Meghan Collins Sullivan/NPR
Winter can be a good time to read insightful books. It’s like pale daylight and early darkness creating space for stories — especially for stories that require the reader to mull over themes and ideas that can sometimes be difficult. It’s a time that allows for deep reading, to consider things properly — and to sit back with the emotions that can be generated.
With that in mind, here are five new YA books coming out this winter that will reward such reading.
She is an Haunted Trang Thanh Tran
Raised in America with immigrant parents, Jade reluctantly agrees to spend a summer with her estranged father in Vietnam in exchange for the money she needs to attend college the following fall. He wants her to help him launch a B&B business in a mansion built by the French colonialists more than a century ago that he has painstakingly remodeled. But the more she explored the strange home, the more Jade noticed the decay and decay just below the surface. Strange dreams convince her that something is haunting the house and fueling her father’s strange obsession with it, and she realizes that the only way to convince him of the truth is to fake it. an even more dramatic obsession of her own.
In the great tradition of the Gothic novel, in which the house itself is a sinister presence, She is an Haunted plummeted from escalating suspicion to utter physical disarray. From parasitic insects crawling on the walls to rancid food in the fridge overnight to the nightmares that appear to torment Jade in her dreams, her father’s house sticks its claws into her family when it festers under the weight of its terrible past.
Using the framework of the genre to delve into the history of colonialism and ask the thorny question: Who was exploited to build this massive, massive house is becoming what? it belongs to the trend of gothic fiction. The more layers Jade peels off, the worse the answer to this question becomes — and She is an Haunted unafraid to demolish houses and expose any hidden corruption. This is truly a haunting book that will give you goosebumps even when you close its pages for the last time.
The saints of the household by Ari Tison
Brothers Max and Jay have reached their peak. As the only Bribri (Costa Rican) children in their community, they have always felt like an outsider, but a recent incident of violence has turned them into real outcasts. When they beat up their cousin’s abusive boyfriend – the school’s golden boy – in the woods, it was for a good cause, but even they questioned whether the way they used it was the right choice and correct or not. They worry that the trauma they brought with having an abusive father made them like him. And even as they need each other more than ever to get through the unrelenting troubles they face, they begin to drift apart.
Told from both brothers’ perspectives by alternating prose for actual Jay and poetry for artistic Max, The saints of the household It’s the kind of book you read in one go, completely immersed in the lives of its complex and deeply empathetic protagonists. A book that focuses on abuse and the trauma it creates can be difficult to read, but I find that the solace Max and Jay draw from their culture, their extended family, their creativity, and each other is beautiful. Instead of being humbled by their appalling plight, my heart is filled with triumphant joy as they survive and find a way to thrive.
This is a great debut and I can’t wait to see what Tison does next.
into the light by Mark Oshiro
As a homeless teenager abandoned by his adoptive family, Manny is trying to survive alone on the road. Hitching a ride with the friendly Varelas family seemed like a lucky opportunity. But then a corpse in the news gives Manny a horrifying clue to the location of the Reconciliation – the religious complex he was evicted from, where his sister was left behind.
Meanwhile, Eli lives up to the will of his adoptive family and their reverence for the Reconciliation. His obedience and devotion were seen as a miracle of their faith. But the strange thing is, he cannot remember anything about his life before the reconciliation. As Manny and Eli’s stories tie together, the two face heartbreaking questions about their past and future.
Like Oshiro’s previous novels, into the light is a serious and contemplative exploration of identity and trauma. It plays with narrative form, and in the end it becomes clear that we don’t hear the story in a completely linear fashion — and its core truth only really comes to light when the characters are willing to face it. . into the light addresses issues of homophobia, foster care, religious fundamentalism and abuse with a fearless force that makes it feel both unique and important.
Escaping a mainstream cult is a subject that can easily be sensationalized for drama, but Oshiro’s light-hearted and thoughtful storytelling deliberately takes a different path, keeping the reader safe even when the journey has difficult turns.
Brighter than the sun by Daniel Aleman
As the only member of his Mexican family with American citizenship, Sol has to shoulder a lot of responsibility. Every day, she crosses the border from her hometown of Tijuana to go to school in the United States and strives to fulfill her dream of becoming the first in her family to attend college. But with her family’s restaurant failing and money scarce, she now also has to take on a part-time job to cover the bills. To carry out the packed schedule, she will have to live with her best friend in the United States for the week. The longer Sol tries to live between the two worlds, the more exhausted and overwhelmed she feels, until she begins to fear that her dreams won’t be achieved.
By some way, Brighter than the sun manages to be a very benevolent and sweet book that is at the same time completely offensive. Sol was faced with an impossible juggling act, and I was intrigued as I watched her try to keep things in the air, gasping when she fumbled and cheering when she succeeded. Her burden of responsibility was palpable, and her sense of exhaustion and despair to get over it took my breath away with empathy. But even when presenting us with Sol’s struggles, the tone never turns cynical or even angry. Because at every turn, Sol is loved and protected by kind people who understand her struggles and do their best to help her.
We are all very good at laughing by Amber McBride
While hospitalized for treatment for depression, Whimsy meets a boy named Faerry. They are pulled together by some force that neither of them understands, until they begin to realize that they have a whole history that has been stolen from them. They were friends before, a long time ago, and it was the loss that brought them down this path. Together they bravely traverse the dark and traumatizing forest, inhabited by monsters and spirits that Whimsy has unwittingly conjured. But it seems unlikely that either of them will find a way out.
After a mesmerizing debut Me (The Caterpillar), McBride has become a must-read for me. This feels like an even more personal book, delving into the experience of depression through a dreamlike fairy tale told in poetry. This book cannot be read like a prose novel, moving in a linear fashion from one plot point to the next. It must be read like poetry, drifting from metaphor to myth and felt rather than understood. The dark forest has long been a symbol of the things we fear, and anyone who has ever struggled with their mental health will recognize Whimsy’s struggle to overcome it.
Whimsey’s personal mythology is built on stories and folktales from around the world, and that’s what ultimately saved her — here’s the story of the power of stories and how they come to be. can help us survive the darkest of times.
Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and performer. She is a regular reviewer for NPR Books and Quill & Quire.