a complex heroine saving her own people, and a brand of magic made more powerful by the strength of heritage and ancestry.” ―Booklist (starred review)
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
From the publisher: “Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: ‘Stay away from the Hazel Wood.’
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.”
What the critics say: “Highly literary, occasionally surreal, and grounded by Alice’s clipped, matter-of-fact voice, The Hazel Wood is a dark story that readers will have trouble leaving behind. The buzz for this debut is deafening, and the fact that the film adaption is already in the works doesn’t hurt.”―ALA Booklist (starred review)
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney
From the publisher: “The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she’s trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.
Life in real-world Atlanta isn’t always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she’ll need to use everything she’s learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.”
What the critics say: “Mixing elements of Alice in Wonderland and Buffy the Vampire Slayer… a delectable urban twist on beloved fairy tales.” —Entertainment Weekly
Puddin’ by Julie Murphy
From the publisher: “Millie Michalchuk has gone to fat camp every year since she was a little girl. Not this year. This year she has new plans to chase her secret dream of being a newscaster—and to kiss the boy she’s crushing on.
Callie Reyes is the pretty girl who is next in line for dance team captain and has the popular boyfriend. But when it comes to other girls, she’s more frenemy than friend.
When circumstances bring the girls together over the course of a semester, they surprise everyone (especially themselves) by realizing that they might have more in common than they ever imagined.”
What the critics say: “Murphy’s plot brims with unlikely friendships, irresistible romance, fabulous fat acceptance, and a kick-ass ending. Buoying.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
From the publisher: “Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.
In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.
But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.
But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.”
What the critics say: “Ireland delivers a necessary, subversive, and explosive novel with her fantasy-laced alternate history that does the all-important work of exploring topics of oppression, racism, and slavery while simultaneously accomplishing so much more. Brilliant and gut-wrenching.” —Booklist (starred review)
#MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil
From the publisher: “Welcome to the near future, where good and honest citizens can enjoy watching the executions of society’s most infamous convicted felons, streaming live on The Postman app from the suburbanized prison island Alcatraz 2.0.
When seventeen-year-old Dee Guerrera wakes up in a haze, lying on the ground of a dimly lit warehouse, she realizes she’s about to be the next victim of the app. Knowing hardened criminals are getting a taste of their own medicine in this place is one thing, but Dee refuses to roll over and die for a heinous crime she didn’t commit. Can Dee and her newly formed posse, the Death Row Breakfast Club, prove she’s innocent before she ends up wrongfully murdered for the world to see? Or will The Postman’s cast of executioners kill them off one by one?”
What the critics say: “McNeil has written a compelling story that cleverly mixes dystopian, survivalist, and mystery genres together… Give to fans of action, mysteries, and Saw-esque tricks and traps.” ―Booklist
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
From the publisher: “Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful. But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orleans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land.
But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orleans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.”
What the critics say: “Clayton… creates a vivid island world in this enticing series opener, saturating the narration with lush descriptions… that reflect the culture’s obsession with elegance, appearance, and luxury. Readers will be left with much to consider about morality, individuality, and the malleability and artificiality of beauty.” ―Publishers Weekly
The Best Middle Grade (MG) Books of 2018
The MG books and graphic novels listed below are appropriate for most kids between the ages of eight and 12. Some books skew a little older or younger, so read the descriptions closely before making a purchase.
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
From the publisher: “Ever since Cass almost drowned (okay, she did drown, but she doesn’t like to think about it), she can pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead . . . and enter the world of spirits. Her best friend is even a ghost.So things are already pretty strange. But they’re about to get much stranger.
When Cass’s parents start hosting a TV show about the world’s most haunted places, the family heads off to Edinburgh, Scotland. Here, graveyards, castles, and secret passageways teem with restless phantoms. And when Cass meets a girl who shares her ‘gift,’ she realizes how much she still has to learn about the Veil—and herself.
And she’ll have to learn fast. The city of ghosts is more dangerous than she ever imagined.”
What the critics say: “This fast-paced, spooky ghost story filled with international adventure is sure to please horror enthusiasts and armchair travelers.” —School Library Journal
The Burning Maze: The Trials of Apollo, Book Three, by Rick Riordan
From the publisher: “The formerly glorious god Apollo, cast down to earth in punishment by Zeus, is now an awkward mortal teenager named Lester Papadopoulos. In order to regain his place on Mount Olympus, Lester must restore five Oracles that have gone dark. But he has to achieve this impossible task without having any godly powers and while being duty-bound to a confounding young daughter of Demeter named Meg. Thanks a lot, Dad.
With the help of some demigod friends, Lester managed to survive his first two trials, one at Camp Half-Blood, and one in Indianapolis, where Meg received the Dark Prophecy. The words she uttered while seated on the Throne of Memory revealed that an evil triumvirate of Roman emperors plans to attack Camp Jupiter. While Leo flies ahead on Festus to warn the Roman camp, Lester and Meg must go through the Labyrinth to find the third emperor–and an Oracle who speaks in word puzzles–somewhere in the American Southwest. There is one glimmer of hope in the gloom-filled prophecy: The cloven guide alone the way does know. They will have a satyr companion, and Meg knows just who to call upon. . .”
What the critics say: “A satisfying bridge, setting up for the next in the series.”—Kirkus Reviews
The Magic Misfits: The Second Story by Neil Patrick Harris
From the publisher: “Growing up in an orphanage, Leila was bullied for being different. She turned her hardship into skill by becoming an escape artist–a valuable trait when you belong to a group of magical best friends. But when a famous psychic comes to town, Leila and her pals can’t escape the big mystery heading their way. Whether chasing mad monkeys or banishing ghosts from haunted hotels, these six friends will do their best to keep their home of Mineral Wells safe–but can they protect themselves?”
What the critics say: “Harris doles out humor, suspense, and sensitivity in equal measure…” ―School Library Journal
The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall
From the publisher: “Nine years, five older siblings, a few beloved dogs, and an endless array of adventures—these are the things that have shaped Lydia’s journey since readers first met her in The Penderwicks in Spring.
Now it’s summertime, and eleven-year-old Lydia is dancing at the bus stop, waiting for big sister Batty to get home from college. This is a very important dance and a very important wait because the two youngest sisters are about to arrive home to find out that the Penderwicks will all be returning to Arundel this summer, the place where it all began. And better still is the occasion: a good old-fashioned, homemade-by-Penderwicks wedding.
Bursting with heart and brimming with charm, this is a joyful, hilarious ode to the family we love best. And oh my MOPS—Meeting of Penderwick Siblings—does Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks at Last crescendo to one perfect Penderwick finale.”
What the critics say: “Beautifully crafted, both in descriptions and characterizations, this makes for a fitting end to a much-praised series.” —Booklist (starred review)
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
From the publisher: “Best-selling author Rick Riordan introduces this adventure by Roshani Chokshi about twelve-year-old Aru Shah, who has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?
One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again. But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction.
Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it’s up to Aru to save them. The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?”
What the critics say: “An enthralling start to a series that [Rick] Riordan fans and anyone in the mood for a high-octane adventure will love.” ―School Library Journal
The Art of the Swap by Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone
From the publisher: “Hannah Jordan lives in a museum…well, sort of. She is the daughter of the caretaker for mansion-turned-museum The Elms in Newport, Rhode Island. Hannah’s captivated by stories of The Elms’s original occupants, especially Maggie Dunlap, the tween heiress subject of a painting that went missing during a legendary art heist in 1905.
But when a mysterious mirror allows Hannah and Maggie to switch places in time, suddenly Hannah is racing to stop the heist from happening, while Maggie gets an introduction to iPhones, soccer (which girls can play!), and freedoms like exploring without supervision. Not to mention the best invention of all: sweatpants (so long, corsets!).
As the hours tick away toward the art heist, something’s not adding up. Can the girls work together against time—and across it—to set things right? Or will their temporary swap become a permanent trade?”
What the critics say: “This middle grade novel with a time-traveling twist will appeal to those who enjoy history, light fantasy, mysteries, or stories featuring strong female characters.” —School Library Journal
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
From the publisher: “In Be Prepared, all Vera wants to do is fit in—but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there’s one summer camp in her price range—Russian summer camp.
Vera is sure she’s found the one place she can fit in, but camp is far from what she imagined. And nothing could prepare her for all the ‘cool girl’ drama, endless Russian history lessons, and outhouses straight out of nightmares!”
What the critics say: “Perfect for fans of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends, this will easily lodge a place in readers’ hearts, even as it has them rolling in the aisles.” ―Booklist (starred review)
Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
From the publisher: “It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.
It turns out she’s right.
Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. He can’t remember who—or what—he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.
Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.
What the critics say: “This is a welcome addition to the middle-grade canon and will likely become a classic. Bob deserves readership beyond middle grade.” —San Francisco Book Review
Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner
From the publisher: “It’s the beginning of the new school year and AJ feels like everyone is changing but him. He hasn’t grown or had any exciting summer adventures like his best friends have. He even has the same crush he’s harbored for years. So AJ decides to take matters into his own hands. But how could a girl like Nia Winters ever like plain vanilla AJ when she only has eyes for vampires?
When AJ and Nia are paired up for a group project on Transylvania, it may be AJ’s chance to win over Nia’s affection by dressing up like the vamp of her dreams. And soon enough he’s got more of Nia’s attention than he bargained for when he learns she’s a slayer.
Now AJ has to worry about self-preservation while also trying to save everyone he cares about from a real-life threat lurking in the shadows of Spoons Middle School.”
What the critics say: “Gardner’s tale, which includes a share of lighthearted pokes at the Twilight series, is a fun romp through sixth grade.” —Publishers Weekly
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
From the publisher: “When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return.
Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town—including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder—she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)”
What the critics say: “For readers who relish thoughtfully constructed plots, well-developed characters, and carefully crafted language, this will be a special treat.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Love Like Sky by Leslie C. Youngblood
From the publisher: “G-baby and her younger sister, Peaches, are still getting used to their ‘blended-up’ family. They live with Mama and Frank out in the suburbs, and they haven’t seen their real daddy much since he married Millicent. G-baby misses her best friend back in Atlanta, and is crushed that her glamorous new stepsister, Tangie, wants nothing to do with her.
G-baby is so preoccupied with earning Tangie’s approval that she isn’t there for her own little sister when she needs her most. Peaches gets sick—really sick. Suddenly, Mama and Daddy are arguing like they did before the divorce, and even the doctors at the hospital don’t know how to help Peaches get better.
It’s up to G-baby to put things right. She knows Peaches can be strong again if she can only see that their family’s love for her really is like sky.”
What the critics say: “An openhearted, endearing, and unforgettable debut about the challenges of friendship, growing up, and the boundless love of family.” —Kirkus Reviews
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