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2019 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: High School

Need suggestions for beach reading or books to bring to summer camp? Here are our top ten books for different age ranges — including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry — all published 2018–2019 and ideal for the season. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.

For a handy take-along list of titles, download our printable PDF.

Picture Books | Easy Readers and Primary Grades | Intermediate | Middle School

High School

Suggested grade level for all entries: 9 and up

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen)

High school senior Emoni Santiago, an aspiring chef, and her two-year-old daughter live with Emoni's abuela. Emoni signs up for a culinary arts class that culminates in a trip to Spain — and she begins to see a path forward, if only she dares follow it. Acevedo (The Poet X) creates beautifully realized characters with complex lives. A few recipes (such as "When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Verbena Tembleque") are interspersed. 392 pages.

Lovely War by Julie Berry (Viking)

After Greek god Hephaestus catches his wife Aphrodite, goddess of love, in an affair with his brother Ares, Aphrodite defends her actions by showing the two gods what real love looks like. With pathos and wit, Aphrodite relates two intertwined love stories involving mortals swept up in WWI. This poignant novel will make readers laugh, cry, and swoon. Extensive historical notes on WWI are appended. Bib. 471 pages.

Soaring Earth by Margarita Engle (Atheneum)

This companion verse memoir to Enchanted Air provides a glimpse into Engle's teen years in Los Angeles and her early adulthood. Engle addresses head-on the effects of the Vietnam War; the injustices prevalent in society at the time; the resistance of students and workers; and Black and Brown solidarity. The poems display Engle's customary sincerity and reflect the parallels and divergences between her Cuban and U.S. American heritages. 160 pages.

The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg (Levine/Scholastic)

Jordan, helped by classmate Max, tries his hand at the food truck business with his late father's old truck, Coq Au Vinny. Despite their differences, the two boys develop a friendship that quickly blossoms into a romance; they work together on the truck in the boiling summer heat of Mesa, Arizona, and date each other in the evenings. Konigsberg portrays gay teen relationships in a way that is consistently authentic, compassionate, hopeful, and empowering. 346 pages.

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee (Tegen/HarperCollins)

Monty's sister Felicity (The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue) dreams of becoming a doctor, but she's been rejected by every hospital board (this being eighteenth-century Britain). In a last-ditch effort, she hitches a ride to the Continent with pirates to plead her case with her medical idol. Amidst occasional fantasy elements, Lee keenly observes unsavory realities of the times while naturally incorporating casual diversity and a strong feminist credo. 450 pages.

Grand Theft Horse by G. Neri; illus. by Corban Wilkin (Tu/Lee & Low)

Neri's comics-format "second-hand memoir" is about his cousin Gail Ruffu, a former horse trainer who horse-napped thoroughbred Urgent Envoy to rescue him from racing on a fractured leg. Expressive, dynamic brown-and-white ink panels bring immediacy to the emotional and financial turmoil Ruffu endured. The intense, candid story underscores the risks and rewards of uncompromised activism. 229 pages.

Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera (Simon)

Nalah, a.k.a. Chief Rocka, is the leader of the all-girl gang Las Mal Criadas. Worn out from fighting, she dreams of a different path. Rivera weaves a story of self-discovery, blood relations and chosen families, substance addiction, and race into her sci-fi tale, including details from Afro and Indigenous Caribbean culture and history. A dystopian mixtape of boldness, sisterhood, and questioning the status quo. 328 pages.

Monsters [Reckoner] by David A. Robertson (HighWater)

Even though high-schooler Cole (whose blood has healing properties) stopped a serial killer in Strangers, he still feels unwelcome in his (fictional) Cree community. Now, a murderous supernatural being is roaming the forest, while guards from a nearby laboratory have locked down the community's health clinic. The story is mysterious enough to generate plenty of momentum, and Robertson's depiction of the community relationships provides a strong underpinning. 248 pages.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

Sixteen-year-old Bri attends a public arts high school and dreams of being a rapper like her late father. After winning a rap battle in her neighborhood, doors start to open—but at a price Bri isn't sure she's willing to pay. Thomas's sharp, even piercing, characterization includes a remarkably well-rounded cast. A richly woven love letter to hip-hop, with Bri's lyrics and her thought process behind them included throughout. 453 pages.

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (First Second/Roaring Brook)

This serial webcomic turned epic graphic novel follows two alternating, far-future timelines, each initially distinguished by a different limited palette. In the first, eighteen-year-old Mia seeks her place among the tight-knit crewmates of a spacecraft; five years earlier, at an intergalactic boarding school, Mia falls in love with new arrival Grace. Walden immerses readers in a uniquely imagined, compelling universe with a cast that's matter-of-factly female-centric, orientation-inclusive, and racially diverse. 537 pages.

From the May 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book: Summer Reading. For past years’ summer reading lists from The Horn Book, click on the tag summer reading.
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