Daniel José Older Recommends 3 Favorite YA Novels A good fantasy novel can really transform the world — whether it's this world or another one entirely. Here are three YA fantasy novels to transform the dog days of summer for young readers.


Book Reviews

These 3 YA Novels Will Transform Your Summer Into Something Fantastic

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The end of summer means those school holiday reading assignments are hopefully being finished off and on their way to being turned in. But if you have a young bookworm at home, we're here for you. We've got a whole list of fantastic young adult novels they can turn to next. And here to guide us on this quest is fantasy and young adult author Daniel Jose Older, who joins us now. Thanks so much for joining us.

DANIEL JOSE OLDER: Thank you so much for having me. It's so great to be here.

DAVIS: Before we get started on your list, I wonder, as someone who often writes for this audience, what are you looking for when you want to read a young adult novel?

OLDER: You know, I love a story that really transforms the world that I'm in, even if it's using a totally different world. At the end of the day, every young adult novel should be about a young person stepping forward into who they are, whether that be through understanding life better or fighting, you know, magic bad guys.


DAVIS: So let's dive into your recommendations. First up is "Wings Of Ebony" by J. Elle. What is this book about?

OLDER: It's an incredible debut about a young woman who is learning terrible and amazing things about the magical legacy of her family. She's forced out of her comfort zone to really step up and protect her sister and throw herself kind of into the fire of this entirely new world.

DAVIS: Next, we have "Legendborn" by Tracy Deonn. It follows 16-year-old Bree Matthews as she uncovers a secret society of demons preying on students at her summer program at UNC Chapel Hill. What does Bree find out about the society?

OLDER: So Bree finds out that this whole secret society is connected to Arthurian legends. My favorite place is that crossroads of mythology and history. That's somewhere that I love to write my own books in and I love reading in other books. But here, you know, we have a story about alienation and about love and about culture. And I'm so excited there's more to come.

DAVIS: You also selected a book called "King Of Scars" by Leigh Bardugo, follows a young king named Nikolai who's grappling with how to save his country and himself. Where does this story take him?

OLDER: Man, this whole series - Leigh Bardugo is just one of the great fantasy writers not just of our time but of all time. And in this book, we have, like, complex foreign policy stuff. We also have monsters and demons and gods and creatures. I just can't wait for people to read it.

DAVIS: I wonder if there are any broader themes that you've noticed in these young adult books coming out this year?

OLDER: I think we're all trying to deal with what this world is looking like right now and what it's going to look like next. As Arundhati Roy say, the pandemic is a portal.

DAVIS: Yeah. I also will do the honors of personally recommending your "Shadowshaper Cipher" series to our listeners.

OLDER: Thank you.

DAVIS: What's the story there that readers will find?

OLDER: So Sierra Santiago is a 16-year-old girl in Brooklyn who loves painting murals, and she finds out that she's part of a family legacy that was denied to her of magic workers called shadowshapers who can bring art to life by putting spirit into them. So then she has to fight off evil Columbia anthropologists, help her friends survive and really step into what that legacy means and to be a part of this new magical world.

DAVIS: You're also working on some new material.

OLDER: Yes. So I have - part of the "Star Wars High Republic" initiative, a young adult novel called "Midnight Horizon," which comes out early next year. And beyond that, a book called "Ballad And Dagger," which is about a young man named Mateo who's a piano player from an island in the Caribbean that was populated by pirates, Sephardic Jews and Santeros from Cuba that sank and left everyone stranded, ended up in Brooklyn. And now more gods and demons are showing up in Brooklyn, as always does happen.


DAVIS: That is author Daniel Jose Older. Thank you so much for being with us.

OLDER: Thank you for having me.

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