The best dark, gritty YA books for the omnivorous reader

Dev Jannerson Author Of The Women of Dauphine
By Dev Jannerson

Who am I?

Two facts about me as a reader: I like books that deal with difficult issues, and I like reading a lot of them. There’s something about watching teens, for whom everything feels new, deal with the toughest stuff imaginable and come out the other side. I love a protagonist who has been through the wringer. Some people call these stories dark or morbid. I prefer to think of them as hopeful. My own writing history is as diverse as my reading habits. I’ve published in poetry, romance, and criticism, but these days I’m all about YA, like the politically-charged thriller I’m querying or my queer New Orleans ghost story, The Women of Dauphine

I wrote...

The Women of Dauphine

By Dev Jannerson,

Book cover of The Women of Dauphine

What is my book about?

Cassie’s girlfriend, Gem, is a ghost. She’s also the most stable part of Cassie’s life. As our protagonist comes of age in 1990s New Orleans, her parents are increasingly violent, her church looks the other way, and she couldn’t care less about the boy drama that obsesses her friends. 

When Cassie reveals her secret relationship with the spirit, her community sends her to a sinister conversion therapy camp in hopes she’ll come home normal–not to mention straight. Can she keep her head down long enough to get back to Gem? And even if she does, how can the couple make long-term plans when one of them is growing up and the other is frozen in place?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Nothing Burns as Bright as You

Why did I love 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.

By Ashley Woodfolk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nothing Burns as Bright as You as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Five starred reviews!

From New York Times bestselling author Ashley Woodfolk, Nothing Burns as Bright as You is an impassioned stand-alone tale of queer love, grief, and the complexity of female friendship.

Two girls. One wild and reckless day. Years of tumultuous history unspooling like a thin, fraying string in the hours after they set a fire.

They were best friends. Until they became more. Their affections grew. Until the blurry lines became dangerous.

Over the course of a single day, the depth of their past, the confusion of their present, and the unpredictability of their future is revealed. And…

You'd Be Home Now

By Kathleen Glasgow,

Book cover of You'd Be Home Now

Why did I love 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.

By Kathleen Glasgow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked You'd Be Home Now as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Pieces comes a stunning novel that Vanity Fair calls “impossibly moving” and “suffused with light”. In this raw, deeply personal story, a teenaged girl struggles to find herself amidst the fallout of her brother's addiction in a town ravaged by the opioid crisis.

For all of Emory's life she's been told who she is. In town she's the rich one--the great-great-granddaughter of the mill's founder. At school she's hot Maddie Ward's younger sister. And at home, she's the good one, her stoner older brother Joey's babysitter. Everything was turned on…

The Arrow

By James Tynion IV, Michael Dialynas (illustrator),

Book cover of The Arrow

Why did I love 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.

By James Tynion IV, Michael Dialynas (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Arrow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On October 16, 2013, 437 students, 52 teachers, and 24 additional staff from Bay Point Preparatory High School in suburban Milwaukee, WI vanished without a trace. Countless light years away, far outside the bounds of the charted universe, 513 people find themselves in the middle of an ancient, primordial wilderness. Where are they? Why are they there? The answers will prove stranger than anyone could possibly imagine. As fans of James Tynion IV's work in the Batman universe (Batman Eternal, Red Hood and the Outlaws), we were eager to publish his first original comic series. Plus, The Woods gives us…

The Obsession

By Jesse Q. Sutanto,

Book cover of The Obsession

Why did I love 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.

By Jesse Q. Sutanto,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Obsession as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fast-paced teen revenge-thriller from the author of Dial A for Aunties, The Obsession will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very end.
Boy Meets Girl. Boy Stalks Girl. Girl Gets Revenge.
Logan thinks he and Delilah are meant to be.
Delilah doesn't know who Logan is.
Logan believes no one knows Delilah like him. He makes sure of it by learning everything he can by watching her through a hidden camera. Some might call him a stalker. Logan prefers to be called "romantic".
Delilah is keeping secrets though, deadly ones. There's so much more to…

Strange the Dreamer

By Laini Taylor,

Book cover of Strange the Dreamer

Why did I love 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?

By Laini Taylor,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Strange the Dreamer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Prepare to be enchanted' Sun

The magical Sunday Times bestseller by Laini Taylor, author of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy


The dream chooses the dreamer.

Since he was five years old, Lazlo Strange has been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to go in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself - in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep to cut…

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