10 of My Favorite YA Books from 2021
The year is waning. Finally, after months of being a terrible year, 2021 is coming to a close. Long live 2022!
But first — there were a few good things about this year. And yes, you guessed it: those things were books! Specifically, YA novels, ones that were released this year and that I was lucky enough to read as they were published. In no particular order, my 10 favorite YA books released in 2021 are below.
A few caveats, of course: I’m not saying these are the best YA novels released in 2021, for one because I didn’t read nearly all of them, so I cannot say. If your favorite is missing from the list, it’s probably that I haven’t gotten to it yet, or maybe our tastes just differ. And if you hated any of the books on this list, well, you’re entitled to your opinion (sad as it is, as these books are delightful).
"Illusionary" by Zoraida Córdova
Let me sing the praises of this book until the end of time. The closer to Córdova’s Hollow Crowns duology, this book absolutely blew me away. It features my favorite fictional love interest, it’s adventurous and expansive, and it takes the stakes set up in the initial book and amplifies them amazingly. Córdova is a master of fantasy, and I am honored to be reading her books.
"Never Saw You Coming" by Erin Hahn
This book hit so hard and so close to home for me. In her third novel, Hahn explores the ways a conservative Christian upbringing can mess with your view of the world, and takes her characters on faith journeys to find their own relationship with God. I loved it, I found it painfully honest and enlightening about my own life. 10/10 would recommend Hahn’s love stories, as well, the banter is top-tier!
"When We Were Them" by Laura Taylor Namey
Okay, this book had me in tears almost from the jump. A tale of fractured friendship and teenage love that spans multiple timelines, the book flips back and forth from the “now,” when main character Willa is at odds with her best friends Luz and Britton, and the “before,” as their friendship was forged through fire. It’s an incredible installment from an author I already loved, and I cannot recommend it enough!
"A Clash of Steel: A Treasure Island Remix" by C.B. Lee
This is an Asian-set-and-led queer take on Treasure Island that honestly has me rethinking my indifference to pirate stories. Lee takes us on a perfectly-crafted adventure story through multiple points of interest in the China of the 1800s, helps us fall in love with her main character and the love interest, and in general delivers a joyful, triumphant tale. I’m obsessed.
"Our Violent Ends" by Chloe Gong
Okay, sorry, but it wouldn’t be a list written by me if it didn’t include this book!! Wow. Gong already had me by the throat with the first installment in this duology, and this sequel absolutely finished me. It’s brilliant in terms of plot and writing, the characters sing to life under Gong’s masterful pen, and the ending? I cannot emphasize enough how good it was. I was so worried about a satisfying ending, and Gong totally blew me away with how good this was.
"Cool for the Summer" by Dahlia Adler
This is the bisexual love story of my dreams. A girl returns for senior year and is haunted by her female summer fling while pursuing a relationship with her longtime male crush. It’s a super short book, a read you can zip through in a few hours and come out on the other side absolutely delighted and heart-warmed. Adler is incredible and I will gladly snap up all her future offerings.
"If This Gets Out" by Cale Dietrich & Sophie Gonzales
This is a love story between boy-bandmates who fall in love on tour and are kept closeted by their management. This book feels and it feels so deeply and epically. I bought the romance 100 percent, rooted for all the friendships, was ready to take my picket sign and bullhorn to protest outside management’s office…this book made me cry and it made my heart soar. Fully incredible in every way.
"Counting Down With You" by Tashie Bhuiyan
I loved this book so much I wrote about it in my MFA application essay. Bhuiyan’s debut sings with life and joy. The mental health representation in this book was a gut-punch of seeing myself in a character, the love interest is the perfect cinnamon roll bad boy, and I so appreciated the way Bhuiyan handled the family relationships. All in all, a contemporary I’ll be thinking about for years to come, and I plan to watch the rest of Bhuiyan’s career with excitement for each new book she writes!
"So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix" by Bethany C. Morrow
All the magic of Louisa May Alcott’s classic is fully present in this remix. The four March girls are Black sisters living in a freeman’s colony, and that tweak brings a special richness and depth of history to this book. You get the charm of sisterhood and falling in love and exploring your dreams, superimposed over deep conversations about racism, slavery, and the darkest parts of America’s history. This book is a masterpiece.
"I Think I Love You" by Auriane Desombre
One of my best friends wrote this book, and it has brought me so much joy this year as I’ve reread it. If you’ve ever wished for more “young YA,” this book is the answer to that, filled with sophomores in high school who are utter disasters just trying to get by. Desombre combines Emma and Much Ado About Nothing in a delightful tale of matchmaking gone wrong and rivals falling for each other.
This year was a great one for YA fiction. There were so many others I read and loved but didn’t have the space to include (Liselle Sambury’s Blood Like Magic and Angie Thomas’ Concrete Rose are two that pop to mind immediately) but every list must come to an end somehow, so unfortunately this is where my rambles end. May 2022 bring us even more joyful literature!
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