YA And MG Book Trends For Summer: Sequels, Superheroes And Sweethearts

From the moment author Maureen Johnson finished her hugely successful Truly Devious trilogy, she knew she wanted to write another adventure for teen detective Stevie Bell. As she began considering where to set the book, the answer became obvious.

The Hand on the Wall, the third book in the trilogy, ended with Stevie and friends finishing their first year at an elite and eccentric Vermont boarding school. The next logical step, any fan of young adult fiction could tell you, was to send them to camp.

“I knew I likely wanted something that happened over the summer. I also wanted somewhere I could bring the characters back together,” Johnson says.

She wanted to preserve the Truly Devious series’ blast-from-the-past, cold case element, too. Everything comes together in The Box in the Woods, which publishes next week.“ I also felt like the ’70s were the next historical period I wanted to work with for the cold case. All of those things add up to camp. I didn’t have to think about it very long. Camp was the right setting. Murder, remote locations, serial killers…that’s camp for you,” Johnson says.

She enjoyed the opportunity to work with an established set of characters while weaving new ones into the story. “I love working with characters that have been in other books—there is story to work with, things to play with. The challenge is in the change. Detectives have to stay a bit static. The stories are new, but what we like is that the detective stays the same, for the most part. We know their methods. So it’s a question of balancing development and keeping them consistent,” Johnson says.

Her book is one of a slew of new young adult and middle grade tomes out this spring and summer. Sequels and continuing series remain a big draw, and as Johnson notes, one of the advantages of writing them is meeting already-established characters where they are.

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Mackenzi Lee did this with the new book Gamora & Nebula: Sisters in Arms, released last week. It’s the second YA book in a Marvel series, using characters from the popular comic books and movies.

Lee still enjoyed a bit of wiggle room with character development. “With Gamora and Nebula, I felt more keenly with them than with the last book, about Loki, that their backstories were not as developed,” she says. “I had a lot of space to work with. I looked at them and said, ‘This is what everyone knows about them, how’d they get there? What seeds were planted, what foundation was laid in their youth?’”

She notes the abuse they received from their adoptive father, Thanos, brought up serious questions readers might not associate with the more lighthearted Guardians of the Galaxy films from James Gunn. But asking why they still worked for Thanos despite the abuse also recognized that not everyone can remove themselves from an abusive relationship, giving Lee great depts to plumb.

Joan He covers equally serious ground in the recent YA release The Ones We’re Meant to Find. Her novel follows two sisters living in a future where only a handful of cities have escaped deadly pollution, and it deals seriously with climate change. “I wanted a near-apocalyptic setting. When I was picking why the world was ending, I wanted to pick something that wouldn’t require people to suspend their disbelief, so I picked climate change as opposed aliens,” He says.

She pulled on many things she had already learned about climate change in classes, wanting to keep the scientific terms accessible to the average readers. But she had to look up small details, such as how much wastewater the fashion industry produces.

Climate change is also the focus of Rachel Griffin’s The Nature of Witches, which features witches fighting climate change, while Jewell Parker Rhodes’ latest, Paradise on Fire, looks at connections between environmentalist and race with a focus on deadly wildfires.

Other Young Adult Novels Out This Spring and Summer

A novel in verse, Colby Cedar Smith’s Call Me Athena follows the daughter of immigrants in Detroit, with flashbacks to her parents’ native France and Greece.

Of course, young love is an ever-present theme in YA novels. The Girl From the Sea is a graphic novel from Molly Knox Ostertag (The Witch Boy trilogy). The protagonist falls for another girl amidst her parents’ divorce as the girls grapple with hidden secrets. Jay Coles’ Things We Couldn’t Say focuses on a bisexual Black boy falling in love while also coping with the sudden return of his mother after eight years gone.

Kate Norris’ When You and I Collide explores grief in a historical setting, with the teen protagonist a budding physicist during World War II who explores the theory of the multiverse (very Marvel of her).

In You’re So Dead, a comedic mystery out next week, Ash Parsons thrusts three best friends into a Fyre Festival-type situation where a killer begins targeting them.

Francisco X. Stork’s On the Hook follows a young man trying to help his family out of the housing projects, but instead he and his brother are sent to reformatory school.

Gayle Foreman (If I Stay) has written a “love letter to booksellers and books” with We Are Inevitable, about a family running a used bookstore that, like the family, is threatening to fall apart.

A.S. King’s latest, Switch, feels strangely resonate despite its sci-fi aspects. Time stopped on June 23, 2020 (not unlike many felt during the pandemic), and one teen believes her father may have the answer to unsticking time. Similarly dystopian, Brianna Bourne’s You & Me at the End of the World follows two friends who become the last two people on Earth.

Middle Grade Novels

Middle grade novels often focus on magic, and in Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Sisters of the Neversea, a retelling of Peter Pan, merpeople and fairies play a role in the big conflict.

Fitting in is also a big theme. Chris Baron’s The Magical Imperfect focuses on a friendship between a quiet boy who stopped speaking after his mother’s exit and a girl teased so much about the eczema on her face that she quit going to school.

Coming in July, Greg Van Eeekhout’s Weird Kid follows a 12-year-old who doesn’t just feel alien; he really is an alien.

That Thing About Bollywood, Supriya Kelkar’s book about a young girl whose friends and family begin spontaneously bursting into song and dance, shows how difficult it can be for kids to cope with changes such as divorce.

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