Best and Worst of 2021



First Place:            Firekeeper's Daughter        
Angeline Boulley

In this #OwnVoices mid-2000s crime thriller, Daunis dreams of college, where she can finally do more than straddle the line between her white mother and her native father, but before she can set out, Daunis witnesses a shocking murder that upsets the world as she knows it. Full of tough choices and very real stakes, Angeline Boulley creates a world both vibrant and tangible. Though it's a slow burn, this exploration of race, culture, and belonging is worth it in the end.

Runner-Up:         The Project                                           
Courtney Summers

In this contemporary psychological thriller, the accident took Lo's mother, her father, and most importantly, it took her sister Bea. But Bea is still alive. Not afraid to showcase a brutal reality or play tantalizing mind games with her audience, Summers creates an unsettlingly real set of sisters circa 2017. Though the voice is older than most YA narrators and tends a bit toward the pessimistic, the chilling turns of this psycho thriller will keep readers on their toes.

Runner-Up:         A Lesson In Vengeance                       
Victoria Lee

In this contemporary dark academia, Felicity and Ellis go a bit too far to keep the ghosts of boarding school girls past at bay. Full of a love for literary analysis, Lee dives deep into the dark world of academia with a particularly astute awareness of the conventions and expectations she overturns. Though the pretention is high and the supervision is predictably lax at this boarding school, the twisting nature of the truth nonetheless casts an unsettling haze over it all.



First Place:             Revenge of the Sluts                
Natalie Walton

In this invasive contemporary exposé, Eden Jeong needles and pries to get the scoop after seven high school girls have explicit photos shared with the student body. Complete with a cold, journalistic style and bad dialogue, Walton fails to create the uplifting and women-forward story this claims to be. Though this book sets out to tackle tough issues like revenge porn and systemic suppression of female sexuality, it ultimately proves to be violating instead of liberating. 

Runner-Up:           You've Reached Sam                            
Dustin Thao

In this supernatural contemporary grief narrative, Julie longs to hear her recently-passed boyfriend's voice one more time--and to her surprise, he picks up when she calls. Though this book has a solid concept, the repetitive conversations and lackluster prose make sure that it falls far short of its potential. The characters are too flat, the dialogue is too dull, and the italics are too abundant for this book to be more than a theoretical hit.

Runner-Up:             We Are the Fire        
Sam Taylor

In this sprawling second-world fantasy, alchemical soldiers Pran and Oksana start a fiery rebellion against the Empire. Though Taylor's book falls into a high fantasy void that desperately needs to be filled, the worldbuilding dwarfs the characters and plot. Readers are pummeled with terminology from the start, and an emotional disconnect between the reader and the characters grows into an overall disconnect from the story itself as the book goes on. 



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