Best Fiction For Teens, 2021

I love a good best books list, and the blogging team who worked on this year’s Best Fiction For Young Adults has compiled a doozy! 85 titles published in the last 14 months encompassing the very best in YA fiction are included. A big shout-out to the the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) for continuing to compile such great lists year after year!

All of this year’s picks are either in the CA Library collection already, or have been ordered and are on their way. Titles link to the CA Library catalog; if an eBook and/or audiobook are available, there are links for those, too.

Books marked with an asterisk (*) are among the Top 10.

Agnes at the End of the World by Kelly McWilliams — Sixteen-year-old Agnes must escape a cult and a Prophet as she attempts to save the world from a pandemic.

All These Monsters by Amy Tintera — Seventeen-year-old Clara runs away from home to join a vigilante monster-fighting squad, only to discover that sometimes the most dangerous monsters are where you least expect them.

All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney — Sixteen-year-old Allie, aged seven when she knew her family was different and feared, struggles to claim her Muslim and Arabic heritage while finding her place as an American teenager. Get the audiobook (Sora login required)

Ashlords by Scott Reintgen — Red Rising meets The Scorpio Races in this epic fantasy following three phoenix horse riders, skilled at alchemy, who must compete at The Races — the modern spectacle that has replaced warfare within their empire.

*Be Not Far from Me by Mindy McGinnis — Lost in the Great Smoky Mountains, rising high school senior Ashley Hawkins must fight for survival without any tools, growing in awareness that the world is not tame, and neither are people. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson — ZJ’s friends Ollie, Darry and Daniel help him cope when his father, a beloved professional football player, suffers severe headaches and memory loss that spell the end of his career. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta — When Michael, a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London discovers the Drag Society, he finally finds where he belongs — and the Black Flamingo is born. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard by Echo Brown — From age six through her high school valedictory speech, believing she and her mother are wizards helps young Echo cope with poverty, hunger, her mother’s drug abuse, and much more.

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed — With the Rodney King riots closing in on high school senior Ashley and her family, the privileged bubble she has enjoyed, protecting her from the difficult realities most black people face, begins to crumble. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew — When physics lover and astronomy fan Frankie unexpectedly gets her period and a gruesome meme goes viral, an intimate and affectionate afternoon turns into something sordid, mortifying, and damaging. With the online shaming taking on a horrifying life of its own, Frankie begins to wonder if her normal life is over.

Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli — A year after being nearly paralyzed, Audrey Lee is going to the Olympics but the United States’ gymnastics team is on the verge of collapse and Leo, her new coach’s cute son, is another distraction.

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power — Margot doesn’t know anything about her family, beyond her quiet life with her mother. But she wants more and when she finds a clue that leads her to a town called Phalene, she leaves to investigate. Only Phalene and her family history are full of secrets, some that may prove more dangerous and deadly than Margot ever could have bargained for.

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater — From the New York Times bestselling author of The Raven Boys, a mesmerizing story of dreams and desires, death and destiny. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

*Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas — Yadriel, a trans boy, summons the angry spirit of his high school’s bad boy, and agrees to help him learn how he died, thereby proving himself a brujo, not a bruja, to his conservative family. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe — Henri ‘Halti’ Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone — except his ‘intense’ classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school.

*Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo — In this novel in verse told in two voices, sixteen-year-olds Camino Rios, of the Dominican Republic, and Yahaira Rios, of New York City, are devastated to learn of their father’s death in a plane crash and stunned to learn of each other’s existence. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

The Cousins by Karen M. McManus — After receiving an invitation to spend the summer with their estranged grandmother, the Story cousins arrive at her house only to discover that she is not there, and the longer they stay on the island, the more they realize their mysterious family history has some deadly secrets. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram — Darius Kellner has everything he thought he wanted — a new boyfriend, a new internship, and a spot on the soccer team — but growing up makes him question everything.

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite — When a school presentation goes very wrong, Alaine Beauparlant finds herself suspended, shipped off to Haiti and writing the report of a lifetime. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Dear Justyce by Nic Stone — Incarcerated teen Quan Banks writes letters to Justyce McCallister, with whom he bonded years before over family issues, about his experiences in the American juvenile justice system. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

*Deeplight by Frances Hardinge — When 15-year-old Hark finds the still-beating heart of a terrifying deity, he risks everything to keep it out of the hands of smugglers, military scientists, and a secret fanatical cult so that he can use it to save the life of his best friend. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith — At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the online game Reclaim The Sun, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds — What if you could bring your best friend back to life — but only for a short time? Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know that he died, and that he’s about to die . . . again. He doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save him. And that the reason they haven’t been friends for two years is because Jamal blames Q for the accident that killed his parents.

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger — Imagine an America very similar to our own, but shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, but other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day. Elatsoe lives in this slightly stranger America.

The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein — Told in multiple voices, fifteen-year-old Jamaican Louisa Adair uncovers an Enigma machine in the small Scottish village where she cares for an elderly German woman, and helps solve a puzzle that could turn the tide of World War II. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Fable by Adrienne Young — Seventeen-year-old Fable joins the young, motley crew of the Marigold to escape the island where her father abandoned her, but she quickly realizes life off the island is more dangerous than she imaged. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

The Faithless Hawk by Margaret Owen — Kings become outcasts and lovers become foes in The Faithless Hawk, the thrilling sequel to Margaret Owen’s The Merciful Crow.

The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth — Two girls embark on a summer of montage-worthy dates (with a few strings attached) in this hilarious and heartfelt rom-com that’s perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Jenny Han. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender — Felix Love, a transgender seventeen-year-old, attempts to get revenge by catfishing his anonymous bully, but lands in a quasi-love triangle with his former enemy and his best friend. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez — Seventeen-year-old Camila Hassan, a rising soccer star in Rosario, Argentina, dreams of playing professionally, in defiance of her father’s wishes and at the risk of her budding romance with Diego. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters — Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness. But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let dead keep their secrets. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust — Soraya, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch, has lived eighteen years in the shadows but as her twin brother’s wedding approaches, she faces choices with unimaginable consequences. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti — While spending a summer with her famous mother and her criminal boyfriend, Sydney Reilly, age fifteen, finds love with Nicco but her premonition of something bad coming proves dreadfully accurate. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Girls Save the World in This One by Ash Parsons — When ZombieCon comes to their small town, June and her best friends battle long lines for photo ops, meet their favorite actors, and save the world from actual zombies when things get real.

Golden Arm by Carl Deuker — Lazarus Weathers, a high school senior from the wrong side of the tracks, seeks to protect his half-brother while pitching his way out of poverty, one strike at a time.

*Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson — When legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots Enchanted Jones at an audition, her dreams of being a famous singer take flight. Until Enchanted wakes up with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night. Now the police are at the door, and all signs point to Enchanted. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

He Must Like You by Danielle Younge-Ullman — Eighteen-year-old Libby Stowe navigates the fallout of a drunken hookup with a coworker, a myriad of family issues, and a powerful man in her town sexually harassing her at work.

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar — Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life. Flávia is beautiful and charismatic, and Nishat falls for her instantly. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Here the Whole Time by Vitor Martins, translation by Larissa Helena — When Felipe, who is very insecure about his weight, is forced to spend winter break with his long-term crush, Caio, he must face his unresolved issues head-on.

Horrid by Katrina Leno — Following her father’s sudden death, Jane North-Robinson and her mother are forced to move to the old North house in Maine, where Jane uncovers her family’s disturbing secrets.

The How and the Why by Cynthia Hand — Cassandra McMurtrey has the best parents a girl could ask for; they’ve given Cass a life she wouldn’t trade for the world. She has everything she needs, but she has questions, too. Like, to know who she is and where she came from — questions her adoptive parents can’t answer, no matter how much they love her.

I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee — Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering world of K-Pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother, have set for girls like her. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes — When a Connecticut teenager inherits vast wealth and an eccentric estate from the richest man in Texas, she must also live with his surviving family and solve a series of puzzles to discover how she earned her inheritance. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Kent State by Deborah Wiles — Told from different points of view–protesters, students, National Guardsmen, and “townies”–recounts the story of what happened at Kent State in May 1970, when four college students were killed by National Guardsmen, and a student protest was turned into a bloody battlefield. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender — In a small but turbulent Louisiana town, one boy’s grief takes him beyond the bayous of his backyard, to learn that there is no right way to be yourself.

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron — Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval. There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic.

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake — Inspired loosely by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, teenaged Violet is shipped off to Maine after her brother’s hospitalization, where she searches for the lost shipwreck that her great-great grandmother survived and for answers about her family’s long struggle with mental illness, all while falling in love. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix — In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn’t get time to ask before he is turned to dust by one of the left-handed booksellers — an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes the modern world. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn — To discover the truth behind her mother’s mysterious death, a teen girl infiltrates a magical secret society claiming to be the descendants of King Arthur and his knights. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton — Working as a Wench — i.e., waitress — at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, Kit Sweetly wishes she could be a Knight like her brother. She has the moves, is capable on a horse, and desperately needs the raise that comes with knighthood, so she can hold a spot at her dream college and help her mom pay the mortgage.

Light It Up by Kekla Magoon — The incredible follow-up to the highly acclaimed novel How It Went Down. Told from multiple viewpoints, Shae Tatum, an unarmed, thirteen-year-old black girl, is shot by a white police officer, throwing their community into upheaval and making it a target of demonstrators.

Lobizona by Romina Garber — As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manuela Azul is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida — until her protective bubble is shattered. Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

The Loop by Ben Oliver — Luka Kane has spent 736 days wrongfully imprisoned inside the Loop awaiting his execution. But things are starting to change; whispers of war are circulating, strange things are happening to the prisoners, and the warden delivers a message, “Luka, you have to get out…”

The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley — Perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Nina LaCour, this #ownvoices romantic comedy from bestselling author Robin Talley has something for everyone: backstage rendezvous, deadly props, and a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to True Love. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed — In Paris, seventeen-year-old Khayyam, a part-Indian, part-French Muslim American, is at a crossroads when a chance encounter plunges her into research about Leila, a girl much like Khayyam who inspired Eugene Delacroix. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore — A gorgeous and magical collaboration between two critically acclaimed, powerhouse YA authors offers a richly imagined underdog story perfect for fans of Dumplin’ and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

*More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood — When self-proclaimed ‘not very bright’ nineteen-year-old Danyal Jilani is chosen for a prestigious academic contest, he hopes to impress a potential arranged marriage match, only to begin falling for the girl helping him study instead.

My Calamity Jane (The Lady Janies, Vol. 3) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows — Welcome to 1876 America, a place bursting with gunslingers, outlaws, and garou — better known as werewolves. And where there are garou, there’re hunters: the one and only Calamity Jane, to be precise, along with her fellow stars of Wild Bill’s Traveling Show.

The New David Espinoza by Fred Aceves — Obsessed with the idea that he is not muscular enough and tired of being bullied, David, age seventeen, begins using steroids, endangering his relationships with family and friends.

A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope edited by Patrice Caldwell — Black girls, including gender non-conforming individuals, star in this collection of sixteen stories of fantasy, science fiction, and magic. Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly — In this adaptation of the fairy tale Snow White, the huntsman follows the queen’s order to kill Sophie, but the princess is brought back to life by the seven men of the woods, who, along with other brave friends, help Sophie overcome the story’s true villain and reclaim her throne. Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam — From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

*Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko — Raised in isolation, Tarisai yearns for the closeness she could have as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11, but her mother, The Lady, has magically compelled Tarisai to kill the Crown Prince. Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher — In 2032, when sixteen-year-old Vali’s mother is detained by the Deportation Forces, Vali must flee Vermont with her little brother, Ernie, hoping to reach their Tia Luna in the sanctuary state of California.

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party by Allan Wolf — In 1846, a group of emigrants bound for California face a choice: continue on their planned route or take a shortcut into the wilderness. Eighty-nine of them opt for the untested trail, a decision that plunges them into danger and desperation and, finally, the unthinkable.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown — The first in a gripping fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon — When new-girl Cirrus mistakes self-described nerd Sunny Dae as the lead in a rock band, Sunny rolls with it forming a fake band with his friends, but as the lies continue he risks losing both Cirrus and his friends. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong — In 1926 Shanghai, eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, heir of the Scarlet Gang, and her first love-turned-rival Roma Montagov, leader of the White Flowers, must work together when mysterious deaths threaten their city. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

They Went Left by Monica Hesse — Zofia, a teenage Holocaust survivor, travels across post-war Europe as she searches for her younger brother and seeks to rebuild her shattered life. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

*This Is My America by Kim Johnson — While writing letters to Innocence X, a justice-seeking project, asking them to help her father, an innocent black man on death row, teenaged Tracy takes on another case when her brother is accused of killing his white girlfriend. Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Three Things I Know Are True by Betty Culley — Life changes forever for Liv when her older brother, Jonah, accidentally shoots himself with his best friend Clay’s father’s gun. Now Jonah needs round-the-clock care just to stay alive, and Liv feels like she’s the only person who can see that her brother is still there inside his broken body.

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry — Three sisters in San Antonio are shadowed by guilt and grief over the loss of their oldest sister, who still haunts their house. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon — Throughout the years, both Rowan and Neil have been in competition with one another on everything from who has the best ideas for school functions to which one will be their graduating class’s valedictorian. But in the twenty-four hours left they have as high school students, the two learn they share something much deeper than a rivalry.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord — A fresh, irresistible rom-com from debut author Emma Lord about the chances we take, the paths life can lead us on, and how love can be found in the opposite place you expected. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Unscripted by Nicole Kronzer — When seventeen-year-old Zelda is chosen for an elite team at a prestigious improvisation camp, it is a big step toward achieving her dreams, but first she must survive her teammates’ sexism and coach’s cruelty.

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert — The first year they are eligible to vote, Marva and Duke meet at their polling place and, over the course of one crazy day, fall in love. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour — Mila is used to being alone. Maybe that’s why she said yes to a teaching job and a place to live on an isolated part of the Northern California coast, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below. But she hadn’t known about the ghosts… Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee — For fourteen-year-old budding artist Minoru Ito, her two brothers, her friends, and the other members of the Japanese-American community in southern California, the three months since Pearl Harbor was attacked have become a waking nightmare: attacked, spat on, and abused with no way to retaliate. Now things are about to get worse, their lives forever changed by the mass incarcerations in the relocation camps. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

*We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez — Teens from Guatelama escape through Mexico and attempt to reach the U.S. border. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

*What I Carry by Jennifer Longo — In her final year in foster care, seventeen-year-old Muir tries to survive her senior year before aging out of the system.

When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk — Follows the breakup of teenaged best friends Cleo and Layla in New York City, told in alternating timelines.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson — A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed — Going door to door to get votes for a state senate candidate isn’t exactly glamorous, but maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, the polls are getting closer — and so are Maya and Jamie. Mastering local activism is one thing. Navigating the cross-cultural crush of the century is another thing entirely. Get the eBook / Get the Audiobook (Sora login required)

You Know I’m No Good by Jessie Ann Foley — Mia is officially a Troubled Teen™ — she gets bad grades, drinks too much, and has probably gone too far with too many guys. But she doesn’t realize how out of control she seems until she is taken from her home in the middle of the night and sent away to Red Oak Academy, a therapeutic girls’ boarding school in the middle of nowhere.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson — Liz Lighty has always done her best to avoid the spotlight in her small, wealthy, and prom-obsessed midwestern high school. But when the scholarship to an elite colelge falls through, she is forced to turn to her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen, which plunges her into the gauntlet of social media (which she hates) and leads her to discoveries about her own identity and the value of true friendships. Get the eBook (Sora login required)

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