Welcome back to my blog! As you all know, February is Valentine’s Day, and I decided to make a list of my favorite contemporaries. But this isn’t just a standard list filled with Contemporaries. These are some contemporaries that got me in my feels while reading them. If you choose to pick these up, hopefully, they won’t damage your emotions too much.
Without further ado, Let’s get started!
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.
The Henna Wars is an endearing sapphic romance story that tackles social issues that are present in our society without having either of the two overtake the book. Nishat was such an incredible character, and her story was amazing to follow. Her character is written very well, and you can tell the author put lots of work into Nishat as a character. The sisterly and romantic relationships were another aspect that made me fall in love with this book. They were both written so well, and I was invested in what would happen next. The henna business competition is such a creative idea and was a great way to bring Nishat’s own culture into the story.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his 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 up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.
I love this book so much because of the characters. I loved having Yadriel as the main character! We see Yadriel struggle with his family because they don’t understand him. The representation was great, and I appreciated how Yadriel was trans because many YA books don’t have main characters who are trans. Julian is one of those characters that would be on one of my favorite character lists. He radiated chaotic energy and was full of life. It was great to see his backstory of having a dysfunctional family relationship of abandoned kids acting as Well his family. I also had an enjoyable time seeing Julian and Yadriel’s feelings develop for one another! I loved learning about the Latinx community and the brujos. Cemetery Boys does a great job of fleshing out the world and explaining the magic system.
You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao
Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes.
Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his things, and tries everything to forget him and the tragic way he died. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces back memories. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail.
And Sam picks up the phone.
In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes her fall for him all over again, and with each call it becomes harder to let him go. However, keeping her otherworldly calls with Sam a secret isn’t easy, especially when Julie witnesses the suffering Sam’s family is going through. Unable to stand by the sidelines and watch their shared loved ones in pain, Julie is torn between spilling the truth about her calls with Sam and risking their connection and losing him forever.
The writing in this book was absolutely beautiful. Thao can capture many emotions in just a few sentences. Some of the lines were so raw that it felt like a real person speaking. The characters were so good in this book. Julie was a bit annoying in the beginning, but that makes sense. She just lost her boyfriend, and she isn’t going to be 100% herself. She was a bit detached, which was how she dealt with his death and her grief. Sam was sweet, caring, and seems like the perfect boyfriend. Whenever he saw Julie doing something wrong, he wasn’t afraid to tell her. He helped her to break out of her shell and live a little. Their relationship was so pure and a ray of sunshine. It was so heartbreaking to see them ripped apart. It shows how you shouldn’t take life for granted and spend it with the people you love.
Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.
Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.
When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.
One of the main things that made me love this book was the characters. Even though each of them had flaws, you still felt compassion for them and are still likable. Declan has dealt with many problems within his family, and from a fatal day, he has felt like a failure. Juliet has to cope with her mother’s death and live up to her legacy. Many YA books feel the need to have make-out scenes and kissing to show a sense of love. But this book did a great job of not needing it. Instead of that, we got heartfelt letters filled with grief, despair, and their struggles. The connection between Declan and Juliet was so beautiful. Through the letters, they can cope with their grief, overcoming the problems plaguing their lives.
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.
When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….
But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.
This is such an incredible book full of heartbreaking emotions, shocking twists, and figuring out who you truly are in this big world. It’s a book about friendship, love, and accepting yourself for who you are. You have Felix Love, the main character, trying to find out who he truly is and love himself. He also tries to tackle all the problems he faces with his friends, feelings, and transphobia. We then have Ezra, Felix’s best friend, who was supportive and always wanted to protect Felix. Their relationship was so real, and you could see how much they both cared about each other. It was touching. I also liked how the characters were not perfect. This makes perfect sense because they are teenagers.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.
Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain—and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life—and all the rules everyone expects her to play by—once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.
With the Fire on High is a story about parenthood. In YA, we don’t get many stories that focus on teen pregnancies. We must bring these stories to light as many teens experience this exact situation and allow us to relate to a character who has been through the same struggles. It explores the responsibilities, duties, and challenges of adulthood. It explores Emoni’s experience as a teen, and her role as a mother shapes her story. Food plays an integral role in the story, and it’s an expression and connection to her culture. The story takes time to develop her support system, and each is so lovely developed, adding more depth to Emoni’s life. It’s a story about an Afro-Latina teen mother trying to do the best for her child while trying to reach her dreams.
Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
Biggie Smalls was right. Things done changed. But that doesn’t mean that Quadir and Jarrell are okay letting their best friend Steph’s tracks lie forgotten in his bedroom after he’s killed—not when his beats could turn any Bed-Stuy corner into a celebration, not after years of having each other’s backs.
Enlisting the help of Steph’s younger sister, Jasmine, Quadir and Jarrell come up with a plan to promote Steph’s music under a new rap name: The Architect. Soon, everyone in Brooklyn is dancing to Steph’s voice. But then his mixtape catches the attention of a hotheaded music rep and—with just hours on the clock—the trio must race to prove Steph’s talent from beyond the grave.
Now, as the pressure—and danger—of keeping their secret grows, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are forced to confront the truth about what happened to Steph. Only each has something to hide. And with everything riding on Steph’s fame, together they need to decide what they stand for before they lose everything they’ve worked so hard to hold on to—including each other.
Let Me Hear a Rhyme is a brilliantly written story that puts the 90s hip hop and rap scene on center stage. Many YA books aren’t set in the 90s, so it was a nice change of pace, and you could compare how much has changed since then. We have multiple POVs that focus on our three main characters. Through these POVs, we can see how each of them coped with their best friend’s death. This story displays how music played such a significant role in the community setting and was used to bring people together.
Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman by Kristen R. Lee
Savannah Howard sacrificed her high school social life to make sure she got into a top college. Her sites were set on an HBCU, but when she is accepted to the ivy-covered walls of Wooddale University on a full ride, how can she say no?
Wooddale is far from the perfectly manicured community it sells on its brochures, though. Savannah has barely unpacked before she comes face-to-face with microagressions stemming from racism and elitism. Then, Clive Wilmington’s statue is vandalized with blackface. The prime suspect? Lucas Cunningham, Wooddale’s most popular student and son to a local prominent family. Soon, Savannah is unearthing the hidden secrets of Wooddale’s racist history. But what’s the price for standing up for what is right? And will telling the truth about Wooddale’s past cost Savannah her own future?
A stunning, challenging, and timely debut about racism and privilege on college campuses.
This has to be one of my favorite books of 2022! This story highlights how difficult it is to fight against injustices ingrained into the education system. Savannah faces microaggressions and outright racism from her fellow students. The perpetrators are never getting any real consequences. After facing countless threats and accusations, she decides to take a stand and make a change. The writing of this story was simplistic and right to the point. This is the perfect read for you if you love books that provide commentary on serious topics parallel in our society, entertaining and enjoyable characters, and a college campus setting! If you are a Contemporary reader looking for a new adult novel to pick up, then consider adding this to your TBR!
Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie
Ophelia Rojas knows what she likes: her best friends, Cuban food, rose-gardening, and boys – way too many boys. Her friends and parents make fun of her endless stream of crushes, but Ophelia is a romantic at heart. She couldn’t change, even if she wanted to.
So when she finds herself thinking more about cute, quiet Talia Sanchez than the loss of a perfect prom with her ex-boyfriend, seeds of doubt take root in Ophelia’s firm image of herself. Add to that the impending end of high school and the fracturing of her once-solid friend group, and things are spiraling a little out of control. But the course of love–and sexuality–never did run smooth. As her secrets begin to unravel, Ophelia must make a choice between clinging to the fantasy version of herself she’s always imagined or upending everyone’s expectations to rediscover who she really is, after all.
This is another one of my favorite books of 2022! I was so excited about this book, and let me say that I was not disappointed! Ophelia After All was a touching coming age story about finding your identity and addressing Ophelia’s newfound questions about her sexuality. Ophelia was such a lovable main character, and I was invested in her story. Not only do we have an incredible main character, but a fun and dynamic queer friend group. Each character has a unique personality and struggles, which were written beautifully. On top of these things, this story can illustrate an authentic high school experience that many can relate to.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
Evelyn Hugo’s story was so compelling to read. Evelyn’s story was a way for her to reveal what all her husbands did, either good, bad, or in the middle. Evelyn Hugo’s story was a way to bring to light how her husbands treated her horribly and were just there to use her because of her fame and power. And if she were to step out of line, the public would come calling her nasty names. It touches on the issue of women in the industry being treated as objects rather than for their acting. We see how women of color couldn’t just be an actress, but rather people would look at them differently based on their race. But this book isn’t about Evelyn’s seven husbands. But, rather, this book is about Evelyn’s story. Even though Evelyn’s life may always be perfect, once you pull back all the layers, she is just like you and me. A human being.
One of the Good Ones by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic.
One of the good ones.
Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind—why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?—Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there’s a twist to Kezi’s story that no one could’ve ever expected—one that will change everything all over again.
When I was going through books to put on this list, I knew I wanted to include books that aren’t talked about as much. One of the Good Ones is such an underrated book, and I want to tell you all about this incredible book! One of the Good Ones is a story that focuses on activism and how only certain people are deemed worthy of being missed. This story takes an interesting perspective on switching between 1st and 3rd Person. This added more depth and a wide variety of characters to follow. It’s a story about reconciliation and never giving up when things ultimately get tough.