Our Best Books of 2021

The children’s literature scholar Deborah Stevenson once wrote that “to define children’s literature we need, at bare minimum, to define a child and to define literature, and then to define what combination of their meeting counts as the genre.” This year’s best middle grade and chapter books each contain their own compelling answers to these questions as they center child protagonists and privilege the child reader’s perspective in works that range from lighthearted to weighty and from grounded to fantastical. With young readers fortified by these books, the future looks bright indeed.


10. Black Boy Joy edited by Kwame Mbalia

Sixteen well-known and up-and-coming authors offer humor, honesty and, yes, plenty of joy.

9. The Sea in Winter by Christine Day

Day portrays depression with sensitivity, and her depiction of Maisie’s deepening understanding of her Native American heritage is just as well done.

8. Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna

In this fast-paced fantasy adventure, Kiki struggles with the disconnect between who she believes herself to be and who she thinks she needs to be.

7. Leonard (My Life as a Cat) by Carlie Sorosiak

This witty, inventive tale of an interstellar visitor trapped in the body of a cat is a wonderful reminder of all the things humans often take for granted, from cheese to thumbs to friendship.

6. Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca

In her first novel in verse, LaRocca showcases the best of what verse can do, telling a story that is spare and direct and rings with truth.

5. Amber & Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Julia Iredale

Schlitz transports readers back in time to ancient Greece in this ambitious illustrated novel written in verse and prose.

4. Legacy by Nikki Grimes

Grimes stakes a claim for women in the pantheon of Harlem Renaissance poets in this tour de force of a poetry collection. Her poems follow a complex form that enables them to be shaped by the words of the women she honors.

3. Too Small Tola by Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu

The three illustrated stories in this chapter book connect in ways that will reward multiple readings, and their gentle morals linger with a satisfying combination of inevitability and surprise.

2. Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year by Nina Hamza

Hamza’s debut features a fresh and funny protagonist, a sensitive exploration of loss and grief and homages to some of the most classic titles in children’s literature.

1. The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

A young girl’s love of storytelling forms the heart of this bittersweet science fiction tale that demonstrates how our oldest and most cherished stories continue to grow with us.

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

The year's best middle grade and chapter books center child protagonists and privilege the child reader’s perspective in works that range from lighthearted to weighty and from grounded to fantastical.

2021 has been quite the ride, but books have been there for us at every twist and turn, offering comfort, escape and even illumination. As the year comes to a close, it’s time to look back on the titles BookPage readers have enjoyed the most.


20. Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

In her exhilarating third novel, Maggie Shipstead offers a marvelous pastiche of adventure and emotion as she explores what it means (and what it takes) to live an unusual life.

19. Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

Readers will feel as attached to Tia Williams’ characters as Eva and Shane are to each other.

18. The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Like a well-brewed potion, Sarah Penner’s first novel simply overwhelms with its delicate spell.

17. Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

This young adult historical fiction novel is as meticulously researched as it is full of raw, authentic emotion.

16. Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

Razorblade Tears transcends genre boundaries and is a must-read for anyone looking for a mystery that provokes and thrills in equal measure.

15. One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Bursting with heart, banter and a respect for queer history and community, One Last Stop may be the best read of the summer.

14. Before the Ruins by Victoria Gosling

An abandoned English manor house sets the stage for a cracking mystery involving a missing friend and a long-lost diamond necklace.

13. Blow Your House Down by Gina Frangello

There is pain in every divorce story, but not every divorce story can be related by a narrator as capable as Gina Frangello.

12. Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

With her second novel, Charlotte McConaghy proves that her particular brand of deeply evocative literary lightning can indeed strike twice.

11. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

Even in the face of death’s inevitability, friendship can be found, forgiveness can flourish and fun can ease fear.

10. The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

Grab a cup of tea and a scone, and curl up with Jennifer Ryan’s positively delicious novel about a cooking contest during World War II.

9. The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

The Witch’s Heart shifts the focus of a well-known myth to a secondary character with stunning and heartbreaking results.

8. The Children’s Train by Viola Ardone, translated by Clarissa Botsford

Viola Ardone’s novel will appeal to fans of Elena Ferrante, but it stands on its own as a fictionalized account of a complicated social experiment.

7. The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams

Two lexicographers employed by the same company and separated by a century are at the heart of this imaginative, funny, intriguing novel by Eley Williams.

6. The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

The Reading List illustrates the ways one book can act as a shared point of empathy, uniting individuals into a community.

5. Billy Summers by Stephen King

Though Billy Summers includes many classic King touchstones, its dedication to realism and intense, almost meditative focus on the titular main character make it a standout among his works.

4. What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins

In JoAnne Tompkins’ debut novel, faith is simply part of life, a reality that is rarely so sensitively portrayed in fiction.

3. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

Laura Dave has given us what we crave right now—a thoroughly engrossing yet comforting distraction.

2. Win by Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben raises moral dilemmas and offers pulse-pounding action scenes in this suspenseful and surprising novel.

1. Golden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand

Killing off the main character just a few pages into a book is somewhat unorthodox, but it’s just the first of many interesting choices Elin Hilderbrand makes.

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.


This list was compiled based on analytics from BookPage.com between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1, 2021.

As the year comes to a close, it’s time to look back on all the books that BookPage readers have enjoyed the most.

The best picture books of 2021 demonstrate how impactful the form can be. They’re master classes in the interplay of text, image and the magic of the page turn, tiny treasures to savor and return to again and again.


10. Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris

This surreal book’s joy, color and hopefulness will ignite the imagination of anyone lucky enough to experience its magic.

9. Little Witch Hazel by Phoebe Wahl

As you read this enchanting ode to the calm and peaceful magic of nature, you’ll feel as though you have journeyed deep into Mosswood Forest alongside Hazel and her friends.

8. Shy Willow by Cat Min

This gentle, moving story reminds us that shyness and courage can coexist. Min’s sweet characters and luminous artwork underscore her book’s hopeful nature and quiet, supportive heart.

7. Keep Your Head Up by Aliya King Neil, illustrated by Charly Palmer

Neil’s touching portrait of a child doing his best to manage a difficult day is expertly enhanced by Palmer’s powerful, impressionistic illustrations.

6. When Lola Visits by Michelle Sterling, illustrated by Aaron Asis

Like all the best childhood memories of loved ones, When Lola Visits feels familiar, friendly and faded to perfection. It’s a little hazy with age, and a little more shimmery for the haze.

5. I Can Make a Train Noise by Michael Emberley and Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

This immersive and fully choreographed journey creatively sweeps readers along on an adventure that bursts with rhythm and energy.

4. Mr. Watson’s Chickens by Jarrett Dapier, illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi

This tender, spunky tale of a couple whose house is overrun by 456 chickens is the year’s most bighearted picture book.

3. Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin

Wang’s childhood memory of picking watercress by the side of the road serves as the inspiration for this emotional powerhouse of a picture book.

2. Unspeakable by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

This extraordinary account of the Tulsa Race Massacre is a reminder of “the responsibility we all have to reject hatred and violence and to instead choose hope.”

1. Wishes, by Mượn Thị Văn, illustrated by Victo Ngai

This powerful picture book illuminates the closely held wishes of refugees the world over. Its spare, lyrical text and cinematic illustrations are simply unforgettable.

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

The 10 best picture books of 2021 are master classes in the interplay of text, image and the magic of the page turn.

The rom-com revival shows no signs of stopping, and some truly impressive follow-ups defied the sophomore slump in 2021. But one of the biggest takeaways from this year is quite unexpected: Is paranormal romance about to make a comeback in a big way? All we know for sure is that writers like Suleikha Snyder are using the subgenre to craft poignant political statements, and witchy romances are popping up like toadstools. 


10. Big Bad Wolf by Suleikha Snyder

This sexy paranormal romance stands out for its first-rate world building, breakneck pace and incisive social commentary.

9. Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne

Beneath Sally Thorne’s charming prose and irresistible characters lies a tender, deeply felt story of two overlooked people seeing the beauty in each other.

8. Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

This supernatural romance is hilarious, moving and glue-you-to-the-page engrossing, and it has one of the most enviably cozy small-town settings you’ll ever find.

7. Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

Readers will feel as attached to Tia Williams’ central couple as they are to each other in this meta romance between two authors.

6. One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Bursting with heart, banter and a respect for queer history and community, One Last Stop proves that Casey McQuiston has no intention of resting on her laurels after the unprecedented success of Red, White & Royal Blue

5. Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

This warm, inventive take on You’ve Got Mail swaps bookstores for dueling halal restaurants, using the beloved rom-com as a starting point rather than a template.

4. Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall

This is a deeply emotional, rewarding story about a woman finding her true path and true love, surrounded by delicious baked goods.

3. Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

In her final Brown Sisters novel, Talia Hibbert exhibits masterful control of plot and character, as well as a wonderful blend of escapist tropes and more difficult truths.

2. People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

This inspired and achingly romantic reimagining of the beloved rom-com When Harry Met Sally firmly establishes Emily Henry as the millennial heir to Nora Ephron.

1. All the Feels by Olivia Dade

Heart-wrenching and wildly sexy, this romance details the difficult work of personal growth while cannily commenting on celebrity in the digital age.

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

The rom-com revival shows no signs of stopping, and some truly impressive follow-ups defied the sophomore slump in 2021.

We’re calling it now: The mystery and suspense genre is on the cusp of a golden age. From psychological thrillers to procedurals to cozies, these books reached new heights and brought new perspectives to the forefront in 2021. 


10. Mango, Mambo, and Murder by Raquel V. Reyes

Mango, Mambo, and Murder has everything readers look for in a cozy mystery but also feels like a breath of fresh air thanks to its funny, grounded characters and lovingly detailed setting.

9. Bad Moon Rising by John Galligan

John Galligan’s trademark dark humor and clear-sighted social commentary are in fine form as he follows Sheriff Heidi Kick, one of the most complex yet lovable heroes in current crime fiction, on her latest investigation. 

8. The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

This cozy mystery is even better than Richard Osman’s utterly charming debut, The Thursday Murder Club.

7. The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish

No one can pull off a twist like Louise Candlish. This gorgeous, meticulous nail-biter is a smooth work of narrative criminality. 

6. The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

Having reached a pinnacle of critical and commercial success that most authors only dream of, Louise Penny still somehow manages to top herself with the latest Inspector Gamache mystery.

5. Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The genre-hopping Silvia Moreno-­Garcia (Mexican Gothic) moves into pulp adventure territory with a novel set in 1970s Mexico City that evokes the best conspiracy thrillers.

4. Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia

The Jazz Age setting infuses this mystery with a crackling feeling of possibility. Readers will unequivocally root for Nekesa Afia’s amateur sleuth.

3. Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

Razorblade Tears transcends genre boundaries and is a must-read for anyone looking for a mystery that provokes and thrills in equal measure.

2. Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara

Set in a Japanese American neighborhood during World War II, Clark and Division is as much an exposé of communal trauma as it is a mystery.

1. Silverview by John le Carré

Master of espionage John le Carré’s final novel is one of his most impressive accomplishments. A gift for the devoted readers mourning his loss, it looks back and comments on his unparalleled body of work.

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

We’re calling it now: The mystery and suspense genre is on the cusp of a golden age.

To find the most structurally daring, format-breaking novels of 2021, turn to the far-flung worlds of science-fiction and fantasy. From story collections to novellas to sprawling epics, these books perfectly match form and function in their creation of universes both big and small. 


10. The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter

With a magic system that’s two parts enchantment and one part pseudoscience, The Helm of Midnight is one of the most well-executed and original fantasy novels in recent memory.

9. The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

Genevieve Gornichec’s beautiful, delicately executed debut shifts the focus of Norse mythology to one of Loki’s lovers, the witch Angrboda, with stunning and heartbreaking results.

8. The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie Liu

This astonishing, haunting short story collection overflows with vivid characters and relatable themes as Marjorie Liu puts her own spin on traditional archetypes.

7. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

This novella is the perfect distillation of Becky Chambers’ ability to use science fiction to tell smaller, more personal stories infused with beauty and optimism.

6. Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Boasting immersive settings, delightful characters and all-the-feels poignancy, Light From Uncommon Stars is also very, very funny, lightening its sweeping supernatural and intergalactic symphony with notes that are all-too human.

5. A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

Clever, elegant and ambitious, Arkady Martine’s second novel eclipses her acclaimed debut, A Memory Called Empire.

4. Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

Beautiful and enthralling on every page, Nnedi Okorafor’s elegiac and powerful novella is an example of how freeing the form can be.

3. Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Black Water Sister terrifyingly depicts the otherworldly and uncanny horrors of the spirit world, but it is also funny and poignant, full of the angst and irony of a recent graduate living with her parents.

2. The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova

An instant classic, Zoraida Córdova’s magical family saga is complex but ceaselessly compelling, and features some of the most beautiful writing to be found in any genre this year.

1. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Shelley Parker-Chan’s gorgeous writing accompanies a vibrantly rendered world full of imperfect, fascinating characters. Fans of epic fantasy and historical fiction will thrill to this reimagining of the founding of China’s Ming dynasty. 

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

From story collections to novellas to sprawling epics, the 10 best science fiction & fantasy novels of 2021 perfectly match form and function. 

We begin each new reading year with high hopes, and sometimes, when we’re very lucky, we find our expectations rewarded. So it was with 2021.

It must be said that a lot of these books are really, really long. Apparently this was the year for total commitment, for taking a plunge and allowing ourselves to be swallowed up. 

Also, it should come as no surprise that books-within-books frequently appear on this list. For all our attempts at objectivity within our roles as critics, we just can’t help but love a book that loves books. Amor Towles, Ruth Ozeki, Jason Mott, Maggie Shipstead and Anthony Doerr all tapped into the most comforting yet complex parts of our book-loving selves. 

But most of the books on this list hit home in ways we never could’ve prepared for, even when we had the highest expectations, such as in Will McPhail’s graphic novel, which made us laugh till we cried, and Colson Whitehead’s heist novel, which no one could’ve expected would be such a gorgeous ode to sofas.

And at the top of our list, a book that accomplishes what feels like the impossible: Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ epic debut novel, which challenges our relationship to the land beneath us in a way we’ve never experienced but long hoped for.

Read on for our 20 best works of literary fiction from 2021.


20. What Comes After by JoAnn Tompkins

In JoAnne Tompkins’ debut novel, faith is simply part of life, a reality for many that is rarely so sensitively portrayed in fiction.

19. How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

To those disinclined to question the role that economic exploitation plays in supporting our modern lifestyle, reading this novel may prove an unsettling experience.

18. Gordo by Jaime Cortez

In his collection of short stories set in the ag-industrial maw of central California, Jaime Cortez artfully captures the daily lives of his characters in the freeze-frame flash of a master at work.

17. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro continues his genre-twisting ways with a tale that explores whether science could—or should—manipulate the future.

16. Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford

Francis Spufford’s graceful novel reminds us that tragedy deprives the world of not only noble people but also scoundrels, both of whom are part of the fabric of history.

15. Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen is one of our best chroniclers of suburban family life, and his incisive new novel, the first in a planned trilogy, is by turns funny and terrifying.

14. In by Will McPhail

Small talk becomes real talk in this graphic novel from the celebrated cartoonist, and the world suddenly seems much brighter.

13. Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

With hints of Jami Attenberg’s sense of mishpucha and spiced with Jennifer Weiner’s chutzpah, Melissa Broder’s novel is graphic, tender and poetic, a delicious rom-com that turns serious.

12. The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.

Robert Jones Jr.’s first novel accomplishes the exceptional literary feat of being at once an intimate, poetic love story and a sweeping, excruciating portrait of life on a Mississippi plantation.

11. Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson

In her exceptional debut novel, Ash Davidson expresses the heart and soul of Northern California’s redwood forest community.

10. The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

“There are few things more beautiful to an author’s eye . . . than a well-read copy of one of his books,” says a character in Amor Towles’ novel. Undoubtedly, the pages of this cross-country saga are destined to be turned—and occasionally tattered—by numerous gratified readers.

9. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

Devastating, hilarious and touching, Torrey Peters’ acutely intelligent first novel explores womanhood, parenthood and all the possibilities that lie therein.

8. A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself by Peter Ho Davies

Peter Ho Davies’ third novel is a poetic look at the nature of regret and a couple’s enduring love. It’s a difficult but marvelous book.

7. The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

What does it mean to listen? What can you hear if you pay close attention, especially in a moment of grief? Ruth Ozeki explores these questions in her novel, a meditation on objects, compassion and everyday beauty. 

6. Matrix by Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff aims to create a sense of wonder and awe in her novels, and in her boldly original fourth novel, set in a small convent in 12th-century England, the awe-filled moments are too many to count.

5. Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

A surrealist feast of imagination that’s brimming with very real horrors, frustrations and sorrows, Jason Mott’s fourth novel is an achievement of American fiction that rises to meet this particular moment with charm, wisdom and truth.

4. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Sorrow and violence play large roles in the ambitious, genre-busting novel from Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Doerr, but so does tenderness.

3. Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Like Dante leading us through the levels of hell, Colson Whitehead exposes the layers of rottenness in New York City with characters who follow an ethical code that may be strange to those of us who aren’t crooks or cynics.

2. Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

In her exhilarating third novel, Maggie Shipstead offers a marvelous pastiche of adventure and emotion as she explores what it means (and what it takes) to live an unusual life.

1. The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

From slavery to freedom, discrimination to justice, tradition to unorthodoxy, celebrated poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers weaves an epic ancestral story that encompasses not only a young Black woman’s family heritage but also that of the American land where their history unfolded.

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

Most of the books on this list hit home in ways we never could’ve prepared for, even when we had the highest expectations. Read on for the 20 best literary fiction titles of 2021.

Nonfiction is the broadest publishing category, with books that delve into the past, present and future of every aspect of our world. There are books that rifle through our innermost emotions and books that search the outer universe. Books that strike while the iron is hot and books that are cool and classic. You’ll find a little bit of everything on our list of our most highly recommended nonfiction books of 2021—from timeless instant classics to breathlessly of-the-moment reports.


20. Cultish by Amanda Montell

In her incredibly timely book, Amanda Montell’s expertise as a linguist melds with her research into the psychological underpinnings of cults.

19. Cuba by Ada Ferrer

With interesting characters, new historical insights and dramatic yet accessible writing, Ada Ferrer’s epic history of Cuba will grab and hold your attention.

18. Fuzz by Mary Roach

Mary Roach’s enthusiasm and sense of humor are contagious in her around-the-world survey of human-wildlife relations.

17. Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi generously shares both their wounds and their wisdom, offering aspiring artists fresh inspiration for creating new forms of being.

16. American Republics by Alan Taylor

Pulitzer Prize winner Alan Taylor’s latest American history, covering the United States’ expansion from 1783 to 1850, is sweeping, beautifully written, prodigiously researched and myth-busting.

15. My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes

Joyful, righteous, indignant, self-assured, exuberant: All of these words describe Quiara Alegría Hudes’ memoir.

14. Blow Your House Down by Gina Frangello

Frangello’s raw, eloquent memoir is singed with rage and tinged with optimism about the power to recover one’s life from the depth of suffering.

13. Unbound by Tarana Burke

Unbound is Tarana Burke’s unflinching, beautifully told account of founding the #MeToo movement and becoming one of the most consequential activists in America.

12. The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson

For readers seeking to understand the twists, turns and amazing potential of gene-editing CRISPR technology, there’s no better place to turn than The Code Breaker.

11. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows by Ai Weiwei

This heart-rending yet exhilarating memoir by a world-famous artist gives a rare look into how war and revolution affect innocent bystanders who are just trying to live.

10. The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel’s unique combination of personal narrative, a search for higher meaning and comic ingenuity will leave you pumped up and smiling.

9. Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

This epic, transformative book covers 400 years of Black history with the help of a choir of exceptional poets, critics, essayists, novelists and scholars.

8. A Most Remarkable Creature by Jonathan Meiburg

Gorgeously written and sophisticated, Jonathan Meiburg’s book about a wickedly clever falcon will move readers to protect this truly remarkable creature.

7. Chasing Me to My Grave by Winfred Rembert

From surviving a lynching to discovering the transformative power of art while imprisoned in a chain gang, Winfred Rembert recounts his life story in his distinct and unforgettable voice.

6. Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown

Most of the Japanese American patriots who formed the 442nd Infantry Regiment are gone, but their stories live on in this empathetic tribute to their courage.

5. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

Beloved author George Saunders shares invaluable insights into classic Russian short stories, unlocking their magic for bibliophiles everywhere.

4. How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith

Clint Smith’s gifts as both a poet and a scholar make this a richly provocative read about the ways America does (and doesn’t) acknowledge its history of slavery.

3. Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

In jaw-dropping detail, Patrick Radden Keefe recounts the greed and corruption at the heart of the Sackler family’s quest for wealth and social status.

2. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

In her debut memoir, Michelle Zauner perfectly distills the palpable ache for her late mother, wrapping her grief in an aromatic conjuring of her mother’s presence.

1. A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib

Hanif Abdurraqib’s brilliant commentary shuffles forward, steps sideways, leaps diagonally and waltzes gracefully throughout this survey of Black creative performance in America.

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

You’ll find a little bit of everything on our list of our most highly recommended nonfiction books of 2021—from timeless instant classics to breathlessly of-the-moment reports.

The best young adult books of the year offer nothing less than revolution—revolutionary ways of seeing, of writing, of imagining, of moving through the world. They’ve kindled our hearts and filled them with warmth and hope when we’ve needed it most.


10. The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros

Set against the backdrop of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, The City Beautiful is a gorgeous, disturbing, visceral and mystical experience.

9. Indestructible Object by Mary McCoy

McCoy’s spectacular novel never offers easy answers. It’s a layered and vulnerable exploration of everything that makes a heart beat—or break.

8. The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta

Like the contrasting flavors in a strawberry basil pie, Capetta’s frothy confection melds a journey of self-discovery with a quest to repair broken hearts.

Watch our interview with A.R. Capetta about ‘The Heartbreak Bakery.’

7. Me (Moth) by Amber McBride

In this surprising and expertly crafted novel in verse, two teens travel through a landscape haunted by history, memory and spirituality.

6. The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

Sharpe combines hardscrabble swagger, enormous grief and teenage noir into a heart-wrenching, perfectly paced and cinematic thriller.

5. A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia

Williams-Garcia’s mesmerizing portrait of slavery in antebellum Louisiana is a multigenerational saga that brilliantly depicts the rotting heart of Southern plantation life.

4. City of the Uncommon Thief by Lynne Bertrand

This is genre-defying fiction at its finest, a sprawling work of precise storytelling that sticks the landing and knows no fear.

3. When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Gilbert captures the intensity and electricity of the end of adolescence in this astonishing book that expands what the entire category of YA literature can be.

2. Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Lo’s beautiful, brave work of historical fiction is as meticulously researched as it is full of raw, authentic emotion.

1. Switch by A.S. King

As she explores the spectrum between isolation and connection in this deeply personal novel, King creates an unsettling but emotional resonant tale for our own unsettling times.

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

The 10 best YA books of the year are truly revolutionary reads.

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