Readers of all ages can get lost in a young adult story, which likely explains why the buzz around YA books (both in bookstores and in Hollywood) has skyrocketed in recent years. Filled with magic, heart and relatable characters, this genre has made a massive impact, and 2021 is no different. From propulsive thrillers to teenage love triangles, we've rounded up the best young adult books from 2021—so you can take that much-needed break from TikTok and get reading.
The Best YA Books of 2021
Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray
A tale of magic, mischief and monsters, Beasts of Prey, the first in a fantasy trilogy (that’s also being developed into a film by Netflix), follows two Black teens hunting down a vicious creature.
All These Bodies by Kendare Blake
It’s the summer of 1958, and Michael Jensen, an aspiring journalist and the son of a sheriff, ends up at the center of a murder case in his small town. Marie Catherine Hale is a 15-year-old and the prime suspect when she’s discovered covered in blood at a crime scene where an entire family was killed. Marie is ready to tell her side of the story, but only if she can tell it to Michael—and Michael only. Is Marie really the killer or could she be the sole survivor of a massacre?
21 Questions by Alexandria Rose Rizik
Surfing is the only thing that helps 16-year-old Kendra Dimes’s anxiety attacks, which she’s been experiencing since the death of her brother from a drug overdose. As Kendra prepares for a 2010 California surfing competition (in her brother’s honor), she meets Brock Parker, the new boy at school whose parents also happen to deal drugs for a Mexican cartel. As Kendra and Brock begin a game of 21 questions, secrets abound. Is this the beginning of true love or heartbreak around the corner?
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Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard
Corayne an-Amarat can feel the darkness approaching her small town by the sea. When she discovers she’s the last of an ancient lineage—and the only hope of saving the world from destruction—she builds an army (including a squire, an immortal, an assassin, an ancient sorceress, a forger and a bounty hunter), that will use their strengths to fight evil.
You Have a Match by Emma Lord
Abby signs up for a DNA service to impress her secret crush, Leo. But when it reveals that Abby has an older sister, a beautiful Instagram star, Savvy Tully, she decides to meet her at a summer camp. Things don’t go as planned when Abby learns Leo is working at the camp as well, and she’s in for a long summer as she works to get to the bottom of a secret that could change everything.
They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman
Stella and Ellie may be sisters who are close in age, but their personalities couldn’t be more different. Stella is an introvert whose main interest is cross-country running and Ellie is an extrovert with a huge social life outside of running. When Mila Keene, a new student, and star athlete arrives at their school, Stella and Ellie both see her as major competition. Soon, as both sisters develop a friendship with Mila, things take a sinister turn: Mila goes for a run one day and never returns.
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Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
Life has not been easy for Izumi Tanaka, a Japanese American raised by a single mother in a small, mostly white town. But when Izumi finds out the truth about her biological father, she’s shocked to find out he’s the Crown Prince of Japan. Izumi travels to Japan to meet him, but it’s not much easier being a princess with backstabbing cousins, paparazzi, and customs she’ll need to memorize. Torn between her life at home and her new life in Japan, Izumi is in search of her true identity.
It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi
Two exes revisit their past—and their currently undeniable chemistry—as they find out their siblings are dating and planning to marry. After years of silence and emotional baggage, the two will do anything to protect the ones they love the most.
When We Were Them by Laura Taylor Namey
Growing up, nothing broke the bond of friendship between Willa, Luz and Britton. That is, until Willa ruined everything. As graduation approaches, Willa is left with only a keepsake box full of memories. As she tries to reconnect with Luz and Britton, she’ll need to find out who she really is without them and confront her decision to ruin the friendship in the first place.
We Can Be Heroes by Kyrie McCauley
Beck and Vivian have never gotten along, but they have tried to keep the peace for their mutual friend, Cassie. After Cassie is murdered, Beck and Vivian memorialize her by secretly painting murals all over the town. When a podcaster covering Cassie’s case learns of the murals, law enforcement begins to suspect Beck and Vivian and it’s a race against the clock to get revenge on who was really responsible for Cassie’s death.
White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson
Marigold’s blended family moves from California to the Midwest after her mother accepts a new job—that comes with a free, newly renovated house. Although her new home is one she’ll share with her 10-year-old stepsister, Piper, Mari thinks this is just what she needs for a new beginning. But strange things start to happen in the house—ghosts, slammed doors, spirits? As tension mounts and Piper begins talking about a friend who wants Mari gone, she realizes the evil isn’t limited to the house, but the entire town.
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Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley
Daunis Fontaine has been looking forward to a fresh start in college. She’s never felt like she fit in in her hometown or the Ojibwe reservation. But Daunis watches her dreams fade when a family tragedy puts her college plans on hold. Things start to look up when she meets the handsome Jamie, a new player on her brother’s lacrosse team, but something tells Daunis he’s hiding something. After witnessing a murder, Daunis reluctantly goes undercover for the FBI and uses her knowledge of traditional Ojibwe medicine to help investigate a deadly new drug.
Ski Weekend by Rektok Ross
Sam and a group of friends are heading out to the senior ski weekend, but she really isn’t looking forward to it. Stuck in a car with her brother, some classmates, a dog, and her brother’s handsome friend, Gavin? Sam would much rather be anywhere else. When the SUV crashes, they’re stranded with no cell service and brutal winter weather. But as the situation begins claiming the lives of her friends one by one, Sam will fight to keep her brother from being next.
For All Time by Shanna Miles
Tamar and Fayard relive history time and time again. And although they’ve lived 1,000 lives, one thing has been reliable through it all: their love for one another. Unfortunately, no matter how strong that love story is, they’ve never seen how it ends. With an answer finally on the horizon, does the couple have what it takes to get to the final chapter in their loves story?
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
Jo Kuan is a 17-year-old maid for one of the richest men in Atlanta. But at night, she’s a completely different person, using a pseudonym and writing a successful newspaper advice column called “Dear Miss Sweetie.” After an article she wrote on race and gender receives hate, Jo receives a mysterious letter that promises to reveal the secrets of her past, including who her birth parents are. As Jo sets out for the truth about her birth, she’ll find herself in the path of one of Atlanta’s most notorious criminals.
Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler
Lara has it all. She has a great group of friends, a cool job and possibly Chase Harding, whom she’s had a crush on for three years. Chase is tall, handsome and kind. What else could Lara want? But when Jasmine walks through the doors of the school, that’s exactly the question Lara asks herself. The two share a past, including a romantic summer that makes Lara wonder if she wants the be with the perfect boy or the perfect girl.
The Marvelous Mirza Girls by Sheba Karim
Noreen takes a gap year and follows her mother to New Delhi, hoping the trip will bring her back to who she was before the loss of her aunt. Upon arrival, Noreen meets Kabir, a man who introduces her to all that New Delhi has to offer. As things start to look up, Noreen and Kabir’s relationship is put to the test when a family scandal surfaces. How far is Noreen willing to go for true happiness?
Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon
Evie Thomas is done with love. But then there’s X, the man she learns to dance with at her dance studio. X is the complete opposite of Evie, but soon enough, she’s falling for him. Haunted by her visions of heartbreak, she’s forced to decide if the risk of love is worth the pain in the end.
XOXO by Axie Oh
Jenny is a cello prodigy who has a wild night with a mysterious stranger that distracts her from her dreams of getting into a prestigious music conservatory—only for him to completely vanish. Months after that night, she travels to South Korea to care for her grandmother and attend an elite arts school. Jenny eventually runs into her mystery man, Jaewoo, who happens to be part of one of the biggest K-pop bands in the world—and is forbidden to date anyone. Between Jaewoo’s career and Jenny’s future as a cellist, will the two jeopardize it all for love or wonder what could have been?
Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi
According to Jayne, her sister June is a know-it-all who needs to let her hair down. According to June, Jayne is self-obsessed and needs to grow up. The two sisters were once close, but now want nothing to do with one another. Then, June gets cancer and the two are reunited through tragedy, confronting family secrets and mortality.
One of the Good Onesby Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
A perfectly timed, powerful, completely original and intricate thriller by sister-writer duo Maika and Maritza (authors ofDear Haiti, Love Alaine),One of the Good Onesis a beautiful new YA novel that explores what it means to be deemed worthy (or “one of the good ones”) when you’re Black, the complete terror of losing a sibling after a social justice rally and the paths sisters travel to find their true selves.
One Last Stopby Casey McQuiston
August moved to New York City to prove to herself that fairy tale endings do notexist. But on the subway on her way to her first day of school, she’s quickly proven wrong when she meets Jane. Soon she realizes her new subway crush is literally displaced from the 1970s, stuck in a timeslip with no memory of her past. This time-bending queer romance is as big-hearted as it gets.
The Gilded Onesby Namina Forna
The new YA fantasy novel (which will become a film trilogy, with the script also written by Forna), follows Deka, a young woman who leaves her village behind without a sense of belonging. What she finds in its place is a group of young women bonded by blood as warriors. Together, with her fellow alaki—near-immortals with rare gifts—she’ll journey to stop the empire’s greatest threat.
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