Must-read YA for the second half of 2021

There are some really exciting YA books coming out in the second half of this year, so buckle up! Your TBR pile is about to grow…


Half My Luck by Samera Kamaleddine (released on 28 July 2021)

Layla Karimi is sort of Australian and sort of Lebanese: a ‘halfie’ who doesn’t really fit into either world. So when all hell breaks loose at a beach party, Layla finds herself caught between her friends and the Lebanese kids who call themselves ‘the Cedar Army’ (of which her cousin Sufia is the Queen Bee). One group has been wrongfully accused and Layla knows the truth that could help clear them. But will she speak up?

Half My Luck was the inaugural winner of the Matilda Children’s Literature Prize, and promises to be an authentic exploration of personal and cultural identity. I feel like there needs to be a lot more YA written about negotiating mixed cultural identity, so I’m very excited about this debut!


The Monster of her Age by Danielle Binks (released on 28 July 2021)

As a child, Ellie Marsden shared the silver screen with her grandmother, legendary actress Lottie Lovinger, in her one-and-only role playing the child monster in a cult horror movie. The experience left Ellie deeply traumatised and estranged from people she loved. Now seventeen, Ellie has returned home to Hobart; Lottie is dying and Ellie wants to make peace with her. When a chance encounter with a young film buff leads her to a feminist horror film collective, Ellie meets Riya, a girl who she might be able to show her real self to, and at last comes to understand her family’s legacy - and her own part in it.

I adored Binks’s sensitive debut middle grade novel, The Year the Maps Changed, and it’s going to be exciting reading her writing for a YA readership.


Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn (released on 3 August 2021)

Fifteen-year-old biracial teen Amandla lives with her White mum in the South African township of Sugar Town. Amandla’s mum has strange episodes and visions and has never been forthcoming about her own family or their history. So when Amandla finds a mysterious address in her mother’s handbag along with a large amount of cash, she decides it’s finally time to get some answers. With her best friends at her side, Amandla is ready to take on family secrets and the devil himself.

I really enjoyed Malla Nunn’s first YA novel, When the Ground is Hard (which won the prestigious Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young literature), so I’m really looking forward to reading this. The focus on friendship, community and Zulu culture sounds great.


Anything But Fine by Tobias Madden (released 31 August 2021)

Luca is ready to audition for the Australian Ballet School. All it takes to crush his dreams is one missed step…and a broken foot. Jordan is the gorgeous rowing star and school captain of Luca’s new school. Everyone says he’s straight - but Luca’s not so sure. As their unlikely bond grows stronger, Luca starts to wonder: who is he without ballet? And is he setting himself up for another heartbreak?

As a person who is addicted to dance movies despite having two left feet, I am pumped for this debut from Tobias Madden. I’ve been leaning heavily on romance narratives in pandemic times, and I think there’s a real need for stories about young people having to cope with changes to their career ambitions and dreams.


It’s Not You, It’s Me by Gabrielle Williams (released on 31 August 2021)

Holly Fitzgerald has inexplicably woken up inside the body of an LA teenager called Trinity Byrne in 1980 - trapping Trinity in Holly’s forty-year-old body back in Melbourne, 2020. Holly finds herself navigating a brand-new body, family and cute boy next door - not to mention rock band that might just make it, and potential kidnapper. Meanwhile, lies intersect with truth, hurtling both Holly and Trinity towards a dangerous fate as the connections between them grow deeper and stranger than either could have ever imagined.

I love, love, love a good soul swap story and, after watching the Linda Lindas on repeat recently, I am here for the all-girl punk band and Eighties setting. Williams' books are always smart and funny, so I’m counting down the days.


Parachutes by Kelly Yang (released 1 September 2021)

Shanghai student Claire never thought she’d be a “parachute” - a teen dropped off to study in the United States while their parents remain in Asia - until her parents enrol her at a Californian high school. Dani, Claire’s new host sister, couldn’t be less thrilled that her mom rented out a room to Claire. Dani is determined to earn her way into Yale, even if it means competing with privileged kids who are buying their way to the top. Even though they think they have nothing in common, Claire and Dani are on a collision course of race, privilege, power and misogyny that will test them to the limit.

I recently read Parachutes and I can unequivocally say it’s the best book I’ve read this year. Powerful, timely and eye-opening, I can’t recommend it highly enough. A small note of caution, there is sexual violence in this book, if that’s something you avoid reading about.


Stars in Their Eyes by Jessica Walton & Aśka (released 28 September 2021)

Pop culture-obsessed Maisie can’t wait to get to her first Fancon and meet her hero, actor Kara Bufano. But being a queer, disabled teenager with chronic pain comes with challenges. Fancon is big and exciting and exhausting. Then she meets Ollie, a cute, non-binary volunteer who she has a lot in common with. Could this be the start of something, or will her mum, who doesn’t seem to know what boundaries are, embarrass her before she and Ollie have a chance?

Since reading Jessica Walton’s funny and touching short story in the anthology Meet Me at the Intersection, I’ve been itching to see it turned into something longer. And here we are! A graphic novel with artwork by illustrator, storyteller and science communicator Aśka. I cannot wait to read it.


Social Queue by Kay Kerr (released 28 September 2021)

High school was a mess of bullying and autistic masking that left eighteen-year-old Zoe Kelly burnt out and shut down. Now, with an internship at an online media company, she is ready to reinvent herself. But she didn’t count on returning to her awkward high-school experiences for her first writing assignment. When her piece, about her non-existent dating life, goes viral, Zoe finds herself with a deadline and a list of romantic contenders from the past to reconnect with for her piece on dating.

Kay Kerr’s sparkling debut Please Don’t Hug Me was a delight, and Social Queue promises to be equally funny and heart-warming. I do love a YA novel that deals with that nebulous and confusing time just post-high school.


If Not Us by Mark Smith (released 28 September 2021)

Hesse lives in a coastal town, where a coal-mine and power station are a part of the scenery, and part of the problem of climate change. His mum is a member of a local environmental group campaigning to close both down. Hesse is more interested in surfing - and in Fenna, the new Dutch exchange student. But when someone tries to derail the campaign, and his friends' families face losing their jobs, Hesse begins to realise that things are complex. With Fenna’s encouragement Hesse decides to speak up, but he has no idea of the storm he’s about to unleash.

Mark Smith’s gripping Winter trilogy was a huge hit and much loved, and If Not Us is his first standalone novel. I love that it focusses on the very timely and relevant themes of climate change and youth activism, and you can guarantee the coastal setting will be vivid.


Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (released 2 November 2021)

When we last saw Squad 312, they working together seamlessly (aka, freaking out) as an intergalactic battle raged and an ancient superweapon threatened to obliterate Earth. Everything went horribly wrong, naturally. But as it turns out, not all endings are endings, and the team has one last chance to rewrite theirs. Cue Zila, Fin, and Scarlett (and MAGELLAN!): making friends, making enemies, and making history? Sure, no problem. Cue Tyler, Kal, and Auri: uniting with two of the galaxy’s most hated villains? Um, okay. That, too. Actually saving the galaxy, though? Now that will take a miracle.

I am stuck between cheering at the thought of finally getting to read this, the final book in The Aurora Cycle trilogy, and sobbing at the thought that it will be over. This trilogy has already brought me so much joy (and tension, tears and laughter), and I know this final book is going to be an absolute doozy.


Leanne Hall is the children’s specialist for Readings online. She also writes books for children and young adults.

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Sugar Town Queens

Sugar Town Queens

Malla Nunn

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