All the YA Novels We’ve Reviewed So Far in 2021 and What We Thought (46 Books!)

We love young adult books here at Pages Unbound. Here are 46 of them we’ve reviewed so far in 2021. (Ok, we reviewed one more, Ace of Spades, while I was drafting this post, so we’ve reviewed 47 by the end of August.) Check out our thoughts here, and click on the titles to see the full reviews.


Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

4 STARS

The Hazel Wood is an intriguing story, one that breaks the mold of YA fantasy and presents readers with something darkly original. While it does have a sequel, the story is satisfying–and perhaps even stronger–on its own.

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THE LIVES OF SAINTS BY LEIGH BARDUGO

4 STARS

This is a beautiful book any Grishaverse fan will be pleased to read, but even if you aren’t familiar with the world, I think you can appreciate the strange and magical stories Bardugo has created about these saints.

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Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

4 STARS

Rule of Wolves is another stunning installment from Bardugo to the Grishaverse. Fans of Bardugo’s work will not want to miss out on this exciting adventure–especially as it seems to be setting up a future novel, maybe even the ones readers have been waiting for since Six of Crows.

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CINDERELLA IS DEAD BY KAYLNN BAYRON

3 STARS

Still, the weaknesses I see inn Cinderella Is Dead are really common in YA books, and many readers do not mind them at all. While they do prevent me from finding the book to be a five star read, I think it has enough originality and fast-paced action to be enjoyable. Readers who enjoy YA fairy tale retellings will want to give this one a try.

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This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

2 STARS

With a smart, determined protagonist, ties to Greek mythology, and magic that permeates our real world, This Poison Heart has a lot of potential, and I can see why Goodreads users are loving it. Personally, however, I was put off by poor pacing, clunky characterization, and general vagueness about the magic system, and the novel didn’t grip me the way I’d hoped.

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THE INFINITY COURTS BY AKEMI DAWN BOWMAN

5 STARS

The Infinity Courts is a spellbinding story about death, family, and fighting for what you believe it is right. While books about artificial intelligence and questions about what it means to be “real” and whether it’s wrong to hurt or kill an AI have obviously been done before, Bowman brings heart and creativity to the questions and lets readers seem them through the eyes of protagonist Nami. Readers will be as torn as she is, wondering if humans and an out-of-control AI can learn to coexist and what it means ethically to decide they cannot. The result is a captivating book that will have readers glued to the pages for the plot even as they ponder some of the big questions of life. (Or, er, of death?)

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Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

4 STARS

Etiquette and Espionage isn’t my favorite book ever, but I think it’s just a matter of my personal taste. If someone likes this sense of humor, or if someone is looking for a lower YA book, this could be a great choice.

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INCENDIARY BY ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA

4 STARS

Incendiary is a solid YA fantasy, one that provides enough detail for readers to immerse themselves in the world, without ever sacrificing action or drama. Renata and her friends will win over readers, making them want to cheer her on, even as they wait desperately for book two to be released.

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MY LAST SUMMER WITH CASS by Mark Crilley

4 STARS

The story behind the themes is a bit predictable, but there were a couple twists that mildly surprised me; I do think the questions the book raises are more interesting than the overarching plot, even when the plot is fun. The friendship between the two girls, lasting over years, is also sweet.

This is a book I would recommend if you’re interested in stories about art, identity, and friendship.

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WICKED SAINTS BY EMILY A. DUNCAN

2 STARS

Wicked Saints will possibly appeal to readers who want more of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. However, the danger in trying to copy another book’s success is that any failure to reach the bar set by the first book becomes more pronounced. Wicked Saints is no substitute for the Grisha trilogy, and it is disappointing to open up a book with a promising summary only to find weak characterization, a bland romance, and a nonsensical plot. I won’t be picking up the sequel.

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HUSH BY DYLAN FARROW

3 STARS

Hush may be appreciated more by readers who missed the dystopian boom after The Hunger Games was published, and so may think that this book reads as more original than it is. For my part, however, Hush proves a lackluster read. I have no plans to read the sequel.

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THE GILDED ONES BY NAMINA FORMA

3 STARS

I was excited to read The Gilded Ones because it seemed like a fresh, action-packed fantasy–just the type of YA book I would enjoy. However, in the end, I could not suspend my disbelief enough to overlook the glaring plot holes. And the depressing vision of a world where girls and women are almost all at the at the mercy of wicked men left me feeling disquieted. I wanted to love this book, but, unfortunately, it did not live up to expectations.

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THE COURT OF MIRACLES BY KESTER GRANT

3 STARS

I enjoyed the action and the intrigue of A Court of Miracles. While it is not a perfectly executed story, it does provide entertainment. And, while I was reading it, that was largely what I wanted. Further, I am not overly attached to the storyline of Les Misérables, so I was able to take the many changes in stride. Readers looking for a YA book that provides plenty of action, drama, and intrigue will likely find this book a winner.

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HOUSE OF EL: THE SHADOW THREAT BY CLAUDIA GRAY

3 STARS

The book is far from perfect. I did not ever feel like I truly go to now Zahn or Sera, and I still have many questions about the world of Krypton itself. However, the story does do a great job at raising interesting questions. How much do genetics determine who we are? Can we ever overcome our genetics to be our own person? What qualities should we look for in people? Do we sometimes overlook the qualities one should have–such as a scientist who needs creativity as well as logic? These questions will likely inspire much reflection on the part of readers. And that, I imagine, would make the author proud.

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ALMOST AMERICAN GIRL BY ROBIN HA

4 STARS

Almost American Girl is a powerful portrayal of both the difficulties and joys of moving to a new place, finding new friends, and starting over. Even readers who do not generally pick up graphic novels may want to give this beautiful memoir a chance.

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One Year at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks

3 STARS

One Year at Ellsmere does at least have Faith Erin Hicks’ wonderful artwork, but that is not enough to make the book feel like it is worth reading. Not when so many graphic novels are being published and there is a wealth of amazing content to choose from. There is an interesting premise here, but it needs an extended storyline and more detailed worldbuilding for the book to be really great.

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Speak for Yourself by Lana Wood Johnson

4 STARS

Speak for Yourself is a gripping novel that combines academic competition, app creation, and a hint of romance to create a story that will have readers cheering on Skylar page after page.

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The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson

4 STARS

So is The Box in the Woods worth reading? Absolutely, if you enjoy an atmospheric mystery and funny banter between characters, or if enjoyed the first three books. If you were disappointed by the way Truly Devious case was cracked, however, you will likely be disappointed again.

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WENCH BY MAXINE KAPLAN

3 STARS

I enjoyed Wench primarily because I loved Tanya’s character. Readers who are excited to see a tavern wench in the starring role may feel the same. However, a lack of detailed worldbuilding and uneven pacing prevent this book from being the truly phenomenal fantasy I hoped it would be.

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A VOW SO BOLD AND DEADLY BY BRIGID KEMMERER

2 STARS

My best guess is that A Vow So Bold and Deadly is meant to depict how leading a country is hard, and sometimes there appear to be no right choices. And, normally, I would find such a book fascinating. In this case, however, the characters were not shown to be trying to do right, but sometimes failing or making a hard call. They were more like different people every time we met up again with them. The way they acted in book one seems very different from how they acted in book two and again in book three. The characterization was everywhere! And normally characterization is Kemmerer’s strength. In the end, it seems rather like Kemmerer was not quite sure how to create her own fantasy world that has rules and politics that make sense–and the whole book suffered as a result.

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THE THEFT OF SUNLIGHT BY INTISAR KHANANI

5 STARS

The Theft of Sunlight is basically everything I like in YA, or just in a really enjoyable story. Strong, nuanced characters. A plot that hooks me and then keeps bringing surprises. Questions about life and morality and one’s own identity. I spent a long time thinking about this book once I finished it, which for me is always the mark of a good read.

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Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee

4 STARS

Ultimately, however, Luck of the Titanic is an engaging novel sure to delight readers looking for a historical fiction that focuses on the little-known tales of the past. The interesting premise, combined with Valora’s amusing disguises and subterfuges, will keep readers turning pages, even if they know how it all must end.

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Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

4 STARS

Six Crimson Cranes is an imaginative, immersive fairy tale retelling that focuses on family and friendship and finding oneself through hard work and sacrifice. Readers will fall in love with protagonist Shiori as she fights to free herself and her brothers from a curse, before their kingdom falls to usurpers.

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Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson

4 STARS

 If you like Matson’s books, it’s a no brainer to pick this one up, as well. If you haven’t read any of her books yet but like contemporary novels with fast-paced plots, complex characters, great girl friendships, and family relationships, check this out.

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THE COUSINS BY KAREN M. MCMANUS

4 STARS

Karen M. McManus solidifies her reputation as a talented writer of YA thrillers with The Cousins. Like her previous release One of Us Is Lying, the book switches among various perspectives to give readers an insider’s look at the potential suspects. Someone in the cousins’ pasts did something to get their parents disinherited. Do any of them know why? Or could they be harboring dangerous secrets of their own? This strategy works to make the readers feel empathetic towards the characters, even as they harbor their own suspicions. A great thriller keeps the audience guessing until the end and this book did that for me. So, while it may not be a perfect read, The Cousins will certainly entertain.

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Into the Heartless Wood

INTO THE HEARTLESS WOOD BY JOANNA RUTH MEYER

3 STARS

While I was expecting more from Into the Heartless Wood after absolutely loving Echo North, it’s a fine book. Readers who want something woodsy and atmospheric and don’t mind a bit of slowness will likely enjoy it. It’s a nice pick if you like fantasy but don’t want over-the-top epic fantasy or drawn-out wars.

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The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

2 STARS

The book is fine, I guess. It’s interesting. People will probably like the hunky love interest. I liked Kiva myself, and her 11-year-old helper in the infirmary. I wanted to like the book, but I just couldn’t when so much of it doesn’t make sense. I know I’m in the minority on this point, however, because I always am.

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SHURI: WAKANDA FOREVER BY NNEDI OKORAFOR, ET AL

4 STARS

Shuri: Wakanda Forever is both a thrilling superhero comic and an emotional look at Shuri’s journey of self-discovery. Fans of Shuri and of Marvel will not want to miss this latest installment in her story.

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The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

4 STARS

The Girl from the Sea is an engrossing story that expertly blends a story of self-acceptance with a hint of romance and a dash of magic. The beautiful artwork only adds to the tale. Readers who enjoy graphic novels, especially ones that blend the fantastic with the everyday, will want to pick this one up.

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IN THE HALL WITH THE KNIFE: CLUE MYSTERY #1 BY DIANA PETERFREUND

2 STARS

In the end, the mystery was easy for me to solve, and I was bored most of the book. I wouldn’t recommend it, and I will be on the lookout for better YA mysteries to read.

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CHARMING AS A VERB BY BEN PHILIPPE

3 STARS

Charming as a Verb has been on my radar for awhile and I had high hopes. A rom com where the romance begins with one party being blackmailed by the other? Intriguing. Unfortunately, however, the characterization of the protagonist, Henri Haltiwanger, felt incomplete and even a little confusing. This was enough to make the book only a so-so read. Something that’s okay, but generally unremarkable.

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The Endless Skies by Shannon Price

2 STARS

This was a big miss for me. I was excited about the book, and I like to think that Tor usually publishes great stuff in their imprint, but this felt very surface-level. I didn’t care about practically anything that was happening, and that made it boring.

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Pride and Premeditation by Tizrah Price

4 STARS

Pride and Premeditation is a fun romp. Yes, the author tries a bit too hard to adopt a writing style reminiscent of Austen’s. And, yes, much of the plot feels like wish fulfillment for contemporary audiences, who seem to like protagonists of historical fiction to be far ahead of their times. And, yet, Pride and Premeditation is an enjoyable read. Because this Lizzie is witty and clever, just like the original. And this Darcy is caring and noble, again like the original And the plot is absolutely a riot. What Austen fan would not find the thought of Mr. Bingley being accused of murder equally hilarious and intriguing? Pride and Premeditation is not like the original, but perhaps that is its charm. It takes an old tale and gives it a clever little twist that many a fan will not be able to resist.

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THE BLACK KIDS BY CHRISTINA HAMMONDS REED

5 STARS

The Black Kids is a beautifully written novel with a powerful story focused on friendship, family, and identity, along with a vibrant protagonist. It is a standout novel, and one certain to stay with its readers.

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OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS BY JUSTIN A. REYNOLDS

3 STARS

Still, by the end, I was actually wondering what Jack would do to solve his problems and end the cycle of time travel. Unfortunately, I only stuck around to the end because I didn’t have another audiobook, so, in another version of events, I would have stopped listening very early on. I am bumping up the star rating for the ending, but I rather wonder how many other people will make it that far.

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These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan

2 STARS

I don’t know that this is a bad book, but it depends on what you’re looking for. Fun steamy Fae book you aren’t going to take too seriously? Sure. A thoughtful fantasy with strong world building and complex characters? Probably not. It wasn’t my thing, but I can see why people looking for a readalike for ACTOAR would be into it.

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GAME CHANGER BY NEAL SHUSTERMAN

3 STARS

Game Changer is certainly a book trying to speak to its political moment. As a result, I imagine it will be a bit controversial. However, if a few readers come away with the eyes opened a bit more or with a commitment to fighting prejudice in their own lives and communities, I think the effort on Shusterman’s part will have been worth it.

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Recommended for You by Laura Silverman

3 STARS

On the whole, Recommended for You is a pretty forgettable read. It hits all the normal notes for a rom-com, but relies too heavily on the premise of being set in a bookstore to try to distinguish itself meaningfully in other ways. I finished the book because it is short, but I never felt invested in it.

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RAVAGE THE DARK BY TARA SIM

3 STARS

Ravage the Dark entertained me immensely while I was reading it, and I think it is a stronger book than Scavenge the Stars. Objectively speaking, however, I have to admit that the worldbuilding is close to nonexistent and that the plot structure is a little too unwieldy. I think fans of YA fantasy will enjoy this one, but it may not be the type of book one wants to return to again and again.

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HUNTED BY MEAGAN SPOONER

3 STARS

If you like fairy tale retellings and “Beauty and the Beast,” check it out. If you want really original take on the story or a YA fantasy that’s epic and complex, this might not be for you.

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Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater

5 STARS

Mister Impossible is a worthy addition to the Dreamer trilogy, a whirlwind ride of action, adventure, and mystery. Fans of Stiefvater’s work may miss some of the characters that they have come to love in previous volumes, but this story gives them new ones to enjoy. And the cliffhanger will certainly have readers clamoring for book three, that they may know that everyone lives happily ever after. We hope.

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The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (Series Review)

5 STARS

I loved the Raven Cycle. It has a feeling of magic about it that is not quite like anything else I have read. I can only hope that Stiefvater continues to write these characters and their enchanting world.

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CONCRETE ROSE BY ANGIE THOMAS

5 STARS

Concrete Rose faces the difficulties of life head on, acknowledging the hard choices that many teens make every day. It tells these teens that they are seen, and heard, and loved. And it reminds them that they are not alone in their struggles, and that there is hope for a brighter future, if they have the courage to imagine it.

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Love And Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

3 STARS

Aside from Olive’s constant need to feel sorry for herself, however, the book is pleasant. It feels like a love letter to Santorini, with the author wanting readers to understand all its beauty and wonder. I had fun exploring with Olive, and I hope that one day we can have more travel stories from Jenna Evans Welch.

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Parachutes by Kelly Yang

4 STARS

On the whole, however, Parachutes is a wonderfully-told story with a timely message about the need to take sexual assault seriously and to listen to the the stories of the survivors. This book is so painful in part because it reads as so true–organizations and privileged individuals and families do very often leverage their wealth and reputations to silence the people that they have harmed. Too often, protecting someone or something that is deemed more “important” takes precedence over protecting people and getting them justice. Seeing that happen to Dani and Claire is heartbreaking, but it is that emotional reaction from readers that I think Yang is hoping to use to inspire her readers to action.

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I Am Not Starfire by Mariko Tamako and Yoshi Yoshitani

3 STARS

DC has released many great graphic novels for tween and teen readers lately. I Am Not Starfire is a solid offering, but not one of the best. The idea is good; the execution is only so-so.

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Namesake by Adrienne Young

4 STARS

Altogether, however, Namesake is a strong YA novel, one that offers adventure, mystery, romance, and a great deal of intrigue. Readers who love books set on the high seas or even books about pirates will want to check out Adrienne Young’s gripping duology.

6 thoughts on “All the YA Novels We’ve Reviewed So Far in 2021 and What We Thought (46 Books!)

  1. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Awesome post! I agree that Hazel Wood is better on its own. I just couldn’t get into cinderella is dead and dnf’d it. It’s not terrible, but it’s nothing special imo. I wanted more from it. Shame about wicked saints- I haven’t heard good things, so I haven’t bothered, because it does sound like a poorly done shadow and bone ripoff. Gilded ones didn’t live up to my expectations either. Ah not going to bother with box in the woods, cos I was so frustrated with the resolution to the mystery. Looking forward to mister impossible and rule of wolves!

    Like

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