Winter may be coming, but so are some amazing new young adult science fiction and fantasy books. November and December bring with them cursed girls and tormented royals, fanciful folklore and time travel, sarcastic witches and vengeful teens.
Magic with a Twist
Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen—Random House Books for Young Readers; November 2, 2021
Simi is a Mami Wata, a mermaid tasked with ferrying the souls of people who die at sea. When a boy is thrown from a ship, she breaks the rules set forth by the gods and rescues him instead of letting him drown. To atone for her actions, she must venture onto land and seek forgiveness from the Supreme Creator. The journey is beset with pain and peril, and Simi and her charge are stalked by a hidden enemy. The boy is not what he seems and the gods have plans she cannot see.
A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger—Levine Querido; November 9, 2021
Before her great-great grandmother Rosita passed, she told young Nina an old story that no one can translate. Now, Nina sets out to find the truth about the fish girl in Rosita’s well. In the Reflecting World, Oli, a cottonmouth boy on his own for the first time, makes new friends and explores his magic-filled world that is parallel to ours. When one of his friends falls ill, Oli ventures into the human world to find a way to help them. Nina and Oli team up to help each other unravel the mysteries of their worlds
The Coldest Touch by Isabel Sterling—Razorbill; December 7, 2021
Elise can tell how someone is going to die just by touching them, and no amount of intervening can prevent what has been foretold. Claire, a teenage vampire and worker bee for the Veil, a global paranormal organization, is sent to convince Elise to join their group to fight supernatural baddies. Perhaps if she does this last job, the Veil will help her get revenge on the woman who gave her the bite all those years ago. A little romance along the way couldn’t hurt, could it?
Remixing the Classics
Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells—Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; November 16, 2021
Cursed at birth by a wicked witch, Lena can kill a person just by touching them. Lena and her father are forced to relocate to a small village near the Silence, a massive, magical forest that has a habit of luring unsuspecting people into its depths, only for them never to be seen again. A strange young woman stumbles out of the forest, looking for a princess to free her people from their own curse. Lena and Miranda decide to work together, but discovering so much more. A reimagining of the fairytale “Sleeping Beauty.”
Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong (These Violent Delights #2)—Margaret K. McElderry Books; November 16, 2021
1927 Shanghai is a city about to explode with violence. With a civil war looming on the horizon and new magical monsters terrorizing the streets, the end is nigh for the Chinese Scarlet Gang and the Russian White Flowers. Roma mourns his cousin’s death, meanwhile Juliette’s cousin is itching to knock her out as next in line as capo. In this retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, love and familial responsibilities threaten to tear our two lovers apart for good.
The Midnight Girls by Alicia Jasinska—Sourcebooks Fire; December 7, 2021
Three witches go on the hunt during the festive Karnawał season in the royal city of Warszów. Beata and Maryka are sent by their Jaga—the elder witches they serve—to acquire the pure heart of Prince Józef, but their plot is foiled by Zosia, who also wants his heart for her own nefarious purposes. As Marynka and Zosia’s competition heats up, so too does their attraction. But the more magic they sling around, the more attention they draw…a dangerous thing in a city known for burning witches to death.
The Scratch Daughters by Hannah Abigail Clarke (Scapegracers #2)—Erewhon; December 21, 2021
Last fall, Sideways Pike’s loner days ended when she formed the Scapegracers, a coven of witches who helped her take on the Chantry family of witch hunters. But when her crush, Madeleine, betrayed her by stealing her specter, Sideways ends up on the outside of her own coven. Unable to do magic but still connected to Madeleine, Sideways hatches a terrible plan to kill two birds with one stone. Her only ally is a demon hitching a ride in her body who probably doesn’t have her best interests at heart…
Faith: Greater Heights by Julie Murphy (Faith Herbert Origin Story #2)—Balzer + Bray; November 2, 2021
High school graduation is only a few short months away, and Faith wants to enjoy it like a regular teen. Easier said than done when you’re a secret superhero! A classmate-turned-supervillain who had disappeared—along with Faith’s love interest—suddenly reappears with no explanation…right about the same time other psiots are vanishing. This is a job for a teenage superhero with a strong support system and big dreams.
Spin Me Right Round by David Valdes—Bloomsbury YA; December 7, 2021
It isn’t easy being openly gay at a strict Christian boarding school, but Luis isn’t about to hold himself back. When an accident after his failed push for a more inclusive prom sends him back to 1985, he sees first hand just how hard it can really be. In the past he meets Chaz, a gay Black kid doomed to die, and Luis’ absent father who spends his time targeting Chaz. Before he goes back to the future, Luis wants to give Chaz one last queer hurrah.
The Future Sucks
The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell by Kate Brauning—Page Street Kids; November 2, 2021
Drought has hit the late 21st century Ozarks hard, but Dinah’s family get by with the food their farm produces. Greedy capitalist Gabriel Gates wants what the Caldwells have, and his threats lead to the deaths of Dinah’s mother and little brother. On the run in the mountains, Dinah vows vengeance. Johnny, a boy also hiding from Gates’ wrath, agrees to help her break the dictator’s hold on Charlotte County, no matter what.
Journey to the Heart of the Abyss by London Shah (Light the Abyss #2)—Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; November 9, 2021
The second book in the Light the Abyss duology begins not long after the conclusion of the first. Leyla, her father, and her beau are on the run from the authoritarian future British government. The amphis – genetically modified humans who can live and breathe underwater without the aid of technology – are being systematically hunted by the military. Leyla, Ari, and their rebel allies work together to expose the Prime Minister’s worst secrets and save humans and amphis from mutually assured destruction.
The Upper World by Femi Fadugba—HarperTeen; December 7, 2021
Set in London in 2020 and 2035, this time travel story features a sixteen-year-old Black boy just trying to survive. In the present, Esso is pulled into a bloody gang war. After almost dying in an attack, he tumbles into the Upper World, a strange space where he can see into the near future. In the future, Esso is a doctor tutoring a kid he has a secret connection with. The storylines of the present and the future weave together as the two Essos confront the truth.
A Psalm of Storms and Silence by Roseanne A. Brown (A Song of Wraiths and Ruin #2)—Balzer + Bray; November 2, 2021
Getting back the girl you love is no small feat, especially after you tried to kill her. But that’s the position Malik finds himself in in the final book in the A Song of Wraiths and Ruin duology. The Kingdom of Sonande is in chaos, Karina’s undead sister is roaming the land in search of magic, and the Faceless King possesses Malik’s body as his mentor Farid pushes him down a dark path. Once again, Karina’s life is offered as a sacrifice, but will Malik be able to go through with it?
Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier—Clarion Books; November 9, 2021
After years of imprisonment by the Brisan enemy, Lord Cassia is finally headed home to his castle in Palmerin—along with his new ability to see ghosts. When a deadly plague sweeps through the kingdom of Oliveras, the royal family seek refuge at Cas’ castle. But an assassin has set their sights on the monarchs, and only Cas and the king’s younger sister Lena can save them. As the two teens dig into the queen’s past, dangerous secrets are exposed.
Girls of Fate and Fury by Natasha Ngan (Girls of Paper and Fire #3)—Jimmy Patterson; November 30, 2021
In the conclusion of the Girls of Paper and Fire series, Lei and Wren are separated, physically and emotionally. Lei is back at the Hidden Palace with the the man who has made her life a living hell, while Wren is fighting with the rebels. Both want to take down the cruel demon king, but so much stands in their way.
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).