Recent YA Novels to Take You Around the World, a guest post by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau
One of the many things I love about reading is the way books transport me to different worlds. Whether it’s interesting family dynamics, industries I know little about, or long-gone eras, I will always cherish how books allow me to lead lives completely unlike my own for a few hours. That feeling is true of all novels, but it’s especially compelling when the story is set against a vivid backdrop somewhere around the world, with a sense of place so rich that it acts as a character in the novel.
With my own story, Kisses and Croissants, about an aspiring ballerina who moves to Paris for a summer intensive dance program, I wanted to make the setting shine as brightly as possible. There are many novels set in France—not to mention all the movies and TV shows—and I felt inspired to give Mia a deeply authentic and utterly unforgettable experience in, objectively, the most beautiful city in the world.
I wrote Kisses and Croissants between 2017 and 2019, going on a research trip to Paris and spending much time afterward exploring the city virtually so I could best bring it to life. Of course, I could never imagine that the world would feel very differently by the time it was published in April 2021. Many of us have been eager to be able to travel again, to wander aimlessly through foreign places, and to finally discover the ones that have been on our bucket list forever.
But we’ll always have books. And as I spent the last year daydreaming about leaving my apartment, let alone my neighborhood, I was pleased to come across several wonderful young adult novels with powerful stories set all over the world: from a multi-cultural suburb in Toronto to the white-sandy beaches of Santorini, and from the magical arctic island of Svalbard to glitzy palaces in Tokyo.
With these recent releases, you’ll go on a whirlwind journey around the planet, no passport necessary.
Hot British Boyfriend by Kristy Boyce (England)
Summary: This enchanting teen romance novel, which follows one girl across the Atlantic in a quest to find adventure, love (preferably with a guy with a cute accent), and maybe even herself, is perfect for fans of Kasie West and Stephanie Perkins. After a horrifying public rejection by her crush, Ellie Nichols does what any girl would do: she flees the country. To be more precise, she joins her high school’s study abroad trip to England. While most of her classmates are there to take honors courses and pad their college applications, Ellie is on a quest to rebuild her reputation and self-confidence. And nothing is more of a confidence booster than getting a hot British boyfriend.
Hot British Boyfriend is an anglophile’s paradise. When Ellie and her friends are not devouring fish and chips and sipping tea (with scones and finger sandwiches, obviously), they are roaming the halls and gardens of the stunning manor at which they are boarding, inspired by the real Harlaxton Manor in Lincolnshire. Outside school, they watch Quidditch games, explore charming village markets, and skip through the quaint English countryside. On weekends, they take London and its most famous sights by storm, from Big Ben to the London Eye, by way of Piccadilly Circus. Spoiler alert: there’s even a romantic weekend in Venice, complete with gondola rides.
Like Home by Louisa Onomé (Toronto, Canada)
Summary: Fans of Netflix’s On My Block, In the Heights, and readers of Elizabeth Acevedo and Ibi Zoboi will love this debut novel about a girl whose life is turned upside down after one local act of vandalism throws her relationships and even her neighborhood into turmoil.
Nelo is all about her neighborhood Ginger East. She loves its chill vibe, ride-or-die sense of community, and her memories of growing up there. Ginger East isn’t what it used to be, though. After a deadly incident at the local arcade, all her closest friends moved away, except for Kate. But as long as they have each other, Nelo’s good. Only, Kate’s parents’ corner store is vandalized, leaving Nelo shaken to her core.
Like Home is set in a fictional suburb of Toronto, Ginger East, but written with the authentic and loving flair of Louisa Onomé’s own neighborhood in the Greater Toronto Area (or the GTA, as the locals call it). Her diverse and endearing cast of characters sometimes hang out at the Eaton Centre, the well-known downtown mall, speak in regional slang, and more generally embody the vibrant youth culture specific to the city. Louisa Onomé infused the story with some of her own multi-cultural upbringing—living on the same street as families from all over the world, from her native Nigeria to Taiwan, and from Jamaica to Serbia, where they shared enriching experiences eating their favorite foods. Toronto shines as cosmopolitan and welcoming city.
The Wide Starlight by Nicole Lesperance (Svalbard, Norway)
Summary: The Hazel Wood meets The Astonishing Color of After in this dreamy, atmospheric novel that follows sixteen-year-old Eli as she tries to remember what truly happened the night her mother disappeared off a glacier in Norway.
When Eli was six years old, her mother took her out onto a frozen fjord, whistled to the Northern Lights, and was swept away into the sky. Ten years later, Eli whistles at the lights and her mother returns, but nothing is quite right. She must piece together her memories, told as Norwegian folk tales, and journey back to Svalbard to figure out what really happened.
Svalbard is so eerily stunning and colorful that, when looking at pictures, you might be tempted to doubt that it is an actual place on earth. Yet, this Norwegian archipelago way up in the Arctic Circle, close to the North Pole, is very real. In fact, its biggest town, Longyearbyen, is home to people hailing from many different nationalities. It was the most perfect setting for part of Nicole Lesperance’s wintery story, where reality and fantasy blend against a magical backdrop of snow, ice, and the Northern Lights. Between the grand mountains, the glass-flat fjords, and the narwhals, The Wide Starlight feels like it takes places on another planet.
Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean (Tokyo, Japan)
Summary: Crazy Rich Asians meets The Princess Diaries in this irresistible story about Izumi, a Japanese-American girl who discovers her senior year of high school that she’s really a princess of Japan.
Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity…and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess. In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras.
Japanese culture is incredibly rich with centuries-old traditions, gorgeous attire, and intricate rituals. When you throw in a deep dive into one of the oldest royal families in the world, Emiko Jean’s fun and sparkling writing, and a spunky heroine, you’re swept right off your feet into a head-spinning fairytale. It’s hard not to dream of being a princess when there are glitzy palaces, ancient castles, trips to historic Kyoto, and jaw-dropping cherry blossoms as far as the eye can see. Emiko Jean tells a story of hilarious antics set against a regimented world, with fascinating details that will make you want to book a trip, even if there is no red carpet at the other end.
Where the Rhythm Takes You by Sarah Dass (Trinidad and Tobago)
Summary: Inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Where the Rhythm Takes You is a romantic, mesmerizing novel of first love and second chances, set in the author’s native Trinidad and Tobago. Reyna’s life changed forever two years ago, when her mother died and her best friend (first kiss, first love) Aiden, suddenly moved to America. Now Aiden has returned to their island as an international pop star, but the last thing Reyna wants to do is risk her heart again.
Sarah Dass chose to set the story in her homeland of Tobago, the more isolated and quieter island of this Caribbean nation near Venezuela. Reyna grew up at a seaside resort, and ends up as a tour guide to Aiden and his friends, showing them around the island’s most beautiful spots, to the beat of soca music. The lush tropical setting glimmers with powdery white sand, turquoise water, and rich vegetation. Beautiful details leap off the page as the group visits Pigeon Point beach, the Nylon Pool, and the Argyle waterfalls. Local cuisine also features heavily, with mouth-watering descriptions of guava pies, potato rotis, and rosy-pink rum punch. Where the Rhythm Takes You is the breezy, beautiful, and romantic Caribbean vacation we all crave.
Love and Olives by Jenna Evans Welch (Santorini, Greece)
Summary: Liv Varanakis doesn’t like to think about her father much, which makes sense—he fled to Greece when she was only eight, leaving her with just a few painful memories of their shared love for the lost city of Atlantis. So when teenage Liv suddenly receives a postcard from her father, who explains that National Geographic is supporting a documentary about his theories on Atlantis—and asks if she will fly out to Greece and help—Liv is less than thrilled.
Even so, she can’t help but be charmed by everything Santorini has to offer—the beautiful sunsets, the turquoise water, the sun-drenched villages, and the delicious cuisine. But not everything on the Greek island is as perfect as it seems. Because as Liv slowly begins to discover, her father may not have invited her to Greece for Atlantis, but for something much more important.
With her “Love” trilogy, Jenna Evans Welch has taken us on a delightfully escapist tour of Europe, first to Italy, then to Ireland, and now to Greece, more specifically to the alluring island of Santorini. It’s a major tourist destination for a reason: the white houses with blue domes look stunning against the bold sunsets, the winding streets of its pretty villages make for idyllic strolls. Love and Olives is summer in book form, as we follow the search for the lost city of Atlantis, Liv’s conflicted relationship with her father and, of course, a cute romance, too.
Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen (Taipei, Taiwan)
Summary: When eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, she finds herself thrust among the very over-achieving kids her parents have always wanted her to be, including Rick Woo, the Yale-bound prodigy profiled in the Chinese newspapers since he was nine—and her parents’ yardstick for her never-measuring-up life.
Unbeknownst to her parents, however, the program is actually nicknamed Loveboat, because the kids are more into clubbing than calligraphy and drinking snake-blood sake than touring sacred shrines.
Free for the first time, Ever sets out to break all her parents’ uber-strict rules—but how far can she go before she breaks her own heart?
Sometimes you have to fly to the other side of the world to discover who you are. It’s true in real life, especially for children of immigrants, who often grow up between two cultures, and it’s also a fascinating theme to explore in young adult literature. Taipei is a melting-pot of a city, with Chinese roots and a decidedly modern and vibrant atmosphere. As such, it makes a thrilling setting for this story about teenage rebellion. There are fun visits to night markets, plenty of hookups, deliciously intriguing foods, and the parties are wild (as well as wildly entertaining).
Meet the author
Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau is a bilingual French author of young adult fiction and nonfiction. Her books have been translated into seven languages. Kisses and Croissants (Delacorte Press, 2021)is her U.S. debut. After graduating university in France, she moved to Amsterdam to begin a career in advertising. She then spent a few years in Melbourne before settling in New York City, where she lives with her Australian husband and their American cat.
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About Kisses and Croissants
As sweet as a macaron from Laduree, with writing as crisp as a freshly baked baguette, this romantic novel set in Paris about an American ballerina and a charming French boy is parfait for fans of American Royals and Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.
Mia Jenrow has always known she’s destined to be a professional ballerina. In fact, it’s in her blood—according to family legend, her too-many-greats-to-count-grandmother once danced for the Paris Opera and was painted by Degas himself! Her parents say it’s just a fantasy, but to Mia it’s so much more than that. It’s her fate.
Mia is planning to spend a magical summer in France pursuing her dream, but as she pirou-ettes into Paris, she soon realizes it may be a bit more complicated than she hoped. For starters, there’s her rival, Audrey, who will stop at nothing to show her up. There’s her ballet instructor, whose impossibly high standards push her to the breaking point. And then . . . there’s Louis. Devastatingly, distractingly charming Louis. He’s eager to show Mia his city—and Mia is more than happy to hop on his Vespa and wrap her arms around him as they pass the gleaming lights of the Eiffel Tower.
Mia’s summer was supposed to be about ballet—but there’s a reason Paris is called the City of Love. . . .
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 04/06/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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