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The Best Young Adult Books Of 2021

Impactful, thoughtful, and incredibly entertaining young adult novels released in 2021.

BuzzFeed Books editors and contributors reveal some of the most impactful, thoughtful, and incredibly entertaining young adult novels released in 2021. You can find our entire list of selections below.

Six Crimson Cranes

by Elizabeth Lim

Princess Shiori has a secret that could put her in grave danger: She can manipulate magic, and she’s not the only one. After she discovers that her stepmother can also use magic and has a dragon’s pearl lodged in her chest, her stepmother curses her and her seven brothers. Her brothers are condemned to live their days as cranes, while Shiori has a bowl placed over her head, disguising her looks, and for every word she utters, a brother will die. Shiori must create a net of sharp nettles to capture the dragon’s pearl and hopefully save her brothers. This lovely YA fantasy entwines a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Wild Swans" with various tales from Chinese folklore and legends, including dragon folklore, the tales of Madame White Snake, the myth of Chang'e the Moon Goddess, “Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” and “Girl With the Black Bowl.” It’s one of my favorite fairy tale retellings of the year. —Margaret Kingsbury

Me (Moth)

by Amber McBride

Me (Moth) is a stunning novel-in-verse that follows a girl named Moth who has tragically lost her family. Though she lives with her aunt, she carries the weight of the accident deep inside her — until she meets someone whose emptiness matches her own. Sani is a broken boy in search of healing, someone who used to thrive off music, just as Moth used to passionately love dancing. When the two set out on a road trip to escape the things that haunt them, they begin to tackle moving forward. The lush, poetic imagery throughout this story is deeply moving. With unmatched lyrical writing and a powerful plot, McBride is an absolute must-read author. —Farrah Penn

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love With the Universe

by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Moon is heading on tour, surrounded by a bus full of influencers. To be clear, she's there as a "merch girl," unlike her twin sister, who is a social media darling and certainly the favorite child of their abusive mother. As someone who has always been hidden in the background, she's not expecting anything major to change. But then in walks Santiago, her bunkmate and new nemesis, and alongside their mutual distaste turned attraction — and the drama one can expect from an influencer tour — comes a new understanding of who she is and who she could be. Heart-wrenching and hopeful, this book is a beautiful love letter to the background girls, reminding them that there will always be a story for them to lead. —Rachel Strolle

The Girls I've Been

by Tess Sharpe

Fans of Sharpe's notable murder mystery Far From You had better get ready, because her newest is every bit as twisted, gritty, and gloriously bisexual, if not more so. It's easy to see how this psychological thriller has already been picked up by Netflix, with its powerful story of a girl named Nora who's trapped in a bank robbery with her ex-boyfriend and newish girlfriend and has to use her wits to save them and everyone else inside. It helps that she has a wildly checkered past, thanks to her mother's affinity for sweetheart cons that's had Nora playing different identities for most of her existence. And she'll have to call on the skills of every girl she's been in order to keep the life she has and the people she loves. —Dahlia Adler

The Mirror Season

by Anna-Marie McLemore

In this beautiful and affecting YA contemporary fantasy novel loosely inspired by the fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” two teens heal and learn how to find joy after a sexual assault. Ciela and Lock flirt at the beginning of a party, but by its end, they’ve both been sexually assaulted, and Ciela has dropped off Lock — who is still unconscious from the drug that was mixed into his Dr Pepper — at a hospital. As a brown, queer teen, Ciela knows that no one will listen to her story, especially since the classmates who assaulted her and Lock are white and from wealthy families. Ciela is also a pastelería witch — she can sense exactly which dessert a customer wants, a magic she's inherited from her grandmother — but after the assault, her magic leaves her. When school starts back, she and Lock find themselves attracted to each other once more, but while he knows he was sexually assaulted that night, he doesn't remember the details. While The Mirror Season focuses on a traumatic event and will undoubtedly make many readers (like me) cry, it’s also a magical, hopeful, and empowering novel. —Margaret Kingsbury

In the Wild Light

by Jeff Zentner

Cash loves the familiarity of his small Appalachian town, but he also knows the suffering of loss. He lost his mother from an opioid addiction, and his grandfather is slowly dying from emphysema. His rock is his best friend, Delaney, toward whom he feels fiercely protective. But one day, everything changes. Delaney's scientific discovery has secured the both of them full rides to an elite prep school in Connecticut, which means Cash must make a hard decision: Does he abandon a town he thought he'd never leave behind? This might be Zentner's greatest book yet. With profound, evocative prose and lyrical insights into the world surrounding a struggling main character, Zentner's powerful, emotional novel is one you won't soon forget. —Farrah Penn

Bad Witch Burning

by Jessica Lewis

Katrell is paid by clients to talk to their deceased loved ones, even if they don't pay her enough. So when a ghost warns her to stop the summonings, she's willing to call their bluff. And when a summoning accidentally raises someone from the dead, she realizes that it's a much more lucrative business idea. But dark forces are closing in, because magic doesn't come for free. Weaving high-risk magic into a thrillerlike standalone fantasy, Lewis has crafted one of the best fantasies to come out in YA in the last decade. —Rachel Strolle


by Mary H.K. Choi

In Choi's newest, fashion student Jayne's world is upended when her estranged sister, the always responsible and ever-perfect June, is diagnosed with cancer. Now Jayne's moving in (not the worst thing, considering the gross apartment and boyfriend she's leaving behind) and revitalizing a relationship she didn't even know she wanted, until June's deeper secret threatens to bring it all crashing down, taking Jayne's tenuous mental health with it. This story digs deep into both disordered eating and America's failing healthcare system, and while it's not an easy read, it's both a searing and poignant one. —Dahlia Adler

White Smoke

by Tiffany D. Jackson

This compulsive YA horror combines commentary on racial injustices with super-creepy haunted house scenes. Mari struggles with anxiety, bedbug phobia, and marijuana addiction. Her mom has recently remarried, and she and her little brother, Sammy, aren't clicking with their new white stepsister, Piper. Then Mari's mom wins a writing fellowship that includes living in a house rent-free, with the house becoming theirs at the end of the year. This fellowship is too good an opportunity to pass up, so the family makes the move, but Mari immediately notices something off about the house. All the construction workers leave at the same time every day, before it's dark. They refuse to go into the basement. Then there's the stench that appears at random, the shadows that lurk in her room, and the stories she begins to hear about the house's history. —Margaret Kingsbury

Don't Hate the Player

by Alexis Nedd

Nedd's fresh, hilarious voice sparkles in this unique YA romance, told in dual POVs, about a girl gamer and one hell of a competition. Em, a junior in high school, hides the gaming part of her life from her friends and parents despite being an incredible player for Guardians League Online's Team Fury. Jake (POV #2) is an invisible, nerdy gamer who also plays GLO — but for Team Unity. Jake and Em bonded over gaming in elementary school but have since gone their separate ways. But when a GLO competition brings them together again as each other's rival, Em isn't sure how to act around him, especially since she enjoys hanging with him. She's one of the few female players in this enormously male-dominated gaming space, and the competition is fierce. Plus, $1 million is at stake if anyone finds out about Jake and Em's friendship... —Farrah Penn

The Bones of Ruin

by Sarah Raughley

Iris is an African tightrope walker in Victorian England, and she has a secret: She cannot die. When she gets drawn into the circle of Adam Temple, and with him the mysterious order of the Enlightenment Committee, it seems like he could have the answers to who she really is. But the committee claims that the world is ending and they are responsible for deciding who lives. To choose a leader, they are holding the Tournament of Freaks, and Adam wants Iris to be his champion. This historical fantasy series launches with a bang and sets up a world you'll long to read more about. —Rachel Strolle

Like Other Girls

by Britta Lundin

Lundin's sophomore novel beautifully intertwines explorations of gender expression and internalized misogyny with a romantic and sporty romp in this story of a butch lesbian athlete who makes waves when she joins the football team. When Mara gets into a fight on the court and is suspended from basketball, the only way to earn her spot back is to prove she can thrive in team sports. And since she isn't like the softer volleyball girls, Mara opts to throw down and join her brother and her best friend on the football field. What starts as initial wariness at her participation spirals out of control when four other girls jump into the fray and demand their own shot at the team, and soon Mara can't do enough to prove they've got nothing to do with her. But when the very people she's trying to distance herself from become the only people in her corner, Mara is torn between reconciling who she wants to be with who accepts her just as she is. —Dahlia Adler

The River Has Teeth

by Erica Waters

This YA contemporary fantasy entwines elements of horror and thriller to create a compulsive read. Someone is killing girls in a nature preserve. When Natasha's sister disappears, she worries she was the latest victim and goes to the nature preserve to investigate. A witch family live nearby, garnering their magic from the forest. They might be the key to solving the disappearances — especially the intriguing Della — or they might be the cause of the murders. As Natasha and Della slowly start falling for each other, magic neither of them knew existed begins to bloom. —Margaret Kingsbury

That Weekend

by Kara Thomas

This is a masterful, fast-paced, and compulsively readable thriller you won't be able to set down. Instead of attending prom, Claire, her best friend, Kat, and Kat's boyfriend Jesse decide to embark on a weekend getaway to Kat's family's cabin. But when Claire wakes up alone on the side of a mountain, bloody and without her memory of the last 48 hours, she knows something terrible must have happened — especially after learning Kat and Jesse are still missing. —Farrah Penn

Vampires, Hearts & Other Dead Things

by Margie Fuston

This emotional, lightly paranormal story of a girl trying to save her father is one of the most achingly beautiful books I've ever read. Since the first vampire revealed his existence on live TV, Victoria and her dad have shared a love of the undead, even when the vampires were driven back into hiding. After her dad is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Victoria is determined to find a vampire so that she can become one and save her dad. With the help of her estranged best friend, Henry, she heads to New Orleans, where she meets Nicholas. Before he can potentially give her what she desires, she'll need to prove she loves life enough to live forever, even if the challenges feel like a betrayal while her father is dying. —Rachel Strolle

It Goes Like This

by Miel Moreland

Queer girl band Moonlight Overthrow was a raging success, until it all fell apart, taking the connections between the members with it. Now everyone's embarked on different futures, but rumor of a reunion is leaking into the media, and when one of the former members does successfully bring them back together for a fundraising concert, they'll have to reckon with who they were, who they are, what tore them apart, and whether there's any future between them. Basically, if the idea of an extremely queer YA crossover Daisy Jones and the Six sounds like your jam, you need to scoop up this fantastically compelling read told through a combination of narrative, fandom life, and multiple POVs. —Dahlia Adler

Himawari House

by Harmony Becker

In this graphic novel, three teens — Nao, Hyejung, and Tina — share the Himawari House in Tokyo as foreign exchange students at the same Japanese cram school. Nao has returned to Japan, after moving to the US in elementary school, to reconnect with the culture and language. Hyejung had been feeling disillusioned in her first year of university in Korea and moved to Japan to try to find a new path. Tina wanted a change of scenery from Singapore and is taking the new adventure one day at a time. Every piece of this book, from the leads to the way it uses language to the art, is spectacular. —Rachel Strolle


by J. Albert Mann

This searing but gorgeous read entwines poetry and prose in its descriptions of a friendship gone awry. Eve has just undergone spine surgery realignment for her scoliosis. This excruciating surgery, followed by an equally painful recovery, leads Eve to become addicted to her pain medication. She also develops PTSD. While she recovers from her surgery at home with her mostly absent and distant mother, she daydreams about what went wrong with her best friend, Lidia, who has a missing hand. The two had a falling out only a week before the surgery. Also check out Mann’s historical novel The Degenerates, about a group of girls with disabilities who are institutionalized in the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded in early 20th-century America. —Margaret Kingsbury

The City Beautiful

by Aden Polydoros

In this spectacular historical thriller, set at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, European Jewish immigrant boys keep turning up dead. For Romanian-born Alter Rosen, the newest victim hits way too close to home, and he feels the effects quite literally when he's possessed by the vengeful spirit of his dead roommate. The only way for Alter to get free is to solve the mystery of the killer's identity, even if he has to rely on the most dangerous and charismatic person from his past to do it. —Dahlia Adler

Pride and Premeditation

by Tirzah Price

Pride and Prejudice gets a murder-y twist with this super-fun YA retelling, and the first book in the Jane Austen Murder Mysteries series. Lizzie Bennet's mother and sisters want her to find a husband, but she'd rather become a lawyer like her father. After a nearby murder, Lizzie decides to dive into the case and prove she has the skills to be a lawyer. But the heir to the prestigious firm Pemberley Associates, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, thwarts her at every turn. —Margaret Kingsbury

Perfectly Parvin

by Olivia Abtahi

Fresh and funny, Parvin absolutely deserves to become a classic YA contemporary. After a heartbreak, Parvin decides to reinvent herself by acting like the women in her favorite rom-coms...especially if it means Matty Fumero, the cutest boy at her new high school, asks her to homecoming. But in the midst of her reinvention, she'll still have to go to Farsi lessons on the weekend, juggle a new friendship with someone she's her unfiltered self with, and process the ramifications of the Muslim ban on her family in Iran. —Rachel Strolle

The Heartbreak Bakery

by A.R. Capetta

This sweet-as-sugar speculative romance about love, identity, and the pursuit of happiness stars agender (a first for traditionally published mainstream YA fiction) baker Syd, who's staring down the breakup of a four-year relationship and feeling a lot of feelings...all of which make their way into the newest round of confections at the extremely queer Proud Muffin bakery. When Syd realizes brownies are to blame for a whole lot of breakups, it's the beginning of a grand adventure with dashing demisexual transmasc bike messenger Harley...and maybe the beginning of something else scary and exciting too. —Dahlia Adler

Our Violent Ends

by Chloe Gong

The highly anticipated sequel to These Violent Delights doesn't disappoint. In the first book, we meet Roma and Juliette, heirs of rival gangs set within the backdrop of 1920s Shanghai. Though enemies, the two must work together in secret to defeat a ruthless monster from destroying their city. Things pick up in this stunningly told sequel, containing just as much (if not more) stakes, intrigue, and star-crossed romance than the first. Gong is a masterful storyteller, balancing an ensemble cast of characters through their unique perspectives. The sequel is nearly 500 pages, but the pacing is so spectacular that it's hard to step away. If you haven't started this series already, this is your sign to do so. —Farrah Penn

A Lesson in Vengeance

by Victoria Lee

This sapphic dark academia is full of twists, romance, unreliable characters, nods to classic literature, and all the gothic feels. After Felicity Morrow's girlfriend died in a tragic accident, she took a year off from school for therapy. Now she's back at the prestigious all-girls Dalloway School, living in her old room in Godwin House. Godwin House has a history of witches and murder, and before the accident, Felicity was obsessed with that history and dabbled in witchcraft. Now she's sworn off all of that, but when the attractive teenage prodigy Ellis Haley moves into Godwin House to write a novel about the house’s history and the witches who died there, Felicity finds herself drawn back into the dark magic she swore she'd never do again. I listened to this on audio, and it was excellently narrated by Lindsey Dorcus. As a Southerner, I especially appreciated her Southern accent for Ellis Haley's character, which wasn't too over the top. —Margaret Kingsbury

The Ones We're Meant to Find

by Joan He

This is one of those books that punch you in the feels, and it does so with such elegance and care that you can't help but talk about it. Kasey is a STEM prodigy, living in a sky-dome — supposedly a sanctuary for those committed to planetary protection and the last unpolluted place on Earth. Though she's expected to use science to help humanity, she can't help thinking of its failure when it came to her sister, Cee. Though Kasey has never fully believed that her sister is dead, as everyone says, she doesn't know the truth: Three years prior, Cee woke up on an abandoned island, where she had an old android and a single memory: that of a sister. —Rachel Strolle

The Dead and the Dark

by Courtney Gould

Spooky atmosphere seeps out of every pore of this slow-burn ghost story about a girl named Logan who moves to the town of Snakebite with her ghost-hunting dads, only to find her family at the center of a mystery involving encroaching darkness and a missing boy. When Logan teams up with Ashley, girlfriend of the missing Tristan, to figure out what's going on, a sweet romance blossoms amid the terrifying hell of their town, keeping them grounded as they try to hold back the Dark. —Dahlia Adler


by Zoe Hana Mikuta

Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a rebel who specializes in taking down Windups (giant mechanized weapons used in Godolia's tyrannical rule) from the inside. Finding herself in a Godolia prison after a mission gone wrong, Eris meets a mortal enemy — a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot named Sona. But as the pair get to know each other, Eris learns that Sona is attempting to destroy Godolia from within. This sapphic sci-fi is packed with action and leaves you itching for Book 2. —Rachel Strolle

Kate in Waiting

by Becky Albertalli

Albertalli is the master of the obscenely charming, slightly awkward, extremely bighearted rom-com, and her newest might be her best yet, especially if you're a Schitt's Creek fan who's been dying for some David-Stevie vibes in a YA friendship. Here, those friends are Kate and Anderson, best friends who live to share crushes on the same guys...until they both fall hard for the first time, and it happens to be for the very same boy. —Dahlia Adler

Luck of the Titanic

by Stacey Lee

Stacey Lee is an absolute champion of historical fiction, and this heartbreaker of a book is among her finest. British Chinese Valora Luck has smuggled herself onboard the Titanic and talked her way into first class, where she hopes to reunite with her twin brother, Jamie, who is with fellow Chinese laborers in third class. Not long after she tries to convince a part owner of the Ringling Brothers Circus to take on her and her brother as acrobats, the ship hits an iceberg, and it quickly becomes a fight for survival. —Rachel Strolle

Ace of Spades

by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Don't be daunted by this larger-than-average hardcover, because pretty much nothing will stop you from tearing through this obscenely absorbing and nuanced dual-POV thriller. Two Black kids in an otherwise all-white private school find themselves targeted by a mystery creeper named Aces who seems determined to air every single one of their secrets. Now previously under-the-radar Devon is doing everything he can to remain safe after being outed, and queen bee Chiamaka is petrified that her deepest secret will get out and ruin her life forever, forcing them to work together to figure out who's behind the mask. —Dahlia Adler

Cheer Up! Love and Pompoms

by Crystal Frasier, illustrated by Val Wise

Antisocial lesbian Annie needs to round out her college applications (and make a few friends, if possible). To do so, she'll join the cheerleading squad, which includes her former friend BeeBee. BeeBee is trying to keep her parents happy — and, in the process, keep their support of her transition —through her grades and social life. And as the two rekindle their friendship, new feelings begin to pop up between them. This graphic novel is one of the most lovely and delightful pieces of media released in 2021. —Rachel Strolle