Looking for books like Caraval?
Caraval was a YA fantasy sensation when it came out in 2016. Filled with magic, adventure and romance, it is solid escapism for a lot of teenagers. Caraval is clearly targeted towards young heterosexual white/European/US women, and whilst there is a deeper discussion around the prevalence of this type of story in YA fiction, it is worth bearing in mind when reading.
Yet, as romance and fantasy are at the core of Caraval, there are plenty of books like it. You may or may not have heard of some, but all are recommended reading.
8 Books like Caraval
This Side of Home, by Renée Watson
Books like Caraval sometimes pit sister-against-sister. In This Side of Home, Nikki and Maya are identical twins and until recently, were united in their views on everything from boys to their pick of who they should hang out with at school.
But now their historically rough neighbourhood is becoming an up-and-coming area complete with boutique shops. Nikki is delighted, but Maya feels as if home is slipping away.
This Side of Home is more rounded than a lot of YA novels I’ve read. Exploring the assumptions different communities make about each other (Maya struggles with trying to bridge a gap between her Blackness and an increasingly white neighbourhood), the story is engaging and thought provoking. Read it!
The Gilded Ones, by Namina Forna
Books like Caraval may seem other-worldly at first glance, but all good fantasy stories draw on the lived experiences of real people. The Gilded Ones seems like a standard YA fantasy at first glance, but once you start reading you realise you’ve picked up something far more interesting than the standard YA fantasy fair.
The story follows 16-year-old Deka. Deka lives in dread and anticipation of a blood ceremony that determines whether or not she can become a full member of her own village. Deka is terrified when her blood runs gold during the ceremony, but it is a sign that she is an alaki, a-near-immortal with rare talents.
Faced with a brutal fate in her village or joining an army of girls like her, Deka embarks on a journey that sees her training for the biggest battle of her life. Capturing experiences, a lot of women can relate to (including misogyny, abuse, physical and sexual violence), The Gilded Ones may not be for the faint of heart, but it is a great story and one every YA fan should read.
Witches Steeped in Gold, by Ciannon Smart
There are some books similar to Caraval that you can almost hear a giggle in delight as you learn you aren’t reading what you thought you were. Witches are a staple in fantasy, but Smart’s witches are far more interesting than some.
In Witches Steeped in Gold, Iraya has been in prison for a long time, but she is looking forward to getting out and taking revenge against the people who deposed her people from the throne. Jazmyne is the daughter of the current ruler, Doyenne Cariot, but her mother sees Jazmyne more as a way to retain power after she has died.
Jazmyne and Iraya have a common enemy, and these two witches join forces to take down Doyenne. But their ultimate goals differ. There is a nice exploration of what the human condition actually is here.
No one is pure good or evil. Both Jazmyne and Iraya have their own murky morals to wade through which makes for an engaging read.
Wings of Ebony, by J. Elle
There should be more urban fantasy told from a BIPOC perspective in YA. Fortunately, along comes Wings of Ebony to answer the call of readers everywhere.
After her mother is shot dead on Rue’s doorstep, her life and the life of her younger sister, Tasha, is changed permanently. Rue is separated from Tasha and taken away by a father she never knew to Ghizon; a land of Gods where a Do Not Leave Law is in place.
Missing Tasha, Rue breaks that law to return home only to discover black kids being pulled into crime and violence. Worse, Tasha is being drawn into the same dark forces that killed their mother.
Easy to access, Wings of Ebony earns its place on this list providing a subtle, yet magical commentary for younger readers on how systemic racism and colonisation hurt all of us.
The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig
Some books like Caraval make you feel like you’ve just jumped into a story you wouldn’t mind experiencing for yourself.
In The Girl from Everywhere, Nix and her father have been sailing aboard his ship for some time now. They sail from place to place, through myth and story, and even time. As long as her father has a map, he can sail to any time, place or story.
But her father’s quest to find the one map that will take him back to Honolulu and his lost love, Nix’s mother, could erase Nix from existence.
Pirates, ships, treasure, dashing thieves, random pastries and pocket-sized dragons all blend into this wonderful tale of love, loss and hope.
Dorothy Must Die, by Danielle Paige
Like Wicked before it, Dorothy Must Die offers a different spin on the land of Oz. Meet Amy Gumm, the other girl from Kansas.
When Amy arrives in Oz, the yellow brick road is crumbling, winged monkeys can be executed for any rebellious acts and good witches can’t be trusted. And all because Dorothy went power-mad and seized the throne of Oz for herself.
Recruited to the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, Amy has a new mission: Dorothy must die.
Books like Caraval often put an alternative spin on already famous tales, and Dorothy Must Die is no exception. But the alternative spin can work and it works well here.
Amy is very unlike Dorothy. She lives in a trailer with a drug-addict for a mother, an absent father, and no realistic hope for the future. You can’t help but root for her.
Yesterday is History, by Kosoko Jackson
Time travel is always fun to play with for books like Caraval. In Yesterday is History, we are introduced to Andre Cobb, a boy who’s just received a liver transplant and is ready for his life to start. Then one night he passes out and wakes up in 1969, where he meets the magnetically attractive, Michael.
But then he’s yanked back to present-day Boston where he meets Blake and his family who explain that Michael’s new liver came from Blake’s younger brother and has the side effect of gifting Andre with the ability to travel through time.
As Andre jumps back and forth between past and present, his attraction to both Blake and Michael grows.
Told from the perspective of a queer African American boy, Yesterday is History gives younger readers a complex and rich story as Andre struggles to find his place in the world.
Meet Cute Diary, by Emery Lee
Noah Ramirez’s popular blog, the Meet Cute Diary has accidentally become a beacon of hope for every transgender person wishing for romantic happy-ever-afters. The only problem is, Noah’s made all the stories up! He’s been using the blog to express his own wish for a happy-ever-after, and when a troll exposes the blog as fiction, Noah’s world begins to fall apart.
Wanting to convince everyone that the stories are true, Noah convinces Drew to fake-date him to save the blog. But as in life, things don’t go according to plan and Noah soon realises there is a lot of difference between making up dating stories on a blog and dating in real life.
This sweet YA story reflects many romantic themes in books like Caraval but from a trans boy’s perspective. Storytelling is all about trying to empathise with different people and Meet Cute Diary makes a valiant effort at opening the eyes of heteronormative readers.
Books like Caraval are often seen as wishy-washy fantasy teen dreams. Hopefully, some of the titles above will convince you that there is more out there than you first think.
Are you searching for books similiar to Caraval? Have any suggestions that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!