Monthly Recommendations is a Goodreads group created and hosted by Kayla Rayne @ Kayla Rayne and Trina @ Between Chapters… and, as of recently, also co-hosted by April @ April Sarah and myself! I would love if you joined the Goodreads group and posted your recommendations for the topics every month (or just the months you feel like posting)!
This month is the group’s three-year anniversary, so we’re throwing it back and revisiting our first-ever topic: underrated books. I have so many underrated favorites, so to narrow it down a bit, I decided to focus solely on YA contemporary releases from the last few years that I feel like people are sleeping on. These also all have less than 700 Goodreads reviews. Whether you’re a contemporary lover like myself or someone trying to branch out and pick up more contemporary, I hope this list has something for you! (It’s quite telling that the majority of these books are by/about marginalized people, but uh, I guess that’s a topic for another post.)
Covers link to Goodreads or to my reviews.
The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz (101 Goodreads reviews) // Chances are, if you’ve followed me for a while, you’ve probably already heard me yelling about my love for Gallery. It’s a fabulist YA contemporary about an artist who’s struggling to replicate the success of her previous art pieces who discovers a magical art school. Plus, it features one of my favorite f/f romances! Queer girls + magic + excellent sibling dynamics + wonderful commentary on what it means to be creative = the perfect Madalyn book.
Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta (126 GR reviews) // Oh, would you look at that! Another sapphic story! Echo After Echo is a book I know SO many people would love, but it’s criminally under read and underrated. Things this book has: an f/f romance, a Broadway theatre setting, a murder mystery plot, plot parallels with the Greek tragedy the actors are performing, and absolutely stunning prose. If you’re a sucker for beautiful writing like I am, you haaaaaaave to pick this one up.
Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno (263 GR reviews) // Okay, so this is another fabulist f/f book, but CAN YOU BLAME ME??? It makes for the perfect contemporary. Summer of Salt is one of the most atmospheric, poignant stories I’ve read this year. It has a fantastic sister relationship at the center. The island setting and the magic in this book go hand-in-hand. Plus, there’s an f/f romance and an aroace side character! At it’s core, this is a story about how women are goddamn magical. It’s about women with power and the ways in which they use that power to protect the things they love.
The Looking Glass by Janet McNally (24 GR reviews) // If you read my recent review of this one, you’d know how much I LOVE this book. Ballerinas! Fleetwood Mac! Fairytales! Road trips! Hate-to-love! Sisters! Beautiful prose! The Looking Glass combines all of these seemingly heterogeneous elements into an incredible narrative. It’s magical and ethereal and it’s not afraid to get real. I can’t recommend this one highly enough! It just came out last week, as I’m writing this, so go pick up a copy!
Always Never Yours by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka (338 GR reviews) // Another 2018 release that deserves more love! First off, LOOK AT THAT COVER. Always Never Yours follows its main character, Megan Harper, after she gets cast as Juliet in her highly-acclaimed high school drama program’s production of Romeo & Juliet. Megan’s own love life, however, mirrors Rosaline’s rather than Juliet’s. Megan herself is my favorite protagonist of the year so far. I am always here for brash, loud, opinionated heroines (who some might classify as “unlikeable”). Not only did this book nail the atmosphere of a high school drama department and the dynamics within a production’s cast, but the romance was too sweet! There is soooo much drama in this story, and I loved every second of it– being a teenager is dramatic, okay? If you love Shakespeare, theater, outspoken protagonists, and cute romances, you have to give this one a try!
The Revenge Playbook by Rachael Allen (300 GR reviews) // I love all of Rachael’s books, but this one has to be my favorite. Set in a small, Southern town, Revenge Playbook follows four unlikely friends who team up to get revenge on their high school’s football team, because they’re tired of the culture of misogyny surrounding football at their school. Obviously, girl friendship is at the core of this story. It’s incredibly feminist, but it’s also so fun. I can’t believe more people haven’t read this! If you like Emery Lord’s books, I think you should really give this one a shot.
Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert (46 GR reviews) // After the success of Colbert’s 2017 release, Little & Lion, I really expected to hear more buzz about this one. It tackles some tough issues– falling out of love with a longtime passion, fraught parental relationships, and teen pregnancy– so masterfully. Yvonne’s struggle with thinking she wanted a career as a musician and then realizing she doesn’t was, um… a little too relatable for me atm, ha. I thought the discussion of pregnancy was excellent and much-needed in YA. This is just SUCH a great contemporary about the tumultuous time between the end of high school and, well, whatever comes next. It just came out this month, but I still think it deserves more love!
Noteworthy by Riley Redgate (634 reviews) // Hi, I’m Madalyn, and Noteworthy is the book of my heart. We have a boarding school setting, a bi, Chinese-American heroine (there’s also poverty rep!), a capella choir, the most wonderful cast of characters, and cross-dressing. It’s such a feel-good book, and I felt like Redgate saw into my very soul as she was writing this. It almost feels like there are two love stories in this book: Jordan and her love interest, and Jordan and a capella. Being the choir fanatic I am, I couldn’t get enough of the music-related scenes. This is the book that high-school-choir-nerd-Madalyn-struggling-with-her-sexuality desperately needed, but hey, out-college-music-major-Madalyn adored it just as much, too.
Everything Must Go by Jenny Fran Davis (127 GR reviews) // Oh, how I love this strange, intelligent gem of a novel. This is an epistolary novel– told through letters, emails, journal entries, blog posts, and the occasional aside from present-day-Flora– that follows our protagonist, Flora, over the course of her year at a small Quaker school in Upstate New York. If I had to describe Everything Must Go in three words, they’d be: witty, feminist, surprising. It’s a smart YA book that doesn’t take itself too seriously or come off as pretentious. Though there’s no real narrator, the reader gets an excellent sense of Flora as a person through her correspondence. She made some enormous mistakes, but she really made the best of every situation she got herself into. I just love reading about YA protagonists who are loud and impulsive… because that’s who I was as a teenager. One thing I appreciated was the way she acknowledged and checked her own privilege (and also how the people around her weren’t afraid to call her on it). The setting and the cast of side characters were delightful, too, and the story takes a wonderfully feminist turn. Highly recommend!
There you have it: my favorite recent YA contemporary releases I think deserve more love! I’d love to do a part two of this post (or cover underrated books in other genres), so let me know if that’s something you’re interested in seeing. In the meantime, have you read any of my picks?