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The Ultimate YA Summer Reading List

by Laura Lambert

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Summer 2021 may still not be 100% normal — but then again, what is normal? Masks or no masks, distance or no distance, the upcoming summer months hold the promise of beach reads, escapism, and a feeling that we’re approaching the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next.

To usher in your post-pandemic normal, here are 18 highly readable YA books to keep you company.

  • Books that are more than a beach read

  • We Are Inevitable

    by Gayle Forman

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    “A father and son in a failing used bookstore, spending long, aimless days consuming words no one around here buys anymore.” That’s the set-up, straight from beloved YA author Gayle Forman’s latest, We Are Inevitable. Ira and his 19-year-old son, Aaron, are on the brink of losing the family business. They’ve lost much more — a son (and brother) to overdose and a wife (and mother) to grief. Somehow, the community comes together to help them become whole again.

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  • The Passing Playbook

    by Isaac Fitzsimons

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    The Passing Playbook is part coming-out story, part YA romance — with a twist. “This contemporary sports romance subverts typical patterns of coming-out stories about transgender youth by centering the feelings of the transgender main character, giving him full agency over his identity disclosure, and providing him with an affirming support system that includes other queer and transgender characters,” says Kirkus.

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  • From Little Tokyo, With Love

    by Sarah Kuhn

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    From Little Tokyo, With Love is written like a modern-day fairy tale. But for Rika Rakuyama, who is half-Japanese, it’s not about finding her prince — it’s about finding her lost mother and her place in the world.

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  • Off the Record

    by Camryn Garrett

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    Seventeen-year-old Josie Wright, a budding teen journalist, gets the opportunity to write about an up-and-coming film star. But the real story, as she discovers, is less about charming celebrities and more about #MeToo scandals. “The narrative deftly deals with several weighty topics at once, including mental wellness, sibling drama, body-image issues, and sexual and racial identity,” says Kirkus.

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  • Books about that crazy thing called love

  • Perfectly Parvin

    by Olivia Abtahi

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    Kirkus calls Perfectly Parvin “a diverse, fast-paced, feminist romance.” The characters are indeed diverse, with 14-year-old Parvin Mohammadi’s parent-enforced Farsi lessons and an Iranian aunt caught up in the Muslim travel ban, as well as characters that are bisexual and pansexual. But at its heart, this breezy YA title is about trying to find love by pretending to be someone else when being yourself is all that matters.

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  • What’s Not to Love

    by Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberley

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    Alison Sanger and Ethan Molloy are the very definitions of high school frenemies. The two high-achieving academic rivals compete in AP classes, on the school paper, and in popularity contests. In the fourth book by husband-and-wife YA authors Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberley, you can guess where all that tension leads — a kiss.

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  • Some Girls Do

    by Jennifer Dugan

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    From the author of Hot Dog Girl and Verona Comics comes Some Girls Do, a queer romance between two high schoolers, Ruby Thompson and Morgan Matthews. They’re from two different worlds — Ruby is a mostly closeted bisexual beauty queen (not by choice) who has a “trashy” reputation. Morgan is an out, proud Catholic School transfer who’s eyeing a track scholarship for college. A chance encounter in the school parking lot sends them into each other's orbit.

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  • A Taste for Love

    by Jennifer Yen

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    If you love Jenny Han, Jane Austen, Chinese baked goods, and boba, A Taste for Love will satisfy you on many levels. Liza Yang, a high school senior, is flattered when her mother asks her to judge the Yang Bakery and Restaurant’s Junior Baking Competition. That is, until Liza realizes it’s just a ploy to find her a nice Asian boyfriend. Says Kirkus, "This is a story that highlights love not only through the romance storyline, but also in the push-pull dynamic between immigrant parents and their children, moments of sisterly banter and bonding, and bubble tea shared between best friends.”

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  • Sunkissed

    by Kasie West

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    In this watered-down Dirty Dancing tale, 17-year-old Avery finds love on a two-month family vacation at a remote California resort. This easy, breezy summer read by prolific YA author Kasie West is perfect for reading on a relaxing beach day.

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  • Instructions for Dancing

    by Nicola Yoon

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    This book is the latest not-so-typical YA romance novel from Nicola Yoon, the author of Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also a Star. It starts with 17-year-old Evie Thomas, who gets disillusioned by the implosion of her parents’ marriage. When a chance encounter with a book, Instructions for Dancing, sets her life on a supernatural path, she must confront her feelings about love and heartbreak.

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  • Books to transport you to another time and place

  • Luck of the Titanic

    by Stacey Lee

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    We all know what happens to the Titanic. But for 17-year-old Valora Luck — an aspiring acrobat — the luxury ocean liner is her ticket from England to America. She plans to join the circus in New York and to reunite with her twin brother. Even though you know how it ends, Luck of the Titanic is a lively, layered piece of historical fiction. Says Publishers Weekly, “A finely crafted historical exploration of identity, class, and family that resonates through the present.”

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  • A River of Royal Blood

    by Amanda Joy

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    The first of two books set in Myre, an ancient North African-inspired fantasy world, A River of Royal Blood pits sister against sister — 16-year-old Eva versus her older sister Isa, in a fight to the death to secure the Ivory Throne. “A surprising twist and multiple unsolved mysteries will leave readers looking forward to the next book,” says Kirkus.

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  • The Gilded Ones

    by Namina Forna

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    The Gilded Ones is Namina Forna’s debut book, the first in a YA fantasy trilogy inspired by her experiences as a young girl in West Africa and America. In it, 16-year-old Deka is terrified she’ll get exiled from her village. Instead, she discovers she is an alaki — a nearly immortal warrior, with gold and magic running through her veins.

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  • Spin the Dawn

    by Elizabeth Lim

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    Equal parts Mulan and Project Runway, Spin the Dawn is the story of Maia Tamarin, arguably the best tailor on the Silk Road who must pretend to be a boy to save her family and serve the emperor. “So often, fantasy seems to feel the need to focus on the most extreme characters a society has to offer, following the stories of assassins, royals, fighters, and thieves,” Caitlyn Paxson writes in a review for NPR. “It's less common for a book to focus instead on the lives of craftspeople who build the castles, cook the feasts and sew the epic gowns that are the hallmarks of the genre.”

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Looking for summer reading ideas for younger kids? Check out our 2021 lists for Kids Ages 3 – 5, Ages 6 – 8, and Ages 9 – 12.