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Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
Selected by the Books for Youth editors, the following titles constitute the year’s best personal reading for teenagers among adult books published in 2021. More on each book’s content and suggested audience can be found in the full-length Booklist review.
Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist. By Sesali Bowen. Amistad, $24.99 (9780063028708).
Coiner of the term trap feminist, referring to the intersection of feminism and hip-hop, Bowen meticulously deconstructs the elitist veil of feminism and honors Black women from the hood with long nails, loud voices, and tough exteriors.
Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally. By Emily Ladau. Ten Speed, $16 (9781984858979).
Ladau, a prominent disability rights activist, aims this timely guide at nondisabled folks hoping to do the work of dismantling ableism. Accessible, practical advice and informative context make this a well-designed and user-friendly resource.
Paradise Found: A High School Football Team’s Rise from the Ashes. By Bill Plaschke. Morrow, $28.99 (9780063014510).
During the cataclysmic 2018 wildfire season, the resilient Paradise High School football team overcame tremendous obstacles and forged an unbreakable bond to fight their way back to an unbeaten season and a spot in the playoffs.
A Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching: Getting to Know the World’s Most Misunderstood Bird. By Rosemary Mosco. Illus. by the author. Workman, $14.95 (9781523511341).
Mosco, a science communicator and cartoonist, champions the pigeon in this engaging history and guide to every city’s most infamous bird. Accessible, funny, and charmingly presented, this book dovetails with the recent uptick in birding across the country.
She Memes Well. By Quinta Brunson. Mariner, $25 (9781328638984).
In this hilarious and poignant memoir, comedian Brunson shares her childhood and path to internet fame, as well as honest stories of what it’s like to be a Black performer in the predominantly white world of comedy.
The Ugly Cry. By Danielle Henderson. Viking, $27 (9780525559351).
TV writer Henderson’s focused, humorous, and careful memoir traces the traumatic circumstances that led her to live with her hilariously no-nonsense grandma through her 1980s childhood, ending just before she goes to college.
Gold Diggers. By Sanjena Sathian. Penguin, $27 (9781984882035).
Average high-schooler Neeraj learns that by consuming the gold jewelry of gifted Indian Americans, he can steal their potential. Filled with pathos, humor, and an adrenaline-pumping heist, Sathian’s spectacular debut also highlights the steep costs of the American dream.
How to Kidnap the Rich. By Rahul Raina. Harper, paper, $17 (9780063028784).
Raina’s fun caper takes on India’s social hierarchy through the character of Ramesh, a self-styled educational consultant who takes exams for his rich clients’ kids. When 18-year-old Rudi gains fame as a result, it sets a kidnapping plot in motion.
Infinite Country. By Patricia Engel. Simon & Schuster/Avid Reader, $25 (9781982159467).
Fifteen-year-old Talia has a problem: her brilliant idea of tying up a nun has landed her in a correctional facility for adolescent girls when she should be in Bogotá with her father, preparing to reunite with family in the U.S.
Libertie. By Kaitlyn Greenidge. Algonquin, $26.95 (9781616207014).
In this historical novel, Greenidge recounts the coming-of-age of a free Black girl whose widowed mother is a coolly independent doctor, beautifully weaving the story of their intense relationship into the wider context of the nineteenth-century Black experience.
Lore Olympus, v.1. By Rachel Smythe. Art by the author. Del Rey, $26.99 (9780593160299).
Beautiful artwork and compelling characters take the center stage in this romantic, tech-savvy graphic novel retelling of Greek mythology, which offers a sensitive and elegant take on the myth of Hades and Persephone.
Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body. By Megan Milks. Feminist, $17.95 (9781952177804).
Adolescence throws mystery-obsessed Margaret for a loop, ushering in a severe eating disorder for which she enters a treatment facility. There, magic, tween nostalgia, teen angst, and a rekindled sense of self blend, evoking the chaos of growing up.
My Heart Is a Chainsaw. By Stephen Graham Jones. Saga, $26.99 (9781982137632).
Jade, half-Indian, poor, and motherless, finds solace in slasher movies of the 1980s. Her knowledge of the genre’s themes comes in handy when rich investors arrive in her community, stirring up its troubling history of mass murders and lake witches.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built. By Becky Chambers. Tor.com, $20.99 (9781250236210).
Dex, who lives a quiet, fulfilling life as a monk, encounters a relic from their planet’s past and begins to contemplate their own purpose. Quiet, offbeat, and hinting at historical catastrophe, this character-driven story is contemplative sf at its best.
The Turnout. By Megan Abbott. Putnam, $27 (9780593084908).
At the Durant School of Dance, the beauty and horror of ballet emerge as its troupe of teens rehearses The Nutcracker. Psychosexual undercurrents run throughout this haunting, multifaceted novel, which stands perfectly poised between youthful innocence and adulthood.
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