These are my top ten YA novels for 2021, which include all books read whether released in 2021 or not.
1. Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan
Publication: September 4, 2018
Series: Ignite the Stars #1
**The book was amazing. I still haven’t been able to organize my thoughts enough for a coherent review. It’s a space opera with a kickass main character who fights for what she believes in. I have a character type, and Ia fits the bill.**
Everyone in the universe knows his name. Everyone in the universe fears him. But no one realizes that notorious outlaw Ia Cōcha is a seventeen-year-old girl.
A criminal mastermind and unrivaled pilot, Ia has spent her life terrorizing the Olympus Commonwealth, the imperialist nation that destroyed her home. When the Commonwealth captures her and her true identity is exposed, they see Ia’s age and talent as an opportunity: by forcing her to serve them, they will prove that no one is beyond their control.
Soon, Ia is trapped at the Commonwealth’s military academy, desperately plotting her escape. But new acquaintances—including Brinn, a seemingly average student with a closely-held secret, and their charming Flight Master, Knives—cause Ia to question her own alliances. Can she find a way to escape the Commonwealth’s clutches before these bonds deepen? (Goodreads)
2. Me (Moth) by Amber McBride
Publication: August 17, 2021
**This was my first novel-in-verse, and it was beautiful. I was in tears by the end. **
A debut YA novel-in-verse that is both a coming-of-age and a ghost story.
Blurb: Moth has lost her family in an accident. Though she lives with her aunt, she feels alone and uprooted.
Until she meets Sani, a boy who is also searching for his roots. If he knows more about where he comes from, maybe he’ll be able to understand his ongoing depression. And if Moth can help him feel grounded, then perhaps she too will discover the history she carries in her bones.
Moth and Sani take a road trip that has them chasing ghosts and searching for ancestors. The way each moves forward is surprising, powerful, and unforgettable.
Here is an exquisite and uplifting novel about identity, first love, and the ways that our memories and our roots steer us through the universe. (Goodreads)
3. The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo*
Publication: October 8, 2019
Series: Alex Stern #1
*The book is categorized as adult but felt more YA to me, thus the reason for it on this list. It does contain profanity and some violent content.
**It started nearly too slow for me but more than made it up for it by the end. The book was everything I didn’t know I was looking for: secret societies, ghosts, magic, and so much more. I’m ready for Alex Stern #2**
Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. (Goodreads)
4. The Summer of Broken Rules by K.L. Walther
Publication: May 4, 2021
**The realistic portrayal of grief along with the family bonds are highlights of the novel. It was one of my favorite May reads and got me mentally ready for summer.**
Meredith Fox has been going to Martha’s Vineyard for the summer as long as she can remember. But this summer is the first one back since the death of Meredith’s sister. It will all be overwhelming, but even more since since the entire extended family will be together for her cousin’s big wedding.
Unfortunately, Meredith’s longtime boyfriend unexpectedly dumped her two weeks before the wedding, leaving her dateless. Luckily, she has the perfect distraction. Her family has a tradition of playing the ultimate game of Assassin every summer, and this year it will take place during the week of wedding festivities.
But her target just happens to be a very cute groomsman. She’s determined to not let herself get distracted, not let herself be lost in another doomed relationship. But as the week progresses, she can’t help falling for him, which may cost her not only the game, but also her heart.
Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Katie Cotugno, this is a story of loss, romance, and the time it takes to become who you really want to be. (Goodreads)
5. We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal
Publication: January 19, 2021
Series: Sands of Arawiya #2
**Sands of Arawiya may be one of the best duologies I’ve read. The ending was so satisfying I couldn’t help but hug the book and sigh, happy to reach the end but sad that it was over.**
The battle on Sharr is over. The dark forest has fallen. Altair may be captive, but Zafira, Nasir, and Kifah are bound for Sultan’s Keep, determined to finish the plan he set in motion: restoring the hearts of the Sisters of Old to the minarets of each caliphate, and finally returning magic to all of Arawiya. But they are low on resources and allies alike, and the kingdom teems with fear of the Lion of the Night’s return.
As the zumra plots to overthrow the kingdom’s darkest threat, Nasir fights to command the magic in his blood. He must learn to hone his power into a weapon, to wield not only against the Lion but against his father, trapped under the Lion’s control. Zafira battles a very different darkness festering in her through her bond with the Jawarat—a darkness that hums with voices, pushing her to the brink of her sanity and to the edge of a chaos she dare not unleash. In spite of the darkness enclosing ever faster, Nasir and Zafira find themselves falling into a love they can’t stand to lose…but time is running out to achieve their ends, and if order is to be restored, drastic sacrifices will have to be made.
Lush and striking, hopeful and devastating, We Free the Stars is the masterful conclusion to the Sands of Arawiya duology by New York Times–bestselling author Hafsah Faizal. (Goodreads)
6. A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
Publication: September 29, 2020
Series: The Scholomance #1
**I was immediately hooked by the premise and the book fulfilled much of what it promised with a main character I immediately took a liking to and a male hero I sometimes I wanted to strangle.**
I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life.
Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I’m concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I’m not joining his pack of adoring fans.
I don’t need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I’m probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I’ll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world.
At least, that’s what the world expects. Most of the other students in here would be delighted if Orion killed me like one more evil thing that’s crawled out of the drains. Sometimes I think they want me to turn into the evil witch they assume I am. The school certainly does.
But the Scholomance isn’t getting what it wants from me. And neither is Orion Lake. I may not be anyone’s idea of the shining hero, but I’m going to make it out of this place alive, and I’m not going to slaughter thousands to do it, either. (Goodreads)
7. The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
Publication: August 13, 2019
**Jo is witty as advice columnist Miss Sweetie. I smile even now thinking about some of the things she wrote. I enjoyed the book so much I immediately went in search of and read all of Lee’s books within a few weeks of each other.**
From the founding member of We Need Diverse Books comes a powerful novel about identity, betrayal, and the meaning of family.
By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, “Dear Miss Sweetie.” When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society’s ills, but she’s not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender. While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta’s most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light. With prose that is witty, insightful, and at times heartbreaking, Stacey Lee masterfully crafts an extraordinary social drama set in the New South. (Goodreads)
8. The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Publication: September 1, 2020
Series: The Inheritance Games #1
**The puzzles and the twists kept me turning the pages so fast that I finished it and had to pick up the next book immediately. It’s a fast read that will keep you on your feet until the end.**
A Cinderella story with deadly stakes and thrilling twists, perfect for fans of One of Us is Lying and Knives Out.
Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes.
Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive. (Goodreads)
9. The Other Side of Perfect by Mariko Turk
Publication: May 11, 2021
**What stayed with me long after I finished the book was the emphasis on raising your voice and questioning traditions. Just because it’s always been a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the right way.**
For fans of Sarah Dessen and Mary H.K. Choi, this lyrical and emotionally driven YA follows Alina, an aspiring dancer who suffers a devastating injury and must face a world without ballet — as well as the darker side of her former dream.
Alina Keeler was destined to dance, but then a terrifying fall shatters her leg — and her dreams of a professional ballet career along with it.
After a summer healing (translation: eating vast amounts of Cool Ranch Doritos and binging ballet videos on YouTube), she is forced to trade her pre-professional dance classes for normal high school, where she reluctantly joins the school musical. However, rehearsals offer more than she expected — namely Jude, her annoyingly attractive castmate she just might be falling for.
But to move forward, Alina must make peace with her past and face the racism she experienced in the dance industry. She wonders what it means to yearn for ballet — something so beautiful, yet so broken. And as broken as she feels, can she ever open her heart to someone else?
Touching, romantic, and peppered with humor, this debut novel explores the tenuousness of perfectionism, the possibilities of change, and the importance of raising your voice. (Goodreads)
10. Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
Publication: March 17, 2015
**I fell into a book coma after reading this and have read some of my favorite scenes more than a few times since first reading this in May. The friendship between Sammy and Andy is the highlight of the novel as the two become closer on their journey.**
A powerful story of friendship and sacrifice, for fans of Code Name Verity
Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.
This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship. (Goodreads)
It was hard to narrow it down to 10 but I finally did it! What were your best YA reads for 2021? Comment below. If you posted a list, drop a link and I’ll be sure to check it out.