Best of the Last Decade – Kevin Craig

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I absolutely loved reading Kevin Craig’s short, Billions of Beautiful Hearts, which is released by Duet Books tomorrow. I’m very happy to have Kevin as my next guest poster in the Best of the Last Decade series. 

Title: Billions of Beautiful Hearts
Author: Kevin Craig
Publisher:  Duet Books
Age range/Genre: YA contemporary
Release Date: 9th February

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Wen Devante is Insta famous with a massive following and a flare for fashion. At almost 18, they have already published a book on gender nonconformity–Non-Gendered Youth in a Binary World: Finding Your Way Outside the Binary–released several songs on Spotify and has had several appearances on television. During the first wave of Covid-19 lockdown, they reach out to an unsuspecting Kay, one of their 2.3 million followers. The two form a bond, first through Instagram messages and then through Zoom. They discover there are ways to have a meaningful relationship even within one of the direst situations that mankind has ever faced. In fact, the pandemic seems to make reaching out even easier than it used to be.

Here are Kevin’s five fab picks.

Published by Arsenal Pulp Press

This is one of my favorite YA books of all time. The narrator, Jude/Judy, is an absolute tour-de-force. The story is essentially about a teen who is larger than the small town that could never truly contain them. They literally imagine themselves inside the movie of their extraordinary life. What sets it aside from other stories about breaking out of the small and into the limelight is that the character who is struggling to be contained is trans/nonbinary. 

Jude (Judy) deals with bigotry at every turn…including at home. But they are still able to dream big and have such lofty glamorous goals for themselves. Their almost vulgar egoism and arrogance is a delight. Where it should turn a reader off, it’s endearing. We see the raw vulnerability in their swaggering confidence and self-love. True sarcasm comes not from pride, but from the shaky ego that wants to emulate pride. Jude is such a flawlessly written flawed character. Their story is captivating and tragic. I can’t (won’t) stop re-reading this one and recommending it to others!

Self-published, book 1 in the Dead Magic series

There is a lot going on in this debut novel…and I was enthralled from the beginning. This is a story about magic, families both blood and found, and working together for a common good. Blythe’s family is attacked and kidnapped. As they gather the rest of the guardians up, the Black Veins and the Trident Republic are entering into war. Each of the seven main characters in this ensemble cast is a guardian of a specific element. This wild ride of a story is a road trip novel that crosses through time and space via the Tempore, a magical forest that allows the band of guardians to travel quickly from place to place around the world. This is a captivating story…almost frenetic in its exceptional pacing! I can’t wait for the next installment!

Published by Magnus Books 

Definitely one of my favourite LGBTQ+ books of the last decade. Chulito is the main character of this story. He lives in the South Bronx and he’s struggling with sexual identity in a tough neighborhood that knows him and has accepted his masculinity. His childhood best friend Carlos returns from his first year away at college and Chulito has to either continue to hide his attraction to him or deal with it and all that it entails. 

What ensues is just such a lovely story of passion and love between the two characters. It’s a story of breaking free from that concrete barrier of ‘what will others think’—a barrier most LGBTQ+ people experience sometime in their lives. Added to this was the tough neighborhood Chulito is from and the anti-gay sentiments of the other characters in that neighborhood. It was so freeing to see Chulito break through and become himself. One of the most satisfying stories I’ve read in a long long time.

Published by NineStar Press, 2020

Abigail is a fellow Torontonian with ties to the east coast of Canada. When I read the synopsis of this novel, I knew it was a must-read. New Brunswick was my ‘summer home’ for all of my informative years. The main character, Kat, summered in New Brunswick for years, having summer friends and a summer life apart from her life in Toronto.

The synopsis alone had me. After escaping a traumatic and manipulative relationship, Kat retreats back to the comfort and safety of her summer home…and reconnects with her friends there. She also finds Tristan, more acquaintance from her past than friend. He mingles seamlessly with her group and together they form a master list of all the things they dreamed of doing when they were younger, but couldn’t. This story comes with a few content warnings. It’s such a lovely story and it has some great LGBTQ+ rep. I’ve read it twice since its release last August.

Published by Tanglewood Press, book 1 in the Ashfall series

As far as apocalyptic stories go, this is probably my favorite! The Yellowstone Supervolcano erupts, turning Alex’s hometown to a place of darkness, chaos and violence…and lots of ash. Lots and lots of ash. Alex tries to make his way through the ash and catastrophe to where his parents have gone for the weekend, and runs into fellow post-volcanic traveler Darla. You will love these two amazing main characters. Both are strong and independent. It was extremely refreshing to see just how strong Darla was–a great female role model, excellently written. As a reader, I was totally captivated by this story. It held me in its grip from first page to last. Take the journey across this new horrifying America with Alex. Great read for fans of The Stand by Stephen King.

Thanks, Kevin! Five more from me below. 

Published by HMH Books

12-year-olds Josh and Jordan Bell are superb basketball players. But as the pair make their way through middle school, they learn lessons in life as well as sports.

I picked The Crossover because it’s the first book by Kwame I read, but really any of his would be worthy of a place. He’s an incredible poet who brings his characters and their surroundings to life wonderfully. This series – including The Rebound and Booked – has a special place in my heart because the characters are so vivid and the power of Alexander’s words is dazzling.

Published by Amulet

A Cuban ballet dancer and Dominican baseball player fall for each other at a time when both have their own problems. Dancer Isabella’s mother and brother struggle with mental health issues and her father loses his job. Meanwhile, Alex’s father is pushing him into a baseball career he doesn’t know if he wants, while a friend is dragged into a gang.

Completely gorgeous romance with an amazing central pairing. The chemistry is great, but Williams’s superb handling of tougher issues makes it stand out. An excellent look at bipolar disorder and racism/colorism make this one of my favourite contemporaries.

Published by ECW

16-year-old Raina gets expelled from her private school and sent to live with her strict aunt. Despite being unpopular at her new school, she finds a surprising talent for matchmasking anonymously. When Raina’s estranged sister reaches out to the matchmaker, she sees a chance to get back in her good books.

I picked this up because Dahlia Adler recommended it as amazing Orthodox Jewish rep. The portrayal of the community is wonderful, but it’s just one of many fabulous things about this one. It’s a staggeringly cute read and Raina has an amazingly strong voice. I love her genuine need to make amends for past mistakes, and the way she takes to setting people up. Adorable, and one I’ve reread and is just as great second time around.

Published by Entangled Teen

Wilmont Academy’s in the Dark Ages when it comes to sex ed. Until Amber sets up an anonymous blog to give advice to students. When the principal finds out, he blackmails Dean into trying to hunt down the blogger. With Dean, her crush, hot on her trail, can Amber keep the blog going?

This is such a fantastic romance. I adore Amber and Dean – Dean’s the sweetest cis guy in YA for ages. I think Amber – sex positive but still a virgin – is a fabulous role model for teens. The dual POV narrative works really well, too, and I love the relationship both MCs have with their family.

Published by Algonquin Young Readers

Leila’s Persian heritage makes her stand out from her classmates already. The last thing she wants is for them to realise she likes girls. But when beautiful new girl Saskia starts sending her mixed signals, it’s hard to know what to do. Helped by a new friend, Tomas, and by rekindling an old friendship with Lisa,

I really loved this one. The portrayal of the Persian community, and Layla’s struggle to come out to her parents, is incredibly well-written. More than anything, though, it’s the changing friendships – including Leila becoming closer to Lisa once again – which really spoke to me. I love Leila’s self-deprecating sense of humor, as well! Just wonderful.

KEVIN CRAIG is the author of contemporary young adult fiction (SUMMER ON FIRE, BURN BABY BURN BABY, HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN, PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, and THE CAMINO CLUB) and contemporary adult fiction with young narrators ( SEBASTIAN’S POET and THE REASONS).

They can be found on their website and on Twitter.

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