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Worthy YA

Four outstanding novels for teens


Worthy YA
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Lovely War

by Julie Berry

The gods of Olympus, ensconced in a classy Manhattan hotel, debate the nature of love as World War II rages. Aphrodite has a story to share from an earlier war: of two couples who meet in extreme circumstances and prove that love is not about self-fulfillment, soulmates, or safety. It’s about grace and, very often, suffering. The bickering-gods device sometimes intrudes on the narrative, but their inclusion, along with the wartime setting, adds a Homeric dimension that’s not accidental. In spite of a small amount of vulgarity, profanity, and violence (all understandable in the context), Lovely War is an elevating read.

What the Night Sings

by Vesper Stamper

“When all is stripped away, what am I?” Gerta Rausch was living up to her parents’ musical ambitions, with no inkling of her Jewish heritage, when the Nazis ripped up her script, transported her to Bergen-Belsen, pushed a viola into her hands, and forced her to play for new arrivals headed to the ovens. The narrative begins when her camp is liberated, with Gerta, now 16, near death and so weak she must be carried. Though the horrors of the Holocaust loom large, her story is about renewal, with her house of torment transformed into a place of flowers, bakeries, love—and of course, music.

Butterfly Yellow

by Thanhhà Lai

Six years after she was separated from her little brother at the Saigon airport, 18-year-old Hàng is finally relocated in Dallas with her uncle, and determined to track her brother to his adopted family in Amarillo. At the same time, another teen is driving up from Austin: LeeRoy, a would-be cowboy determined to meet his rodeo hero Bruce Ford. When their paths collide, LeeRoy reluctantly finds himself honor-bound to escort Hàng to her destination. A classic rom-com scenario gains emotional weight with themes of living beyond tragedy and finding joy in unexpected places. (There’s some self-conscious profanity from LeeRoy.)

Forward Me Back to You

by Mitali Perkins

After a rough semester at school, Katina King’s single mom sends her to an elderly friend in Boston for a month of R&R. It’s anything but relaxing, as Mrs. Vee expects Kat to attend church with her—even maneuvers her into a mission trip to India to serve at a shelter for victims of sex trafficking. Robin, another disgruntled teen at church, has his own reasons for going back to the place where he was born. The plot includes danger, adventure, suspense, humor, and a dash of romance. Though not a “Christian novel,” Christian faith shines a light on difficult subjects.


Janie B. Cheaney Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD's annual Children's Book of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.

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