Best Books for Young Adults 2021 | Best SLJ Books

Young adult

Abike-Iyimide, Faridah. Ace of Spades.
Feiwel and his friends. ISBN 9781258000817.
Gr 9 Up -When the secrets of two high school students are exposed to the school community via anonymous text messages, they must work together to determine who is targeting them and why, before things turn deadly. This debut thriller tackles systemic racism, structural white supremacy, micro-aggression, class distinctions, and LGBTQIA + identities.

Bhuiyan, Tashi. Countdown with you.
Inkwell. ISBN 9781335209979.
Gr 8 Up – Karina, an American college superstar from Bangladesh, and Ace, a wealthy white bad boy, engage in a fake relationship that turns out to be very real in this romantic comedy that draws opposites. The Tender Love Story features candid discussions of mental health, parental expectations, and double standards.

Boulley, Angeline. Firefighter’s daughter.
Holt. ISBN 9781250766564.
Gr 9 Up –When Daunis Fontaine finds herself at the center of a large-scale criminal investigation, she must confront her own family’s past and accept being a strong Anishinaabe Kwe (Ojibwa woman) to uncover the truth. Daunis is an Indigenous Nancy Drew in this perfectly framed mystery with a focus on life in Sault Ste. Marie, MI, and on the Ojibwe reservation.

Clayton, Dhonielle and others. Blackout.
HarperCollins / Quill Tree. ISBN 9780063088092.
Gr 9 Up -Powerful writers Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon intermingle love stories during a power outage in New York City. Love is represented in many forms – sizzling and sweet – and these resonant entries featuring different black characters will have readers longing for summer nights and first love.

Forna, Namina. The Dorées.
Delacorte. ISBN 9781984848697.
Gr 7 Up -Deka does not bleed red but gold, the color of impurity, during the purity ritual of his village. Due to this anomaly, she is offered the opportunity to join an army of alaki, quasi-immortals with rare gifts, fighting for the emperor. This first YA fantasy presents issues of social justice and is full of action and surprises.

Gray, Ayana. Beasts of prey.
Putnam. ISBN 9780593405680.
Gr 9 Up -Two black teenagers must work together as they enter the largest magical jungle in search of the Shetani, a vicious monster who has terrorized their village for nearly a century. This first YA fantasy has some memorable characters, a vast world, and tons of adventures.

Him, Jeanne. The ones we’re supposed to find.
Roaring stream. ISBN 9781250258564.
Gr 9 Up -In a future world ravaged by climate change, sisters Cee and Kasey will do anything to recover from Cee’s disappearance. Brotherly love is harnessed for the greater good in this gripping and eerily plausible sci-fi thriller.

Jackson, Tiffany D. White smoke.
HarperCollins / Katherine Tegen. ISBN 9780063029095.
Gr 8 Up -Husband moved with his family to the Midwest for a fresh start after his past with drug addiction. Immediately, she finds the neighbors and the house disturbing. As Mari learns more about the history of the house, she begins to believe that she is haunted. Combining the strange racial connotations of Get out with elements of classic ghost stories, Jackson’s novel will leave readers thinking long after the last page has been turned.

Jean, Emiko. Tokyo forever.
Iron. ISBN 9781250766601.
Gr 8 Up -When Izumi finds out that her father is the Crown Prince of Japan, she is propelled into the world of the Imperial Court, a family that is not the most welcoming and a royal guard who could steal her heart. Part princess diaries, part crazy rich asians, the Izumi story is a decadent coming-of-age romantic fiction.

Lee, Victoria. A lesson in revenge.
Delacorte. ISBN 9780593305829.
Gr 9 Up -On her return to her exclusive boarding school, Felicity must confront her own dark past and the infamous history of witchcraft at the Dalloway School. When her offer to help mysterious and charismatic Ellis Haley research her novel turns deadly, Felicity will have to decide whether to reject or embrace her own darkness. An atmospheric mix of suspense and gothic horror centered around weird characters makes this novel a notable addition to the dark canon of academia.

Levithan, David and Jennifer Niven. Take me with you when you go.
Knopf. ISBN 9780525580997.
Gr 8 Up -Ezra wakes up one morning to find that her sister, Bea, is gone. Unable to bear the abuse of their stepfather and the neglect of their mother, Bea leaves the house to find their father. Meanwhile, Ezra remains in their abusive home and tries to survive with the support of her boyfriend and her sister’s ex-boyfriend. Told through emails between the two, this story of siblings facing abuse and an uncertain future will not disappoint fans of realistic fiction.

Here, Malinda. Last night at the Telegraph Club.
Dutton. ISBN 9780525555254.
Gr 9 Up -As Lily, a Chinese-American teenager living in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1950s, begins to think more seriously about her professional future, a friendship with her white classmate Kathleen turns into romance. This novel about first love, sexuality, intersectionality and self-realization is meticulously researched and deeply felt.

McBride, Amber. Me (Butterfly).
Feiwel and his friends. ISBN 9781250780362.
Gr 8 Up -Moth, the sole survivor of a car crash that killed his family, and Sani, a Navajo boy with an abusive stepfather, take a road trip to the Navajo reservation where Sani’s father lives. While they are driving, Sani tells Moth the origin story of the Navajo, and Moth talks about his grandfather, who taught him hoodoo. This first poignant and educational verse novel ends in style.

McLemore, Anna-Marie. The mirror season.
Feiwel and his friends. ISBN 9781250624123.
Gr 8 Up – Ciela, a Mexican American pansexual girl, and Lock, a white boy new to the community, were raped at the same party. Ciela befriends Lock to help them overcome their trauma. This lyrical book, full of magical realism and layered characters, is an honest and candid look at consent, power and the consequences of assault.

Mafi, Tahereh. An emotion of great pleasure.
HarperCollins / Harper. ISBN 9780062972415.
Gr 9 Up -In Persian, Shadi means ‘full of joy’, but Shadi’s life is filled with personal sorrows due to the failing health of his father, the recent death of his brother and the continued harassment that the Muslim community faces in 2003. Trapped in a quagmire of grief and isolation, Shadi will have to reclaim her right to happiness and peace if she is to move forward and continue an attempt at love. Mafi’s lyrical prose fills this spare story with pathos and optimism.

Mangle, Bethany. Prepare.
S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry. ISBN 9781534477506.
Gr 9 Up -All Becca wants to do is find a way out of her survival community and live a typical life after graduation. When her father is the victim of a tragic accident and her community becomes even more extreme, it will take all Becca has to save herself and her little sister. A compelling glimpse into a marginalized lifestyle that will anxiously swing readers between fear and hope.

O’Donoghue, Caroline. All our hidden gifts.
Candlewick / Walker. ISBN 9781536213942.
Gr 9 Up -Maeve hopes her odd talent for playing an old tarot card deck will be her ticket to popularity in school. Then her former best friend Lily draws a mysterious card before she disappears. Maeve must delve into the origins of the cards and her own guilt in the disappearance and, with the help of Lily’s sexual brother and his new friends, try to get Lily back. The original fantasy elements combine brilliantly with mysticism and folklore for an inventive series starter.

Selznick, Brian. Kaleidoscope.
illus. by author. School. ISBN 9781338777246.
Gr 6 Up –Each turn of the kaleidoscope fragments one story while emphasizing another with vignette-type explorations of connection and loss. This illustrated collection combines abstract art and short stories as a variety of characters meditate on grief and love.

Sharpe, Tess. The girls that I have been.
Putnam. ISBN 9780593353806.
Gr 9 Up – Held hostage with her ex-boyfriend and current girlfriend during a bank robbery, Nora must use the skills she learned from years spent with her crook mother to plan an escape. The book alternates between the current theft and past scams orchestrated by his mother, with both suspenseful storylines ending in a gripping conclusion.

Thomas, Angie. Concrete rose.
HarperCollins / Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780063056534.
Gr 9 Up –In this prequel to The hate you give, readers learn the story of Mav, Starr’s father, and the tough decisions he had to make regarding parenthood, relationships, and gang life. With complex characters, sensory language and high emotional stakes, this book develops the construction of the complex world of Garden Heights and its inhabitants.

Vasquez Gilliland, Raquel. How Moon Fuentez fell in love with the universe.
S. & S. ISBN 9781534448667.
Gr 9 Up -Moon, a Mexican-American photographer, has always played the second violin role behind her social media influencer twin. But accompanying his brother on a bus trip across the country translates into a journey of self-discovery. This poignant coming-of-age story skillfully weaves first love, religion, emotional abuse, the culture of purity, and family jealousy into a rich narrative.

Velasquez, Elisabet. When we do.
Dial. ISBN 978059332486.
Gr 8 Up -Sarai, a Puerto Rican teenager growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn, struggles with poverty, her Mami’s mental illness, the gentrification of her neighborhood, and more. Through the poems of this first verse novel, Sarai finds her voice as she asks questions and learns to celebrate herself.

Watson, Renee. Love is a revolution.
Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781547600601.
Gr 7 Up -Nala is hoping to have her first contact with summer romance and find a possible partner in civic-minded Tye Brown. To impress her, the black girl tells some lies about her own activism. Watson’s novel features a young woman who feels good about herself but still struggles with self-esteem. Honest prose is imbued with humor, poetic language and heart.

Williams-Garcia, Rita. A session in St. James.
HarperCollins / Quill Tree. ISBN 9780062367297.
Gr 9 Up -In this superb depiction of a white French family who will do anything to keep their iron fist around the necks of enslaved blacks on their pre-war plantation in Louisiana, Williams-Garcia has crafted an intense saga. Masterful characterization, nuanced machinations, and incisive language are fully on display in this novel which also sheds light on current conversations about race and power.

Yoon, Nicola. Instructions for dancing.
Delacorte. ISBN 9781524718961.
Gr 7 Up -Evie, a romantic turned skeptic, develops the ability to see the beginning, middle and end of people’s love affairs when she sees them kissing. Meanwhile, she falls in love with X, her partner in a ballroom dance competition. This romance centered around a black love story is sure to touch the hearts of readers.


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