Summer is waning and the season of pumpkin spice, jack o’lanterns, and 12-foot skeletons is right around the corner. Autumn brings with it a host of intriguing new young adult speculative fiction stories. We’ve got books that will give you goosebumps, books that will give you feels, and books that will make you want to jump out of your seat in excitement. Dust off that library card, friendos. Your TBR is about to grow.
Thrills & Chills
White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson—Katherine Tegen Books; September 14, 2021
After a drug overdose and nervous breakdown, Marigold’s blended family relocates to a rundown Midwestern city. The lure of a fresh start is strong, but things are not what they seem in Cedarville. Mari’s new house is the only one not abandoned or destroyed in their entire neighborhood. Many of their Black neighbors are locked up in the nearby prison due to draconian (and racist) laws while the white folks who run the town want nothing more than to gentrify. And then there are the strange goings on in their new house. Something is hiding in the walls, and it wants Mari and her family out of their house, dead or alive.
All These Bodies by Kendare Blake—Quill Tree Books; September 21, 2021
It’s 1959 in Black Deer Falls, Minnesota. Teenage paperboy and wannabe reporter Michael is obsessed with the Dracula Murders, a spate of violent deaths where the corpses are drained of blood. Fifteen-year-old Marie is discovered at a new murder scene, covered in blood. Although she keeps secrets from the police, she opens up to mMichael about the supernatural force behind the deaths. Is she telling the truth?
The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros—Inkyard Press; October 5, 2021
Alter Rosen arrives in Chicago in 1893 after fleeing his oppressive homeland of Romania. He plans to earn enough money to bring his mother and sisters over one day. Before that happens, his best friend and unrequited crush, a Jewish boy named Yakov, is murdered. Now Alter is possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, a malevolent spirit of the dead. The boys have only a few days to find Yakov’s killer until the dybbuk fully takes over Alter’s body…and the killer comes after them.
The Bones of Ruin by Sarah Raughley (The Bones of Ruin #1)—Margaret K. McElderry Books; September 7, 2021
With no memories of her past, Victorian circus performer Iris takes each day as it comes. The white British customers gawk at the “Nubian princess,” and she fears what they would do if they knew she was immortal. When she encounters Adam, a member of a secret group who call themselves the Enlightenment Committee, her secret is revealed and she escapes with him. The Committee promises her answers and protection from the impending apocalypse, but she must earn them by first competing in a brutal Tournament of Freaks.
Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat (Dark Rise #1)—Quill Tree Books; September 28, 2021
The battle between Light and Dark is about to reignite in 1821 London, and two teens are at the center of it. Dock boy Will goes into hiding after his mother is murdered, but is quickly captured by a shady character known as Simon. Violet wants nothing more than to work for Simon, but that all changes when she discovers Will. The Stewards, a mysterious group going up against Simon, take both teens in and shows them that their world is far more dangerous than they realized.
For All Time by Shanna Miles—Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; September 28, 2021
Crossing time and place, two Black teen soulmates find themselves stuck in a cycle of being pushed together only to be pulled apart. Today, Tamar suffers from the long term side effects of a pandemic that killed her mother. Fayard, her high school boyfriend, tries to give her hope for their future. An unexpected explosion leaves them both with dreams of their past lives and amnesia about their present. A love story spiced with science fiction and fantasy.
Gods & Monsters
The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl—Page Street Kids; September 14, 2021
Being a teenager is hard. Being a teenage vampire is harder. After being dumped by Elton, the man who turned into a vampire, Holly will forever be sixteen. Then she meets Ida and Rose, two other women who were turned and abandoned by Elton years before Holly was even born. The women join forces to stop their ex once and for all. Time is running out, though. He’s already got his sights set on a girl named Parker, and Holly can’t stop thinking about her…
Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray (Beasts of Prey #1)—G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers; September 28, 2021
In the dangerous jungle city of Lkossa live Ekon and Koffi, two Black teenagers whose lives are about to get intensely complicated. To pay off her family’s debts, Koffi is indentured to Baaz Mtombé, the cruel owner of the Night Zoo. Ekon has spent most of his life training to become a Son of the Six, an elite warrior. Their lives intersect when a monster called the Shetani attacks the town. With Koffi eager to free her family and Ekon desperate to win back his spot as a Son, they agree to work together to hunt down the Shentani. Koffi’s untapped magic and Ekon’s fighting skills will be put to the test.
Dragonblood Ring by Amparo Ortiz (Blazewrath Games #2)—Page Street Kids; October 12, 2021
After the events of the first book, Lana Torres and Victoria Peralta are back in Puerto Rico. Now that the Blazewrath Games have been canceled, the girls feel adrift. Soon, however, they hear rumors of cities being burned down and dragons being captured. They make their way to a French theme park where they discover an underground fighting ring where Blazewrath dragons are being forced to fight each other. To save their beloved dragons and prevent even more devastation from the Sire’s followers, Lana and Victoria must take on some very powerful people.
Little Thieves by Margaret Owen—Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); October 19, 2021
A year ago, Vanja, the adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune, made a choice that may prove to be her undoing: she stole the life of Princess Gisele. Now, Vanja lives in the lap of luxury as a thief and a fake princess, stealing jewels from the wealthy to fund her lavish lifestyle. Until she steals from a god who puts a terrible curse on her. With Gisele’s fiance becoming increasingly impatient to wed, a hotshot investigator hot on her tail, and a curse looming over her like the sword of Damocles, Vanja will do whatever it takes to survive. A twisty retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairytale “The Goose Girl.”
The Future Sucks
Walking in Two Worlds by Wab Kinew—Penguin Teen; September 14, 2021
Anishinaabe teen Bugz feels like an outsider in her real life, but in the virtual world of the Floraverse, she is revered. There, she is a respected fighter who takes on an army of misogynistic trolls who march under the banner of the Clan:LESS. One of those trolls is Feng, a Chinese Uighur sent to live with his mother, a doctor on Bugz’s reservation, when his online activities attract government attention. Soon, Feng and Bugz find kinship in one another. Both feel torn between “two worlds.” For Bugz, it’s the real world and the virtual one, and for Feng, it’s his budding friendship with Bugz and his bonds with his Clan:LESS brothers in arms.
Hunting by Stars by Cherie Dimaline (The Marrow Thieves #2)—Amulet Books; October 19, 2021
The long-awaited sequel to The Marrow Thieves is finally here! French, who spent much of the first book on the run from the Recruiters, has now been captured. All across this future dystopian Canada, residential schools are reopening, and French is sent to one to have his bone marrow harvested for the medical benefit of non-Natives. Rose sets out to rescue French, but it might cost them both everything and everyone they hold dear.
Journey to the Heart of the Abyss by London Shah (Light the Abyss #2)—Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; October 26, 2021
Leyla’s attempt to break her father out of a blacksite prison was successful, technically, but cost her Ari, the Anthropoid rebel boy she fell in love with. With Ari locked up by a sinister security force and conflicts escalating between those who live in sealed communities and those who can freely breathe underwater, it’s up to Leyla and her friends to set things right. The truth their government is desperate to keep hidden will be revealed in this duology finale.
Magic with a Twist
When Night Breaks by Janella Angeles (Kingdom of Cards #2)—Wednesday Books; October 5, 2021
Trapped in the mirror world of a dangerous magician, Kallia and Jack set off in search of a way out. The mirrors don’t reflect the present but show painful memories and haunting illusions, making it hard to tell truth from fiction. Kallia can’t trust Jack, but they must rely on each other if they hope to break free. Above, Daron Demarco battles his tattered reputation as he tries to rescue the woman he loves from her mirror prison. Janella Angeles ends her duology with a story of two young lovers separated by forces beyond their control and the strange sights and people they encounter along the way.
The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta—Candlewick; October 12, 2021
It’s queerness all the way down in this cozy new book about cursed brownies. Syd, a bisexual agender Austin teen, unintentionally bakes a batch of magically toxic brownies after a particularly bad breakup. Everyone who eats one of those brownies suffers a breakup of their own, including the gay couple who owns the bakery where Syd works. With the help of delivery person Harley (genderfluid and demisexual), Syd tries to fix the relationship chaos before it spreads out of control.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (Iron Widow #1)—Penguin Teen; September 21, 2021
The humans of Huaxia have been at war with the mecha alien Hunduns for years. To give themselves an edge, the humans built Chrysalises, massive robots powered by the qi of young women and piloted by daring young men. The women usually die in these battles, but when Zetian steps into her Chrysalis she ends up killing the pilot instead. The Powers That Be partner the “iron widow” with Li Shimin, a killer pilot with a powerful qi. Zetian will not be silenced or dominated, but fighting back against her enemies will be her greatest battle yet.
Steelstriker by Marie Lu (Skyhunter #2)—Roaring Brook Press; September 28, 2021
Talin was once a member of the Strikers, the powerful warrior team that defends Mara, one of the last free countries left in the world. But now that Mara has fallen to the all-powerful Karensa Federation, the Strikers scattered by battle and bloodshed, and her mother captured by the Karensa Premier, Talin is blackmailed into abandoning her people and joining the Karensa war machine. Red, meanwhile, uses his connection to Talin to search for her and reunite the other Strikers. The conclusion of the Skyhunter duology.
We Light Up the Sky by Lilliam Rivera—Bloomsbury YA; October 5, 2021
This is not your typical alien invasion story. Luna, Pedro, and Rafa all attend the same Los Angeles high school, but have very different social circles. Luna is a popular girl still wracked with grief over the death of her cousin Tasha to Covid-19. Pedro is a queer kid pushing back against his conservative family. And Rafa is the new kid in school trying to keep his classmates from knowing he is unhoused. When alien scouts land on Earth in advance of an invasion, one of them takes Tasha’s face. The three teens are pulled together to save their planet from aliens, but their fellow humans might prove to be the bigger danger.
Alex Brown is an Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (bookjockeyalex.com).