January is a great time to read YA books about fresh starts, though I find it hard to believe it is 2023. To be fair, I’m pretty sure that it took me two full years to recover from 2020. Nonetheless, I am ready to acknowledge that we made it through another trip around the sun and that’s worth writing about.
However, I am not a resolutions person. It feels like too much pressure to put on myself at the beginning of a new year. I know full well I’m not suddenly going to start waking up at 5 a.m. to run and that I’m still going to throw out most of a bag of salad every week because I’ve let it go bad. Resolutions simply overwhelm me.
Counterintuitively, though, I love the idea of fresh starts. I believe in second chances. I believe that every day offers a new opportunity, a new chance to turn dreams to reality. Most of all, I believe it’s never too late to be better than you were yesterday.
“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”
–L.M. Montgomery, as Anne in Anne of Green Gables
Thus, I figured it was the perfect time for a list of book recommendations about starting anew. The characters in the YA books about fresh starts below might be starting over in a new town or at a new school. Conversely, they might also be making emotional or mental new starts like learning to live after loss or as their true selves. Regardless of the new start in question, these books will entertain and inspire you as you enter a tomorrow with no mistakes in it yet!
YA Books About Fresh Starts
I Miss You, I Hate This by Sara Saedi
Young adult books featuring high school seniors are often full of themes of self-discovery and starting anew. Naturally, the characters are dreaming of leaving the awkwardness and challenges of adolescence behind as they pursue their dreams and strike out into the larger world. This book takes all of that and adds a layer — a global pandemic. Two best friends with very different lives find themselves and rediscover themselves in this coming-of-age tale.
The First to Die at the End by Adam Silvera
Sigh. I ugly-cried when I finished They Both Die at the End despite the warning in the title and my attempts to prepare myself for the inevitable conclusion. So, when I went into this prequel, I should’ve been ready. Dear reader, I was not. Adam Silvera got me again with a heartfelt, queer love story. Valentino’s parents disowned him when he came out, so he and his twin sister decided to move to New York City and start over, pursuing their dreams in the Big Apple. On his first night in town, Valentino meets Orion, a boy afraid to hold onto life too tightly because of his heart condition and the tragic deaths of his parents. The night they meet is also the night Death Cast launches with the promise of accurately predicting the death days of anyone who signs up for the service. Orion and Valentino both sign up, and are together when Death Cast calls…
Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon
I knew this book would be amazing based on its all-star cast of authors. I was not disappointed. Each of the authors weaves a love story that takes place on the night of a major blackout in New York City. The characters are all connected and are all somehow headed to the same block party. Most of them, too, are starting anew. One girl is trying to pick up the broken pieces of her heart and find happiness again. A boy is figuring out how to come out as bisexual — to himself and to others. Another girl is anxious to snag a lucrative internship so she can pay for a summer program at a college in Atlanta where she can escape the heartache of breaking up with her best friend turned boyfriend turned bitter ex. Each of the six stories will captivate and have you rooting hard for the protagonists.
6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did) by Tess Sharpe
In this funny, touching story, two girls have been thrown together their whole lives because their mothers are lifelong best friends. Unfortunately, Penny and Tate have never gotten along well. When Penny’s mom decides to be a living donor to Tate’s mom, everything changes. The mothers decide to combine their households and Penny and Tate agree to a truce. They really want to keep it drama-free to help their moms, but there’s one problem. They keep almost kissing.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
This YA book about fresh starts has won many prestigious awards and was a National Book Award finalist. In it, Fabiola and her mother move to the U.S. in search of better opportunities. Unfortunately, authorities detain Fabiola’s mother in Haiti. Thus, Fabiola must alone figure out life with her American cousins on Detroit’s gritty west side. Zoboi’s Pride: A Pride & Prejudice Remix would fit this list as well.
I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
After Ben comes out to their parents as nonbinary, their parents disown them. Consequently, their only choice is to move in with their estranged sister. Made wary by their parents’ rejection, Ben resolves to only come out to their therapist, their sister, and their sister’s husband. They’re also determined to blend in and fly under the radar at their new school. However, once the charismatic Nathan decides to befriend Ben, they’re forced into the spotlight. The result is the start of a new and happier life for Ben.
The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus
Told in two voices, Petrus’s debut novel follows a pair of lovable, funny, queer Black girls. Audre’s strictly religious mother sends her to the U.S. from Trinidad to live with her father after finding out about Audre’s secret girlfriend. Mabel is figuring out her own identity when Audre enters her life. What follows is a beautiful exploration of love, friendship, life, and death.
Hope is Our Only Wing by Rutendo Tavengerwei
This YA book about fresh starts features similar themes to The Stars and the Blackness Between Them. After Shamiso’s father mysteriously dies in a car accident, she and her mother leave England. They move to Zimbabwe to live among an extended family Shamiso doesn’t remember. Unexpectedly, Shamiso forms an unlikely friendship with classmate Tanyaradzwa, whose recent cancer diagnosis has drastically changed her life. Together, they learn about life and loss.
Learning to Breathe by Janice Lynn Mather
Lastly, 16-year-old Indy is trying to find a place she can call home. Unfortunately, she’s sent to live with her aunt in Nassau, where she struggles to hide her unwanted pregnancy for fear of being kicked out. With few resources at her disposal, Indy just wants to find a safe place to call home. Luckily, she stumbles onto a yoga retreat where she learns that home is so much more than a physical place. Few YA books about fresh starts are this raw and real.
Hopefully, this list will help you start 2023 on the right foot. If you’re looking for more great YA recommendations, check out Book Riot’s YA Archives or one of the lists below: