Sabaa Tahir’s Top YA Picks for Young Rebels with a Cause

Posted by Marie on June 4, 2018
Sabaa Tahir is the author of the New York Times-bestselling series The Ember Quartet. Inspired by ancient Rome, this YA fantasy and Goodreads Choice Award nominee follows a young scholar named Laia and a soldier named Elias as they fight for freedom from the Martial Empire. Here, Tahir shares her thoughts on the series’ latest installment, A Reaper at the Gates, as well as her recommendations for books featuring young rebels fighting for a better world.



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Goodreads: Tell us about what lessons you’ve learned since writing An Ember in the Ashes.

Sabaa Tahir: The biggest lesson I learned is that you can’t edit a blank page. I’ve had to make myself put words down on the page, even if they are terrible, because ultimately, they can always be fixed. But if I have nothing to work with, my book will never get written!

GR: What do you hope new readers will take away when they read your series for the first time?

ST: I never like to dictate what readers will take away because I feel like teenagers are dictated to enough as it is. But I suppose I hope they leave the series feeling like hope is stronger than hate and it’s stronger than fear.

GR: What do you hope longtime fans will take away from A Reaper at the Gates?

ST: Again, far be it for me to dictate what anyone draws from the series. But I spent a lot of time thinking about how my characters have grown and changed across this series—and how that growth sometimes takes time. I think we often assume based off what we read and watch on TV that change and growth are things that happen quickly or overnight or after a montage. But even in my own life, I’ve learned that’s not true. Change takes time, and it’s often painful—I hope that comes through in this book.

GR: Young people have always played an integral role in leading change and revolution. What recommendations do you have for books featuring young people rising up and fighting for a better world?

ST: So much of The Ember Quartet is about revolution and rebellion, about characters learning that they do not have to accept the violence and abuse of the powers that be. Here are a few books that I believe highlight similar themes in very different ways:



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In addition to being beautifully written, this book takes a hard look at the divisions between the proletariat and the ruling class in a society that resembles feudal Japan.


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A YA contemporary might seem like a strange choice, but rebellion and revolution aren’t always about taking down despots. Sometimes rebellion is quieter, and Mary H.K. Choi does an incredible job of exploring the small rebellions we sometimes need to make in our daily lives in order to make peace with who we are.


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No revolution is quite as close to home as the tech revolution. Marie Lu explores this with care and depth in Warcross, juxtaposing a wildly colorful and imaginative world with thoughtful questions about how far technology should extend into our lives.


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This YA fantasy takes place in a beautiful world that hides something twisted. Dhonielle Clayton holds nothing back as she asks us what the true cost of beauty is. Come for the gorgeous cover, stay for the deft social commentary.


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This series is a classic YA revolution series. It features Juliette Ferrars, a girl whose touch kills, and her transformation into a rebel and hero fighting to take down an oppressive government.


A Reaper at the Gates is now available. Don’t forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf!


Comments Showing 1-50 of 56 (56 new)


message 1: by Toby (new)

Toby Wells I think it's perfect to be an author who doesn't dictate readers what to get from the book. Papers affect each of us personally differently. I suppose we cannot 100% predict what will we feel and think while reading a certain book. This mystery is an amazing feature of reading, and I don't want to lose it.


message 2: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Wonderful to see recommendations that are all-female authors, props to Sabaa Tahir

The future is female.


message 3: by Nadia (new)

Nadia Jasmine wrote: "Wonderful to see recommendations that are all-female authors, props to Sabaa Tahir

The future is female."


I couldn't agree more!! It's truly refreshing, especially since they're all Women of Colour!!! Thanks, Sabaa!


message 4: by Nikolina (new)

Nikolina Iliyana Pierce I definitely plan to read all these novels recommended sometime in the near future... Such a great list!


message 5: by Brittany (new)

Brittany Blake Definitely going to have to add Warcross to my TBR!


message 6: by Veronica (new)

Veronica Huge Tahir fan. This is fantastic! Just pre-ordered the new book


message 7: by Linda (new)

Linda Naquin Dang, I read all these already Sabaa! I guess it just means brilliant minds think alike ;)


message 8: by Jasmine (last edited Jun 04, 2018 11:43AM) (new)

Jasmine Nadia wrote: "Jasmine wrote: "Wonderful to see recommendations that are all-female authors, props to Sabaa Tahir

The future is female."

I couldn't agree more!! It's truly refreshing, especiall..."


I agree. It's so neat to have a literary discussion entirely free of white men and their toxicity! Long may it continue!


message 9: by MsMoxy (new)

MsMoxy Great interview! Tahir is so thoughtful! I loved starting this series with me class and can’t wat for A Reaper at the Gates!


message 10: by Kat (new)

Kat Ugh. while I totally liked seeing female authors recommended and WOC, some of the comments here are really disappointing. Trashing men/white men is just as inappropriate as trashing anyone else.


message 11: by Andy (new)

Andy And downhill it goes


message 12: by Alice (new)

Alice I am totally excited for Reaper in the Gates! Even though I've only read the series this year, it has helped me through some tough times and for that I'm grateful!


message 13: by Carla (new)

Carla I can't wait for my copy of " A Reaper At The Gates" to arrive. Adding The Belles to my to read list.


Brenda (Entre letras y páginas) I'm so happy about having read An Ember. I can't wait to read A Reaper, which I have already pre-ordered! ❤ I will definitely read anything that Tahir writes!
And to mention a book that is not fiction, I would like to mention Starr, from The Hate U Give.


message 15: by Rebeca (last edited Jun 04, 2018 02:00PM) (new)

Rebeca This woman is amazing! I'm so grateful she exists <3


message 16: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Sabaa . . . I haven't read any of your books despite meaning to for ages, but you are such an awesome person. Your Instagram stories are the best. I'm going to order An Ember In The Ashes ASAP, I promise!!! <3


message 17: by Jana (new)

Jana katwiththehat wrote: "Ugh. while I totally liked seeing female authors recommended and WOC, some of the comments here are really disappointing. Trashing men/white men is just as inappropriate as trashing anyone else."
I agree. I think we can applaud for all women - any color- without trashing any man of any color.


message 18: by Jana (new)

Jana I’m going back to re-read Ember before Reaper comes out. I loved Ember the first time and will the second time. It will get me in the mode for continuing this incredible and moving story. My daughter and I read it together. She will be so excited that the second one is just days away.


message 19: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Wonderer wrote: "Jasmine wrote: "Nadia wrote: "Jasmine wrote: "Wonderful to see recommendations that are all-female authors, props to Sabaa Tahir

The future is female."

I couldn't agree more!! It..."


And it's whiny white male comments like that which make our struggle against white male supremacy necessary. Thank you for proving that white men can't allow women to enjoy even a moment together.


message 20: by Sabrina (new)

Sabrina Can we all just take a moment and admire the beautiful cover this book has. I applaud the representation that is shown of people of colour. Great job Sabaa Tahir this is definitely going on top of my TBR list.


message 21: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Oh, well, thank God some people showed up to save the poor disadvantaged cis hetero white men from the bad women excited to read books by women of color.

I like men. I love my husband.

I have male writers I enjoy as well.

But I also make a point to read books by women, particularly women of color, Own Voices books where people write about their own experiences as an undervalued/underrepresented group, LGBTQA+ authors.

In a lifetime you can only read so many books, and there's no reason why in 2018 anyone needs to go out of their way to read books from the same group of people who always get prioritized and an outsized portion of respect, awards, readership, reviews by the establishment.


message 22: by Xochitl (new)

Xochitl Looking forward to a lot of these books during the summer!(:


message 23: by Jay (new)

Jay DiNitto Barf.


message 24: by Marfa (new)

Marfa Umi Currently doing a thesis with the object of A Torch Against The Night so ya I'm Tahir fan


message 25: by nitya (new)

nitya A++++++ post! Love Sabaa <3

And laughing at the fragile white men commenting~


message 26: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Nitya wrote: "A++++++ post! Love Sabaa <3

And laughing at the fragile white men commenting~"


I know right lol! Aren't they just truly pathetic.


message 27: by Marya (new)

Marya Jasmine wrote: "Wonderful to see recommendations that are all-female authors, props to Sabaa Tahir

The future is female."


My thoughts exactly!


message 28: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Marya wrote: "Jasmine wrote: "Wonderful to see recommendations that are all-female authors, props to Sabaa Tahir

The future is female."

My thoughts exactly!"


I know right! Long may this absence of white male authors continue!


message 29: by ManaL. (new)

ManaL. What the cause behind "Shatter me" ? You have to be so beautiful and so sexy so you can have all the men in the world drooling over you even that you're a whining brat?


Sera ~ Catty Reader Jasmine wrote: "Nitya wrote: "A++++++ post! Love Sabaa <3

And laughing at the fragile white men commenting~"

I know right lol! Aren't they just truly pathetic."


They are sharing their opinion on an open forum, just like you do. If that makes them pathetic, than I guess you are too (and most the comments aren't even from men).

Honestly, I'm all for women power and equality and I was happy to see this list. But you can celebrate girlpower while not discriminating others. It's tiring to see the debate constantly stolen by men-haters like yourself. You're not talking about equality anymore and you're just ruining the cause instead of helping it. You're just trying to turn one form of oppression into another. That makes you just as bad. You are operating from a place of anger, hate and revenge and no good will come from that.
Not all men are women-oppressing-pigs and not all women are men-haters. We need to come together, not find more reasons to hate each other.


message 31: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine ..Ciel.. ~ Catty Reader wrote: "Jasmine wrote: "Nitya wrote: "A++++++ post! Love Sabaa <3

And laughing at the fragile white men commenting~"

I know right lol! Aren't they just truly pathetic."

They are sharing their opinion on..."


Your list of accusations against me there are a huge stretch from what I said and others commenting agreed with me too.


message 32: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Wonderer wrote: "Good morning ladies!

Just wanted to drop by to assure you that this proudly cis hetero white man has no hard feelings toward any of you.

Have a nice day!"


Feeling a need to say you are "proud" for being a "cis hetero white man" is exactly the problem.


message 33: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Wonderer wrote: "Aren't you a fierce one!

I'm proud of who and what I am.

So I guess you can't say the same about yourself because that would be a problem?"


Yes it's very much a different case.

There is a difference from those from oppressed minorities being proud of their identity and then white males (the oppressors) feeling proud in their own identity.

One is progressive the other has no place in the modern world.


message 34: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Wonderer wrote: "Jasmine wrote: "Wonderer wrote: "Aren't you a fierce one!

I'm proud of who and what I am.

So I guess you can't say the same about yourself because that would be a problem?"

Yes it's very much a..."


So you deny the insidious control of white privilege and maleness?


message 35: by Jay (new)

Jay DiNitto Wonderer wrote: "Jasmine wrote: "So you deny the insidious control of white privilege and maleness? "

What a great line! It's really precious! Do you mind if I steal it?

You're not serious of course."



It's fine to flag her posts, but don't waste energy using dialectics to persuade clowns. They are engendering a monumental, real-world blowback with their selective socio-political fingerwagging. The only way they will learn is if things become very bad for them; best to abandon them to the consequences.


message 36: by Michelle (new)

Michelle What is so threatening about women authors and women readers that you men are barfing, and attacking, and condescending?


message 37: by Jay (new)

Jay DiNitto Wonderer wrote: "Jay wrote: "It's fine to flag her posts, but don't waste energy using dialectics to persuade clowns. They are engendering a monumental, real-world blowback with their selective socio-political fing..."

We may never know because it's hard to parse the serious clowns from the trolls; their masks are similar. It's best to ignore them, but if you have to engage, mockery is the best cudgel.


message 38: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Michelle wrote: "What is so threatening about women authors and women readers that you men are barfing, and attacking, and condescending?"

Thank you Michelle.

What happened here was several posters loving this selection of all-female books and suddenly some angry white men tried to wreck it.

Oh and what happened to that Kitty person who claimed to have reported me for sexism? Suddenly removed their post in shame I see!


message 39: by Janett (new)

Janett Truly...

Can we just get back to celebrating Sabaa's new book and all the wonderful books she recommended?


message 40: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Janett wrote: "Truly...

Can we just get back to celebrating Sabaa's new book and all the wonderful books she recommended?"


I plan on reading all the selections. Picked up a couple on Audible. :)


message 41: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Wonderer, I'm a great believer in letting the record speak for itself, and I believe the record here shows exactly why the first women in the thread commented the way they did, and why perhaps less women are commenting now. You can't stop women from bonding, or reading, or taking the book suggestions.

You haven't stifled the conversation, you've just moved it to new locations, the way people have to relocate when ants show up to the picnic.


message 42: by Janett (new)

Janett Michelle wrote: "Janett wrote: "Truly...

Can we just get back to celebrating Sabaa's new book and all the wonderful books she recommended?"

I plan on reading all the selections. Picked up a couple on Audible. :)"


I've read the first two books and it's an amazing series! I'm so excited for June 12!!! And I'm a HUGE fan of Tahereh Mafi's "Shatter Me" series! Definitely one to read!


message 43: by Michelle (new)

Michelle The only book I've read part of is The Belles, but have heard great things about the rest of the list, and I'm excited to find new authors. This made me take the next step to read books I'd vaguely promised myself I'd get to soon.


message 44: by Kat (new)

Kat Michelle wrote: "Wonderer, I'm a great believer in letting the record speak for itself, and I believe the record here shows exactly why the first women in the thread commented the way they did, and why perhaps less..."

Michelle, as a woman I am very disappointed in the way two women (or people posing as women) chose to turn what should have been a discussion ANYONE could participate in about Sabaa Tahir's lovely new release and the excellent books she recommended into a spewing of their own personal political rhetoric. It was hate speech, completely off-topic, and was most certainly the cause of any meaningful conversation in the thread suddenly drying up, as effectively as a big stinky fart at a cocktail party.

I do not deny there are terrible forces at work in the world. In this particular thread, I can't pin this one on the guys, sorry. Life is terribly unfair and we need intelligent, thoughtful voices who can articulate for those who are unheard. Spewing hate speech makes you no worthier to listen to than your so-called "oppressors."

Back to the topic at hand, I am extremely excited about the release of Sabaa's next book. I've been eagerly waiting for it and love the conflict between her characters. She has an amazing sense of pacing and world-building.


message 45: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine katwiththehat wrote: "Michelle wrote: "Wonderer, I'm a great believer in letting the record speak for itself, and I believe the record here shows exactly why the first women in the thread commented the way they did, and..."

There was zero hate speech. You're lying to say there was.

And clearly Goodreads agrees as you reported me to zero effect.


message 46: by Nadia (new)

Nadia Jasmine wrote: "katwiththehat wrote: "Michelle wrote: "Wonderer, I'm a great believer in letting the record speak for itself, and I believe the record here shows exactly why the first women in the thread commented..."

None of this was ever about hate. It is about Love & Support, Love of Women & the work they produce! And giving Support to ALL Women; however, specifically, in this instance WOC whose abilities & talents need to be acknowledged & appreciated in order to return the pendulum to balance.


message 47: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Kat, I think it's a low blow to claim a woman is not a woman because you don't agree with her. I don't agree with you, but I'm not claiming you're not a woman.

Have you noticed that the one thing these men haven't done is participate in the discussion of Sabaa Tahir's books or her recommendations? As you point out, anyone can participate in that discussion, and yet it seems like maybe that's not why they're here.

I understand that the women expressing a greater comfort discussing books away from men are not you, but many women have legitimate reasons to be fearful or even angry. The best way to prove them wrong -- if that's a goal -- would have been for the men to not come in and fulfill every expressed concern. No one stopped men from entering the discussion thoughtfully, but I see no indication that they actually had an interest in the topic.

How many of these books made their TBRs, do you think? How many have they read in the past? This is not to say they couldn't be into these books, only that they've only expressed an interest in needling other posters.

Anyhow, I'm excited for all these books, and this thread had prodded me get a couple from Audible which is where I go when I'm on the broke side since I purchase the credits once I year.

You and I seem to have pretty similar reading tastes, by the way. I finally saw the Love, Simon movie, but it didn't quite live up to the book for me. I heard they're going to make a movie of Eleanor Oliphant, which I love.


message 48: by Kat (last edited Jun 07, 2018 11:25AM) (new)

Kat Michelle, Nadia, with all due respect, this post by Jasmine is hate speech:

It's so neat to have a literary discussion entirely free of white men and their toxicity! Long may it continue!

How would you feel if Jasmine's post, which incited the whole degradation of the thread away from Sabaa Tahir and her recommendations, had the words "white men" replaced with "POC" or "women" or "people with disabilities." Let's see how Jasmine's post reads now:

It's so neat to have a literary discussion entirely free of POC and their toxicity! Long may it continue!

It's so neat to have a literary discussion entirely free of women and their toxicity! Long may it continue!

It's so neat to have a literary discussion entirely free of people with disabilities and their toxicity! Long may it continue!

It would have been just as easy to make a statement saying how nice it was to see such diversity shown in Sabaa's recommendations. But that wasn't what was done. There is no excuse for hate speech, prejudice or stereotyping, no matter whom it is directed at, and playing the woman card to try to excuse such behavior is just cowardly.


message 49: by Kat (new)

Kat Have you noticed that the one thing these men haven't done is participate in the discussion of Sabaa Tahir's books or her recommendations? As you point out, anyone can participate in that discussion, and yet it seems like maybe that's not why they're here.

I understand that the women expressing a greater comfort discussing books away from men are not you, but many women have legitimate reasons to be fearful or even angry. The best way to prove them wrong -- if that's a goal -- would have been for the men to not come in and fulfill every expressed concern. No one stopped men from entering the discussion thoughtfully, but I see no indication that they actually had an interest in the topic.


I would point out that the entire thread skewed away from the topic the moment political rhetoric and hate speech started being spewed. I would also thoughtfully suggest that were you in a thread where you were being bashed for your sex and the color of your skin, it might not be the sort of welcoming environment where you'd hang your hat, sit down for a while, and try to start a friendly chat with the mob carrying the tar and feathers.


message 50: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Kat,
You can't say "Jasmine said this, but what if she said this other thing," because she didn't say the other thing. The other groups you mention are oppressed group who've suffered oppression largely by white men. There is a difference between punching up and punching down, and so you can't substitute people-who've-done-horrible-things for people-who've-suffered-horrible-things-by-the-first-group.

I have seen many threads by PoC bashing white women, I understand why, and I neither feel unwelcome nor do I lash out.

If you can find anything in Wonderer's reading history, where I don't think even 1 in 100 books are by women, other than Sarah Palin or Ann Coulter, that makes you think he was on this thread in good faith, on inclined to support any of these authors, and was only deterred because he was made to feel unwelcome, I'd be surprised. Now look at the TBRs and the read books belonging to the women here.


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