2021 Finalists: Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Bad Witch Burning
by Lewis, Jessica
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Kim Baccellia

An entrancing story of magic and the danger it can bring. Katrell’s can’t make enough to support her mom by talking to the dead to pay the bills she turns to raising the dead. The unforeseen side effects of this decision change her life. The characters are well-developed and the decisions of the protagonist make you wish she’d do anything else, but leave you knowing she’s choosing the only choice for her.

Tria Bravo-Pallesen, Tria-saurus: Lover of Words

Iron Widow
by Zhao, Xiran Jay
Penguin Teen
Nominated by: ChristaS

Iron Widow is an intense, entertaining, wild ride of a book set in a futuristic world with giant fighting robots, loosely based on the rise to power of the only female emperor of China. Zetian begins the book determined to get vengeance for her sister’s death as a concubine-pilot: the robots who are humanity’s only hope against alien attackers need to be piloted by a man and a woman, but the women usually die from the strain of the psychic bond. Zetian’s will and her anger propel her through this world impossibly stacked against her, and the world will never be the same.

Kim Aippersbach, Dead Houseplants*

The City Beautiful
by Polydoros, Aden
Inkyard Press
Nominated by: LGBTQ Reads

Set against the backdrop of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, The City Beautiful follows Alter, a young, queer, Jewish immigrant who is possessed by the dybbuk of his murdered best friend, Yakov. Alter must trust a dangerous former acquaintance to help him. Putting his feelings for his old friend aside, they work together to take down a serial killer. Jewish folklore, big city American 19th century culture, and Gothic horror vibes combine to make this a haunting and thrilling tale.

Kimberly Lynne, girlxoxo

The Gilded Ones
by Forna, Namina
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Jen at Introverted Reader

The Gilded Ones is a bold and defiant story of a young woman who smashes expectations. Deka is desperate to fit into her small community, where girls are required to prove their purity through blood, but when the time for her ritual arrives, she is revealed as powerfully impure. She is taken away to join the ranks of the alaki—female warriors tasked with defending their country from the Deathshrieks. This story starts off strong, with a fast-paced and well-structured plot and lots of exciting world building. The female characters are very well developed and their backstories are unveiled with compelling timing throughout the story. This was originally planned for publication in 2020 but how lucky we are to include it here in the 2021 list of finalists!

Jenna Ehler, Goodreads

The Mirror Season
by McLemore, Anna-Marie
Feiwel & Friends
Nominated by: Laura Gardner

A tale of discovery, healing, and powerful magic, The Mirror Season tells the story of a teenager named Ciela, who loses her family gift of baking enchanted pan dulce following her sexual assault. As she navigates her journey, the world changes around her: trees in the neighborhood mysteriously disappear, shards of mirrored glass haunt her every move, and a teenage boy named Lock suddenly appears who shares Ciela’s experience at the same party that night. Both must help each other understand and heal from their trauma in this effective and beautiful venture from author Anna-Marie McLemore.

Nithya Myneni , Goodreads

The Ones We’re Meant to Find
by He, Joan
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Grace Barker

In a world ruined by climate change, two sisters search for each other. Humankind is looking for a solution for the natural disasters ravaging the world, and Kasey is looking for her sister, Celia. Kasey is content with her life in the eco-city and conducting part of her life virtually to save resources. Celia on the other hand desired to be in the real world outside, and three months ago she disappeared after secretly taking a boat out to sea. As Kasey traces her sister’s last steps, Kasey discovers Celia had secrets—just like her. Three years ago, Cee woke up on an abandoned island with no memories other than she must get back to her sister.

Grace Barker, Grace Gets Books

by Rogerson, Margaret
Margaret K. McElderry
Nominated by: Jenna

In a world where the dead do not always rest peacefully, Artemisia is training to become a Gray Sister — a nun tasked with cleansing corpses to ensure their spirits will not rise again as violent monsters. When she was a child, Artemisia was possessed by a dangerous type of spirit called a revenant, and the trauma from her past still lingers. But when her convent is attacked by possessed soldiers, Artemisia may have no choice but to allow a revenant to possess her once more. She must become a vespertine, a priestess with the power to wield a revenant. Though dark and gritty, this novel has a surprising amount of heart and humor. It’s difficult not to fall in love with each of the characters and the friendships that bloom throughout this story, including one between Artemisia and her revenant. It’s also refreshing to see a young adult novel that prioritizes platonic relationships over romance.

Sarah Cook, sarah yael