As 2021 draws to a close, the books team looks back on a truly amazing year for young adult books. We came together, voted, and ranked our ten best books of 2021.
We love fantasy here at the Young Folks, and there is a wide range this year. We’ve got epic, sweeping high fantasy, quiet contemporary fantasy, and even one creepy, historical fantasy. But we also have our fair share of contemporary romances. As the world continues to scare us, it’s nice to see a version of it that’s warm and fluffy. This year, a historical fiction graces our list! There’s truly something for everybody.
Read the rest of our end of year coverage here.
Get out your sea shanties playlist and grab a corset, because it’s lady pirate time! All throughout 2021 I’ve seen YA fantasies that are dark, gritty, and look like something out of The Witcher on the shelves. So Namesake by Adrienne Young (the sequel to Fable) was a breath of fresh air with its nautical aesthetic and focus on politics rather than magic systems. Readers should read the first book before starting this one, as Namesake starts mere moments after the final sentence in Fable. For fans excited to see the story of Fable, West, and the crew of the Marigold be completed, Namesake is sure to delight. — Meagan Stanley
Casey McQuiston’s novel One Last Stop has everything: a sapphic love story, diverse LGBTQIA+ representation, found family, immersive imagery of New York City, delicious pancakes, and time travel. Jane and August’s story is so beautifully written, with a perfect blend of sweet, spice, and angst interwoven in their relationship. Featuring a love that literally transcends time, One Last Stop is a fantastic read and you will adore Jane and August’s story long after you finish. — Gisselle Lopez
Emma Lord’s sophomore novel You Have a Match takes ‘found family’ to another level! It is a truly heartwarming piece of long-lost sisters finally finding one another and digging deeper into their pasts and family secrets at summer camp. Lord does a marvelous job at placing the family dynamics at the forefront of the story, even though the romance is an important plot point as well. Filled with sweet friendships, romance, and the importance of family and sisterhood, You Have a Match is definitely a book I would recommend to keep you warm this holiday season! — Gisselle Lopez
Becky Albertalli has proved over the years that she is a master of writing for teens. In her newest offering, she dives deep into the world of theater kids. Kate has never experienced life in the spotlight, either on stage or IRL, but now she’s being forced to do both. For nerdy bookworms who prefer to live our lives in the shadows, her journey is very relatable. Albertalli is a master of both capturing voice and portraying tight-knit friendships. Throw in a bunch of Broadway references, and this is one happy reader! — Abby Petree
6. Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft
It is hard to imagine that this is Allison Saft’s debut because it is so well done. The moral quandary at the heart–can you help your enemy when you’ve taken an oath to do so–balanced with the eerie isolation of the setting was masterful. The growing relationship between Hal and Wren, her desperate need to prove her worth to her queen and her best friend, and the growing danger at Colwick Hall, resulted in such a terrific conflict I sped through to the finish. — Brianna Robinson
Vampires are back baby, but not in such a sparkly and stalker kind of way. Grab the tissues because this story is going to give you all the feels. Come follow Victoria as she goes vampire hunting in New Orleans on a quest for immortality to save her dying father in Vampires, Hearts, and Other Dead Things by Margie Fuston. Fuston seamlessly blends the paranormal and contemporary genre with her skillful writing of magical realism. Readers expecting a cutesy fantasy romance vampire novel will be disappointed, but readers looking for a heart achingly accurate depiction of the grief of losing a loved one and finding the hope to live on will be rewarded. — Meagan Stanley
Historical fiction had a reputation for being depressing and dreary. Lee breaks this rule to give us a fun historical adventure tale, full of ghost ships and pirates. The first two installments in this series are iconic, but she somehow transcends them and gives us a book that is the best yet, in this humble reader’s opinion.
The last Montague sibling, Adrian suffers from crippling anxiety, which makes it extremely difficult for him to embark on this wild journey. It also impedes him as he tries to connect with his newfound older siblings, who find him quite strange. The portrayal of mental illness in this book is so honest, kind, and encouraging while not flinching from the truth. Adrian is a literal cinnamon roll, and after reading this book you will want to hug him and not let him go! — Abby Petree
Erin A. Craig’s sophomore novel is as atmospheric and eerie as her debut, House of Salt and Sorrows. Its also bursting with characters you deeply care for and a growing terror for the wrongness seeping into their quiet town. The relationships–between the Downings and later, between Ellerie and her stranger, a boy who she’s drawn to despite his unfamiliarity, add a beautiful depth to the story that make this novel a powerful read. — Brianna Robinson
I wish I was still reading this book. I’m not ready to leave these characters behind and I’m devastated that the series is over. Lou and Reid, Coco, Beau, and Ansel are some of the most endearing characters you’ll read. Their mistakes, triumphs, love, and camaraderie made them feel like friends, rather than characters I read about. Shelby Mahurin’s expert skill with creating twists and turns and balancing those with heart wrenching emotional moments made for times where I had to stop reading because it was just too good. Not only a best book of the year but a best book of all time, in my opinion. — Brianna Robinson
Some might say Peter Pan stories are done to death, and they may have a point. Aiden Thomas, however, takes it and makes it completely his own. This contemporary retelling explores PTSD and how trauma can reshape a family. It stars Wendy, recast as a realistic teenage girl, and Peter, who isn’t a sinister villain like other modern interpretations, but a sweet, sunny boy. I appreciated both where Thomas stayed faithful to the original and creative deviations he made. I believe it is the new standard for what a dark, creative retelling should be. — Abby Petree