2021 Finalists: Young Adult Fiction

2021 YA fiction finalists


A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow
by Namey, Laura Taylor
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Jen at Introverted Reader

Lila Reyes always knew she’d become head baker at her family’s panadería, but then the Trifecta happened. The woman who taught her everything about cooking—her abuela—dies, her best friend upends their plans to move in together, and her boyfriend of three years breaks up with her. When her family becomes concerned for her mental health, they send her to England to spend the summer with family, hoping it will give her the chance to process and reset. However, Lila’s a Miami girl at heart, and swapping the hot beach for the chilly countryside initially sounds terrible. But that’s before finds an inn in need of some baking inspiration, a teashop clerk intent on playing tour guide, and a charming village that, while different from what she’s used to, feels a little like home. By fusing Lila’s two worlds into one unforgettable summer, author Laura Taylor Namey has crafted a stunning and fun novel of family, grief, and identity.

Christopher Helton, Plucked from the Stacks

Concrete Rose
by Thomas, Angie
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: Jenna

When seventeen-year-old Maverick “Mav” Carter discovers he is a father, he sees the life he has built for himself crumble before his eyes. Unprepared for life beyond high school, much less fatherhood, Maverick attempts to forge his own path forward regardless. Although hindered by relationship troubles, gang violence, and new responsibilities, he manages to discover meaning in even the bleakest of situations. A prequel to 2018’s The Hate U Give, author Angie Thomas revisits Garden Heights from the perspective of a ’90s teenager, painting a raw, vibrant, and heartfelt portrait of the lives of inner-city children.

Vidya Tiru, Lady in Read Writes

Firekeeper’s Daughter
by Boulley, Angeline
Henry Holt & Co.
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

As Firekeeper’s Daughter opens, Daunis is making decisions about college. No matter what she decides, someone will be disappointed because Daunis’s family is complex. She is half white and half Ojibwe. From her white mother’s family, Daunis has access to a trust fund; from her deceased Ojibwe father’s family, Daunis is steeped in the traditions of a tribe that she cannot fully access because of what her birth certificate says and doesn’t say. Readers quickly become immersed in the complicated relationships of Daunis’s life: her school friends, local hockey players, three generations of both sides of her family, and older tribe members who are almost family. Boulley first unveils Daunis’s world, then slowly exposes the secrets and lies permeating what Daunis and readers have come to believe. Along the way, we become so invested in characters who are sometimes charming and sometimes mysterious that we are devastated when bad things happen to them. With this debut, Angeline Boulley delivers a provocative look at a culture underrepresented in contemporary fiction that evolves into a breathtaking thriller in the final hundred pages. Firekeeper’s Daughter is one of the rare books that transcends genre and provides a thoughtful, exciting, deeply-felt reading experience for both teens and adults.

Gary Anderson, What’s Not Wrong?

In the Wild Light
by Zentner, Jeff
Crown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Becky L.

In the Wild Light is quintessential YA that examines the emotionally complex and rich lives of teens as they face a myriad of realistic issues including friendship, family, academic pressures and the search for self, with a dash of romance for good measure. Two teens, Delaney and Cash, are plucked from a life of abject poverty and given the chance of a lifetime to attend a prestigious boarding school. Cash and Delaney have been dealt every bad hand a teen could imagine: poverty, addiction, and absent or dead parents, though there also some great inter generational relationships presented as well. Hitting so many emotional beats, this is moving and authentic YA that appeals to teens, stretched their minds and hearts, and celebrates what it means to be a teen today in relatable ways.

Karen Jensen, Teen Librarian Toolbox

Last Night at the Telegraph Club
by Lo, Malinda
Dutton Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Robin Stevenson

Transporting readers back to 1950s San Francisco, Malinda Lo weaves a robust and thoughtful story about seventeen-year-old Lily Hu, whose world turns upside down when she learns about a lesbian bar known as the Telegraph Club. Her classmate Kathleen Miller invites her and she can’t stay away – even though a lesbian bar in the middle of Red-Scare paranoia is a dangerous place for a young Chinese-American girl to be found. This novel is so rich in detail that readers will lose themselves in the setting and really feel like they’re sitting around the tables at the club themselves. And though this novel tackles some difficult subject matter, Lily and Kath’s relationship is so sweet readers will be charmed as they develop from two nervous teenagers to two brave young women willing to be true to themselves, no matter the cost.

Christa Seeley, Christa’s Books

The Girls I’ve Been
by Sharpe, Tess
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Sondra Eklund

The Girls I’ve Been is a thrilling novel that follows Nora O’Malley – a daughter of a con artist living in a small town with her sister Lee after escaping the life her mother forced upon her. Everything seems fine until Nora, her girlfriend Iris, and her ex-boyfriend-turned-friend Wes suddenly become trapped in the middle of a bank robbery. Little do the robbers know, though, one of their hostages is more than they bargained for. Through flashbacks of memories, the reader is brought through Nora’s past life, and identities, and the life she so desperately attempted to forget. Nora is forced to face her relationships with not only Iris and Wes, but her mother and the life she had escaped from. With a twist in every chapter, The Girls I’ve Been will have you at the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

Jamie Yocum

Why We Fly
by Jones, Kimberly and Segal, Gilly
Sourcebooks Fire
Nominated by: Haley Shaffer

Inspired by real events, Why We Fly shines a spotlight on the take a knee protests. Best friends Leni and Nelly are passionate about their cheerleading career. As they enter their senior year, Leni is laser-focused on leading the team to the Nationals, while Nelly has her sights set on a top college. But when the cheer team decides to take a knee to show solidarity with an NFL star and school alum, the two friends find themselves at odds after one is suspended and one is not. Their friendship and futures are in danger. Told in two perspectives, this story perfectly captures the challenges of high school, while exploring the struggle of young athletes who organize for a change.

Haley Shaffer, Teachers Who Read