Young Adult Literature

Great YA Nonfiction for Your 2021 TBR

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Hey YA Readers!

Already looking ahead to your 2021 TBR? You’ll want to make sure you have these nonfiction titles ready for it. There’s a nice mix of young reader editions—adult books that have been adapted for younger readers, which have gotten so good over the last half decade or so—and original titles. I’ve stuck to books publishing before May, so if anything catches your eye, you can (and should!) preorder it now as a surprise to yourself next year.

I’m still making my way through 2020 YA so I haven’t yet had the chance to read most of these, so I’m borrowing publisher copy to share what the books are about. The one I have read, you’ll see my glowing commentary for beneath!

Note that this roundup is a little longer than usual but I really wanted to showcase the awesome breadth of young reader nonfiction to anticipate.

The Beautiful Struggle: Young Readers Edition by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Coates grew up in the tumultuous 1980s in Baltimore, known as the murder capital back then. With seven siblings, four mothers, and one highly unconventional father—Paul Coates, a larger-than-life Vietnam Vet, Black Panther, Afrocentric scholar—Ta-Nehisi’s coming of age story is gripping and lays bare the struggles of inner-city kids.

With candor, Ta-Nehisi Coates details the challenges on the streets and within one’s family, especially the eternal struggle for peace between a father and son and the important role family plays in such circumstances.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: Young Readers Edition by Jeff Chang and Dave Cook (3/2)

Hip hop is one of the most dominant and influential cultures in America, giving new voice to the younger generation. It defines a generation’s worldview. Exploring hip hop’s beginnings up to the present day, Jeff Chang and Dave “Davey D” Cook provide a provocative look into the new world that the hip hop generation has created.

Based on original interviews with DJs, b-boys, rappers, activists, and gang members, with unforgettable portraits of many of hip hop’s forebears, founders, mavericks, and present day icons, this book chronicles the epic events, ideas and the music that marked the hip hop generation’s rise.

I read this one in adult form and am SO excited to see this adapted for young readers!

Girlhood: Teens Around The World In Their Own Voices by Masuma Ahuja (2/9)

All around the world, girls are going to school, working, dreaming up big futures—they are soccer players and surfers, ballerinas and chess champions. Yet we know so little about their daily lives. We often hear about challenges and catastrophes in the news, and about exceptional girls who make headlines. But even though the health, education, and success of girls so often determines the future of a community, we don’t know more about what life is like for the ordinary girls, the ones living outside the headlines.

From the Americas to Europe to Africa to Asia to the South Pacific, the thirty teens from twenty-seven countries in Girlhood share their own stories of growing up through diary entries and photographs, and the girls’ stories are put in context with reporting and research that helps us understand the circumstances and communities they live in. This full-color, exuberantly designed volume is a portrait of ordinary girlhood around the world, and of the world, as seen through girls’ eyes.

This book is beautiful and such a fabulous look at teens around the world. What makes it special is how much context is given to the girls’ lives, paired with the girls sharing their daily lives in their own words. It’ll be full color and the pictures and design of this are going to only make it more beautiful.

The Impossible Climb: Alex Honnold, El Capitan, and a Climber’s Life (Young Reader Edition) by Mark Synnott and Hampton Synnott

On June 3, 2017, as seen in the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo, Alex Honnold achieved what most had written off as unattainable: a 3,000-foot vertical climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, without a rope or harness. At the time, only a few knew what he was attempting to do, but after topping out at 9:28 a.m., having spent just under four hours on this historic feat, author Mark Synnott broke the story for National Geographic and the world watched in awe.

Now adapted for a younger audience, The Impossible Climb tells the gripping story of how a quiet kid from Sacramento, California, grew up to capture the attention of the entire globe by redefining the limits of human potential through hard work, discipline, and a deep respect for the natural world.

In The Shadow of the Moon: America, Russia, and the Hidden History of the Space Race by Amy Cherrix (2/9)

You’ve heard of the space race, but do you know the whole story?

The most ambitious race humankind has ever undertaken was masterminded in the shadows by two engineers on opposite sides of the Cold War—Wernher von Braun, a former Nazi officer living in the U.S., and Sergei Korolev, a Russian rocket designer once jailed for crimes against his country—and your textbooks probably never told you.

Von Braun became an American hero, recognized the world over, while Korolev toiled in obscurity. These two brilliant rocketeers never met, but together they shaped the science of spaceflight and redefined modern warfare. From Stalin’s brutal Gulag prisons and Hitler’s concentration camps to Cape Canaveral and beyond, their simultaneous quests pushed science—and human ingenuity—to the breaking point.

From Amy Cherrix comes the extraordinary hidden story of the space race and the bitter rivalry that launched humankind to the moon.

The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos (Young Readers Edition) by Judy Batalion (4/6)

As their communities were being destroyed, groups of Jewish women and teenage girls across Poland began transforming Jewish youth groups into resistance factions. These “ghetto girls” helped build systems of underground bunkers, paid off the Gestapo, and bombed German train lines.

At the center of the book is eighteen-year-old Renia Kukielka, who traveled across her war-torn country as a weapons smuggler and messenger. Other women who joined the cause served as armed fighters, spies, and saboteurs, all risking their lives for their missions.

Never before chronicled in full, this is the incredible account of the strong Jewish women who fought back against the seemingly unstoppable Nazi regime. It follows the women through arrests, internment, and for a lucky few, into the late 20th century and beyond.

It also includes an eight-page insert of black-and-white photos, so that readers can see firsthand the extraordinary women who bravely fought for their freedom in the face of overwhelming odds.

Master of His Fate: Roosevelt’s Rise from Polio to the Presidency by James Tobin (3/23)

In 1921, FDR contracted polio. Just as he began to set his sights on the New York governorship―and, with great hope, the presidency―FDR became paralyzed from the waist down. FDR faced a radical choice: give up politics or reenter the arena with a disability, something never seen before. With the help of Eleanor and close friends, Roosevelt made valiant strides toward rehabilitation and became even more focused on becoming president, proving that misfortune sometimes turns out to be a portal to unexpected opportunities and rewards―even to greatness.

This groundbreaking political biography richly weaves together medicine, disability narratives, and presidential history.

Meltdown: Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima by Deirdre Langeland (2/9)

On March 11, 2011, the largest earthquake ever measured in Japan occurred off the northeast coast. It triggered a tsunami with a wall of water 128 feet high. The tsunami damaged the nuclear power plant in Fukushima triggering the nightmare scenario—a nuclear meltdown.

For six days, employees at the plant worked to contain the meltdown and disaster workers scoured the surrounding flooded area for survivors.

This book examines the science behind such a massive disaster and looks back at the people who experienced an unprecedented trifecta of destruction.

Notes From a Young Black Chef Cover

Notes From a Young Black Chef: Young Reader Edition by Kwame Onwuachi (4/13)

By the time he was twenty-seven years old, Kwame Onwuachi had opened—and closed—one of the most talked about restaurants in America. He had sold drugs in New York and been shipped off to rural Nigeria to “learn respect.” He had launched his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars made from selling candy on the subway and starred on Top Chef. Through it all, Onwuachi’s love of food and cooking remained a constant, even when, as a young chef, he was forced to grapple with just how unwelcoming the food world can be for people of color. In this inspirational memoir about the intersection of race, fame, and food, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age; a powerful, heartfelt, and shockingly honest account of chasing your dreams—even when they don’t turn out as you expected.

Race Against Time: The Untold Story of Scipio Jones and the Battle to Save Twelve Innocent Men by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace

Scipio Africanus Jones—a self-taught attorney who was born enslaved—leads a momentous series of court cases to save twelve Black men who’d been unjustly sentenced to death.

In October 1919, a group of Black sharecroppers met at a church in an Arkansas village to organize a union. Bullets rained down on the meeting from outside. Many were killed by a white mob, and others were rounded up and arrested. Twelve of the sharecroppers were hastily tried and sentenced to death. Up stepped Scipio Africanus Jones, a self-taught lawyer who’d been born enslaved. Could he save the men’s lives and set them free? Through their in-depth research and consultation with legal experts, award-winning nonfiction authors Sandra and Rich Wallace examine the complex proceedings and an unsung African American early civil rights hero.

A Time of Fear: America in the Era of Red Scares and Cold War by Albert Marrin (3/30)

In twentieth century America, no power—and no threat—loomed larger than the communist superpower of the Soviet Union. America saw in the dreams of the Soviet Union the overthrow of the US government, and the end of democracy and freedom. Meanwhile, the Communist Party of the United States attempted to use deep economic and racial disparities in American culture to win over members and sympathizers.

From the miscarriage of justice in the Scotsboro Boys case, to the tragedy of the Rosenbergs to the theatrics of the Hollywood Ten to the menace of the Joseph McCarthy and his war hearings, Albert Marrin examines a unique time in American history…and explores both how some Americans were lured by the ideals of communism without understanding its reality and how fear of communist infiltration at times caused us to undermine our most deeply held values. The questions he raises ask: What is worth fighting for? And what are you willing to sacrifice to keep it?

Filled with black and white photographs throughout, this timely book from an award-author brings to life an important and dramatic era in American history with lessons that are deeply relevant today.

Violet and Daisy: The Story of Vaudeville’s Famous Conjoined Twins by Sarah Miller (4/27)

Violet and Daisy. They were as sweet and pretty as their names would suggest, the pair of them as alike as two flower buds on a single stem. They were also joined, back-to-back, at the base of their spine. 

Freaks, monsters—that’s what conjoined twins were called in 1908. And so their mother abandoned Violet and Daisy to the care of her midwife, who immediately put the babies on exhibition in the back room of her pub, embarking on a course of blatant exploitation that would range from the Brighton seashore to Australian amusement parks, American sideshows, and eventually to the most phenomenal success in vaudeville’s history.

But Violet and Daisy were more than just an exhibit, of course. They were two distinct individuals with remarkably harmonious personalities: Violet thoughtful yet candid, Daisy impulsive and easygoing.  Above all, they were sisters. 

In a story packed to the brim with questions about individuality, identity, and exploitation, Sarah Miller delivers an engrossing, compassionate portrait of two sisters whose bonds were so sacred that nothing—not even death—would compel Violet and Daisy to break them.

The Waiting Place by Dina Nayeri and Anna Bosch Miralpeix (4/13)

An unflinching look at ten young lives suspended outside of time—and bravely proceeding anyway—inside the Katsikas refugee camp in Greece.

Every war, famine, and flood spits out survivors.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) cites an unprecedented 71 million forcibly displaced people on the planet today. In 2018, Dina Nayeri—a former refugee herself and the daughter of a refugee—invited documentary photographer Anna Bosch Miralpeix to accompany her to Katsikas, a refugee camp outside Ioannina, Greece, to record the hopes and struggles of ten of them—siblings and friends from Iran and Afganistan. “I wanted to play with them, to enter their imagined worlds, to see the landscape inside their minds,” she says. Ranging in age from five to seventeen, the children live in partitioned shipping-crate homes crowded on a field below a mountain. Robbed of curiosity and purpose, dignity and identity, each battles the dreary monster of a paused life.

Ten lyrical passages lead one into the next, punctuated by intimate photographs, to reveal the dreams, ambitions, and personalities of each displaced child, followed by a powerful account of the author’s own experiences in a camp. Locking the global refugee crisis sharply in focus, The Waiting Place is, finally, an urgent call to change what we teach young people about the nature of home and safety.

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