The best dark, gritty YA books for the omnivorous reader

Dev Jannerson Author Of The Women of Dauphine
By Dev Jannerson

The Books I Picked & Why

Nothing Burns as Bright as You

By Ashley Woodfolk

Book cover of Nothing Burns as Bright as You

Why this book?

What’s more all-consuming than being in love with your best friend? An uncontrolled fire, maybe–or a few of them. This turbulent romance between two teenage girls is told in prose poetry, and like the best novels in verse, every carefully formatted word carries weight. The narrative jumps back and forth in time, and it dives into the (main) narrator’s mind so intimately you’ll forget you don’t even know her name.

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You'd Be Home Now

By Kathleen Glasgow

Book cover of You'd Be Home Now

Why this book?

Bestselling Girl in Pieces author Glasgow knows her way around hard-hitting hyperrealism. (Plus, she writes beautifully about my once and future home of Tucson, Arizona.) In her latest, a modern take on Our Town, Emmy’s brother comes home from rehab, and Emmy prepares to fulfill the role she’s always had as the household rock and peacekeeper. But what about what she needs, and what if Joey has problems she can’t cover up? This novel’s depiction of drug addiction, and how its impact reverberates through families, is informed and unromanticized.

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The Woods Vol. 1

By James Tynion IV, Michael Dialynas

Book cover of The Woods Vol. 1

Why this book?

A normal high school in Wisconsin disappears, along with everyone in it. Stranded on an alien planet, the accidental voyagers must figure out who (or what) they’re up against, how best to survive, and whether there’s any way to return. Meanwhile on Earth, their stunned families struggle to cope with what they’ve lost.

The Woods, my favorite comic series of all time, is split into nine volumes, and the first hits the ground running. With Lord of the Flies-level social politics and a high body count, this sci-fi saga is not for the faint of heart.

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The Obsession

By Jesse Q. Sutanto

Book cover of The Obsession

Why this book?

Thrillers! At a time when the world feels so perilous, what could be more satisfying than a high-stakes story that’s fully resolved by the last page? Only one that’s also a triumphant revenge fantasy.

Delilah is sick of feeling scared. When she retaliates against her tyrannical stepfather and he winds up dead, it would be the perfect crime–if not for a hidden camera planted by her creepy classmate. Logan believes he and Delilah are meant to be together, and he’s not above using blackmail to keep her around. Told in dual POV between Delilah and the eerily calm Logan, The Obsession is fast-paced, riveting, and, if you’re new to the thriller world, an A+ introduction to the genre.

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Strange the Dreamer

By Laini Taylor

Book cover of Strange the Dreamer

Why this book?

Epic fantasy can be a hard sell for me, but Laini Taylor’s intricate worldbuilding sweeps me off my feet. There’s a love story at the center of this duology, characters from different and equally tragic worlds, but there’s also lots of magic: moths who carry dreams, orphaned half-gods, and floating palaces of magic metal. Oh, and there’s a robust cast of ghosts. Need I say more?

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