Best of 2021: Teen

Updated: February 7, 2023

The best books of the year, as selected by Los Angeles Public Library staff. Perfect for holiday gift-giving! More books for young adults are at LAPL Teen Web.

Book cover for Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales
Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales
Chainani, Soman/ Iredale, Julia (ILT)

Twelve remixed fairy tales that reflect people you might come across in real life. The people are in all colors of the rainbow and will challenge what you thought about fairy tales. Chainani beautifully weaves prose with gorgeous art by Julia Iredale. What if Red Riding Hood won? What if girls and boys get themselves out of trouble without waiting for royalty to save them? Each story will remind you of the originals, but with new life breathed into them, and make you think about them long after you close the book. Read and savor these intense, gritty and chilling stories.

Book cover for Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
Colbert, Brandy
Call Number: 309.76686 C684

This is young adult nonfiction at its best. Comprehensive and compelling, researched with care, and recounted with compassion for the victims, Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre should be required reading in all high school history classes. Brandy Colbert brings together the diverse threads of U.S. history, from Reconstruction to the Trail of Tears, from the racist roots of police-as-slave-catchers to white resentment against Black WWI veterans and the Black middle class, to portray the interconnected causes and horrifying events of an undeniably American atrocity.

Book cover for Blackout
Call Number: YA

An incredibly unique story written by six favorite YA authors (Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Dohnielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nicola Yoon, and Ashley Woodfolk). The story weaves love, loss, life, and joy among black teens and others during a blackout in New York City. Pick up this book today before Netflix puts out their version.

Book cover for Blood Like Magic
Blood Like Magic
Sambury, Liselle
Call Number: YA

Voya Thomas has been waiting for her calling, that a witch must pass, in order to access powers that run in her family. The first time she fails. but surprisingly is given a second chance. Failure is not an option because she’d strip her entire family of the magic that sustains them, She is horrified to learn that she must kill her first love. Never having been in love, she joins a genetic matchmaking program knowing her match must die at her hands…or do they?

Book cover for Dustborn
Bowman, Erin
Call Number: YA

In a post-apocalyptic land full of sand and wind, Delta has grown up being told to cover the map that is branded on her back. When raiders attack her village, she must try to rescue them but meets obstacle after obstacle in the rough terrain. Will she be able to trust anyone? Will she find her family and the life they're looking for? 

Book cover for Excuse me while I ugly cry
Excuse me while I ugly cry
Goffney, Joya
Call Number: YA

An excellently paced realistic romantic novel. Quinn is a girl who keeps lists of everything, especially her fears. Suddenly her journal of lists goes missing. An anonymous Instagram post springs up with one of her lists and she's blackmailed into facing her fears. Teaming up with Carter, who saw her journal last, she races to track down the blackmailer and finally face her fears.

Book cover for The girls I've been
The girls I've been
Sharpe, Tess
Call Number: YA

There are lots of twists and turns in this multilayered book, where Nora O’Malley has lived several lives. She helped her con-artist father target criminals, but when Nora’s own mother falls for one of them, Nora escapes. For several years she leads a normal life, but things change when her ex-boyfriend walks in on Nora and her girlfriend kissing. More complications follow when she is standing in line at a bank where a robbery takes place. But the robbers don’t know what readers know--the different faces Nora can wear.

Book cover for Indestructible object
Indestructible object
McCoy, Mary, 1976-
Call Number: YA

Lee thought she knew her life's path with her long-term boyfriend Vincent, and their podcast, until he breaks up with her. As she drifts, looking for a new purpose, she gets her friend Max and a new friend, Risa, to help with a podcast to explore whether love exists. As Lee starts to fall for Risa, she will come to terms with love, its many forms, and how all of this happens unexpectedly. This is realistic fiction in a wonderful setting.

Book cover for Last Night at the Telegraph Club
Last Night at the Telegraph Club
Lo, Malinda
Call Number: YA

This historical fiction is set in San Francisco, in 1954, when Chinese Americans and immigrants had to live under increased paranoia, racism, and suspicion for having Communist ideas. Lily is interested in discovering what’s outside her Chinatown home. Her parents warned her not to leave their immediate neighborhood, but Lily ventures forth to various places, such as the Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar. This is where she slowly discovers herself and a relationship with her first white friend, Kathleen. All of this means that Lily may end up in dangerous situations and more than she bargained for.

Book cover for Luck of the Titanic
Luck of the Titanic
Lee, Stacey
Call Number: YA

Valora Luck has set her sights on leaving England and making her way to New York to be an acrobat in a circus. Just before boarding a ship, she's turned away because she is Chinese. Because she must reunite with her twin brother nothing stops her from finding a way to get on board, and then hide. Will she realize her big dream, or will circumstances get in the way? Historical fiction at its best.

Book cover for Violet ghosts
Violet ghosts
Thomas, Leah, 1989-
Call Number: YA

A heartfelt novel about Dani, a trans boy, whose childhood has been spent hiding from an abusive parent. However, he has a best friend who is a ghost, and Dani starts helping Sarah save other murdered ghosts.  When an old enemy resurfaces, he has to rethink past events in his life, and what he wants for his life in the future.

Book cover for White Smoke
White Smoke
Jackson, Tiffany D.

Marigold and her family move to a new town to leave behind her old pains, but this proves to be anything but a fresh start when there seems to be evil lurking in the town. Why is everyone so reticent to tell her about the town's past? Why does the town look so desolate? What are those noises she's hearing in the dark? 

Book cover for Wings of Ebony
Wings of Ebony
Elle, J.
Call Number: YA

The first book in an enthralling new series that is a mix of magic and reality.​ Rue's mom is murdered; she's taken from her home by a father she's never met; and then she must leave behind her sister. Rue is taken to Ghizon, an island of magic wielders who are hidden from the eyes of regular mortals. This is where she is grudgingly taught magic. However, she is desperate to return to her sister​ and put a stop to the violence and crime the neighborhood kids are forced into.


Book cover for Witches Steeped in Gold
Witches Steeped in Gold
Smart, Ciannon
Call Number: YA

Enemy witches must enter an uneasy alliance in order to survive.This Jamaican inspired fantasy will keep you changing your mind on who is the hero. First book in a new series.