The best character-driven books to give you all the feels

Who am I?

At first glance, this might look like a rather random collection of books. There’s sci-fi, contemporary, fantasy, and even a novel-in-verse. That’s because if you asked what my taste in books is, I’d tell you: Genre doesn’t matter as long as it has compelling, complicated, flawed characters and equally complicated but worthwhile relationships. As someone who’s struggled most of my life with anxiety, depression, and my sexuality, anytime I see characters fighting for what they want, it gives me hope, too. I hope these books help anyone who’s ever felt not enough or unsure of who they even are.

I wrote...

A Soldier and a Liar

By Caitlin Lochner,

Book cover of A Soldier and a Liar

What is my book about?

From the very first draft, A Soldier and a Liar has always been about its complicated, flawed characters, their secrets and rocky relationships, and their journey in learning how to trust others even when they’ve spent their whole lives being hurt. There are superpowers and impending war set in a dystopian world, life-or-death battles, betrayals on every level, and questions of fault and responsibility. But at the end of the day, this is a book about love in every form—even when it’s difficult to move on from past scars inflicted by loved ones.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Cemetery Boys

Caitlin Lochner Why did I love this book?

Where do I even start? There is so much to love about Cemetery Boys, from the lovable characters, fun banter, beautiful and lovingly crafted world-building, complicated family relationships, to the swoon-worthy romance. But I think what draws me so much to this book is the main character, Yadriel’s, determination to prove himself even when the odds are against him. He knows who he is and what he wants, and he’s willing to fight for it. As someone who’s always felt self-conscious of who I am and sometimes struggles with feeling like I’m not enough, he was someone I could absolutely root for and whose hard-earned victories felt incredibly fulfilling.

By Aiden Thomas,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Cemetery Boys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can't get rid of him.

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school's resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He's determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose…

Book cover of Iron Widow

Caitlin Lochner Why did I love this book?

It is so rare to find a book where the main character is truly willing to die for what they believe in—and prove it several times over in only the first few chapters. Zetian is a girl who lives in a savagely unfair world for women, and she takes that savagery and wields it right back in the best way possible. She’s someone you can root for from page one, who sees an ugly world for what it is and isn’t it afraid to attack it right back. If these lines aren’t enough to sell you, I don’t know what is: “But I have no faith in love. Love cannot save me. I choose vengeance."

By Xiran Jay Zhao,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Iron Widow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

An instant #1 New York Times bestseller!

Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers.

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn't matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it's to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister's death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through…

Book cover of We Are the Ants

Caitlin Lochner Why did I love this book?

This was a book I actually put off reading for a long time precisely because I knew it would destroy me. It centers around a science fiction allegory for depression that the main character, Henry, must navigate alongside his grief over losing his boyfriend to suicide a year before. Every character is multi-layered and complicated in such a realistically flawed way; there wasn’t anyone who didn’t have something going on or their own demons to face, which I absolutely loved. I read this book after going through one of the worst depressive periods of my life, when I couldn’t think of any downsides to dying. Seeing Henry navigate such difficult, complicated relationships and grief gave me much-needed hope at the time.

By Shaun David Hutchinson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked We Are the Ants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

A Time Best YA Book of All Time (2021)

From the “author to watch” (Kirkus Reviews) of The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes an “equal parts sarcastic and profound” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) novel about a teenage boy who must decide whether or not the world is worth saving.

Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button.

Only he isn’t sure he wants to.

After all, life hasn’t…

Book cover of The Poet X

Caitlin Lochner Why did I love this book?

This was one of my first times reading a novel in poems, so I was nervous going in—but once I started reading, I couldn’t imagine this story being told any other way. Xiomara is a character whose emotions come to life with aching realness through beautiful, evocative prose as she tries to navigate becoming a woman, reconciling with her religious mother, and expressing herself through poetry. I cried so many times through her difficult journey, but her fierceness and trueness to herself gave me confidence with my own struggles with my sexuality. Don’t let unfamiliarity with poetry scare you away: This book is crushingly gorgeous.

By Elizabeth Acevedo,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Poet X as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?


'I fell in love at slam poetry. This one will stay with you a long time.' - Angie Thomas, bestselling author of The Hate U Give

'This was the type of book where "I'll just do 50 pages" turned into finishing it in 2 reads. I felt very emotional, not just because the story and…

Book cover of The Thief

Caitlin Lochner Why did I love this book?

Since I have a lot of pretty heavy hitters on this list, I figured I’d end on a lighter favorite. Gen is one of my favorite characters of all time: resourceful, intelligent, and laughably indolent, he’s such a joy to follow on his adventure with a motley crew on a journey to find and steal an ancient artifact that may or may not exist. The world-building is intricate and carefully crafted, but the characters and their complicated relationships are what bring this book to life. No one is who they seem, and the scale of the adventure just continues to grow the further you read. As soon as I finished, I was desperate for more.

By Megan Whalen Turner,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Thief as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Discover the world of the Queen's Thief New York Times-bestselling author Megan Whalen Turner's entrancing and award-winning Queen's Thief novels bring to life the world of the epics and feature one of the most charismatic and incorrigible characters of fiction, Eugenides the thief. Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief novels are rich with political machinations and intrigue, battles lost and won, dangerous journeys, divine intervention, power, passion, revenge, and deception. Perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, Patrick Rothfuss, and George R. R. Martin. Eugenides, the queen's thief, can steal anything-or so he says. When his boasting lands him in…

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At What Cost, Silence?

By Karen Lynne Klink,

Book cover of At What Cost, Silence?

Karen Lynne Klink Author Of At What Cost, Silence?

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Child abuse survivor Reader Adventure traveler Animal lover

Karen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Secrets, misunderstandings, and a plethora of family conflicts abound in this historical novel set along the Brazos River in antebellum Washington County, East Texas.

It is a compelling story of two neighboring plantation families and a few of the enslaved people who serve them. These two plantations are a microcosm of a country on the brink of war, encompassing a variety of issues: love and friendship between men, relationships between fathers and sons, sibling rivalry, slavery, and the position of women in society.

At What Cost, Silence?

By Karen Lynne Klink,

What is this book about?

Adrien Villere suspects he is not like other boys. For years, he desperately locks away his feelings and fears-but eventually, tragedy and loss drive him to seeking solace from his mentor, a young neighbor Jacob Hart. Jacob's betrayal of Adrien's trust, however, results in secret abuse, setting off a chain of actions from which neither Adrien's wise sister, Bernadette, nor his closest friend, Isaac, can turn him.

At What Cost, Silence presents two contrasting plantation families in a society where strict rules of belief and behavior are clear, and public opinion can shape an entire life. Centerstage are the Villeres,…

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