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2021 Summer Reading: High School


Need suggestions for summer reading? This year we've super-sized our lists, with a baker's dozen recommendations for different age ranges — including fiction, nonfiction, folklore, and poetry — all published 2020–2021 and ideal for the season. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.


Picture Books | Easy Readers and Primary Grades | Intermediate | Middle School


High School

Suggested grade level for all entries: 9 and up


Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (Quill Tree/HarperCollins)

After their father perishes in a plane crash, newly revealed sixteen-year-old half-sisters Camino (who lives in the Dominican Republic and dreams of medical school) and Yahaira (a native New Yorker who plays competitive chess) grapple with grief, the sting of deception, and the meaning of family. Acevedo excels in this sharp and compelling verse novel, a 2020 Boston Globe–Horn Book honoree. 422 pages.

Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

At summer theater camp, Kate and her best guy friend both crush on a gorgeous boy — who then enrolls at their high school and is cast as Kate’s love interest in a school production. Things get even more complicated as she develops feelings for her cute, goofy neighbor. The cast is well-developed and naturally diverse — the fact that Kate’s good friend is transgender and a castmate uses a wheelchair is NBD. 400 pages.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Holt)

Recent high school graduate Daunis Firekeeper is devastated when her best friend is murdered by a drug-addicted boyfriend. Soon after, she’s asked to be a confidential informant investigating the meth that plagues her Sugar Island Ojibwe community — all the more complicated as her mother is non-Native and she herself is unenrolled. A gripping page-turner — multifaceted, authentic, and suspenseful. 496 pages. See also our Summer Reading Five Questions interview with the author.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

At seventeen, Felix Love feels marginalized as a Black teen, an aspiring artist, and a trans male. While attending his prestigious prep school’s summer program, his Instagram (including archived pre-transition images) is hacked and displayed, shaking him to his core. Felix does ultimately find love in this sweet and tender trans romance, but his hardest-won victory is in the fight to validate his self-worth. 357 pages.

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore (Dial)

When two of her envoys vanish, Queen Bitterblue, her spy Hava, and her friend Giddon make the sea voyage to Winterkeep to investigate. There they meet Lovisa Cavenda, teenage daughter of two wealthy politicians from Winterkeep’s opposing parties. Cashore returns to the world of Graceling (rev. 11/08), Fire (rev. 9/09), and Bitterblue (rev. 5/12) in this captivating and inexorably plotted novel of character, action, and ideas. 528 pages.

In the Shadow of the Moon: America, Russia, and the Hidden History of the Space Race by Amy Cherrix (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

Starting with an intriguing preface, Cherrix informs readers that the space race was run “in the shadows by a former Nazi (Wernher von Braun) and a Russian (Sergei Korolev) who was jailed for crimes against his country.” Their subsequent parallel careers are the focus of this suspenseful, engaging narrative, which provides an eye-opening reminder that “scientific advancement comes at a price.” 336 pages.

My Last Summer with Cass by Mark Crilley (Little, Brown)

In this coming-of-artistic-age graphic novel, seventeen-year-old Megan visits her childhood friend Cass in Brooklyn over the summer. Surrounded by Cass’s eccentric artist friends, Megan steps out of her comfort zone and begins to pursue art on her own terms. Crilley’s animated art style renders the teens’ facial expressions with exaggeratedly effective detail. There are idiosyncrasies and heart aplenty in this enjoyable tale. 256 pages.

Apple: Skin to the Core by Eric Gansworth (Levine Querido)

Gansworth, an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, grew up on the Tuscarora reservation, making him always “the outsider inside.” His first-person memoir in verse — which includes his own gouache illustrations — tells a deeply personal story, full of family history and pop culture references (especially the Beatles). It confirms that Native peoples “are still / here, / still standing, still walking, one resilient step at a time.” 352 pages.

Skyhunter by Marie Lu (Roaring Brook)

Talin is a Striker, member of an elite fighting force defending the Mara peninsula from invasion by the Karensa Federation. Summoned to witness the execution of a Federation prisoner, she senses something unusual and asks that he be spared, only to have him assigned as her new combat partner. A sci-fi story of high-stakes action, exploration of prejudice and disability, and tantalizing romance. 384 pages.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (Swoon/Feiwel)

Yadriel is trans and gay, i.e., “Head Black Sheep” among his Latinx family members, who help guide spirits into the afterlife. When a relative meets an untimely death, Yadriel and his cousin Maritza seek answers of their own with help from a mysterious queer spirit named Julian. Thomas’s debut is packed with eerie adventure, tingly romance, family drama, and cheeky, relatable characters. 352 pages.

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

This prequel to The Hate U Give (rev. 3/17) begins with seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter dealing drugs and trying to finish school. Everything changes when he discovers he has a three-month-old son whom he must now single-parent — and that’s just the first major complication. Fans of Thomas’s work will not be disappointed by this offering about the charismatic Mav’s (Starr’s father) backstory. 368 pages.

Love Is a Revolution by Renée Watson (Bloomsbury)

All Nala has on her summer agenda is to pick a new hairstyle, spend time with her “cousin-sister-friend” Imani, and find love. Then she meets Tye through Imani’s activist group — and tells a few little white lies about her own activism. Watson (see also Ways to Grow Love, rev. 5/21) offers a rom-com that is as much an ode to New York, especially Harlem, as it is to Black love. 400 pages.

Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon (Putnam)

Sunny Dae and his friends are the “nerd caste” at their suburban Los Angeles high school. After meeting a cool new girl, Sunny hides his passions for role-playing games — and pretends he’s the front man of a band. Despite Sunny’s self-professed cynicism, the novel is a joyful one: three geeky friends turn out to also be decent musicians; and ultimately Sunny, just as he is, gets the girl. 368 pages.


From the May 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book: Summer Reading. For past years’ summer reading lists from The Horn Book, click on the tag summer reading.

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