4 must-read summer YA novels, reviewed by Seattle-area teens

“Before Takeoff”

by Adi Alsaid (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $18.99)

The airport is one of those settings inexplicably loved by popular media — movies, especially, but across the board, there is something intriguing about its high-tension, liminal environment. Author Adi Alsaid takes this one step further in his book “Before Takeoff,” trapping his two protagonists (and hundreds of other travelers) in an airport. Strangers James and Michelle spend their unexpected delay talking about everything from childhood crushes to the necessity of superlatives as they navigate stranger and stranger developments in the concrete jungle.

Romance in young adult novels is often cheesy and repetitive. However, James and Michelle’s dynamic feels genuine in its slow build, and the conversations between them are a respite from the growing unease from the rest of the plot. Alsaid’s writing bolsters this by switching between dynamic description and introspection. Although a few of his switches from omniscient and limited third-person perspective caught me off guard, I felt it worked with the rest of the book’s artistic choices.

“Before Takeoff” is a welcome new take on young adult novels. It’s not the dramatic fantasy tale that might draw usual fans in, but it makes up for it with originality and intrigue sure to delight readers.

“M is for Monster”

by Talia Dutton (Abrams ComicArts – Surely, $24.99)

Comic books are tragically underappreciated. When done right, their mixture of text and art can tell just about any kind of story. As a kid, I loved them because they were easier on my less-than-impressive attention span, and I’m happy to see that graphic novels like “M is For Monster” exist for older audiences. Author and illustrator Talia Dutton takes a sci-fi lens on identity and belonging with the story of a young scientist who dies and is brought back to life…but this time, with another person in her body. The premise is engaging and the art supports the plot, using everything from the panels’ frames to dramatic coloring to explain thoughts and emotions.

Diverse sci-fi is hard to find. It’s not that it doesn’t exist, especially today, but I’ve found that fantasy books generally lag behind when it comes to people of color and LGBTQ+ characters and authors. “M is For Monster’s” unapologetic portrayal of diversity of all kinds made me feel welcomed into Dutton’s world.

— Reviews by Lucia McLaren

“This Vicious Grace: A Novel”

by Emily Thiede (Wednesday Books, $18.99)

“This Vicious Grace” by Emily Thiede is a tense, beautifully written story of power, disability and guilt. Set in a fictional Italy-inspired island, Alessa has been chosen by a goddess to be a savior of her city, with the power to kill everyone she touches. But impostor syndrome and a building list of dead spouses are weighing on her. If her gift is to kill, how can she possibly save her community? Despite being packed with all the romance tropes, this story is fresh, interesting, and incredibly personal. The romance with her bodyguard, Dante, was believable, well-paced and touching, literally, as her gift prevented her from touching another person. The language was flowery but also from a profoundly teenage perspective. With Alessa’s simultaneous need for validation from her community and fear of assassination for her lack of success, this book charmingly explores romance, community and found family.

“This Vicious Grace” is almost 400 pages and I read it in a weekend, unable to put it down. If you want a rich, poetic page turner for the summer, look here.

“The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes: A Novel”

by Cat Sebastian (Avon, $15.99)

“The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes” by Cat Sebastian is a sweet, intimate love story amidst a Georgian-era vagabond adventure. Marian Hayes goes on the lam after she rightly shoots her husband. She is left with few allies, the principle of whom being the blackmailer that got her into this situation. Traveling the English countryside, stopping only to steal and kidnap stray cats, a gentle love story emerges between them. If you, like me, are equally a fan of guillotining the rich as you are of historical romance, then this book will be a refreshing look at a swashbuckling thieves tale.

— Reviews by Adrian Martin

This article was written on special assignment for The Seattle Times through the TeenTix Press Corps, a teen arts journalism program sponsored by TeenTix (teentix.org), a youth empowerment and arts access nonprofit organization.

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