Sometimes we are born with a passion that is all consuming, and other times it takes a lifetime to know what we are meant to do with our lives. In the case of many characters who star in some of this year’s most beautiful young adult fiction novels, the journey to discovering the power of the pen in one’s hands sometimes proves circuitous. From dealing with the challenges of learning English as a second language through writing poetry, to unveiling a Hollywood scandal through intense journalism, teen writers overcome fear to take fate into their own hands. Here are six 2021 YA books about teens who write to change their worlds, all from the first half of the year.
Love in English by Maria E. Andreu
U.S. Americans speak almost too fast to keep up with. Ana learns this the hard way: when the teen moves from Argentina to New Jersey, she is thrust into high school with students whose speech, social rules, and traditions threaten to drown her in confusion. An ESL class, new friends, and Ana’s talent for writing poetry keep her afloat. But when Ana enters a writing competition, she wonders if her personal, passionate stanzas are good enough to win. The tale is sweet and a beautiful story of finding a new home in the USA as an immigrant.
A Pho Love Story by Loan Le
Bao has never felt an inclination towards a career path or what he’d like to pursue after high school. He spends most of his time helping out at his family’s pho restaurant and listening to his parents complain about the other Vietnamese family who own the rival restaurant across the street. But then he takes a journalism class and he’s paired with Linh, the daughter of his parent’s rivals, to write and illustrate food reviews for the school newspaper. Linh is an artist whose paintbrush can transform any surface into a masterpiece. Bao’s life suddenly shifts as he finds two new passions: writing and Linh. Can Linh and Bao find love amidst the tensions between their two families? And just how powerful can the written word prove when their community is threatened?
Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant
Tessa’s story opens in an extremely relatable way: she’s interrupted while writing a much awaited love scene. Tessa is a high school student with a passion for secretly writing romance. When her family moves to a new town, Tessa’s mom secretly sends a writing sample to Chrysalis Academy. All of a sudden, Tessa is attending the prestigious school of the arts and she’s finally surrounded by other creative thinkers. But when words fail her in class, her best friend decides that the best way to get the creative juices flowing is to fall in love in real life. It turns out that love stories get more and more complicated when the pen is no longer in one’s hand.
Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink
The year is 1921. Angel is the type to show up to school late due to volunteering to babysit for an exhausted new mom. She believes Booker T. Washington’s words hold the key to peace, and her days are filled with worry for her ill father. Isaiah, on the other hand, seems to have a penchant for bullying and following the questionable lead of his best friend. Secretly he constantly writes fiery poetry and devours the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, thinking long and hard about what it means to be Black in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Then one day, Isaiah finds himself writing love poems about Angel. When the two are paired together for a summer job, their lives begin to shift and change comes even faster when a bloody tragedy — now known as the Tulsa Race Massacre — rips through their city and all they know is torn apart.
Off the Record by Camryn Garrett (May 2021)
Numerous articles published on high profile websites? Check. Application to dream college, Spelman College, submitted? Check. Uncovering a scandal that will shake Hollywood to its core? Processing. Josie Wright has always known she’s an exceptional writer. After all, she’s been freelance writing articles for years even though she has not yet graduated from high school. When she wins a prestigious writing contest, she has the opportunity of a lifetime: write a profile on a young actor for the magazine that inspires her. But Josie is not as confident as she seems on paper. When she begins to uncover the dark deeds of a prominent figure in the film industry, Josie has to fight not only her own anxiety but the potential that her future as a journalist will go up in flames by those who want to burn all evidence of the truth.
One Great Lie by Deb Caletti (June 2021)
Last but not least, no list of YA books about teens who write would be complete without female poets and a trip abroad! Amidst a tension-filled home life and a research project that is going nowhere, Charlotte is elated to find out she has won a scholarship to attend a writing workshop. Her summer plans: writing in the sunshine of Venice under the guidance of one of her favorite authors. But one by one, clouds sweep in as secrets are uncovered. Charlotte finds herself facing down generations of powerful men and the women they tried to silence.
Intrigued by these YA books about teens who write, and interested in exploring other young adult fiction about writers? Check out 3 More YA Books About Teen Writers. Want to find out how other fictional characters are using their skills for good? Read about 6 YA Books About Teens Embedded in Technology.