As the world has struggled to return to normalcy this year, YA books continue to be places of refuge for both young and old readers.
With 2021 coming to a close, Bookstacked’s reviews team wants to recognize some of the titles that affected us the most this year. While any number of books could easily qualify for this list, these are the titles that made a mark on us. Whether they caused self-reflection or had us reconnecting with fellow readers to spark a conversation, each of the books below has something special to offer.
Here are the best YA books of 2021, as selected by Bookstacked’s reviews team.
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas, known for the masterpiece that is The Hate U Give, brought readers back to the neighborhood of Garden Heights and upped the game with Concrete Rose. An emotional story from start to finish, this novel explores the backstory of Maverick Carter. Thought-provoking and surprising, this is one of the best YA novels to hit shelves in years.
» Read the review — ‘Concrete Rose’ by Angie Thomas was a fantastic first Book Club pick
Nubia: Real One by L.L. McKinney and Robyn Smith
It’s hard to break out of the shadow of Wonder Woman — one of the most iconic figures in comic book history — but L.L. McKinney manages to spin a stellar story for Wonder Woman’s Black sister, Nubia in Nubia: Real One. This graphic novel, illustrated by the talented Robyn Smith, reminds young Black readers that they can be the hero of their story, too.
» Read the review — ‘Nubia: Real One’ by L.L. McKinney and Robyn Smith is the superhero story we all need right now
» Read our interview with the author and artist — How L. L. McKinney and Robyn Smith are shining a spotlight on Nubia, Wonder Woman’s Black twin sister
Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong
A follow-up to These Violent Delights, Our Violent Ends continues the fantasy retelling of Romeo and Juliette through the eyes of morally gray characters. There’s fantastically written politics, action and — yes — romance in these pages, making it a favorite of 2021.
» Read the review — ‘Our Violent Ends’ by Chloe Gong brings this popular duology to a painfully satisfying ending
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
So much can and has been said about Iron Widow this year, and it would be a mistake to exclude it from this list. Pulling inspiration from The Handmaid’s Tale, ‘Pacific Rim’ and Chinese history, this science-ficiton fantasy story introduces readers to complex heroes with great ambitions while challenging expectations in every possible way. This debut novel is groundbreaking as much as it is exciting.
» Listen to the our book club discussion — ‘Iron Widow’ by Xiran Jay Zhao is a challenging read, but not in the way you’d expect
The Wide Starlight by Nicole Lesperance
Imaginative and soul-stirring, The Wide Starlight is one of those rare books that somehow bottles up the emotions of tragic loss and acceptance. As we reflect on another year of terrible loss, Lesperance reminds us to find the beauty in life and hold those we love close. It’s a contemporary fantasy dripping with emotion.
» Read the review — ‘The Wide Starlight’ by Nicole Lesperance is heart-wrenching and beautiful
The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a fascinating story of two sisters set against the backdrop of climate disaster. Although the story makes good use of science-fiction and mystery elements, its heart is found in the sisterhood of characters Cee and Kasey. This book promises to leave readers self-reflecting on our roles in this world.
» Read the review — ‘The Ones We’re Meant to Find’ by Joan He will take readers to a futuristic world that hits close to home
» Listen to an interview with the author — YA dystopia and climate change with Joan He
The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni
Lynette Noni’s fantasy novel introduces us to Kiva, a young woman fighting to survive the death camp of Zalindov. When she’s told to keep one of the prisoners alive — the Rebel Queen — Kiva takes on a set of elemental challenges to fight for her and the queen’s freedom. Twists and turns abound from start to end in this unforgettable novel!
» Read the review — ‘The Prison Healer’ by Lynette Noni is an incredible tale of survival
The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis
The Lights of Prague is a historical fantasy that dives headfirst into adventure. Domek, a monster hunter who prowls the streets of Prague, stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens to wreack havoc on the “daylight world.” This book proves to be a great introduction to elements of Czech mythology, with dynamic main characters and a captivating story.
» Read the review — ‘The Lights of Prague’ by Nicole Jarvis allows its characters to shine
Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard
Victoria Aveyard’s second outing in YA fiction is a strong one. Realm Breaker is a massive novel with massive stakes to match. The fantasy world of Allward is threatened when portals to other worlds open the door to new dangers. With a diverse cast and a couple of shocking twists, Aveyard sets the table for an epic tale.
» Read the review — ‘Realm Breaker’ by Victoria Aveyard sets the table for an epic tale
Steelstriker by Marie Lu
Marie Lu is no stranger to wrapping up a series, but there’s something special about the conclusion of the story that began with Skyhunter. This story dives into what it means to be human while packing an emotional punch. With parallels to our own world, there’s a lot to explore in this novel.
» Read the review — ‘Steelstriker’ by Marie Lu is a thrilling battle between good and evil
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