It’s been an interesting year, to say the least, with many challenges to overcome, but one thing that has stayed constant is the availability of great books! So with much fanfare (yay!), here it is — CA Library’s Best YA Books of 2021! With so many outstanding books out there, it can be a daunting task to pick out the best of the best. After spending a few weeks compiling titles from various sources, I came up with the books that appear on the most lists (check out the spreadsheet here).
This year, I again tried to include as many reputable best books lists as I could find. I go to my usual sources of book reviews (School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, etc.), then check out a few other media outlets that have year-end reviews as well. Here are my Top 28 Best Books List sources of 2021 (sources in red have not been updated yet)…
- School Library Journal – Best Young Adult Books of 2021
- Booklist – Adult Books for Young Adults 2020 / Books For Youth 2021
- Kirkus Reviews – Best Young Adult Books of 2021
- Horn Book – Horn Book Fanfare 2021
- Publishers Weekly – Best Books Young Adult Books of 2021
- Bulletin Of The Center For Children’s Book — Blue Ribbons 2020
- New York Public Library – Best Books for Teens 2021
- Chicago Public Library – CPL Best of the Best Books 2021
- Time – The 10 Best YA and Children’s Books of 2021
- Cosmopolitan — There Are Legit So Many Good New YA Books to Read in 2021
- Parade Magazine — The Best YA Books of 2021
- New York Times – 100 Notable Books of 2021 and The 25 Best Children’s Books of 2021
- The Guardian – The Best Children’s and YA Books of 2021
- Amazon – Best Books of 2021 / Best Young Adult Books of 2021
- Barnes & Noble – The Best Books of 2021 / Best YA Books of 2021
- Powell’s Books — Best Books of 2021: Kids’ and Young Adult
- NPR’s Books We Love – Best Books of 2021 / Young Adult
- Goodreads – Best Books of 2021/ YA Fiction / YA Fantasy & Science Fiction (Goodreads Choice Awards)
- She Reads — Best YA Books of 2021
- Epic Reads — Announcing the 2021 *Book Shimmy* Award Finalists!
- Buzzfeed — The Best YA Books Of 2021
- Brightly — The Best YA Books of 2021
- The Young Folks — The 10 Best Books of 2021
- All Booked Up — Our Favorite YA Books of 2021
- Forever Young Adult – FYA Faves: Best Books of 2021
- Book Riot – Best Books of 2021
- Book Page – Best Young Adult Books of 2021
- National Book Award — 2021 NBA Longlist: Young People’s Literature
Each list is a little different — some include just fiction or nonfiction, some include both, and some include books for all ages, from which I pick the ones written for teens and young adults (again, it’s a daunting task!)
This year, of the 28 lists I drew from, one title shows up on 15 of them: Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, making it the CA Library Best YA Book of the Year!
One book is on 13 best-of lists: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, which also won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Two books are on 10 lists; The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe, and Paula Yoo’s From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement.
Four books appear on 8 best-of lists: Beasts of Prey by Ayana Grey, Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas, The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, and Instructions For Dancing by Nicola Yoon.
Three books are on 7 lists: How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland, Himawari House by Harmony Becker, and Me (Moth) by Amber McBride.
Five books are on 6 best-of lists: A Sitting In St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia, In The Wild Light by Jeff Zentner, Little Thieves by Margaret Owens, Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon, and The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore — rounding out the 16 books that make up the CA Library Best YA Books of 2021 Superlist!
Check out the full list below. Click on the Title to see a description in the CA Library catalog. Plus, if there’s an eBook and/or audiobook available in the Sora Digital Reading App, there’s a link to that, too — sign in using ClassLink!
The Best of the Best…
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley — Daunis, who is part Ojibwe, defers attending the University of Michigan to care for her mother and reluctantly becomes involved in the investigation of a series of drug-related deaths. “Boulley doesn’t shy away from or sugar-coat the very real circumstances that plague Native American reservations across the country, and she tackles these through her biracial hero, who gets involved in the criminal investigation into the corruption that led to this pain. An incredible thriller, not to be missed” (Booklist). Get the eBook | Get the Audiobook
Last Night At The Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo — America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father — despite his hard-won citizenship — Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day. “Writing beautifully with a knowing, gentle hand that balances Lily’s unease and courage, Lo presents a must-read love story in an uncommon setting: the midcentury queer Bay Area at a time when racism, homophobia, and McCarthyism held tight grips on the citizenry” (Booklist). Get the eBook | Get the Audiobook
The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe — When seventeen-year-old Nora O’Malley, the daughter of a con artist, is taken hostage in a bank heist, every secret she is keeping close begins to unravel. “Fiercely captivating and impressively characterized, this tightly plotted thriller is engrossing from start to finish” (Booklist). Get the eBook | Get the Audiobook
From A Whisper To A Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chen and the Trial That Galvanized The Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo — A groundbreaking portrait of Chinese American Vincent Chin and the 1982 murder case that took America’s Asian American community to the streets in protest of injustice. “Chin’s story is an important parallel to today’s societal strife mirrored in the rise in racism and violence against Asian Americans who have been unfairly blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic. Highly recommended for readers interested in social justice nonfiction” (School Library Journal). Get the eBook | Get the Audiobook
…and The Rest of the Best!
Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray — Sixteen-year-old indentured beastkeeper Koffi and seventeen-year-old warrior candidate Ekon forge an unusual alliance and venture into the Greater Jungle to hunt down a monster that has been menacing their city for a century. “This pan-African story, rife with betrayal and narrated through poetic language that evokes vivid imagery, will ensnare readers, keeping them engaged with its energetic pace” (Kirkus Reviews). Get the eBook | Get the Audiobook
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas — Bestselling author Angie Thomas revisits Garden Heights seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give in this searing and poignant exploration of Black boyhood and manhood. A gang leader’s son finds his effort to go straight for the sake of his child challenged by a loved one’s brutal murder. “Thomas writes with a depth of humor and clarity that really allows readers to bond with the characters” (School Library Journal). Get the eBook | Get the Audiobook
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna — Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs. But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity — and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death. “At the close of the first of what is rumored to be a trilogy, readers will find themselves awestruck with satisfying revelation, leaving both a clean ending and desire for more” (Booklist). Get the eBook | Get the Audiobook
Himawari House by Harmony Becker — A graphic novel about three foreign exchange students and the pleasures, and difficulties, of adjusting to living in Japan. Living in a new country is no walk in the park — Nao, Hyejung, and Tina can all attest to that. The three of them became fast friends through living together in the Himawari House in Tokyo and attending the same Japanese cram school. “Altogether, this work exemplifies what the graphic novel format can achieve. An unforgettable story of personal growth in an exquisitely rendered setting” (Kirkus Reviews).
How Moon Fuentez Fell In Love With The Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland — When seventeen-year-old Star Fuentez reaches social media stardom, her polar-opposite twin, Moon, becomes “merch girl” on a tour bus full of beautiful influencers and the grumpy but attractive Santiago Philips. “Themes of sexuality, grief, trauma, abuse, and disability are sensitively incorporated into the story, which remains entertaining and will impart beautiful, lingering lessons to its readers. Amazingly realistic, this book is the coming-of-age story that teens need, wrapped in a gorgeously poetic package” (Booklist).
In The Wild Light by Jeff Zentner — Attending an elite prep school in Connecticut on a scholarship with his best friend (and secret love) science genius Delaney Doyle, sixteen-year-old Cash Pruitt, from a small town in East Tennessee, struggles with emotional pain and loss until his English teacher suggests writing poetry. “Notable is the warmth, physical affection, and gentleness between Cash and those he loves, while well-crafted poems throughout, written by Cash as he finds his voice, are evocative and moving, highlighting Zentner’s impressive skill with both poetry and prose” (Publishers Weekly). Get the Audiobook
Instructions For Dancing by Nicola Yoon — Evie Thomas doesn’t believe in love anymore. Especially after the strangest thing occurs one otherwise ordinary afternoon: She witnesses a couple kiss and is overcome with a vision of how their romance began…and how it will end. As Evie tries to understand why this is happening, she finds herself at La Brea Dance Studio with a boy named X, who is everything that Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, daring. “Everything Yoon (Everything, Everything) touches turns to gold — and gets a film adaptation — and this cinematic supernatural romance will be no exception” (Booklist). Get the eBook | Get the Audiobook
Little Thieves by Margaret Owens — Posing as a royal to rob the nobles blind, seventeen-year-old Vanja Schmidt is thrilled by her luck until she crosses the wrong god and is cursed to turn into the jewels she covets unless she can pay back her debts — quickly. “Owen delivers a cynical, sarcastic, devious, damaged, and self-aware antihero, a climactic crime caper, and a twisty legal-political thriller. A lush and lively adventure replete with romance, revenge, and robbery” (Kirkus Reviews). Get the eBook
Me (Moth) by Amber McBride — Moth, who lost her family in an accident, and Sani, who is battling ongoing depression, take a road trip that has them chasing ghosts and searching for ancestors, which helps them move forward in surprising, powerful and unforgettable ways. “An excellent choice for lovers of poetry and for those who see the beauty in sadness” (Booklist).
The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore — When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family’s possibly-magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown. “Balancing raw honesty and hope, McLemore does not shy away from depicting discomfort and injustice, but they also surround Ciela with a loving and affirming community of characters crafted with tender detail in this contemporary novel brushed with fairy tale” (Kirkus Reviews). Get the eBook | Get the Audiobook
Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon — In this comprehensive, inspiring, and all-too-relevant history of the Black Panther Party, Kekla Magoon introduces readers to the Panthers’ community activism, grounded in the concept of self-defense, which taught Black Americans how to protect and support themselves in a country that treated them like second-class citizens. “The vital contributions teenagers and women made to the party will strike a chord with today’s youth, as will the overlap in Panther causes with those of today’s racial justice movement. This rounded accounting of a pivotal but often-overlooked time in U.S. history should be widely read” (Booklist). Get the eBook | Get the Audiobook
A Sitting In St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia — 1860, Louisiana. After serving as mistress of Le Petit Cottage for more than six decades, Madame Sylvie Guilbert has decided, in spite of her family’s objections, to sit for a portrait. While Madame plots her last hurrah, stories that span generations — from the big house to out in the fields — of routine horrors, secrets buried as deep as the family fortune, and the tangled bonds of descendants and enslaved, come to light to reveal a true portrait of the Guilberts. “This novel is a necessary purchase for conversations about slavery’s legacy in the Black Lives Matter era” (School Library Journal). Get the eBook