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YA Book Reviews by Amy

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YA Book Reviews by Amy: My Top 8 Reads of 2021

While the year is closing in, I still plan on reading five more books to reach my goal of 100 titles. It is going to be tight, but I think I can make it! I have read some new favorites, some not-so-great books, books I will remember forever, and ones that I already forgot! I wanted to share my top 8 books that I have read this year.

I would recommend any of these titles to any YA readers. Maybe I have intrigued you to read one of my favorites.

8th Place:

The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis

Tress’s life completely changed one night when she was ten, after her parents went missing when driving her best friend Felicity home from a sleepover. Felicity was found injured and dirtied, but there was not a trace of Tress’s parents. Now years later, these old friends have become worse than strangers—they’re enemies. Tress wants answers and revenge. Will she commit a heinous crime to learn the truth of that night?

The Initial Insult - McGinnis, Mindy

This is a modern retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s Cask of Amontillado which is both suspenseful and amazing. Mindy McGinnis does a fabulous job mixing the ugliness of humanity and the harsh realities of life and death. There is a panther that steals the show in this book that is both dangerous and poetic. This book is truly great read if you like a thrilling tale and a perfect homage to Poe.  I cannot wait for the sequel which comes out in 2022!

Available on Overdrive and at the library* for checkout.

7th Place:

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

14 stories about 14 teens placed in a Japanese incarceration camp after the events of Pearl Harbor during World War II.

We Are Not Free - Chee, Traci

I found this book to be incredibly powerful and important to read these stories since I knew very little about the Japanese internment camps. This is not only a must read because of the beautiful writing and the collage novel aspects (i.e. paintings, maps, letters, and more), but I also listened to the audiobook and that was incredibly well done. I would suggest reading and listening to it. A must read if you like historical fiction that packs a punch.

Available on Overdrive, as an eAudiobook on Hoopla, and at the library* for checkout.

6th Place:

Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

Waylon is gay and is one of the few openly out in his high school which makes him a target. He does not have many friends, but who needs friends when you have a twin sister that is always there for him. When his sister derails their future college plans, Waylon is lost. What makes matters even worse is a tape of him auditioning for Fiercest of Them All, a drag television show, leaks throughout the school. His drag persona Pumpkin is ridiculed, and he is jokingly nominated for prom queen. Hannah, Waylon’s sister’s girlfriend is also nominated as prom king; both decide to run for those positions and they might even have a chance of winning.

Pumpkin - Murphy, Julie

This was such a fantastic conclusion to the Clover City companion novels (you do not have to read Dumplin’ or Puddin’ to enjoy this book, but it makes it that much richer!). I found myself genuinely being happy and positive while reading and it got me out of a severe reading slump. Waylon is learning to be true to himself, and he finds acceptance with others and through him. This was one of the most fun books that I have read this year.

Available on Overdrive and at the library* for checkout.

5th Place:

My Contrary Mary by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Mary Queen of Scots has a secret, she is an Eðian, a person that has the ability to turn into an animal magically. In a world that is persecuting Eðians, Mary is not safe and if anyone were to find out about her, it could mean death. Mary is set to marry childhood friend, Frances (the future king of France). Will they have a happy marriage? Are they ready to rule France during turmoil in Europe? Will a local psychic help or hinder their plans?

My Contrary Mary - Hand, Cynthia

This story is much fun, and I find the authors to be hilarious. The authors started writing these books to rewrite tragic histories into something happier. Like most authors that write historical fiction, a lot of research went into this book. Also, this book is one of my favorites because of the strong characters, links to history, and is truly hilarious. Please read if you want a good laugh!

Available on Overdrive and at the library* for checkout.

4th Place:

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

Felicity has returned to Dalloway School after the death of her best friend and girlfriend, Alex. After a year of researching, Felicity wants to find out the truth of the Dalloway Five: five girls that were accused of being witches and murdered in seemingly impossible ways. Not sure what to believe other than thinking she is being haunted by Alex and the house she lives in seems alive, Felicity wants to move on after her senior year. Ellis, new girl and author, moves into her building and starts prompting Felicity to remember. What is real? And what is not?

A Lesson in Vengeance - Lee, Victoria

This book pays respect to many gothic and spooky stories such as Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and so many others, but remains to be absolutely original and fantastic. I was constantly interested in Felicity and her story along with learning the history of the school and the deaths of the witches. I knew right when I started reading it that it was a special book and it was truly an experience! One of the best books I have read this year, especially when looking at Victoria Lee’s writing style; it was so good. This will keep you on your toes!

Available as an eBook on Overdrive and at the library* for checkout.

3rd Place:

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky

Rachel is trying to forget about her traumatic past after a home invasion. Moving to a new house and attending a new school may help, but she has not made many friends. Rachel also begins to have a slight obsession with horror movies to cope with her incident. When she finds a group of friends that are a part of the Mary Shelley club, they begin to become close while watching, writing, and performing everything horror. Could this club be doing more harm to Rachel than good?

The Mary Shelley Club - Moldavsky, Goldy

This was such a good book and was super suspenseful and creepy. This is a mix of mystery, thriller, and horror. This book read like a slasher movie, and I would love to see it turn into a miniseries. While it reads like a standalone, I also would love to read a sequel! I could not stop reading until it was too late and too creepy to read in the dark, and then when I picked the book up the next day, I couldn’t put it down. The best horror book that I have ever read!

Available on Overdrive and at the library* for checkout.

2nd Place:

Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft

Wren is a healer that is discharged from her position from the Queen’s Guard when she doesn’t follow orders. Without a clear path in life, Wren accepts a healing job at an isolated estate. The letter is from neutral lord that wants his servant to be cured. When Wren arrives, she quickly realizes that the man is not a servant, but Hal Cavendish, a fierce fighter for the other side of the war. Can she heal a man in which causes death to her people? Does his reputation match up to his true past actions? Will Wren find her place in which she feels useful and wanted?

Down Comes the Night - Saft, Allison

This standalone book is the perfect mix of magic, political intrigue, romance, and self-discovery. I wholeheartedly enjoyed this book cover to cover. I loved Wren and felt like I could really relate to her. This just solidifies that I enjoy reading books about magical healers! I cannot wait to read more of Allison Saft in the future. Read this is you enjoy a light fantasy read with some great romantic moments.

Available on Overdrive and at the library* for checkout.

My Favorite Book of 2021:

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

In this historical fiction novel that is inspired by Romeo and Juliet, tensions run high in 1926 Shanghai. Juliette returns home after four years in America; as the rightful heir to the Scarlet Gang, Juliette must be strong enough to become the stone-cold leader even when her heart was broken by the rival gang heir, Roma of the White Roses. When a deadly sickness running rampant and people are witnessing a monster, Juliette and Roma must put their past and prejudice behind them and work together to save Shanghai.

These Violent Delights - Gong, Chloe

My favorite book of 2021. I just enjoyed all aspects of this story; historical fiction with a classic retelling twist? Sign me up! I connected to the characters and fell for our secondary characters as well. The plot is simple but many faceted with it being part retelling, part horror, part historical fiction, and part romance. I also read the sequel, Our Violent Ends and I truly think that it is one of the best duologies that I have ever read. So good, and I would suggest it to all readers that enjoy YA. I read this book so early on in the year and just recently finished the sequel, so it feels like this year has been book ended by this duology.

Available in Overdrive and in Hoopla as an eAudiobook and in the library* for checkout.

*check the link for available copies or to place on hold


Hello everyone! I’m Amy and I am a Youth Services Librarian at the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. When I’m not trying to reach my reading goal for the year, I like to talk about what I’m reading to my family, friends, and coworkers. You could say I am a little obsessed with reading Young Adult books. I enjoy most genres, but my favorites include: Westerns, Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Fantasy, and Mystery. I am always looking for the next great book that makes me connect to its characters and hits me in the feels.