Summer Reading Recommendations: Teens

This summer’s YA reads are full of activism in taking a stand with voice and voting. Also are atmospheric settings with equally enticing plots to help you get away from the world when it gets to be too much. Whether you and your teen are looking for Activism or an Atmospheric story (or both!) check out some of my favorite new YA books releasing this summer:


A Song Below Water (6/2, ages 13 and up) Legacies meets Nic Stone’s Dear Martin in [Bethany C.] Morrow’s YA fantasy debut: best friends discover their magical identities against today’s challenges facing young black girls. A captivating modern fantasy about black mermaids, friendship, and self-discovery set against the challenges of today’s racism and sexism.

In a society determined to keep her under lock and key, Tavia must hide her siren powers.

Meanwhile, Effie is fighting her own family struggles, pitted against literal demons from her past. Together, these best friends must navigate through the perils of high school’s junior year.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice at the worst possible moment.

Soon, nothing in Portland, Oregon, seems safe. To save themselves from drowning, it’s only Tavia and Effie’s unbreakable sisterhood that proves to be the strongest magic of all.

Why I liked it: Absolutely cover-love at first sight. What summer reading list is complete without a mermaid tale? It’s a very accessible story about finding your voice. I loved how Morrow wove reality with Black Lives Matter into a fantasy with sirens, gargoyles, pixies, and more. To have sirens unable to use their most powerful asset–their voice–because of societies’ fear reminded me of N.K. Jemison’s Broken Earth trilogy. I adored the friendship and sister-love between Tavia and Effie and the mystery of Effie’s self-discovery kept me turning the pages long after bedtime.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin (6/2, ages 13 and up) By debut Rosanne A. Brown. Perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi, Renée Ahdieh, and Sabaa Tahir.

For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.

But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.

When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a heart-pounding course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?

Why I liked it: Combine Aladdin and Jasmine (who must kill each other) with the Hunger Games and mix in West African folklore and you have this gorgeous, fast-paced fantasy. The world-building is fabulous, especially as more of the sultana’s family legend is revealed. Malik is my favorite character because Brown does an amazing job combining his anxiety with his magic, as well as making him an adoring brother to his two sisters. I got to know Karina’s character when she showed off her musical talent in playing her late father’s oud. To me, it was when her true personality shined brightest. This story mixes atmosphere and activism as Malik is an Eshran, from the ‘lesser’ territory of Ziran, and faces much prejudice so he hides his background until he learns to speak up for his people.


The Voting Booth (7/7, ages 12 and up) From Stonewall Award-winning author Brandy Colbert comes an all-in-one-day love story perfect for fans of The Sun is Also A Star.

Marva Sheridan was born ready for this day. She’s always been driven to make a difference in the world, and what better way than to vote in her first election?

Duke Crenshaw is so done with this election. He just wants to get voting over with so he can prepare for his band’s first paying gig tonight.
Only problem? Duke can’t vote.
When Marva sees Duke turned away from their polling place, she takes it upon herself to make sure his vote is counted. She hasn’t spent months doorbelling and registering voters just to see someone denied their right.
And that’s how their whirlwind day begins, rushing from precinct to precinct, cutting school, waiting in endless lines, turned away time and again, trying to do one simple thing: vote. They may have started out as strangers, but as Duke and Marva team up to beat a rigged system (and find Marva’s missing cat), it’s clear that there’s more to their connection than a shared mission for democracy.
Romantic and triumphant, The Voting Booth is proof that you can’t sit around waiting for the world to change… but some things are just meant to be.
Why I liked it: This one is different from all the rest on this list because it’s the only one that isn’t a fantasy. I don’t read much YA contemporary but feel with all the poll and voting issues going on, that it’s important for teens today to see someone their own age who is passionate for democracy. The romance is sweet though my favorite part is all the fun facts sprinkled through the text (Angela doesn’t call us book nerds for nothing ;)). For instance, Marva’s IG famous cat is called Eartha Kitty so we learn how Eartha Kitt, in addition to being a 1950s sex symbol, was also a political activist, something that history seems to gloss over.

Ghost Wood Song (7/14, ages 13 and up ) Sawkill Girls meets Beautiful Creatures in this lush and eerie debut [by Erica Waters], where the boundary between reality and nightmares is as thin as the veil between the living and the dead.

If I could have a fiddle made of Daddy’s bones, I’d play it. I’d learn all the secrets he kept.

Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness. When her brother is accused of murder, though, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets. In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing.

Family secrets, past heartache, a gorgeously resonant LGBT love triangle, and long-buried memories make this young adult debut more than just a ghost story—it’s haunting and hopeful and proves the importance of human connection and support in facing everything that haunts us in the dark.

Why I liked it: This pick is all about the atmosphere–it’s as lyrical and haunting as the bluegrass ballads Shady Grove plucks out of her fiddle. Creepy with a gorgeous Southern tone. It was un-put-down-able because I couldn’t tell what would happen next. I was like one of the fiddle’s ghosts–I couldn’t’ not be there. Beautiful imagery and setting.


Lobizona (8/4, ages 12 and up) Bestselling author Romina Garber weaves together Argentine folklore and what it means to be illegal in a timely, intimate, and emotionally powerful narrative.

Some people ARE illegal.

Lobizonas do NOT exist.

Both of these statements are false.

Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.

Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.

Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past—a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.

As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . . it’s her entire existence.

Why I liked it: Another cover-love that gave me grabby-hands when this copy came into the bookshop. Think Harry Potter meets Argentinian folklore meets the hope/terror of people coming to the U.S. to start a better life. Manu immediately draws the reader into her world. And it’s a tiny one. Like apartment-sized. Because she thinks she’s waiting on papers to become a documented American citizen. The world-building in this book is amazing because it’s familiar yet so new at the same time, especially as Manu discovers more about who she really is. And who her parents are. And that brujas and lobizones and Lunaris aren’t just bedtime stories. It’s another story that beautifully and powerfully combines atmosphere and Latinx activism.

Where Dreams Descend (8/25, ages 14 and up) The startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.

A star showgirl must win a magician’s competition riddled with danger in order to secure her freedom, even as a handsome magician distracts her heart, in this lush, unforgettable debut fantasy.

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Why I liked it: The comparison titles drew me in–The Phantom of the Opera meets Moulin Rouge. It reminded me a lot of Stephanie Garber’s Caraval with the illusions and magic and not knowing who you should trust though the main characters’ motivations are very different. That not knowing really upped the tension because I had no idea if Kallia was making the right decisions. 

It’s said to be full of romantic tension, but that’s not what drives the story. Kallia doesn’t make decisions based on a boy, she works to make herself the best show magician she can be so it’s satisfyingly girl-powered. And her friendships and alliances with Aaros, the pick-pocketer turned loyal best friend/assistant and the ladies of the Conquering Circus really made me like Kallia more as it showed a different side of her and made her feel more dimensional as a character.

The world-building threw me for the first chapter or so, but give it time to reveal itself. Kallia doesn’t know much of anything past the walls of Hellfire House and the Master is that silent, secretive type so it was hard for me to connect to the story at first. But the imagery was lovely so I stuck with it and finally connected a couple chapters in.

The odd bird of a city Glorian has loads of mystery so I’m eager to read the next one to find out why all the townspeople have had their memories erased, and how it relates to the Master of Hellfire House and Demarco’s sister’s disappearance. Lots of cards up in the air, waiting to fall 😉

(All summaries are from the publisher.)

What books are you or your teen looking forward to reading over the summer? Is your favorite not on the list? Tell us about it!

Want us to pre-order any of these books for you? We’re offering no-contact curbside pickups, porch drop-offs in select neighborhoods, and we’re open by appointment. Book your time slot here. If we don’t have the book that you’re looking for in stock, use our affiliate link with

Happy summer reading!

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