Although October is perhaps best known for the deluge of horror, thriller, and other spooky season-adjacent titles hitting shelves this month, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of great options for people who have little to no interest in monsters, ghosts, or other things that go bump in the night. (See our October fantasy recommendations here.) And this month’s list of young adult new releases is particularly diverse and intriguing.
Yes, there are a couple of horror-tinged stories, but most of these buzzy debuts and anticipated sequels explore everything from complex coming-of-age tales to deft explorations of rich, unexpected, and often surprising relationships. (Translation: If you don’t want to read about scary stuff this month, we got you.)
Here are our picks for the best YA books hitting shelves this October.
Release Date: October 4 from Harper Collins
Why You’ll Love It: The long-awaited prequel to Adam Silvera’s 2017 bestseller, The Both Die at the End, The First to Die at the End flashes back to the launch of Death-Cast and spotlights not just the very first Decker (a.k.a. person predicted to die by the system) but the national chaos that surrounded the lunch of such a system in the first place. Like its predecessor, the story wrestles with heavy themes of grief and faith as it relentlessly pushes toward an emotional climax that I’m very deliberately not going to spoil here.
Publisher’s Description: It’s the night before Death-Cast goes live, and there’s one question on everyone’s mind: Can Death-Cast actually predict when someone will die, or is it just an elaborate hoax?
Orion Pagan has waited years for someone to tell him that he’s going to die. He has a serious heart condition, and he signed up for Death-Cast so he could know what’s coming.
Valentino Prince is restarting his life in New York. He has a long and promising future ahead and he only registered for Death-Cast after his twin sister nearly died in a car accident.
Orion and Valentino cross paths in Times Square and immediately feel a deep connection. But when the first round of End Day calls goes out, their lives are changed forever—one of them receives a call, and the other doesn’t. Though neither boy is certain how the day will end, they know they want to spend it together…even if that means their goodbye will be heartbreaking.
Release Date: October 4 from Dutton Books for Young Readers
Why You’ll Love It: A queer coming of age story set against the backdrop of the first major Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, A Scatter of Light serves as a sort of companion novel to Lo’s The Last Night at the Telegraph Club. The book follows the story of Aria, a young girl sent to California to stay with relatives in the summer of 2013 where she meets her grandmother’s gender-nonconforming singer-songwriter gardener, embraces San Francisco’s LGBTQ culture, and embarks on an exploration of self-discovery, not just of herself and her own sexuality but her family’s past.
Publisher’s Description Aria Tang West was looking forward to a summer on Martha’s Vineyard with her best friends—one last round of sand and sun before college. But after a graduation party goes wrong, Aria’s parents exile her to California to stay with her grandmother, artist Joan West.Aria expects boredom, but what she finds is Steph Nichols, her grandmother’s gardener. Soon, Aria is second-guessing who she is and what she wants to be, and a summer that once seemed lost becomes unforgettable—for Aria, her family, and the working-class queer community Steph introduces her to. It’s the kind of summer that changes a life forever.
Release Date: October 4 from Sourcebooks Fire
Why You’ll Love It: A harrowing and fast-paced horror story from the author of such diverse titles as The Bone Witch and Wicked as You Wish, The Sacrifice will immediately appeal to fans of shows like Yellowjackets and The Wilds. No reader will likely be too shocked when a string of weird and frightening things start happening when a Hollywood film crew arrives on an abandoned tropical island long rumored to be cursed, but Chupeco’s deft usage of familiar horror tropes to examine themes of colonization and oppression helps this blisteringly fact-paced tale stand out from the pack. Don’t be shocked if you finish this in a single sitting.
Publisher’s Description: Pristine beaches, lush greenery, and perfect weather, the island of Kisapmata would be the vacation destination…if not for the curse. The Philippine locals speak of it in hushed voices and refuse to step foot on the island. They know the lives it has claimed. They won’t be next.
A Hollywood film crew won’t be dissuaded. Legend claims a Dreamer god sleeps, waiting to grant unimaginable powers in exchange for eight sacrifices. The producers are determined to document the evidence. And they convince Alon, a local teen, to be their guide.
Within minutes of their arrival, a giant sinkhole appears, revealing a giant balete tree with a mummified corpse entwined in its gnarled branches. And the crew start seeing strange visions. Alon knows they are falling victim to the island’s curse. If Alon can’t convince them to leave, there is no telling who will survive. Or how much the Dreamer god will destroy…
Release Date: October 4 from Harper Teen
Why You’ll Love It: The new novel from the author of The River Has Teeth, The Restless Dark follows the story of Lucy, the lone survivor of the infamous Cloudkiss Killer who decides to join a contest sponsored by a true crime podcast to find his remains. The grisly search that follows draws together an intriguingly bizarre group of contestants as Waters deftly navigates the often exploitative nature of true crime stories alongside the obvious reasons these tales continue to captivate audiences.
Publisher’s Description: The Cloudkiss Killer is dead. Now a true-crime podcast is hosting a contest to find his bones.
Lucy was almost the serial killer’s final victim. Carolina is a true-crime fan who fears her own rage. Maggie is a psychology student with a little too much to hide.
All of them are looking for answers, for a new identity, for a place to bury their secrets.
But there are more than bones hiding in the shadows…sometimes the darkness inside is more frightening than anything the dead leave behind.
Release Date: October 4 from Scholastic Press
Why You’ll Love It: This buzzy dystopian debut is set in a near-future version of the United States where an impoverished Black girl from the borderlands has a chance to win her way into high society. But only if she passes a series of tests that all lead to the infamous Gala. That these sorts of stories—with their overt Hunger Games vibes—so rarely feature protagonists of color is reason enough to check Glenn’s story out, but the story’s layered character work and many divided loyalties at its center are compelling in their own rights.
Publisher’s Description: Today is the day Jo Monarch has been wishing on the moon about her entire life. It’s the day of the Line Up, when she could be selected to leave her life in the Ashes behind. The day she could move across the mountains to a glittering, rich future.
Once Jo is plucked from the Line Up, the real test begins. She still needs to impress the New Georgia Reps at tonight’s Gala, and her path forward leads straight to Cove Wells. The damaged stepson of one of the Reps, Cove has been groomed as an emotional weapon, taught that love is a tool—and he’s set on breaking Jo’s heart next.
When a riot breaks out back in the Ashes the night of the Gala, Jo’s dreams might all go up in smoke. Can she really have everything she’s ever wished for… when it means leaving all her loved ones behind in the fire?
Release Date: October 4 from Crown
Why You’ll Love It: Maybe you’re a strong enough person to not immediately run out pick up a teen thriller about dead Homecoming queens and copycat killers, but I am not. The latest novel from the author of The Ivies, Four Dead Queens is a fast-paced journey through dark small town full of secrets with plenty of Mean Girls vibes.
Publisher’s Description: After the death of her mom (screw cancer), seventeen-year-old Cecelia Ellis goes to live with her estranged grandmother, a celebrated author whose Victorian mansion is as creepy as the murder mysteries she writes. On the surface, life is utterly ordinary in the California coastal town . . . until the homecoming queen is murdered. And she’s not Seaview’s first pretty dead queen.
With a copycat killer on the loose, Cecelia throws herself into the investigation, determined to crack the case like the heroines in her grandmother’s books. But the more Cecelia digs into the town’s secrets, the more she worries that her own mystery might not have a storybook ending.
Release Date: October 4 from Union Square Co.
Why You’ll Love It: A wildly original premise involving a pair of teen mediums in late nineteenth century Sacramento who join a traveling group of spiritualists after fleeing their extremist father makes The Second Death of Edie and Violet Bond is one of the most memorable titles you’ll read this month. Laced with an uncomfortable honesty bout the misogyny women faced during a period in which they could essentially be thrown into an asylum for any reason at all by any male they were tangentially connected to, there still are moments of wonderfully biting feminist wit.
Publisher’s Description: Edie and Violet Bond know the truth about death. The seventeen-year-old twins are powerful mediums, just like their mother—Violet can open the veil between life and death, and Edie can cross into the spirit world. But their abilities couldn’t save them when their mother died and their father threatened to commit them to a notorious asylum.
Now runaways, Edie and Violet are part of a traveling Spiritualist show, a tight-knit group of young women who demonstrate their real talents under the guise of communing with spirits. Each night, actresses, poets, musicians, and orators all make contact with spirits who happen to have something to say. . . notions that young ladies could never openly express. But when Violet’s act goes terribly wrong one night, Edie learns that the dark spirit responsible for their mother’s death has crossed into the land of the living. As they investigate the identity of her mysterious final client, they realize that someone is hunting mediums…and they may be next.Only by trusting in one another can the twins uncover a killer who will stop at nothing to cheat death.
Release Date: October 11 from Nancy Paulsen Books
Why You’ll Love It: Author James Brandon is making a name for himself in the YA genre space not just for telling LGBTQ stories, but using his books to provide much-needed history and context for the queer experience in America. His latest novel, The Edge of Being, tells the story of the Compton Cafeteria Riot, which took place in August 1966 in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood and is considered the first full-scale riot for trans and queer people in U.S. history. A contemporary coming-of-age tale, the novel follows a young boy named Isaac as he retraces the footsteps of the father he never knew on a road trip to California, mixing in vignettes from his dad Alex’s experience arriving in 1960s San Francisco. (Read an excerpt from the novel here.)
Publisher’s Description: Isaac Griffin has always felt something was missing from his life. And for good reason: he’s never met his dad. He’d started to believe he’d never belong in this world, that the scattered missing pieces of his life would never come together, when he discovers a box hidden deep in the attic with his father’s name on it.
When the first clue points him to San Francisco, he sets off with his boyfriend to find the answers, and the person he’s been waiting his whole life for. But when his vintage station wagon breaks down (and possibly his relationship too) they are forced to rely on an unusual girl who goes by Max—and has her own familial pain—to take them the rest of the way.
As his family history is revealed, Isaac finds himself drawing closer to Max. Using notes his dad had written decades ago, the two of them retrace his father’s steps during the weeks leading up to the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in San Francisco, a precursor to the Stonewall Riots a few years later. Only to discover, as he learns about the past that perhaps the missing pieces of his life weren’t ever missing at all.
Release Date: October 11 from Inkyard Press
Why You’ll Love It: The story of a teenager struggling to fit in with her rich peers at an elite boarding school gets a supernatural boast when student Alice Sun suddenly starts becoming as invisible as she often feels. But things get complicated when she decides to start monetizing her strange new ability by selling the scandalous secrets of her classmates, and Liang deftly users Alice’s story to explore themes of classism and privilege.
Publisher’s Description: Alice Sun has always felt invisible at her elite Beijing international boarding school, where she’s the only scholarship student among China’s most rich and influential teens. But then she starts uncontrollably turning invisible—actually invisible.
When her parents drop the news that they can no longer afford her tuition, even with the scholarship, Alice hatches a plan to monetize her strange new power—she’ll discover the scandalous secrets her classmates want to know, for a price.
But as the tasks escalate from petty scandals to actual crimes, Alice must decide if it’s worth losing her conscience—or even her life.
Release Date: October 25 from Roaring Brook Press
Why You’ll Love It: An ambitious fantasy inspired by Three Kingdoms, one of the Four Classics of Chinese Literature, Strike the Zither is a fascinating alternate history that spins a complex story of fate, identity, and found family. The story follows an ambitious strategist named Rising Zephyr who must pretend to be a defector in order to infiltrate an enemy camp.
Publisher’s Description: The year is 414 of the Xin Dynasty, and chaos abounds. A puppet empress is on the throne. The realm has fractured into three factions and three warlordesses hoping to claim the continent for themselves.
But Zephyr knows it’s no contest.
Orphaned at a young age, Zephyr took control of her fate by becoming the best strategist of the land and serving under Xin Ren, a warlordess whose loyalty to the empress is double-edged—while Ren’s honor draws Zephyr to her cause, it also jeopardizes their survival in a war where one must betray or be betrayed. When Zephyr is forced to infiltrate an enemy camp to keep Ren’s followers from being slaughtered, she encounters the enigmatic Crow, an opposing strategist who is finally her match. But there are more enemies than one—and not all of them are human.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.