We’ve nearly reached the end of 2021, and if you’re like me, you’re probably still trying to process just what the heck happened last year in 2020, let alone the events of this year. Weird times, for sure. But even in weird times, I’m still reading books because what better way to forget the mess of the present than by immersing yourself in fictional worlds, am I right?
For the past few years, my tradition has been to write a blog post where I share ALL the books I’ve read over the past year, but I decided to do something a little different this year and it will likely become my new tradition. Instead of listing every book I read, I’m going to share my five favorite young adult reads of the year–and boy, have I been excited to write this one!
As I looked back over my list of 2021 reads and picked out my top five, I quickly realized that they are all DEBUT BOOKS! True, I’ve been reading a lot of debut books this year, in general, but I’ve also read a good number of books that were not debuts. So the fact that my faves are all by new YA authors who are just breaking onto the scene is pretty cool. It means that there is a ton of fresh talent out there. So I think this is a great reminder to not only read the old tried and true authors you hear everyone talk about, but check out new authors and new books because you never know what kind of treasures you’ll find.
By the way, if you want to see a complete list of all the traditionally published middle grade and young adult books from 2021, I recommend checking out The 21ders website. You can also purchase any of these books on The 21ders Bookshop page (while supporting local independent bookstores, so it’s a win-win!)
But now, without further ado, I’d like to present my five favorite YA reads of 2021 (in no particular order)!!!
1.) Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
Okay, this one, you may have heard of because it did top some pretty big lists this year. However, it’s still a debut and it’s a book that simply blew me away. I especially love that it’s by an indigenous author and features an indigenous main character and cast. It’s also just a really, really great read. It kept me on my toes until the very end!
Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She dreams of a fresh start at college, but when family tragedy strikes, Daunis puts her future on hold to look after her fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team.
Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into an FBI investigation of a lethal new drug.
Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, drawing on her knowledge of chemistry and Ojibwe traditional medicine to track down the source. But the search for truth is more complicated than Daunis imagined, exposing secrets and old scars. At the same time, she grows concerned with an investigation that seems more focused on punishing the offenders than protecting the victims.
Now, as the deceptions – and deaths – keep growing, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go for her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.
2.) Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis
First of all, I have to mention that I knew this author before we became debut classmates this year. In fact, I read the synopsis for this book several years ago before it was published. Jessica and I had swapped synopses before Pitchwars that year since we were both still trying to get an agent. Anyhoo, I read the ARC (advanced reading copy) of Bad Witch Burning this past summer and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I haven’t been into horror books lately, but this one sucked me right in. And guess what? Bad Witch Burning also wins the prize for being the ONLY book to make me cry this year. I’ve always said that if a book can make me shed actual tears, then it has to be an amazing story, especially now that I’m a writer because I just don’t read books in the same way that I once did. So fantastic job, Jessica! (And no, I won’t spoil which part made me tear up).
Katrell can talk to the dead. And she wishes it made more money. She’s been able to support her unemployed mother—and Mom’s deadbeat-boyfriend-of-the-week—so far, but it isn’t enough. Money’s still tight, and to complicate things, Katrell has started to draw attention. Not from this world—from beyond. And it comes with a warning: STOP or there will be consequences.
Katrell is willing to call the ghosts on their bluff; she has no choice. What do ghosts know of having sleep for dinner? But when her next summoning accidentally raises someone from the dead, Katrell realizes that a live body is worth a lot more than a dead apparition. And, warning or not, she has no intention of letting this lucrative new business go.
Only magic isn’t free, and dark forces are coming to collect. Now Katrell faces a choice: resign herself to poverty, or confront the darkness before it’s too late.
3.) The Summer of Lost Letters by Hannah Reynolds
This was another ARC I signed up to read from our debut group. It’s a summer romance with historical ties so it sounded right up my alley. I was not, however, expecting to fall in love with this book as much as I did. Reynolds’ writing was simply superb. I loved her beautiful descriptions, the quirky and well-developed main character, and the humor. There were times when I found myself cackling out loud. But seriously, The Summer of Lost Letters has some gorgeous writing that pulled me right into the Nantucket setting. And the love interest? Swoon!
Seventeen-year-old Abby Schoenberg isn’t exactly looking forward to the summer before her senior year. She’s just broken up with her first boyfriend and her friends are all off in different, exciting directions for the next three months. Abby needs a plan–an adventure of her own. Enter: the letters.
They show up one rainy day along with the rest of Abby’s recently deceased grandmother’s possessions. And these aren’t any old letters; they’re love letters. Love letters from a mystery man named Edward. Love letters from a mansion on Nantucket. Abby doesn’t know much about her grandmother’s past. She knows she was born in Germany and moved to the US when she was five, fleeing the Holocaust. But the details are either hazy or nonexistent; and these letters depict a life that is a bit different than the quiet one Abby knows about.
And so, Abby heads to Nantucket for the summer to learn more about her grandmother and the secrets she kept. But when she meets Edward’s handsome grandson, who wants to stop her from investigating, things get complicated. As Abby and Noah grow closer, the mysteries in their families deepen, and they discover that they both have to accept the burdens of their pasts if they want the kinds of futures they’ve always imagined.
4.) Dark and Shallow Lies by Ginny Myers Sain
I’m not going to lie: I was super excited to read this one because Ginny is the only other Oklahoma author from our debut group and since connecting online, we’ve become real life friends! I’ve not only learned that she is a wonderful, supportive person, but that she’s also a fantastically talented author. Dark and Shallow Lies definitely did not disappoint! With a unique and lush setting in the remote bayous of Louisiana, a quirky cast of teenage characters, and a mystery that kept me guessing until the very end, this thriller was unlike anything I’ve ever read.
La Cachette, Louisiana, is the worst place to be if you have something to hide.
This tiny town, where seventeen-year-old Grey spends her summers, is the self-proclaimed Psychic Capital of the World—and the place where Elora Pellerin, Grey’s best friend, disappeared six months earlier.
Grey can’t believe that Elora vanished into thin air any more than she can believe that nobody in a town full of psychics knows what happened. But as she digs into the night that Elora went missing, she begins to realize that everybody in town is hiding something—her grandmother Honey; her childhood crush Hart; and even her late mother, whose secrets continue to call to Grey from beyond the grave.
When a mysterious stranger emerges from the bayou—a stormy-eyed boy with links to Elora and the town’s bloody history—Grey realizes that La Cachette’s past is far more present and dangerous than she’d ever understood. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who she can trust. In a town where secrets lurk just below the surface, and where a murderer is on the loose, nobody can be presumed innocent—and La Cachette’s dark and shallow lies may just rip the town apart.
5.) Kisses and Croissants by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau
I was interested in reading Kisses and Croissants for several reasons, namely A.) Paris, B.) Ballet, and C.) Romance–all things I adore. And Anne-Sophie didn’t just research her Parisian setting–she lived there! If you know me, you know I’m impressed by all things French. When I spotted Kisses and Croissants at my local library, I knew it was fate. This book was truly a breath of fresh air and given that I don’t read too many sweet romances these days, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was chock full of vibrant imagery (including amazing French pastries–yum!) and the romance was adorable. Fifteen-year-old me would have loved this story, but forty-five year old me appreciated it quite a bit too. 🙂
Mia Jenrow has always known she’s destined to be a professional ballerina. In fact, it’s in her blood—according to family legend, her too-many-greats-to-count-grandmother once danced for the Paris Opera and was painted by Degas himself! Her parents say it’s just a fantasy, but to Mia it’s so much more than that. It’s her fate.
Mia is planning to spend a magical summer in France pursuing her dream, but as she pirou-ettes into Paris, she soon realizes it may be a bit more complicated than she hoped. For starters, there’s her rival, Audrey, who will stop at nothing to show her up. There’s her ballet instructor, whose impossibly high standards push her to the breaking point. And then . . . there’s Louis. Devastatingly, distractingly charming Louis. He’s eager to show Mia his city—and Mia is more than happy to hop on his Vespa and wrap her arms around him as they pass the gleaming lights of the Eiffel Tower.
Mia’s summer was supposed to be about ballet—but there’s a reason Paris is called the City of Love. . . .
So as you can see, my top five favorite reads of 2021 were quite varied. Two mystery/thrillers, two romances, and a horror. What can I say? I’m a woman of eclectic taste. I must admit, however, that there are many, many more 2021 debuts I still want to read. I’m definitely not finished yet. And who knows, some of them may show up on next year’s top five list!
There’s nothing better than sharing a favorite read with someone else, so to celebrate my favorite YA reads of 2021, I’d love to host a giveaway for one of them. Comment below with which of the above five books you’d love to read and I will pick one winner by Friday, December 24th and send them the book of their choice. This giveaway is open to U.S. and international entrants. Good luck!