Ah, High School. The quintessential YA setting. Some teens try to focus on it while mythology is coming to life around them, some interpret class projects differently than the teacher intended, some are motivated by their carefully built reputation, some have worlds falling apart and still have to go to class, some battles are fought by debate teams. Either way, here are some of the best high school-set books to get for your friends, mortal enemies, or random niece you got for your family Secret Santa. (Titles listed in alphabetical order!)
The Duke of Bannerman Prep
by Katie Nelson
Words are weapons. Facts can be manipulated. And nothing is absolute–especially right and wrong. Tanner McKay is at Bannerman Prep for one reason: to win. The elite school recruited him after he argued his public school’s debate team to victory last year, and now Bannerman wants that championship trophy. Debate is Tanner’s life–his ticket out of scrimping and saving and family drama, straight to a scholarship to Stanford and a new, better future. When he’s paired with the prep school playboy everyone calls the Duke, Tanner’s straightforward plans seem as if they’re going off the rails. The Duke is Bannerman royalty, beloved for his laissez-faire attitude, crazy parties, and the strings he so easily pulls. And a total no-show when it comes to putting in the work to win. As Tanner gets sucked into the Duke’s flashy world, the thrill of the high life and the adrenaline of the edge becomes addictive. A small favor here and there seems like nothing in exchange for getting everything he ever dreamed of. But the Duke’s castle is built on shady, shaky secrets, and the walls are about to topple. A contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, Katie A. Nelson’s taut debut is perfect for anyone who’s struggled to survive the cutthroat world of competitive high school.
Gatsby factor: 10/10
Debate factor: 10/10
Buy it for the one who likes: The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly
The Education of Margot Sanchez
by Lilliam Rivera
Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted–from debut author Lilliam Rivera. Things/People Margot Hates:
Mami, for destroying her social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
Everyone else After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts. With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal… Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises–the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood–keep her from her goal.
“YOU’RE GROUNDED” factor: 10/10
Drama factor: 10/10
Buy it for the one who likes: Pretty in Pink, Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo
by F C Yee
The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie’s every waking thought. But when she discovers she’s a celestial spirit who’s powerful enough to bash through the gates of heaven with her fists, her perfectionist existence is shattered.
Enter Quentin, a transfer student from China whose tone-deaf assertiveness beguiles Genie to the brink of madness. Quentin nurtures Genie’s outrageous transformation–sometimes gently, sometimes aggressively–as her sleepy suburb in the Bay Area comes under siege from hell-spawn.
This epic YA debut draws from Chinese folklore, features a larger-than-life heroine, and perfectly balances the realities of Genie’s grounded high school life with the absurd supernatural world she finds herself commanding.
SO MUCH FUN factor: 10/10
Chinese Mythology factor: 10/10
Buy it for the one who likes: Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan, Antigoddess by Kendare Blake, Wendy Wu
The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does–or does not–say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
“The” Book of 2017 factor: 10/10
Best Family factor: 10/10
Buy it for the one who doesn’t already own: The Hate U Give
by Miranda Kenneally
What girl doesn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn’t just surrounded by hot guys, though-she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys and that’s just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university.
But everything she’s ever worked for is threatened when Ty Green moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he’s also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan’s feeling vulnerable. Can she keep her head in the game while her heart’s on the line?
Football for People Who Hate Football factor: 10/10
Shippy Ship factor: 10/10
Buy it for the one who likes: Morgan Matson, Emery Lord,
It’s Not Me, It’s You
by Stephanie Kate Strohm
Did you hear…?
NATALIE WAGNER, random freshman: Avery Dennis–the Avery Dennis–got dumped right before prom.
COCO KIM, best friend: Avery has never been dumped Well, okay, except for this one time.
BIZZY STANHOPE, officially the worst: The head of the prom committee doesn’t have a date to the prom. It is beyond pathetic.
JAMES “HUTCH” HUTCHERSON, lab partner: Did Avery really swear off dating until she discovers why her relationships never work out? I’ll believe that when I see it.
ROBBY MONROE, ex-boyfriend: Did you get interviewed by Avery Dennis for her project?
TRIPP GOMEX-PARKER, ex-boyfriend: Avery Dennis is straight-up interviewing everyone.
AVERY DENNIS: recently dumped/topic of much gossip: Okay. Everyone is talking about it, so let’s talk about it…
From rising star Stephanie Kate Strohm, this is a laugh-out-loud look at one girl’s epic dating history, as told by her friends, family, and foes.
Creative Homework factor: 10/10
LMAO factor: 10/10
Buy it for the one who likes: Elizabeth Eulberg, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord
Never Always Sometimes
by Adi Alsaid
Never date your best friend. Always be original. Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.
Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliche high school kids. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school. Most of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never dye your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher.
But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. So when Julia impetuously suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the cliches, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.
Making Rules Then Breaking Them factor: 10/10
BFF factor: 10/10
Buy it for the one who likes: Lauren Morrill, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Seven Ways We Lie
by Riley Redgate
In Seven Ways We Lie, a chance encounter tangles the lives of seven high school students, each resisting the allure of one of the seven deadly sins, and each telling their story from their seven distinct points of view.
The juniors at Paloma High School all have their secrets, whether it’s the thespian who hides her trust issues onstage, the closeted pansexual who only cares about his drug-dealing profits, or the neurotic genius who’s planted the seed of a school scandal. But it’s Juniper Kipling who has the furthest to fall. No one would argue that Juniper–obedient daughter, salutatorian, natural beauty, and loyal friend–is anything but perfect. Everyone knows she’s a saint, not a sinner; but when love is involved, who is Juniper to resist temptation? When she begins to crave more and more of the one person she can’t have, her charmed life starts to unravel.
Then rumors of a student-teacher affair hit the fan. After Juniper accidentally exposes her secret at a party, her fate falls into the hands of the other six sinners, bringing them into one another’s orbits. All seven are guilty of something. Together, they could save one another from their temptations–or be ruined by them.
Seven Deadly Sins factor: 7/7
Buy it for the one who likes: Jenny Han, The List by Siobhan Vivian