5 Highly Specific Genres of YA Fiction

Welcome to Smugglivus 2017! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2017, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2018, and more.

Smugglivus continues with our next guest: Sacha Lamb, one of our authors, writer of “Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live

5 Highly Specific Genres of YA Fiction

I read a lot of books, like A LOT, a lot. My Goodreads account will tell you that I have read 362 books this year, and it is not lying. Since my brain isn’t quite big enough to keep track of all those individual books, it likes to group them into themes based on highly specific elements of each book that stood out to me. So rather than give you my top ten, or (god forbid) a list of ALL THE BOOKS I LOVED THIS YEAR (I shudder to think how long that list would be), here they are, in no particular order: 5 highly specific genres of YA fiction, arranged for you by the brain of Sacha Lamb.

1. Historically-Flavored Fantasy Featuring Ruthless Protagonists

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo.

Judging by the comp titles on Pitch Madness the other day, this is the number one ruthless ambition series in YA right now. Everyone knows that Kaz Brekker is ruthless and the schemes are delicious! But actually what connects with me most about these books is that every single protagonist has some flavor of PTSD. Me too, crow kids. Me too. These were a second and third reread for me in 2017.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao.

This is a 2017 debut, a retelling of Snow White in an East-Asian setting, from the point of view of the girl who’s going to become the evil queen. I didn’t know it was a retelling going into it, and when I figured that out I was THRILLED. Listen, I read a lot of fairy tale retellings. I hate to say this, but some of them are very boring. THIS ONE IS NOT BORING. This one I could not put down even though I was on a very crowded bus. Not only ruthless ambition, but also very complicated relationships with mother figures. Mmm. Perfect.

And I Darken and Now I Rise by Kiersten White.

It’s gender-swapped Vlad Dracula in the person of Lada, but it also has some very excellent secondary characters who are gay Muslims. Radu’s feelings about Islam ring a lot of Jewishly-relatable bells to me, and meanwhile Lada is working on becoming the fiercest wild beast in the Balkans. One thing I love about this, similar to Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, is that even though Lada doesn’t have many close relationships with other women, the relationships she does have are complicated. It’s not one-sidedly dismissive of different kinds of female power. I picked up Now I Rise on surprise discount when it came out (just in time for my birthday!!!) this summer and I’ve now read both of them twice.

2. Dark Magic Monarchies

In a similar vein to the Ruthless Ambition books, let’s have… some more court intrigues??? Two of these feature commoners kissing princesses and the last one has court politics based on the behavior of bees.

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller.

I received an eARC of this one because the protagonist is genderfluid and SO AM I! It had a kind of nostalgic quality for me because I read Mercedes Lackey as a kid and this also is about thieves and assassins and courts and magic and politics. I wish the world-building had been stronger, but I’m so excited at the prospect of future 13-year-old versions of me picking up this assassin book and seeing the protagonist SWITCH PRONOUNS and COMPLAIN ABOUT PEOPLE NOT PICKING UP THEIR GENDER CUES and also gay-flirting with a bisexual noblewoman!!!

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi.

This one I only just read last week, so it’s one of the freshest in my memory. The world-building has incredible texture and the magic is just delightfully disturbing. Taj gets drawn into this web of court intrigue that he has no way of understanding, but heck if he doesn’t understand that underneath whatever politics is going on among the elites, HIS KIDS are being mistreated. What an excellent big brother.

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake.

Sequel to Three Dark Crowns. A magical monarchy in which the sister-queens have to compete against each other for the throne… inspired by beehive politics. The first book faked me out because I expected one or another of the princesses to be a throwaway character, but then they all ended up having depth and I’m rooting for all of them, which is terribly unfair because I also don’t see how they can all win. Also there is a bear in these books. I love it a lot. I thought this was going to be the last one in the series but it is NOT and I am both very excited for the third one and also incredibly frustrated that after a year of waiting for this sequel, I STILL DON’T KNOW WHO WINS.

3. Gay YA Parents

Obviously I love YA stories where the protagonists are queer. But you know what else I love? YA stories with queer adults in them. I would die for queer parents in YA!!! So here are three books with gay parents.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli.

GAY MOMS GAY MOMS GAY MOMS! There is so much to love about this book, from the fat protagonist to the love interest whose Jewish spelling of G-d is one of the things that makes him cute, but perhaps what I love MOST about it is that the protagonist is absolutely surrounded by women who love other women. If you have read my Book Smugglers short story you know that I love gay moms. But I love the Peskin-Suso moms EXTRA MUCH.

Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki.

I love Monty as a protagonist for many reasons, prominent among them being that I don’t think there’s enough YA about kids who are into cryptids and crystals and paranormal nonsense, but also, this is a book about a kid who is very angry that people hate her moms. I love angry children and I love gay moms and I love this book.

The Inexplicable Logic of my Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz.

Not only does this have an excellent gay dad in it, it also has some very good texting between the primary teen characters. I love when text messages in fiction are convincing. What, that is a valid thing to love. Another thing I love: Benjamin Alire Saenz’s writing style. How do I write like that???

4. I am Gay and Full of Melancholy and So Are These Books

I love books that are gay and sad but also hopeful, because I too am gay and sad but also hopeful, and reading books like this make me feel better about those things.

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller.

I am Jewish and gay and I have an eating disorder, JUST LIKE THE PROTAGONIST OF THIS BOOK. Much like the protagonist of this book, I have sat in diners and cried over bowls of Jewish penicillin. Honestly, this may be a sad thing to say but a queer eating disorder book is a dream come true for me. I have been waiting for this for so long. And Sam J. Miller’s magic-tinged descriptions of how it feels being sick like this read so true to how I felt being sick. This one feels like it was written specifically for me, and that’s amazing. After I finished it, I went and ate two donuts, just because there was once a time when I wouldn’t have.

History is All you Left Me by Adam Silvera.

This is a book about grief and a book about love and a book about losing people and finding people and realizing that people were there for you all along. Honestly Adam Silvera is a life-saver. Everyone time he comes out with a new book, something in my soul goes: thank god, I may be full of sadness but my stories are worth telling.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour.

Have you ever been depressed and alone in your dorm over winter break? I HAVE! Have you ever lost someone and had a hard time holding onto the people you haven’t lost? ME TOO! Do you really love Nina LaCour’s writing? HONESTLY WHO DOESN’T!!! This felt so real that I could smell the dorm-hallway carpets. Another book that broke me and put me back together a little stronger than I was when I started reading.

5. Our Cousins are Magic, our Trees are Magic, our Flowers are Magic

Let’s not end on a down note. Let’s end with books that are so beautiful you want to put them in your mouth! What is it about big families full of women who have some connection with trees and flowers and also magic? Why are these books the best books in the world? I just don’t know.

The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace.

This one is less about flowers, and more about trees. I’d say the other two feel more like summer, and this one feels more like winter. Again it’s about a family that’s all women, and their secrets, and memory, and maybe also magic. It’s about sisters and lost things that turn up again in odd places. Also, one of the protagonist’s grandfathers was a Jewish bootlegger, and it takes place in Vermont, where my grandparents live. Coincidence????

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore.

Anna-Marie McLemore is one of the very very few authors whose books I buy automatically, before they even come out. Conveniently enough, for the last few years she has had one out just around Rosh HaShanah each year, making her books a beautiful new year’s gift from me to myself. Wild Beauty is about cousins, it’s about flowers, it’s about magic, and it’s about exploitative landlords. Practically everyone in this book is bi and one of the characters everyone is in love with is genderqueer. I want to EAT this book.

Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic.

I want to eat this book too, perhaps because the protagonist’s mother has dessert-based magic, or perhaps because even the horrible things that happen in it are so lushly described. It’s a book about sisters and mothers and daughters and aunts and creepy houses in the mountains and bright sun on the seaside. If you enjoy descriptions of flowers that are also magic, perhaps you too will want to eat this book. Perhaps with a side of flowery tea and delicate pastries.

If you close your eyes you can smell orange blossoms! Go ahead, close them! You are warm and it is sunny and you have broken a curse and you can smell your favorite flower. Happy New Year!

Sacha Lamb is a part-time librarian, part-time goat-herder, and part-time writer of queer Jewish magic realism for teens. As a teenager, Sacha loved YA fantasy, but never felt represented in it as a gay, transgender reader. Now a graduate student in library science, Sacha is dedicated to creating stories for other kids who need to know that they are magic. Sacha can be found online @mosslamb on Twitter.


  • JennyOH
    January 22, 2018 at 10:43 am

    I very specifically love all of these genres and I love Sacha’s writing even more! I have a few of these books on my to-catalog cart at the moment and will be giving them a second look, and just placed a hold on The Memory Trees. Thank you!

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