What a great time to be alive! Have you looked at the list of 2021 releases in Young Adult literature? One of my favorite things about YA is how it’s constantly trying to push its boundaries, how it’s not afraid to experiment, and mostly, currently, how of all age-categories, it’s actively pushing for diversity.
We are still a long long way off from seeing equal representation, but 2021 will probably see more diverse rep than before, and I’m excited about that.
Here are some 2021 YA books with South Asian rep (by rep I mean that a main character is of South Asian descent) I’m most excited about that should definitely be on your TBR!
This list only includes standalone novels or the first in a series releasing in 2021.
HANI AND ISHU’S GUIDE TO FAKE DATING by Adiba Jaigirdar
Release date: May 25, 2021
When Humaira “Hani” Khan comes out to her friends as bisexual, they immediately doubt her. Apparently, she can’t be bi if she’s only dated guys. Cornered into proving her sexuality, she tells them she’s dating someone—Ishita “Ishu” Dey, the straight A student who seems more concerned with studying than relationships.
When Hani approaches her about fake dating, she agrees on one condition–that Hani help her become more popular so she can win the school’s head girl election. It’s the perfect plan to help them achieve their goals, until Hani’s friends become jealous that she’s spending more time with Ishu. They’ll do everything they can to drive a wedge between them and ruin Ishu’s chances of becoming head girl.
Now, Hani has a decision to make: does she break off her relationship with Ishu for the sake of her friends? Or does she tell Ishu how she really feels and turn their “fake” relationship into something real?
Rep: Features Bangladeshi/Bengali main characters.
ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE by Sabina Khan
Release date: April 6, 2021
Seventeen-year-old Pakistani immigrant, Zara Hossain, has been leading a fairly typical life in Corpus Christi, Texas, since her family moved there for her father to work as a pediatrician. While dealing with the Islamophobia that she faces at school, Zara has to lay low, trying not to stir up any trouble and jeopardize their family’s dependent visa status while they await their green card approval, which has been in process for almost nine years.
But one day her tormentor, star football player Tyler Benson, takes things too far, leaving a threatening note in her locker, and gets suspended. As an act of revenge against her for speaking out, Tyler and his friends vandalize Zara’s house with racist graffiti, leading to a violent crime that puts Zara’s entire future at risk. Now she must pay the ultimate price and choose between fighting to stay in the only place she’s ever called home or losing the life she loves and everyone in it.
From the author of the “heart-wrenching yet hopeful” (Samira Ahmed) novel, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, comes a timely, intimate look at what it means to be an immigrant in America today, and the endurance of hope and faith in the face of hate.
Rep: The book features a Pakistani immigrant.
COUNTING DOWN WITH YOU by Tashie Bhuiyan
Release Date: May 4, 2021
Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.
Karina is my girlfriend.
Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.
T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?
Rep: Features a Bangladeshi protagonist.
AMERICAN BETIYA by Anuradha D. Rajurkar
Release date: March 9, 2021
Rani Kelkar has never lied to her parents, until she meets Oliver. The same qualities that draw her in–his tattoos, his charisma, his passion for art–make him her mother’s worst nightmare.
They begin dating in secret, but when Oliver’s troubled home life unravels, he starts to ask more of Rani than she knows how to give, desperately trying to fit into her world, no matter how high the cost. When a twist of fate leads Rani from Evanston, Illinois to Pune, India for a summer, she has a reckoning with herself–and what’s really brewing beneath the surface of her first love.
Winner of the SCBWI Emerging Voices award, Anuradha Rajurkar takes an honest look at the ways cultures can clash in an interracial relationship. Braiding together themes of sexuality, artistic expression, and appropriation, she gives voice to a girl claiming ownership of her identity, one shattered stereotype at a time.
Rep: Features an Indian American protagonist.
THE WILD ONES by Nafiza Azad
Release date: August 3, 2021
Meet the Wild Ones: girls who have been hurt, abandoned, and betrayed all their lives. It all began with Paheli, who was once betrayed by her mother and sold to a man in exchange for a favor. When Paheli escapes, she runs headlong into a boy with stars in his eyes. This boy, as battered as she is, tosses Paheli a box of stars before disappearing.
With the stars, Paheli gains access to the Between, a place of pure magic and mystery. Now, Paheli collects girls like herself and these Wild Ones use their magic to travel the world, helping the hopeless and saving others from the fates they suffered.
Then Paheli and the Wild Ones learn that the boy who gave them the stars, Taraana, is in danger. He’s on the run from powerful forces within the world of magic. But if Taraana is no longer safe and free, neither are the Wild Ones. And that…is a fate the Wild Ones refuse to accept. Ever again.
Rep: This book features mutiracial characters, including a main character of South Asian descent.
THE KNOCKOUT by Sajni Patel
Release date: January 26, 2021
If seventeen-year-old Kareena Thakkar is going to alienate herself from the entire Indian community, she might as well do it gloriously. She’s landed the chance of a lifetime, an invitation to the US Muay Thai Open, which could lead to a spot on the first-ever Olympic team. If only her sport wasn’t seen as something too rough for girls, something she’s afraid to share with anyone outside of her family. Despite pleasing her parents, exceling at school, and making plans to get her family out of debt, Kareena’s never felt quite Indian enough, and her training is only making it worse.
Which is inconvenient, since she’s starting to fall for Amit Patel, who just might be the world’s most perfect Indian. Admitting her feelings for Amit will cost Kareena more than just her pride–she’ll have to face his parents’ disapproval, battle her own insecurities, and remain focused for the big fight. Kareena’s bid for the Olympics could very well make history—if she has the courage to go for it.
Rep: Features an Indian protagonist.
RADHA AND JAI’S RECIPE FOR ROMANCE by Nisha Sharma
Release date: July 13, 2021
Radha is on the verge of becoming one of the greatest Kathak dancers in the world . . . until a family betrayal costs her the biggest competition of her life. Now, she has left her Chicago home behind to follow her stage mom to New Jersey. At the Princeton Academy of the Arts, Radha is determined to leave performing in her past, and reinvent herself from scratch.
Jai is captain of the Bollywood Beats dance team, ranked first in his class, and an overachiever with no college plans. Tight family funds means medical school is a pipe dream, which is why he wants to make the most out of high school. When Radha enters his life, he realizes she’s the exact ingredient he needs for a show-stopping senior year.
With careful choreography, both Radha and Jai will need to face their fears (and their families) if they want a taste of a happily ever after.
Rep: This book features Indian main characters.
SISTERS OF THE SNAKE by Sasha Nanua and Sarena Nanua
Release date: June 15, 2021
A lost princess. A dark puppet master. And a race against time—before all is lost.
Princess Rani longs for a chance to escape her gilded cage and prove herself. Ria is a street urchin, stealing just to keep herself alive.
When these two lives collide, everything turns on its head: because Ria and Rani, orphan and royal, are unmistakably identical.
A deal is struck to switch places—but danger lurks in both worlds, and to save their home, thief and princess must work together. Or watch it all fall into ruin.
Deadly magic, hidden temples, and dark prophecies: Sisters of the Snake is an action-packed, immersive fantasy that will thrill fans of The Crown’s Game and The Tiger at Midnight.
Rep: This is an India-inspired fantasy featuring protagonists of Indian descent.
THE LADY OR THE LION by Aamna Qureshi
Release date: June 22, 2021
Once there was a princess forced to choose a fate for her lover-to a future in the arms of a beautiful lady, or to death in the mouth of a lion? But what came first was the fate she would choose for herself.
As crown princess of Marghazar, Durkhanai Miangul will do anything to protect her people and her land. When her grandfather, the Badshah, is blamed for a deadly assault on the summit of neighboring leaders, the tribes call for his head. To assuage cries for war, the Badshah opens Marghazar’s gates to foreigners for the first time in centuries, in a sign of good faith. Enter Ambassador Asfandyar Afridi, a wry foreigner who admits outright that he is a spy. Stubborn, proud, and suspicious of foreigners, Durkhanai does not appreciate that he won’t bow to her every whim and instead talks circles around her.
And yet, she has to make him her ally to expose those truly responsible for the attack as more ambassadors from neighboring tribal districts arrive at court, each one of them with their own agenda and reasons to hide the truth.When a mysterious illness spreads through the village and the imperialists push hard on her borders, Durkhanai must sort through the ever shifting loyalties at court and her growing feelings for Asfandyar. Will she be able to leave the antics of a spoiled princess behind and become what her people need-a queen?
Rep: This book features Pakistani main characters.
SISTER OF THE BOLLYWOOD WIFE by Nandini Bajpai
Release date: May 25, 2021
Mini’s big sister, Vinnie, is getting married. Their mom passed away seven years ago and between Dad’s new start-up and Vinnie’s medical residency, there’s no one but Mini to plan the wedding. Dad raised her to know more about computers, calculus, and cars than desi weddings but from the moment Mini held the jewelry Mom left them, she wanted her sister to have the wedding Mom would’ve planned.
Now Mini has only two months to get it done and she’s not going to let anything distract her, not even the persistent, mysterious, and smoking-hot Vir Mirchandani. Flower garlands, decorations, music, even a white wedding horse — everything is in place.
That is, until a monster hurricane heads for Boston that could ruin everything. Will Mini come through as sister of the bride and save the day?
Rep: Features an Indian protagonist.
SUNNY G’S SERIES OF RASH DECISIONS by Navdeep Singh Dhillon
COVER TO BE RELEASED
Release date: May 4, 2021
Sunny G’s brother left him one thing when he died: his notebook, which he’s determined to fill up with a series of rash decisions. Decision number one was a big one: He took off his turban, cut off his hair, and shaved his beard. He doesn’t look like a Sikh anymore; he doesn’t look like himself anymore. He put on a suit and debuted his new look at prom, but apparently changing his look doesn’t change everything. Sunny still doesn’t fit there, and all he wants to do is go to the Harry Potter after-party, where his best friend, Ngozi, and their band were supposed to be playing a show tonight.
Enter Mindii Vang, a girl he’s never met before but who’s about to change his life. Sunny and Mindii head off on an all-night adventure through their city–a night full of rash, wonderful, romantic, stupid, huge decisions.
Rep: This book features a Punjabi protagonist.
This is in no way a comprehensive list, and there are still new deals coming through, but I’m so, so excited for these authors and their books. I cannot wait to dive into these releases!
Please mention any book I may have missed out on in the comments. Also, which book are you most excited for this year?