I’ve been seeking both comfort, and heartbreak in fiction for as long as I can remember, which is why, today I wanted to take the time out to scream about all my recent favourite reads. If I included all the books that I’ve loved, the list would be endless. After creating my blog, my reading’s really changed – I’ve expanded genre preferences, as well as diversified my TBR and reading habits. Hopefully, from this list, you’ll discover new favorites, love them as much as I did, and maybe even fall in love with a new genre, or find a new auto-buy author! So here’s my top 11 favourite YA books (and series) that gave me ALL the feels.
Originally, this post was for my top 10 books, but then I read the last two books on this list, and I knew I just had to include them.
*All book titles lead to their respective Goodreads pages ~
Evocative, dazzling, and atmospheric, These Violent Delights was so much more than just a Romeo and Juliet retelling. Rather than only focusing on the romance, we also got to see colonialism, rival gangs, immersive worldbuilding, and glittering Shanghai, like never before.
Along with that, These Violent Delights is also an #OwnVoices story that touches on topics such as finding yourself as a person, and fighting for the people and things you love. With the added political tension, angst between characters, and all the complex relationships, as well as the intricacies of working in a gang, this book was captivating from page 1.
Along with the atmospheric, descriptive relationships, Gong also masterfully crafts characters you empathize with, as well as relationships you root for. Layered, and well-developed characters are my favourite to read about because there’s always so much more complexity, and in These Violent Delights, the balance between complex, relatable, and realistic is beautifully managed, making it a stunning experience not only for me – but thousands of others as well.
Filled with angst, political tension, childhood friends-to-lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies goodness and atmospheric worldbuilding, These Violent Delights was both one of my most anticipated reads of 2020, as well as one of my favourite reads of 2021. Because this book meant so much to me, instead of just reviewing it normally, I decided to have a discussion about all of my favourite parts, which you can read here.
Counting Down With You is one of my favourite reads of 2021 so far. Although my review isn’t out yet, I could tell you that it’s all the things that you could ever want in a contemporary. Fluffy, and relatable, it had me laughing out loud at one moment, and sobbing at the next. Although I don’t have it nearly as hard as Karina, being a brown girl, I deeply resonated with her feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
I loved that Counting Down With You didn’t feature a “knight in shining armour” kind of relationship, but instead both Ace and Karina were equally reliant on each other to overcome their own problems. It’s like around other they put on a façade, and were scared of being vulnerable, but when they were with each other, they knew it was going to be okay.
Ace was also the definition of perfect. He had his own faults, and he had family issues, but he worked so hard to make sure that he was never overstepping boundaries, and being the most supportive person he could be. When Karina tells him to go, he goes. He gives his opinions when he wants to, but he never forces them onto her, and respects her as much as he would anyone else, which is something I adored. Cora and Nandini, her best friends, are so supportive, and I think all the relationships were portrayed so accurately, and realistically in this book, that the dynamics alone are reason enough for you to read it.
The second book in the Six of Crows duology, Crooked Kingdom managed to steal my heart, and then break it into a million pieces with its heartbreaking twists and reveals. It’s no secret that the relationships in this book are amongst my favorites. Filled with slow-burn, betrayals, and stories from the past, I loved learning about how each of the crew members are where they are today.
I think the worst thing I could have done after finishing the book was watching Cindy’s video on it – except that’s EXACTLY what I did, and then cried a river while watching it and re-living all the heartbreaking moments 💔
Although, comparatively, this had a lot less action, and heist components than Six of Crows, I felt learning about each of the characters backstories, and how it’s impacted them helped add to the story, and made each of the relationship dynamics seem a lot more complex. This also helped justify actions they made in the past, as well as make their character development seem more three-dimensional.
Roshani Chokshi’s lyrical prose brought the lush, atmospheric setting of France in the 1800’s to life. All the character relationships were so complex, and the way they were executed made the story all the more intriguing.
Although the story was told from 5 different perspectives, I never felt lost while reading, and each of the POVs felt distinct, and unique. All the characters, and members of the cast had strong, heartbreaking backstories, and had their own reasons for working with Séverin.
The gorgeous writing style flowed out of the page, and helped heighten all my senses with its vivid descriptions. Brimming with political tension, heists, slow-burn romance, banter, and found family, this book was the fantasy of my dreams.
The Gilded Wolves also featured a diverse cast of characters, all with their own complex backstories. Through the characters, you could see how much research and effort the author put into crafting each of her characters. They were so much more than what they looked like, which is what, I think, was the best part of this book for me. The endless twists and turns also had me gripping the edge my seat throughout, and the plot was so unpredictable, I never knew what to expect. The ending had me reeling, and though I haven’t read the second book yet, I know it’s going to be a favourite as well.
The Heartstopper series is my favourite comfort read of all time. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of different genres, and although they aren’t what I would typically read, they’ve found their way into my heart. Before creating my blog, and discovering so many new types of books, I don’t think I would ever have picked up Heartstopper, because it’s a Graphic novel.
However, even though it’s a comic, it’s practically happiness in the form of a book, and never fails to provide me with serotonin. Nick, Charlie, and really everyone in this is a smol cinnamon roll 🥺 I don’t think I’ve ever read a negative review of Heartstopper, because it just brings so many people joy, and is the cutest thing ever.
Even though it’s so light and happy, Heartstopper does tackle some really heavy topics, and I love the fact that it’s able to balance the heavy topics with an equal amount of fluff. I think at the end of the day, the one thing a teen wants in a book is to feel SEEN, and relate to the characters. Alice Oseman crafts relatable teen characters so well, unlike so many other YA authors, which is something I really admire. All the relationships between characters feel so genuine, and the banter and dynamics are really accurate as well.
Nick and Charlie are so supportive of each other, and they’re surrounded by THE most loving family and friends. The artwork in this graphic novel is also so gorgeous, and it does the story complete justice. Although Heartstopper has been traditionally published, and is available as a physical comic book, it’s also available for free online on Webtoon (App/Website), on Tapas (App/Website), or on Alice Oseman’s Tumblr. Which gives you all the more reason to start reading it today!
We Are Not Free is one of my favourite reads of 2021 so far. It’s a poignant, nuanced narrative told from the perspectives of 14 Japanese-American teens during WW2. The fact that it’s told from 14 different perspectives may sound intimidating or repetitive, but it’s neither. Each of the POVs feel like short stories, that are somehow all interconnected to each other in some way or another, and all the characters have entirely different personalities.
WW2 is an important part of history all over the world, and all of us have learnt about it no matter which part of the world we come from, but I don’t think a lot of us have heard the stories of WW2 from an Asian, or a Japanese perspective. Groundbreaking, and powerful We Are Not Free shone a light on everything glossed over in curriculums, and managed to bring me to tears multiple times.
Even with 14 POVs, each of the characters had such unique, distinct voices and personalities. Every single one of the perspectives were complex, and fully three-dimensional, without including completely unnecessary details. All of them found a way into my heart, and seeing how deeply they cared about each other, and what they would do to keep themselves safe was truly heartbreaking.
Even if you’re not a fan of historical fiction, We Are Not Free is a must-read with it’s gorgeous writing style, and moving themes. May is also API (Asian & Pacific Islander) Heritage Month, which is why it’s the perfect time to pick up this book! If you need further motivation, Cindy also hosts the Asian Readathon in honor of API Heritage month every year, which gives you another chance to pick this book up!
Angie Thomas’ debut The Hate U Give topped (and continues to rank) in the New York Times bestseller charts for over 213 weeks. Although I liked her second book, On the Come Up, better than The Hate U Give, both were really strong, empowering reads that really moved me. However, once Concrete Rose came out in January 2021, I knew that it would have more impact on me than the both of them combined.
Concrete Rose is the prequel to The Hate U Give, and is essentially the story of Starr’s father – Maverick Carter, or big Mav. Angie Thomas’ characters (as usual), are extremely well fleshed out, and very complex. Her writing is unflinching, and she portrays everything under an honest light. Even though this book is great for just informing yourself, and understanding what’s going on in the world, I would re-read it for the story alone. After reading The Hate U Give in around 2018 and On the Come Up in 2019, I’ve always wanted to read more about Garden Heights, and what was there before. Starr’s dad was also just an extremely interesting character, so I just wanted to view things from his perspective.
We don’t see much of Mav’s past, or his point of view in The Hate U Give, but even then, you can recognize that he’s a complex character who’s been through a lot. In Concrete Rose we get to know the history behind Starr, Seven, and even some minor characters, and everything just has so much meaning behind it. You can also see how much planning Angie Thomas has put into the plot, because each event is somehow indirectly affecting another. I would love to see more books set in Garden Heights, and at this point, I would read anything Angie Thomas writes.
I recently read Perfect on Paper as an ARC, and it was everything I could have ever wanted from a contemporary! It was light, fluffy, and included some of my favourite tropes – (hate-to-love and the grumpy x sunshine dynamic). Each of the characters were entirely different, and the stark contrast, and difference in personalities made their dynamics so much more interesting.
Each of the character relationships had so much depth to them, and all of them felt so three-dimensional and realistic. What I loved the most was how natural each of the interactions felt, because in so many books, you just get awkward conversation, but seeing supportive friends, who had realistic interactions helped make this book resonant.
Although the storyline was super fluffy, and cute, I loved seeing how it was balanced with heavy themes of internal biphobia, and finding yourself, even when you feel you’ve lost everything, and everyone around you.
The relationships that weren’t the center of attention, and ones featuring minor side characters were also given so much depth, and attention, which is something I would love to see so much more in the books I read. All of the relationships, whether they were parental, romantic, or friendly, had a certain past to them, and were never perfect. They all had their own unique flaws, much like relationships we have in real life, making this exemplary contemporary even better.
Although it had a slightly rocky start, Gearbreakers was full of unexpected twists, surprises, and an action-packed story that kept me gripping the edge of my seat. This book was one of my most anticipated for 2021, and it did NOT disappoint. Filled with mechas, giant machines, angry queer girls, morally grey characters, enemies-to-lovers, and set in a futuristic society with loads of political tension, Gearbreakers was the science fiction of my dreams.
The story was fresh, unique, and it was just different from most of the books I read. I feel like there were so many opportunities for Gearbreakers to become cliché or overly-trope-y and I find it admirable that it managed to stay original throughout. I also loved the fact that even though the story was told in an alternating first-person POV, I was able to distinguish between each of the characters easily because their personalities and struggles were completely different from each other, and that contrast made the two main characters complement each other so well, without their interactions feeling forced, and their friendships/romance feeling contrived.
Morally grey, complex characters are my favourite, and Gearbreakers was full of them. Sona and Eris (our two protagonists) were fueled by emotions throughout. Although this surge of emotion led to messy writing for around the first 20% of the story, after that point, Zoe Hana Mikuta’s beautiful prose helped enhance the anger they were feeling, and brought an entirely new level of rage and fury to the story.
Along with the complex characters, there was also some really heartwarming found family! The interactions between all the members of the crew were so beautifully written, and I feel like that really helped bring out how much they cared about each other. The banter was A++, and that gradual progression from Sona being an outsider, to slowly becoming a part of the crew, and maybe even something more for Eris, was just developed so well.
You can read my full review for Gearbreakers here!
I buddy read The Ones We’re Meant to Find with Amanda, and it was so much fun! A poignant tale about climate, how our world is slowly changing, and losing the people we love, the twists in this book had me reeling. Although yes, it was extremely slow until around the 47% mark, I was invested in the sisters, and their intertwined fates.
At around the halfway point though, the book changed dramatically in pace, with SO many twists, I honestly just didn’t know what to expect. Everything started all at once, and I loved screaming about this to Amanda, because honestly, none of us expected it!
Joan He’s gorgeous prose helped bring out the personality of each character so well. Even though at surface level you didn’t know much, with each chapter she digs a little deeper into each of their pasts (and thoughts), making every character so much more three-dimensional, also adding depth to the story, a larger element of surprise, and making every twist all the more unexpected.
Along with the lovely writing, the commentary on social and environmental change, as well as humanity and its faults was something I loved reading. It helped add so much to the worldbuilding – which was a marvel in itself. Joan He created an atmospheric, futuristic world – that was equal parts terrifying and intriguing. The sheer creativity of the world – and how well it was developed would alone have been enough to carry the story. Because it was completely powered by science, there was always going to be a part that hadn’t been explored, and whenever a big reveal took place – I loved that it always impacted, or was directly related to the main storyline.
Although my review isn’t out yet, you can read Cherelle’s review which sums up my thoughts on the book exactly!
Hana Khan Carries On was a powerful, and yet heartwarming (desi!) You’ve Got Mail retelling. With characters that stole my heart and ran away with it, and a raw commentary on the hate South Asians receive – ranging from racist comments in the workplace, to full on hate-motivated attacks, this book covered ALL the bases, with depth. The storyline was so well thought-out, with plot twists and reveals at just the right places, and the pacing was just right!
Each of these characters were also described so well, with unique personalities, and past decisions that affected their current lives, the characters here were as three-dimensional as they come. I’m not going to give any spoilers, and going to be very vague, but every character was so unique, and loveable, but still also very desi and relatable, if that makes sense.
All three types of relationships (romance, friendship, and family) were described with so much depth as well! Since this is a You’ve Got Mail retelling – I’m going to start with the romance. The enemies-to-lovers arc, was developed gradually, with so much yearning that it was impossible not to swoon over! Seeing the online relationship on Hana’s anonymous podcast take place side-by-side with this progression, and them slowly realise who the other truly is, and watch that bond strengthen was beautiful.
The friendships were also the best, because the three main people in the friend group had been best friends since childhood, and this book wonderfully showed that even though it’s great to support your friend through everything, it’s also okay to confront your friend if they do something you’re not comfortable with, as well as be selfish once in a while, and take care of yourself.
I can now also count the number of books that made me feel represented on more than one hand, and I’m so happy this beautiful story contributes to that list! I’m serious – the amount of tabs I made in my copy, and the amount of sticky notes I used is unbelievable – I just loved this so much! Whether or not you’re desi, this is a MUST-READ! The amount if warmth and comfort it gave me is just unbelievable, and if you’re looking for a fluffy rom-com that deals with heavy (and relatable!) topics – then this one’s for you.
Ace of Spades was something I finished a few days ago, and it left me out of breath by the time I was done! A heart-pounding thriller that had me gripping my seat in anticipation throughout, it also provided raw, unflinching commentary on institutionalized racism, and how prevalent it is even in todays society.
Even though I only realized later, there’s foreshadowing, and little clues from the very first page. When my two brain cells finally managed to bring them together, I was shook by the ingenuity of the writing, and thought process behind the book.
Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s gorgeous prose helps accentuate the differences between the characters, and develop their unique personalities, while also giving us a chance to empathize, and fully see what they’re going through. I hate reading about characters that feel sorry for themselves for every little thing – and even though both Chiamaka (my new idol), and Devon were both going through so much, they persevered, and kept going on.
Though they were both such inspirational characters, they were also not without their faults, making them all the more realistic, and even relatable in some aspects. The exploration, of even the side characters was so thorough, and three-dimensional, so seeing their development, and persona unfold was super intriguing!
This was also an extremely small part of the book, but like everything else, it was written so beautifully, I fell in love. Although it wasn’t major, I adored seeing Chiamaka’s relationship with her parents. Seeing her mother make her proud of being biracial, and her dad being full of the worst jokes was so heartwarming, and I do wish that was explored more in the novel!
Some other books I’ve loved and would recommend!
*All book titles lead to their respective Goodreads pages, and book names lead to my reviews ~
The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe
The Infinity Courts (The Infinity Courts #1) by Akemi Dawn Bowman
The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1) by Namina Forna
House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1) by Sarah J. Maas