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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Five YA novels to read this summer

By Deborah Taylor Special to The Washington Post

These novels are from various genres, time periods and viewpoints, but they all share compelling characters, intriguing narratives and enough surprises to engage readers.

1. “Blood at the Root,” by LaDarrion Williams: Malik discovered his magic as a 7-year-old, the same time he lost his mother. After spending time in an orphanage and with a foster family, he is determined to get back to the one person he considers family, his young friend Taye. But his plan to rescue Taye and take off to California is upended when he receives a message from his grandmother Mama Aya, summoning him to Louisiana. Despite some resentment that she had not sought him out when his mother died, he cannot deny their kinship. At Mama Aya’s insistence, Malik enrolls in Caiman University, an HBCU specializing in magic, where he begins to understand his special gifts. Drawing on African and Caribbean spiritual traditions and Black history for world building, Williams has crafted a highly entertaining adventure centering a well-rounded character with emotional volatility but also a desire for connection and community. (Labyrinth Road)

2. “The Brightwood Code,” by Monica Hesse: The little-known history of the Hello Girls, young women from the United States who worked as telephone operators during World War I, is the starting point for this intriguing historical novel by a Washington Post columnist. Eighteen-year-old Edda St. James surprises her parents when, at the urging of her aunt, she signs up to become one of the bilingual operators stationed in France. Eventually she is selected for a special assignment near the front, where the pace of the work is harrowing, but she is determined to excel and impress her superiors. After a call goes wrong, Edda returns to the States and moves into her aunt’s boardinghouse in Washington while trying to cope with the emotional anguish from her experience in France. This page-turning narrative, with its flashbacks to Edda’s time overseas, its solid sense of wartime D.C. and the strong characterization of the protagonist, will resonate with readers. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

3. “A Crane Among Wolves,” by June Hur: In 1506, Korea was ruled by the violent, tyrannical King Yeonsan, who kidnapped young women and turned them into his concubines. In Hur’s retelling, 17-year-old Iseul, whose parents were murdered by the king’s men, is propelled to rescue her older sister, Sueyeon, from the despot’s grasp. Her plan involves unmasking a killer whom the king wants to apprehend. If she can find the killer, she speculates, surely the king will release her sister. But when Iseul crosses paths with Prince Daehyun, the king’s brother, who wants to dethrone Yeonsan, she is drawn into a dangerous plot she never could have predicted. This is a highly detailed, culturally rich tale that combines elements of mystery, palace intrigue, found family and romance. (Feiwel & Friends)

4. “Lunar New Year Love Story,” by Gene Luen Yang and LeUyen Pham: This graphic-novel collaboration is a love story and much more. Val always had a special connection with Valentine’s Day, enjoying it with friends and her dad, a single parent. However, once she gets to high school, her friends and father think it’s time to leave the holiday behind. Her grandmother confirms that their family is unlucky in love, and that her mother is not dead but left them behind, and this becomes a puzzle Val feels the need to solve. Along the way, the ghost of Saint Valentine gives her one year to find true love. Val thinks she may have found it with Les, but that relationship has issues. Meanwhile, she gets involved in lion dancing and finds the joy she seeks. It also connects her with new friends and new possibilities. The text and colorful comics work beautifully together in a story that captures the vibrant Asian community in Oakland, Calif. (First Second)

5. “Thirsty,’” by Jas Hammonds: The summer before college has even more meaning for Blake Brenner and her friends. In addition to transitioning to college life, the young women are trying to gain admission to an exclusive sorority. Blake’s girlfriend, Ella, is the daughter of an alum, but Blake, from a humbler background, knows she’ll have to impress. This adds to Blake’s anxiety about fitting in, feelings she copes with by drinking. Everyone in their group drinks, but for Blake, alcohol becomes increasingly necessary for her to be the bold, self-assured person who can keep Ella’s interest. After dismissing attempts at intervention, Blake is involved in an explosive incident that makes it impossible to deny her problem. This is a well-drawn, unflinching look at the drinking culture that some teens embrace as part of their social world. (Roaring Brook)

Deborah Taylor is a former coordinator of school and student services at Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and a national expert on young-adult literature.