THE 2021 NERDIES: YOUNG ADULT FICTION (PART TWO) ANNOUNCED BY A CHAPTER OF NERDS

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Today marks the end of the 2021 Nerdy Book Club Awards. Our final Nerdies’ post shares the second half of the Young Adult Fiction winners. Thank you to everyone who nominated books for this year’s awards and wrote announcement posts and reviews. We hope everyone found a few new books to read and share with the young people in your life.

All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’ Donoghue

Walker Books US

After Maeve finds a pack of tarot cards while cleaning out a closet during her in-school suspension, she quickly becomes the most sought-after diviner at St. Bernadette’s Catholic school. But when Maeve’s ex–best friend, Lily, draws an unsettling card called The Housekeeper that Maeve has never seen before, the session devolves into a heated argument that ends with Maeve wishing aloud that Lily would disappear. When Lily isn’t at school the next Monday, Maeve learns her ex-friend has vanished without a trace.

Shunned by her classmates and struggling to preserve a fledgling romance with Lily’s gender-fluid sibling, Roe, Maeve must dig deep into her connection with the cards to search for clues the police cannot find—even if they lead to the terrifying Housekeeper herself. Set in an Irish town where the church’s tight hold has loosened and new freedoms are trying to take root, this sharply contemporary story is witty, gripping, and tinged with mysticism.–Description from Goodreads

American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Rani Kelkar has never lied to her parents, until she meets Oliver. The same qualities that draw her in–his tattoos, his charisma, his passion for art–make him her mother’s worst nightmare.

They begin dating in secret, but when Oliver’s troubled home life unravels, he starts to ask more of Rani than she knows how to give, desperately trying to fit into her world, no matter how high the cost. When a twist of fate leads Rani from Evanston, Illinois to Pune, India for a summer, she has a reckoning with herself–and what’s really brewing beneath the surface of her first love.

Winner of the SCBWI Emerging Voices award, Anuradha Rajurkar takes an honest look at the ways cultures can clash in an interracial relationship. Braiding together themes of sexuality, artistic expression, and appropriation, she gives voice to a girl claiming ownership of her identity, one shattered stereotype at a time.–Description from Goodreads

Last Night at The Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo 

Dutton Books for Young Readers

Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club won the 2021 National Book Award and the soul of my 15-year-old yearning self now rooted in a 50-year-old body. You know, that teenager full of possibility, still inside you that sometimes emboldens you to make a change, try something new, and yes, fall in love again? This book spoke to that girl.  

17-year-old Lily Hu lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the 1950s. Her community, her family, and her friends have made it quite clear that they expect her to be modest, respectful, obedient, and feminine. Yet she dreams of working at a Jet Propulsion Lab and has deep-down longings for something beyond the tight-knit blocks of Chinatown. After seeing a magazine ad for Tommy Andrews, a male impersonator at the Telegraph Club, she knows she must follow that longing. Finding a shared interest in science with Kath, a white classmate, Lily reveals her curiosity in the Telegraph Club. They sneak out and escape to the club where they explore their sexuality and identity. Lo’s skilled, beautiful writing slowly reveals their growing feelings for each other. Yes, this is a love story, but it is also one of the best descriptions of youthful desire that I have seen in print. And not just sexual desire but the desire to understand yourself, find your way, and be your own person. It is urgent, breathless, undeniable, invigorating, and scary. Lily is torn between her awakening feelings, her family’s expectations, and society’s homophobia. Add to the mix America’s growing Red Scare paranoia.  

Lo also includes amazing back matter about the history of this time and queer history, in particular. All our teenagers (even those inside us older folks) need this story to help grab on to that desire and find and nurture our authentic selves. —Abby Harrison 

Love Is a Revolution by Renée Watson

Bloomsbury YA

When Nala Robertson reluctantly agrees to attend an open mic night for her cousin-sister-friend Imani’s birthday, she finds herself falling in instant love with Tye Brown, the MC. He’s perfect, except . . . Tye is an activist and is spending the summer putting on events for the community when Nala would rather watch movies and try out the new seasonal flavors at the local creamery. In order to impress Tye, Nala tells a few tiny lies to have enough in common with him. As they spend more time together, sharing more of themselves, some of those lies get harder to keep up. As Nala falls deeper into keeping up her lies and into love, she’ll learn all the ways love is hard, and how self-love is revolutionary.

In Love Is a Revolution, plus size girls are beautiful and get the attention of the hot guys, the popular girl clique is not shallow but has strong convictions and substance, and the ultimate love story is not only about romance but about how to show radical love to the people in your life, including to yourself.–Description from Goodreads

Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson

Scholastic Press

In a joyous celebration of Black sapphic love, friendship, and connection Leah Johnson follows up her stunning debut You Should See Me In a Crown with another strong YA title sure to leave readers swooning. Olivia and Toni aren’t looking for love when they arrive at the Farmland Music and Arts Festival, but when their paths cross they team up to fulfill their festival plans they find it hard to resist falling for each other. Johnson excels here at both character voice and setting, teens will be swept into not just the feeling of falling for someone but of being held up and embraced by music and community. In a year when it could be hard to feel connected, Rise to the Sun is a riotous ode to queer love, art, creation, and the power of being seen and embraced by connection. Besides assuring Johnson’s place as one of YA’s most important new voices, this was just the book teens needed at the moment they needed it the most: a true light in the darkness.–Angie Manfredi

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is a love story, but one in which the happy ending is anything but inevitable.  When Penelope Prado confesses to her parents that she’s been lying to them about attending nursing school, because her heart is set on running her family’s restaurant Nacho’s Tacos, they not only fire her as their employee, they also give her a choice: go back to school and continue to live under their roof OR quit school and find a new place to call home.  When Xander Amaro is hired to work in the kitchen at Nacho’s Tacos, he has two goals: first, to make enough money to support both his Abuelo and his secret search for the father who abandoned him… and second, to keep his own undocumented status a secret. He wasn’t counting on finding Penelope Prado crying in the staff bathroom during his first shift. He wasn’t counting on finding, in her, a safe place to share his own fears while helping her conquer her own. And he definitely wasn’t planning on finding, in Nacho’s Tacos, a family held together by love, resilience and the neighborhood it supports. Tackling complex topics like depression, immigration and police corruption, Laekan Zea Kemp doesn’t shy away from the hard truths that accompany them. As Pen and Xander learn, happy endings aren’t always covered with clouds of fluffy frosting and dustings of powdered sugar. Sometimes being okay lands somewhere between bitter and sweet.–Jennifer LaGarde

Switch by A.S.King

Dutton Books for Young Readers

Tru is stuck in a world without time. (That probably feels more familiar than any of us want to think about since March 2020, but it also rings true for those who have felt trapped for so many more reasons than that.) The teenagers are given time to craft a new clock – and Tru’s group uses psychology (and philosophy) to solve the challenge before them. In the meantime, Tru is navigating high school, a newfound talent at launching javelins for the track and field team. She’s also learning to navigate the complicated and crowded terrain of her parents’ broken marriage, her sister’s absence, and the boxes that have been built up around people and situations and the switch. Fans of A.S. King’s I Crawl Through It and Dig will definitely appreciate her surrealism as a means to examine Tru’s attempt to navigate the trauma of her reality.–Cindy Minnich

The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1) by Namina Forna

Delacorte Press

Deka lives in a fantasy world, one that has a special blood ceremony at the age of sixteen where she will be cut to see if her blood runs red, pure; or gold, impure. Deka has always felt like an outsider and prayers that this ceremony will show that she belongs.

Spoiler, it doesn’t.

After her golden blood confirms her as an outsider, Deka is given the opportunity to flee her home and train with other girls like her, called the alaki, to fight on behalf of the emperor. On this journey Deka will learn more about her country and herself as she finds the power within.

How The Gilded Ones is Namina Forna’s debut novel, I will never know. It is a breathtakingly beautiful and complex story about the power inherent to women as they prepare to take on society and burn it to the ground if need be. This book kept me turning page after page as I followed Deka right up until the end. Highly recommend.–Katherine Sokolowski

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Nora is hardly who she seems. Even Nora questions who she is after so many rebirths from her mother’s cons requiring her to be someone new with each new scheme. We learn about each girl she’s been as we watch her attempt to survive one more dangerous situation in the present – a bank robbery that has left her and her ex boyfriend/best friend Wes and her current girlfriend Iris as hostages. This is a fast-paced novel from the beginning – perfect for those who love detective stories and thrillers alike.–Cindy Minnich

The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore

Feiwel & Friends

In this reimagining of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, the lives of two teens (Ciela: a queer, Latinx girl who is described by the popular girls in school as being “cute if she weren’t also a little fat” and Lock: a white, straight boy who is both new in town and poor, two facts others never let him forget) become bound together after both are sexually assaulted at a party. While Lock was drugged and struggles to remember even the smallest details about his assault, Ciela is haunted by the vivid memories of what happened to her and to Lock, because she witnessed both. Just as Lock’s trauma is compounded by fragmented memories, Ciela herself becomes more and more splintered as she tries to compartmentalize and bury the memories from that terrible night. This fracturing of self is beautifully centered in the loss of Ciela’s magic: the ability to connect every customer in her family’s pastelería with the precise confection of their heart – a gift passed down to her from her bisabuela. The work of hiding the truth becomes even more complicated as Ciela struggles to conceal the shards of mirror that seem to be sprouting in place of leaves and petals in all the locations where Ciela feels safe. Gathering them when no one is looking, Ciela hides the sharp bits of reflective glass where she hopes no one will find them – even as her own reflection, and the loss of her magic, become harder and harder to face. To be clear, this is not an easy book to read. However, McLemore’s masterful language and creative use of magical realism to illustrate the work of putting the broken pieces of ourselves back together, make The Mirror Season well worth the effort.–Jennifer LaGarde

White Smoke by Tiffany D Jackson

Katherine Tegen Books

When Marigold Anderson’s family relocates from California to Cedarville, (a fictional midwestern town that feels inspired by Detroit), they are searching for both a change in scenery and a new start. After her parents’ divorce, a traumatic infestation, a personal betrayal and expulsion from school, Marigold’s anxiety has become both crippling and personally defining. Cedarville seems like the perfect place to start over and escape the ghosts of her past. But what if the real ghosts are waiting for her in Cedarville? When Marigold and her family arrive at their new home, they find the house they’ve been gifted (by a local philanthropic foundation whose mission is to gentrify and revitalize Cedarville), plagued by noises, foul smells and unexplainable, often violent, attacks by things that do more than go bump in the night.  However, as Marigold learns more about the neighborhood, its past and the ways in which the future of Cedarville depends almost entirely on its destruction, she begins to suspect that the real danger posed to her family is actually the work of the living, not the dead. Like all Tiffany D Jackson’s books, White Smoke is a mystery that keeps us guessing until the very end.–Jennifer LaGarde

Congratulations to all of the 2021 Nerdy Book Club Award winners! Thank you for creating engaging books for kids to read!

Abby Harrison is the Head Librarian and Upper School Librarian at Greenhill School. She has served on the Morris Award Committee and the Alex Awards Committee. She spends her time pushing books to students, faculty, friends, and her own kids. She lives, reads, and bakes in Dallas, TX.

Katherine Sokolowski has taught for over twenty years and currently teaches seventh grade in Monticello, Illinois. She is passionate about reading both in her classroom and also with her two sons. You can find her online at http://readwriteandreflect.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter as @katsok.

Jennifer LaGarde is a lifelong teacher and learner with over 25 years in public education. Her educational passions include leveraging technology to help students develop authentic reading lives, meeting the unique needs of students living in poverty and helping learners (of all ages) discern fact from fiction in the information they consume. Jennifer is the coauthor of Fact VS Fiction: Teaching Critical Thinking in the Age of “Fake News” (ISTE, 2018) and Developing Digital Detectives (ISTE, 2021) She currently lives, works, reads and drinks lots of coffee in Olympia, Washington. Follow Jennifer’s adventures on Twitter @jenniferlagarde or on her blog at librarygirl.net 

Cindy Minnich is a high school English teacher from Central PA. 

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