I come bearing gifts of great reading! Here’s a comprehensive guide to young adult speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror) being published in September 2021. Up first is a short list of the books I highly recommend, followed by a long list of basically every book being published.
Get your library cards and indie bookstore pre-orders ready, y’all.
September 7, 2021
The Bones of Ruin by Sarah Raughley (The Bones of Ruin #1) – Margaret K. McElderry Books
As an African tightrope dancer in Victorian London, Iris is used to being strange. She is certainly a strange sight for leering British audiences always eager for the spectacle of colonial curiosity. But Iris also has a secret that even “strange” doesn’t capture…
She cannot die.
Haunted by her unnatural power and with no memories of her past, Iris is obsessed with discovering who she is. But that mission gets more complicated when she meets the dark and alluring Adam Temple, a member of a mysterious order called the Enlightenment Committee. Adam seems to know much more about her than he lets on, and he shares with her a terrifying revelation: the world is ending, and the Committee will decide who lives…and who doesn’t.
To help them choose a leader for the upcoming apocalypse, the Committee is holding the Tournament of Freaks, a macabre competition made up of vicious fighters with fantastical abilities. Adam wants Iris to be his champion, and in return he promises her the one thing she wants most: the truth about who she really is.
If Iris wants to learn about her shadowy past, she has no choice but to fight. But the further she gets in the grisly tournament, the more she begins to remember–and the more she wonders if the truth is something best left forgotten.
The Girls Are Never Gone by Sarah Glenn Marsh – Razorbill
Dare Chase doesn’t believe in ghosts.
Privately, she’s a supernatural skeptic. But publicly, she’s keeping her doubts to herself–because she’s the voice of Attachments, her brand-new paranormal investigation podcast, and she needs her ghost-loving listeners to tune in.
That’s what brings her to Arrington Estate. Thirty years ago, teenager Atheleen Bell drowned in Arrington’s lake, and legend says her spirit haunts the estate. Dare’s more interested in the suspicious circumstances surrounding her death–circumstances that she believes point to a living culprit, not the supernatural. Still, she’s vowed to keep an open mind as she investigates, even if she’s pretty sure what she’ll find.
But Arrington is full of surprises. Good ones like Quinn, the cute daughter of the house’s new owner. And baffling ones like the threatening messages left scrawled in paint on Quinn’s walls, the ghastly face that appears behind Dare’s own in the mirror, and the unnatural current that nearly drowns their friend Holly in the lake. As Dare is drawn deeper into the mysteries of Arrington, she’ll have to rethink the boundaries of what is possible. Because if something is lurking in the lake…it might not be willing to let her go.
September 14, 2021
A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell – Clarion Books
Derry and her eight siblings live in an isolated house by the lake, separated from the rest of the world by an eerie and menacing forest. Frank, the man who raised them after their families abandoned them, says it’s for their own good. After all, the world isn’t safe for people with magic. And Derry feels safe–most of the time.
Until the night her eldest sister disappears. Jane and Derry swore to each other that they’d never go into the forest, not after their last trip ended in blood, but Derry is sure she saw Jane walk into the trees. When another sibling goes missing and Frank’s true colors start to show, feeling safe is no longer an option. Derry will risk anything to protect the family she has left. Even if that means returning to the forest that has started calling to Derry in her missing siblings’ voices.
As Derry spends more time amidst the trees, her magic grows more powerful . . . and so does the darkness inside her, the viciousness she wants to pretend doesn’t exist. But saving her siblings from the forest and from Frank might mean embracing the darkness. And that just might be the most dangerous thing of all.
The Hollow Heart by Marie Rutkoski (The Midnight Lie #2) – Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
At the end of The Midnight Lie, Nirrim offered up her heart to the god of thieves in order to restore her people’s memories of their city’s history. The Half Kith who once lived imprisoned behind the city’s wall now realize that many among them are powerful. Meanwhile, the person Nirrim once loved most, Sid, has returned to her home country of Herran, where she must navigate the politics of being a rogue princess who has finally agreed to do her duty.
In the Herrani court, rumors begin to grow of a new threat rising across the sea, of magic unleashed on the world, and of a cruel, black-haired queen who can push false memories into your mind, so that you believe your dearest friends to be your enemies.
Sid doesn’t know that this queen is Nirrim, who seeks her revenge against a world that has wronged her. Can Sid save Nirrim from herself? Does Nirrim even want to be saved? As blood is shed and war begins, Sid and Nirrim find that it might not matter what they want…for the gods have their own plans.
The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl – Page Street Kids
Holly Liddell has been stuck with crimped hair since 1987 when she agreed to let her boyfriend, Elton, turn her into a vampire. But when he ditches her at a gas station a few decades into their eternity together, she realizes that being young forever actually means working graveyard shifts at Taco Bell, sleeping in seedy motels, and being supernaturally compelled to follow your ex from town to town–at least until Holly meets Elton’s other exes.
It seems that Holly isn’t the only girl Elton seduced into this wretched existence. He turned Ida in 1921, then Rose in 1954, and he abandoned them both before Holly was even born. Now Rose and Ida want to kill him before he can trick another girl into eternal adolescence, and they’ll need Holly’s help to do it. And once Holly starts falling for Elton’s vulnerable new conquest, Parker, she’ll do anything to save her.
To kill Elton for good, Holly and her friends will have to dig up their pasts, rob a bank, and reconcile with the people they’ve hurt in their search for eternal love. And to win the girl, Holly will have to convince Parker that she’s more than just Elton’s crazy ex–even though she is trying to kill him.
Walking in Two Worlds by Wab Kinew – Penguin Teen
Bugz is caught between two worlds. In the real world, she’s a shy and self-conscious Indigenous teen who faces the stresses of teenage angst and life on the Rez. But in the virtual world, her alter ego is not just confident but dominant in a massively multiplayer video game universe.
Feng is a teen boy who has been sent from China to live with his aunt, a doctor on the Rez, after his online activity suggests he may be developing extremist sympathies. Meeting each other in real life, as well as in the virtual world, Bugz and Feng immediately relate to each other as outsiders and as avid gamers. And as their connection is strengthened through their virtual adventures, they find that they have much in common in the real world, too: both must decide what to do in the face of temptations and pitfalls, and both must grapple with the impacts of family challenges and community trauma.
But betrayal threatens everything Bugz has built in the virtual world, as well as her relationships in the real world, and it will take all her newfound strength to restore her friendship with Feng and reconcile the parallel aspects of her life: the traditional and the mainstream, the east and the west, the real and the virtual.
White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson – Katherine Tegen Books
Marigold is running from ghosts. The phantoms of her old life keep haunting her, but a move with her newly blended family from their small California beach town to the embattled Midwestern city of Cedarville might be the fresh start she needs. Her mom has accepted a new job with the Sterling Foundation that comes with a free house, one that Mari now has to share with her bratty ten-year-old stepsister, Piper.
The renovated picture-perfect home on Maple Street, sitting between dilapidated houses, surrounded by wary neighbors has its . . . secrets. That’s only half the problem: household items vanish, doors open on their own, lights turn off, shadows walk past rooms, voices can be heard in the walls, and there’s a foul smell seeping through the vents only Mari seems to notice. Worse: Piper keeps talking about a friend who wants Mari gone.
But “running from ghosts” is just a metaphor, right?
As the house closes in, Mari learns that the danger isn’t limited to Maple Street. Cedarville has its secrets, too. And secrets always find their way through the cracks.
September 21, 2021
All These Bodies by Kendare Blake – Quill Tree Books
Summer 1958. A gruesome killer plagues the Midwest, leaving behind a trail of bodies completely drained of blood.
Michael Jensen, an aspiring journalist whose father happens to be the town sheriff, never imagined that the Bloodless Murders would come to his backyard. Not until the night the Carlson family was found murdered in their home. Marie Catherine Hale, a diminutive fifteen-year-old, was discovered at the scene–covered in blood. She is the sole suspect in custody.
Michael didn’t think that he would be part of the investigation, but he is pulled in when Marie decides that he is the only one she will confess to. As Marie recounts her version of the story, it falls to Michael to find the truth: What really happened the night that the Carlsons were killed? And how did one girl wind up in the middle of all these bodies?
The Bronzed Beasts by Roshani Chokshi (The Gilded Wolves #3) – Wednesday Books
After Séverin’s seeming betrayal, the crew is fractured. Armed with only a handful of hints, Enrique, Laila, Hypnos and Zofia must find their way through the snarled, haunted waterways of Venice, Italy to locate Séverin. Meanwhile, Séverin must balance the deranged whims of the Patriarch of the Fallen House and discover the location of a temple beneath a plague island where the Divine Lyre can be played and all that he desires will come to pass. With only ten days until Laila expires, the crew will face plague pits and deadly masquerades, unearthly songs and the shining steps of a temple whose powers might offer divinity itself…but at a price they may not be willing to pay.
Into the Dying Light by Katy Rose Pool (The Age of Darkness #3) – Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Following the destruction of the City of Mercy, an ancient god has been resurrected and sealed inside Beru’s body. Both are at the mercy of the Prophet Pallas, who wields the god’s powers to subjugate the Six Prophetic Cities. But every day, the god grows stronger, threatening to break free and sow untold destruction.
Meanwhile, far away from Pallas Athos, Anton learns to harness his full powers as a Prophet. Armed with the truth about how the original Prophets killed the god, Anton leads Jude, Hassan, and Ephyra on a desperate quest to the edge of the world. With time running out, the group’s tenuous alliance is beset by mounting danger, tumultuous romance, and most of all by a secret that Anton is hiding: a way to destroy the god at the price of an unbearable sacrifice. But the cost of keeping that secret might be their lives–and the lives of everyone in the Six Prophetic Cities.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (Iron Widow #1) – Penguin Teen
The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected–she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.
To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way–and stop more girls from being sacrificed.
September 28, 2021
Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray – G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
There’s no such thing as magic in the broken city of Lkossa, especially for sixteen-year-old Koffi, who holds a power within her that could only be described as magic–a power that if discovered could cost her life. Indentured to the notorious Night Zoo, Koffi knows the fearsome creatures in her care and paying off her family’s debts to secure their eventual freedom can be her only focus. But the night those she loves are gravely threatened by the Zoo’s cruel master, Koffi finally unleashes the power she doesn’t fully understand, upending her life completely.
As the second son of a decorated hero, Ekon is all but destined to become a Son of the Six–an elite warrior–and uphold a family legacy. But on the night of his final rite of passage, Ekon encounters not only the Shetani–a vicious monster that has plagued the city for nearly a century and stalks his nightmares, but Koffi who seems to have the power to ward off the beast. Koffi’s power ultimately saves Ekon’s life, but his choice to let her flee dooms his hopes of becoming a warrior.
Desperate to redeem himself, Ekon vows to hunt the Shetani and end its reign of terror, but he can’t do it alone. Meanwhile, Koffi believes finding the Shetani could also be the key to solving her own problems. Koffi and Ekon form a tentative alliance and together enter the Greater Jungle, a world steeped in wild, frightening magic and untold dangers. The hunt begins. But it quickly becomes unclear whether they are the hunters or the hunted.
Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat (Dark Rise #1) – Quill Tree Books
Sixteen-year-old dock boy Will is on the run, pursued by the men who killed his mother. Then an old servant tells him of his destiny to fight beside the Stewards, who have sworn to protect humanity if the Dark King ever returns. Will is thrust into a world of magic, where he starts training for a vital role in the oncoming battle against the Dark.
As London is threatened and old enmities are awakened, Will must stand with the last heroes of the Light to prevent the fate that destroyed their world from returning to destroy his own.
For All Time by Shanna Miles – Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Tamar is a musician, a warrior, a survivor. Fayard? He’s a pioneer, a hustler, a hopeless romantic.
Together, Tamar and Fayard have lived a thousand lives, seen the world build itself up from nothing only to tear itself down again in civil war. They’ve even watched humanity take to the stars. But in each life one thing remains the same: their love and their fight to be together. One love story after another. Their only concern is they never get to see how their story ends. Until now.
When they finally discover what it will take to break the cycle, will they be able to make the sacrifice?
Some Faraway Place by Lauren Shippen (The Bright Sessions #3) – Tor Teen
Rose Atkinson’s mother can see the future. Her father can move things he doesn’t touch. Her brother Aaron can read minds. And Rose, well, she makes a mean spaghetti bolognese.
Everyone else in her family is Atypical, which means they manifested an ability that defies the limits of the human experience. At nineteen, well past the average age of manifestation, Rose is stuck defending her decision not to go to college and instead working in the kitchen of a local restaurant, hoping to gain the experience she needs to become a chef.
When a rollerblading accident sends her to the hospital, she meets a girl she can’t forget and she starts to feel like maybe her life isn’t quite so small. But when she starts falling asleep mid-conversation, she thinks, then again maybe I’m doomed to never have good things.
Rose should be happy to learn that she’s Atypical after all–that diving into dreams makes her a part of her family in the way she always wanted. But the more time she spends in the dreamworld, the more complicated her ability becomes. Trying to balance her work, her power, and a girlfriend who doesn’t know about Atypicals, Rose seeks help. But she soon discovers that being Atypical comes with dangers she never could have imagined. Even her carefully constructed dreamworld isn’t safe.
This is the story of Atypical Rose, who discovers that your dreams coming true isn’t always a good thing.
Steelstriker by Marie Lu (Skyhunter #2) – Roaring Brook Press
As a Striker, Talin was taught loyalty is life. Loyalty to the Shield who watches your back, to the Strikers who risk their lives on the battlefield, and most of all, to Mara, which was once the last nation free from the Karensa Federation’s tyranny.
But Mara has fallen. And its destruction has unleashed Talin’s worst nightmare.
With her friends scattered by combat and her mother held captive by the Premier, Talin is forced to betray her fellow Strikers and her adopted homeland. She has no choice but to become the Federation’s most deadly war machine as their newest Skyhunter.
Red is no stranger to the cruelty of the Federation or the torture within its Skyhunter labs, but he knows this isn’t the end for Mara – or Talin. The link between them may be weak, but it could be Talin and Red’s only hope to salvage their past and safeguard their future.
September 7, 2021
The Buried by Melissa Grey – Scholastic Press
Ten years ago, disaster struck the remote town of Indigo Falls. A horrific event drove the residents underground, into shelters that keep them safe from the danger on the surface. No one speaks about what happened that fateful day, but even the youngest still remember the fear and, most of all, the searing pain when sunlight touched their skin.
The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (The Inheritance Games #2) – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Thanks to a DNA test, Avery knows that she’s not a Hawthorne by blood, but clues pile up hinting at a deeper connection to the family than she had ever imagined. As the mystery grows and the plot thickens, Grayson and Jameson, two of the enigmatic and magnetic Hawthorne grandsons, continue to pull Avery in different directions.
The Last Legacy by Adrienne Young – Wednesday Books
When a letter from her uncle Henrik arrives on Bryn Roth’s eighteenth birthday, summoning her back to Bastian, Bryn is eager to prove herself and finally take her place in her long-lost family.
Mary, Will I Die? by Shawn Sarles – Scholastic Press
It starts innocently enough. Four kids – three girls, one boy – are at one of their houses, playing games. One of them has read about Bloody Mary and the idea that if you look into a mirror and say her name thirteen times, she will show you the future. Some legends say she’ll show you your one true love or a skull to mark your death within five years. Others say that conjuring Bloody Mary will bring her into your world.
Tides of Mutiny by Rebecca Rode – Jimmy Patterson
Lane doesn’t want to believe her father could have a dark past, but she can’t help questioning everything she’s known. After all, Lane’s life at sea is built on lies–why couldn’t her father’s be, too?
We Can Be Heroes by Kyrie McCauley – Katherine Tegen Books
When their murals catch the attention of a podcaster covering Cassie’s case, they become the catalyst for a debate that Bell Firearms can no longer ignore. With law enforcement closing in on them, Beck and Vivian hurry to give Cassie the closure she needs–by delivering justice to those responsible for her death.
What Once Was Mine by Liz Braswell (Twisted Tale #12) – Disney-Hyperion
For eighteen years Rapunzel stays imprisoned in her tower, knowing she must protect everyone from her magical hair. When she finally decides to leave the only home she’s ever known–to see the floating lights that appear on her birthday–she gets caught up in an unexpected adventure with two thieves: a would-be outlaw named Gina, and Flynn Rider, a rogue on the run.
September 14, 2021
The Corpse Queen by Heather M. Herrman – G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
There are only so many options for an unmarried girl in 1850s Philadelphia. Only, when Molly arrives, she discovers her aunt is very much real, exceedingly wealthy, and with secrets of her own. Secrets and wealth she intends to share–for a price.
Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer (Defy the Night #1) – Bloomsbury YA
Out in the Wilds, apothecary apprentice Tessa Cade is tired of seeing her neighbors die, their suffering ignored by the unyielding royals. Every night, she and her best friend Wes risk their lives to steal Moonflower petals and distribute the elixir to those who need it most–but it’s still not enough.
Generation Manifestation by Steven Bereznai (Gen M #1) – Jambor
To find these special few, every teen faces Testing Day. When her turn comes, socially isolated Caitlin Feral is determined to Manifest powers like the heroes in the comic book propaganda she loves. If she fails, she faces a lifetime of loneliness and drudgery in the boroughs. How much is Caitlin willing to sacrifice to be a supergirl?
September 21, 2021
The Other Merlin by Robyn Schneider (Emry Merlin #1) – Viking Books for Young Readers
When the truth comes out with disastrous consequences, Emry has to decide whether she’ll risk everything for the boy she loves, or give up her potential to become the greatest wizard Camelot has ever known.
She Who Rides the Storm by Caitlin Sangster – Margaret K. McElderry Books
A healer obsessed with tracking down the man who murdered her twin brother. A runaway member of the Warlord’s Devoted order, haunted by his sister’s ghost. A snotty archaeologist bent on finding the cure to his magical wasting disease. A girl desperate to escape the cloistered life she didn’t choose.
Spells Like Teen Spirit by Kate Williams (The Babysitters Coven #3) – Delacorte Press
Esme needs a serious pick-me-up, and Janis has a plan: a Galentine’s stay-cation, with the Sitter friends Esme and Cassandra made at the Summit. Except things are getting weird in Spring River again.
To Break a Covenant by Alison Ames – Page Street Kids
Moon Basin has been haunted for as long as anyone can remember. It started when an explosion in the mine killed sixteen people. The disaster made it impossible to live in town, with underground fires spewing ash into the sky. But life in New Basin is just as fraught.
September 28, 2021
Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchinson – HarperCollins
Jack and Wilhelm have an instant connection, and as the rivalry between the Enchantress and Laszlo grows, so too does Jack and Wilhelm’s affection. But can Jack choose between the woman who gave him a life and the boy who is offering him everything?
Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone (World at the Lake’s Edge #1) – Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
When Violeta Graceling and her younger brother Arien arrive at the haunted Lakesedge estate, they expect to find a monster. Leta knows the terrifying rumors about Rowan Sylvanan, who drowned his entire family when he was a boy. But neither the estate nor the monster are what they seem.
Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber (Once Upon a Broken Heart #1) – Flatiron Books
For as long as she can remember, Evangeline Fox has believed in true love and happy endings…until she learns that the love of her life will marry another.
The Splendor by Breeana Shields – Page Street Kids
When Juliette’s sister, Clare, returns from her birthday week at the magical hotel upon a hill, she comes back changed. All at once, it seems Clare’s love for Juliette has vanished. Or perhaps it was stolen.
Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson – Margaret K. McElderry Books
As she unravels a sinister mystery of saints, secrets, and dark magic, her bond with the revenant grows. And when a hidden evil begins to surface, she discovers that facing this enemy might require her to betray everything she has been taught to believe–if the revenant doesn’t betray her first.
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