Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon (Quill Tree)
Young Black love glows throughout this tender anthology, which follows six couples through a summer blackout in New York City. Twined with a primary arc are connections—some gentle, some combative, all thrilling—that feature characters experiencing love across the city’s landmarks. This joyful anthology brings a wonderful elation to stories of Black love, queer love, and alternative forms of affection.
The 1619 Project: Born on the Water
Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, illus. by Nikkolas Smith (Kokila)
In forthright poems by Watson and Hannah-Jones, a family offers a Black child “a proud origin story,” reaching back to the Kingdom of Ndongo, where their West Central African ancestors “had a home, a place, a land,/ a beginning.” Smith’s emotionally evocative art ranges from images of peace and joy to those of violence and grief in a powerful volume that emphasizes perseverance and hope.
And Now I Spill the Family Secrets: An Illustrated Memoir
Margaret Kimball (HarperOne)
With a precision that slices through to the core of suppressed family history, Kimball’s debut graphic narrative investigates her mother’s suicide attempt in the 1980s, peeling back layers of betrayal, custody drama, and inherited mental health issues. She redraws documents and home video stills, obsessively footnotes research, and interviews her brother as his own mind breaks, in an achingly intimate quest.
Sarah Hall (Custom House)
Booker finalist Hall’s story of a devastating pandemic revolves around an artist working on a sculpture to memorialize the dead. In the process she reflects on her mother, a writer who was altered by a brain injury, and on her lover, who died from the virus. Hall conveys intense sex scenes, superb descriptions of the artist’s practice, and insights on the transformations of bodies in stunning prose.
Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora [A Cookbook]
Bryant Terry (4 Color)
This exuberant work cooked up by James Beard Award–winning chef Terry is way more than a notable collection of recipes. Stuffed with essays, poetry, and artwork from a cast of brilliant creatives with their finger on the pulse of Black culture and the culinary world, it sweeps readers from West Africa to Jamaica to New York with sumptuous stories that feed the soul.
The Anatomy of Desire
L.R. Dorn (Morrow)
Told in the form of a true crime docuseries, the pseudonymous Dorn’s debut focuses on the trial of Cleo Ray, a fitness coach and social media influencer, who’s accused of drowning her girlfriend while canoeing on a California lake. This innovative update of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, told from multiple perspectives, is un-put-downable.
Beautiful Country: A Memoir
Qian Julie Wang (Doubleday)
In this striking debut, Wang reflects on her family’s time surviving in the shadows of the American dream as undocumented Chinese immigrants in 1990s New York City. Through passages that are powerful and poetic, she creates a provocative and timely portrait of a nation failing to deliver on promises of freedom and opportunity.
The Church of the Dead: The Epidemic of 1576 and the Birth of Christianity in the Americas
Jennifer Scheper Hughes (NYU)
Historian Hughes’s authoritative examination of the aftermath of a 1576 epidemic in what is now Mexico offers an intriguing take on the spread of Christianity in the New World and an intelligent reconsideration of the ways Spanish missionaries and Indigenous peoples interacted.
The Essential June Jordan
June Jordan, edited by Jan Heller Levi and Christoph Keller (Copper Canyon)
This carefully curated collection provides an era-by-era snapshot of Jordan’s literary legacy, serving as the perfect introduction to her poetics on historical violence, race, gender, and culture. Jordan’s fierce voice and linguistic invention shines through in these vital pages that reckon with injustices that reverberate through time.
The Duke Heist
Erica Ridley (Forever)
Ridley introduces a family of lovable rascals, each with their own whimsical criminal talent, in her utterly enchanting Wild Wynchesters series launch, which sees con artist Chloe Wynchester falling for her latest mark, the tortured Duke of Faircliffe. The heist itself is wildly entertaining, and the central couple combine playfulness and passion to swoonworthy effect, making for an unforgettable Regency romp.
A Desolation Called Peace
Arkady Martine (Tor)
Martine’s sequel to her Hugo Award winning A Memory Called Empire takes the series to even more dizzying heights, using its intricate extraterrestrial worldbuilding to delve into the complexities of cultural assimilation and identity. Combining exhilarating deception, diplomacy, and daring with thought-provoking thematic exploration, this is space opera of the highest order.
Natasha Brown (Little, Brown)
A young Black woman deals with a London finance job, a posh white fiancée, and a cancer diagnosis in Brown’s fully realized debut. References to bell hooks and Claudia Rankine abound, laying the groundwork for an incisive and unforgettable mixed-genre critique of race, class, and gender relations. This accomplishes in 96 pages what other books do in 300.
The Beatryce Prophecy
Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Sophie Blackall (Candlewick)
Set “during a time of war” when “terrible things happen everywhere,” and tenderly illuminated by Blackall’s atmospheric, fine-lined art, DiCamillo’s engrossing, deliberately told medieval fable follows Beatryce, a girl who can read despite her society’s mores, and Answelica, the ferocious goat who protects her.
Angeline Boulley (Holt)
Annishinabe author Boulley’s debut thriller centers Daunis Fontaine, 18, who, amid mounting local meth overdoses, uses her knowledge of chemistry as well as traditional plants and medicine to source the drug and reveal its seller. Hitting hard on issues such as language revitalization and how the presence of drugs impacts Native communities, this wonderfully tribally specific story will stand long in the hearts of readers.
The Big Bath House
Kyo Maclear, illus. by Gracey Zhang (Random House Studio)
As Maclear remembers the local bathhouse she frequented during childhood visits to Japan, Zhang captures a child, her grandmother, and her aunties strolling along in yukata, entering a bathhouse, and soaking in the hot water together: “Ahhhhh.” Dazzling candid portraits portray groups of nude girls and women sharing the big communal pool in this treasured recollection grounded in a specific place.
No One Else
R. Kikuo Johnson (Fantagraphics)
Fans who heralded the talent of frequent New Yorker cover artist Johnson’s debut, Night Fisher, are rewarded some 15 years later with this gorgeously told graphic novella, which returns to Hawaii for an immersive family drama. It plays out via short scenes in which spare dialogue allows the elegant, glowing art to symbolize grief, hope, and renewal, and it’s all set against a backdrop of burning sugarcane fields.
Cloud Cuckoo Land
Anthony Doerr (Scribner)
Doerr makes clever and spellbinding use of the vignette-style narration found in his Pulitzer-winning All the Light You Cannot See with this sprawling story of a book from Ancient Greece that passes through 15th-century Constantinople, present-day Idaho, and a spaceship in the distant future. The disparate threads tie together perfectly, adding up to a deeply affecting page-turner.
Flavors of the Sun: The Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients
Christine Sahadi Whelan (Chronicle)
This transportive tour through the flavors of the Middle East couldn’t be steered by a better captain: as the co-owner of the beloved Brooklyn market Sahadi’s, Whelan’s been in the family business for years, and it shows in the recipes she confidently doles out. From familiar regional staples such as tahini to the more obscure Urfa pepper, no ingredient is given short shrift in this exemplary guide.
Hervé Le Tellier (Other Press)
A commercial plane flight from Paris to New York hits some unusual turbulence shortly before landing safely. A few months later, it becomes clear something extraordinary has happened to the passengers and crew that requires the FBI to isolate them all. This Prix Goncourt winner is a brilliant mix of existential thriller and speculative fiction.
Can’t Knock the Hustle: Inside the Season of Protest, Pandemic, and Progress with the Brooklyn Nets’ Superstars of Tomorrow
Matt Sullivan (Dey Street)
The basketball court serves as the stage for social justice in this slam-dunk work from sportswriter Sullivan. Projecting the Brooklyn Nets’ 2019–2020 NBA season against the backdrop of one of the most tumultuous years in recent history, Sullivan passionately recounts how a floundering team became heroic figures in the Black Lives Matter movement; readers will be left stunned.
The Gospels: A New Translation
Sarah Ruden (Modern Library)
The four canonical Gospels get a substantial makeover in translator Ruden’s bold reconsideration. With modernized language and plentiful departures from existing translations, the texts are true to their origins yet have a contemporary feel. This is quite an accomplishment.
Diane Seuss (Graywolf)
Seuss’s 120 sonnets bend the rules of meter and rhyme, breathing fresh life into a favorite form while still delivering its 14-line potency. Through this astounding exercise in constraint, Seuss demonstrates her mastery of the poetic line and her gifted ear for sound and syntax, and offers shrewd insights into artistic purpose of limitations.
A Lot Like Adiós
Alexis Daria (Morrow)
The heat’s cranked up in Daria’s vibrant, standalone follow-up to You Had Me at Hola, a friends-to-lovers romance that beautifully captures the weight of history and depth of emotion between its leads. There’s no denying the sizzling chemistry between reunited childhood friends Gabe and Michelle, and it’s an absolute pleasure watching them grow toward each other.
Joanne M. Harris, illus. by Charles Vess (Saga)
The interconnected fairy tales that make up this brilliant, fabulist work come together to form a mosaic portrait of a lush, enchanted, and often dangerous otherworld where the Lacewing King rules over the Silken Folk. The parts are deceptively simple, but the whole conjures an undeniable sense of wonder and awe.
Rachel Cusk (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Cusk’s latest work of fiction after her acclaimed Outline trilogy breaks new ground with the fiercely intelligent story of a woman named M’s gradual self awareness after hosting L, an artist, at her guest house on the English coast. As M and her family get to know L, a cascading series of poignant revelations and beautiful images leads to a startling conclusion.
Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood
Edited by Kwame Mbalia (Delacorte)
Focusing on Black boys’ happiness, this luminous, genre-bending anthology edited by Mbalia features 17 stories by as many Black male and nonbinary authors, including Jerry Craft, Lamar Giles, and Jason Reynolds. Filtering perennial subjects such as friendship, gender identity, and family through lenses of magic, space travel, superheroes, and more, this is a profoundly exuberant celebration of carefree Black experiences.
Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Shutdown
Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook)
Immediately hooking readers with the account of a hollow coin’s chance finding, Sheinkin’s twisty, tautly paced spy story documents the Cold War period and escalating conflict, extending to the Cuban Missile Crisis. In addition to spies and political machinations, it skillfully describes the science behind the race via a charged narrative that maintains a keen attention to detail.
From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian American Movement
Paula Yoo (Norton Young Readers)
In 1982 Detroit, anti–Asian American sentiment is on the rise, leading to two white autoworkers killing Chinese American Vincent Chin. In six well-structured parts, Yoo’s carefully recreated historical account exhaustively details Chin’s murder and considers its resulting impact via a resonant volume that draws parallels between the haunting account and present-day hate crimes.
Bob Shea (Little, Brown)
Shea puts a fresh spin on the villain reformed via Bob, a lazy alligator intent on gobbling birds. When he opens Chez Bob, a restaurant on his nose, it becomes so popular that Bob finds himself a pillar of the community (a “positive role model for the birds I’m going to eat”) in a book that spoofs contemporary rhetoric around communal good.
The Secret to Superhuman Strength
Alison Bechdel (Mariner)
Bechdel’s become one of comics’ true household names, but this funny and philosophical memoir retains a profound sense of humility as she tracks decades of her fixations on exercise fads and their resonance in queer and American culture, from skiing to “feminist martial arts.” Challenging her body to “escape the self,” she pursues literary inspiration and ultimately enlightenment, marking kinship with similar seekers from Kerouac to Adrienne Rich.
Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
A hippie Christian youth group outside Chicago in the early 1970s provides the nexus for a fascinating family drama involving a bitter pastor; his complex wife, who’s beginning to reckon with a mental health episode from decades earlier; and their four soul-searching children, one of whom forfeits his draft deferment. Even Franzen’s critics would have to admit this makes psychological realism great again.
Let’s Make Dumplings!: A Comic Book Cookbook
Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan (Ten Speed)
Combining quirky illustrations with recipes from across the Asian continent, this festive and freewheeling outing deconstructs the dumpling for adventurous home cooks craving more fun in the kitchen. Folding techniques are offered alongside snackable trivia (surprise: the Chinese takeout classic crab rangoon most likely isn’t Asian at all) and doused with sauces both savory and sweet.
Carin Gerhardsen (Scarlet)
A fatal two-car collision on a Swedish island, initially deemed a single-car accident after one car is buried in snow, has serious repercussions for the three women and two men involved. Plotted with mathematical precision, this complex psychological thriller of flawed people who make bad choices is an outstanding example of Scandi noir.
Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South
Winfred Rembert, as told to Erin I Kelly (Bloomsbury)
The effects of racism are strikingly rendered in this mix of art and personal history from the late painter Rembert. The artist lays bare the horrors he encountered working as a field hand in Georgia and juxtaposes them with the hope he found after meeting his wife. “Memory,” he writes, “can take you for a ride.” This is a ride like no other.
A Most Peculiar Book: The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible
Kristin Swenson (Oxford Univ.)
The unexpected story of how the Bible came to be is at the center of this magnificent and thoughtful history. Swenson doesn’t shy from puncturing myths or taking on sacred cows, and the result is a study fit for any reader, no matter where they are on the faith spectrum.
Playlist for the Apocalypse
Rita Dove (Norton)
In Dove’s commanding first collection of new poems since her 2017 NAACP Image Award–winning Collected Poems: 1974–2004, she offers an unforgettable exploration of contemporary crises while still finding beauty and cause for hope. Her ruminations on illness, climate change, and political upheaval deliver sharp perspectives on life’s difficulties and wrongs big and small, while encouraging readers to see current possibilities for effecting future change.
Love and Lotus Blossoms
Anne Shade (Bold Strokes)
Spanning the course of resilient heroine Ness Philips’s life, this thoughtful and sensual queer romance showcases the value and power of love in all its forms, including familial and platonic. It’s as much a story of self-acceptance as it is of Ness’s winding path to happily ever after, and Shade’s sophisticated emotional shading makes every note ring true.
In the Watchful City
S. Qiouyi Lu (Tordotcom)
Lu’s full-length debut, a groundbreaking, futurist novel-in-stories, takes readers into the dystopian city-state of Ora. As one of Ora’s guardians, it’s Anima’s duty to surveil the citizens—until the arrival of a mysterious merchant with stories of the outside world knocks everything off-kilter. This astounding, gorgeously rendered meditation on power and privacy wows with every sentence.
Keith Ridgway (New Directions)
Experimental but completely accessible and utterly visceral, Ridgway’s work takes on a Jocyean recursive structure, beginning with a woman climbing through a hole in her wall to peer into her neighbors’ flat during a party, and ending with the perspective of those neighbors and their guests. Don’t call it a novel in stories or a collection; just call it the Irish writer’s masterpiece.
Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood
Gary Paulsen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
In a raw and riveting survival story about personal resilience amid trauma, the late Paulsen shares the turbulent early experiences—from life as a boy in 1944 Chicago to his enlistment in the military—that led to his writing career, rendering “the boy” a curious and savvy protagonist who constantly forges ahead in this hopeful third-person memoir.
Harmony Becker (First Second)
In Becker’s stunningly layered graphic novel debut, 19-year-old Nao, Japan-born and Midwest-raised, spends a gap year at a Tokyo-based sharehouse to reconnect with her roots. The language learning process, language’s role in defining identity, and multilingual experiences are lovingly illuminated in mostly translated Japanese, Korean, and English as the multiplicities of diasporic Asian identity are examined and held close.
Circle Under Berry
Carter Higgins (Chronicle)
As brilliantly hued forms appear against white backdrops, Higgins economically examines ways to observe color, shape, pattern, and position. Page turns build on the concept, presenting stacked objects alongside descriptions of them and their relationships to one another. Via “a stack of shapes” that “can make you think/ and wonder what you see,” Higgins offers seeds of conversation about naming and classification.
Lee Lai (Fantagraphics)
The cannily shifting drawings in Lai’s spellbinding debut pull readers into and out of imaginary worlds through an acutely felt breakup story that fractures stereotypes and boundaries. Three women—a single mother, her sister, and her sister’s lover—all care for the same magnetic child with devotion that binds them together even as they are pushed apart in solitary self-discovery.
Dear Miss Metropolitan
Carolyn Ferrell (Holt)
Ferrell astounds with the complex and formally inventive story of three young women who are kidnapped and held captive at a house in Queens, N.Y., and of their discovery a decade later. Ferrell also turns the lens on the neighbors of their captor who are now wracked with guilt, including a newspaper advice columnist. It’s a powerful examination of collective trauma.
The New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes
Sam Sifton (Ten Speed)
New York Times food editor Sifton gives home cooks permission to forgo the rules and wing it in this cookbook that’s less about getting things right than it is about listening to one’s gut. It’s a liberating take on cooking that yields delectably satisfying results.
Concepcion: An Immigrant Family’s Fortunes
Albert Samaha (Riverhead)
Samaha unearths his relatives’ past while reckoning with the weight of his Filipino American identity in this sweeping and cinematic memoir. Using historical records, extensive reportage, and family interviews, he brings to bear the reverberating effects of colonialism through a cast of real-life characters whose inextinguishable hope and charisma are impossible to forget.
The Souls of Womenfolk: The Religious Cultures of Enslaved Women in the Lower South
Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh (Univ. of North Carolina)
This trenchant take on the spiritual lives of enslaved women offers a deep and intellectually rigorous consideration of the power of faith, and the way it informed and was itself shaped by the experiences of women who would never know freedom.
The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void
Jackie Wang (Nightboat)
The dreamlike unfolding of Wang’s enigmatic, surrealist debut makes this unlike any other collection. Her reflections on dangers and catastrophes of the modern age sparkle with captivating details and contemplative insights. Wang also muses on the role that writing plays in reflecting on trauma, adding another layer to this remarkably captivating book.
One Last Stop
Casey McQuiston (Griffin)
McQuiston’s laugh-out-loud sophomore outing features a vibrant New York City backdrop, an endearing queer cast who form a heartwarming found family, and a time-traveling lesbian love interest. The genre mash-up works remarkably well; the hint of magic only enhances the romantic tension. Add in plenty of wit, heartache, and some truly steamy scenes, and the result is rom-com gold.
The Jasmine Throne
Tasha Suri (Orbit)
Suri expertly uses the fraught budding relationship between an imprisoned princess and a temple servant with a magical secret as a way in to a searing critique of empire and colonialism in the spellbinding epic fantasy that launches her Burning Kingdoms series. The India-inspired worldbuilding, wonderfully inventive magic system, and fierce, queer, morally gray heroines set this apart.
The War for Gloria
Atticus Lish (Knopf)
Preparations for the Next Life established Lish’s singular voice with an intense look at characters on the margins, and here he surpasses himself with a deeply moving and harrowing story of a teenage boy who takes care of his ALS-stricken mother and tries to distinguish himself from his toxic biological father. Confident and humble, this is a once-in-a-decade triumph.
How to Become a Planet
Nicole Melleby (Algonquin)
Melleby follows Pluto Jean Timoney, diagnosed with depression and anxiety after being gripped with a desire to “just stop” a month before seventh grade’s end. Uninterested in her traditional summer activities, space-loving Pluto begins a tentative journey navigating her mental health while embarking on a friendship with gender-questioning Fallon in this acutely observed, authentically told tale sprinkled with astronomy metaphors.
In the Wild Light
Jeff Zentner (Crown)
After discovering a bacteria-eating mold in a local cave, two Appalachian students are offered full scholarships to a prestigious prep school in Zentner’s tender novel of love and loss. Though introspective nature lover Cash Pruitt is loath to move away, the change helps him to develop new passions, such as poetry, that allow him to see the world, and himself, through new eyes.
Katie Yamasaki (Norton)
Inspired by families affected by incarceration, muralist Yamasaki conjures a deceptively simple picture book about a father who bakes bread—at work and at home with his child. Richly saturated, dynamic paintings showcase inclusive community, and intricately detailed spreads offer plenty to pore over in this meditative tale centering the significance of daily rhythms and familial love.
Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, trans. from the Korean by Janet Hong (Drawn & Quarterly)
Hope endures through terrible sorrows in this gloriously rendered graphic novel saga of the Korean refugee experience, following a woman who was separated from her husband and toddler son as they flee what became North Korea. Decades later, living in South Korea and having raised a new family, she still strives in vain for a chance at reunification.
Brandon Taylor (Riverhead)
Taylor follows up his Booker-shortlisted Real Life with a collection exploring similar ground on and around the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, to even greater effect. Short stories are Taylor’s bread and butter, and each one here offers a master class in characterization, interior monologues, and complex backstories. What’s more, they make a satisfying whole.
Zero Proof: 90 Non-Alcoholic Recipes for Mindful Drinking
Elva Ramirez (Mariner)
Ramirez’s debut lifts the spirits with cocktails that are free of alcohol. While that concept may cause some revelers to pause, the drinks here are nothing to scoff at—exotic ingredients meet boozy flavors to make sobriety a delicious affair.
The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (Bold Type)
Particle cosmologist Prescod-Weinstein’s debut is a dazzling introduction to particle physics. In wonder-filled prose, she describes quantum mechanics, string theory, and gravity. She also takes a trenchant stand against the inequalities that run rampant in the field, making a moving plea that the cosmos be accessible to all.
The Bloodless Boy
Robert J. Lloyd (Melville House)
In 1678 London, real-life scientist Robert Hooke, a member of the Royal Society, helps investigate a series of murders that turn out to be connected to the complicated English politics of the day. With its nuanced characterizations, graceful prose, and intricate mystery, this debut and series launch is a standout in the historical subgenre.
The Truth at the Heart of the Lie: How the Catholic Church Lost Its Soul
James Carroll (Random House)
The very structure of the Catholic church is to blame for the church’s sexual abuse crisis, according to Carroll’s damning critique that posits the historical hoarding of power at the top of the hierarchy has led to any number of ill outcomes. Carroll, who for a time was a Paulist priest, knows the terrain and pulls no punches.
A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure
Hoa Nguyen (Wave)
With linguistic and stylistic flourishes, Nguyen powerfully considers her relationship with her mother and her homeland of Vietnam. Nguyen’s attention to language, both on the line level and as a larger motif, makes this a rich meditation on power, historical and cultural inheritance, and the past’s impact on the present.
Beverly Jenkins (Avon)
The reigning queen of Black historical romance does not disappoint with the transfixing second installment to her Women Who Dare series. Jenkins pairs a fiercely independent female rancher with a gentle newspaper reporter in post–Civil War Wyoming for a tender love story that doesn’t shy from the racist realities of the time but keeps the focus firmly on joy.
Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)
Set in a near-future Nigeria in the shadow of a vastly overreaching, Amazon-esque mega-corporation, Okorafor’s remarkable latest combines cyberpunk elements with a high-stakes trek across the desert and timely political commentary as outcasts AO and DNA band together to evade the authorities and survive their inhospitable world. Okorafor packs a punch with this one.
Dana Spiotta (Knopf)
A midlife crisis with a twist: rather than have an affair or take a trip to Europe, a white married woman from a nice suburb buys a rundown house in a neglected part of Syracuse, N.Y.; moves in; and throws her—and her patient husband’s—money at its myriad problems. Spiotta brings her trademark wit and verve to themes of aging, privilege, and local history.
Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts
Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martínez (Simon and Schuster)
Combining radical scholarship and raw, expressive comics, Hall and Martínez reconstruct revolts led by enslaved women whose stories have been hidden in buried records. Hall also brilliantly captures her struggle to research the material while facing racism and barriers thrown up by institutions still vested in keeping history closed.
The Five Wounds
Kristin Valdez Quade (Norton)
Valdez Quade expands a story from her NBCC-winning collection Night at the Fiestas into a novel about a man entering his 33rd year unemployed and addicted to booze. There’s some hope after he accepts the starring role in his New Mexico village’s annual Passion play, but it fades to destruction and drama. The author pulls off a loving, empathetic portrait of a vibrant community.
James Kestrel (Hard Case Crime)
Shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a Honolulu police detective investigates a gruesome double murder. The detective’s quest for the killer takes him on a long journey that exposes him to some of the worst horrors of WWII. Full of surprising twists of fate, this crime novel includes searing scenes of love, devotion, hardship, and courage.
A Ghost in the Throat
Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Biblioasis)
At once a frank autobiography of a middle-aged mother and poet, an insightful critical study of a classic Irish poem, and a sparkling fictional narrative of the poem’s inspiration, Ní Ghríofa’s text attracts the reader even as it resists categorization. This special brew offers both challenges and rewards.
Midnight, Water City
Chris McKinney (Soho Crime)
In the 22nd century, an unnamed investigator looks into the murder of a brilliant scientist, who was found frozen and hacked to pieces in her underwater home at the bottom of the world’s tallest seascraper. This highly original SF noir combines social commentary with the classic loner PI trope for thought-provoking results.
Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)
Whitehead comes off back-to-back Pulitzers with a heist novel that offers a rich portrait of Harlem in the 1950s, and a memorable cast of characters good, evil, and somewhere in the middle, who rope a furniture dealer into a dangerous robbery. This demonstrates, once again, that Whitehead can do just about anything.
Mary Dixie Carter (Minotaur)
Delta Dawn has achieved success as a photographer of children’s parties among the well-to-do of Brooklyn. Then needy, self-centered Dawn gets a job babysitting for the Straub family, makes herself at home, and starts uncovering their darkest secrets. In a crowded field, this debut psychological thriller stands out from the pack.
Lean Fall Stand
Jon McGregor (Catapult)
A technician on a geographic research crew in Antarctica suffers a stroke after an accident in McGregor’s powerful story. The descriptions of the continent’s blank whiteness are stunning, and so is the subsequent chronicle of the man’s recovery, which offers a brilliant depiction of speech therapy. This shows the acclaimed author at the top of his game.
Jean Hanff Korelitz (Celadon)
Jake Bonner, a failed novelist who teaches creative writing in an MFA program, steals a plot from a student of his who dies soon after leaving the program. When the book Jake writes using the plot becomes a bestseller, someone in the know threatens to expose Jake. This is a compulsively readable send-up of the book publishing world.
Mark Oshiro (HarperCollins)
Investigating the idea of safe spaces while injecting a contemporary story of middle school cliques with magical realism, Oshiro’s gentle, intersectionally inclusive saga drops 12-year-old Héctor Muñoz, an assured gay theater kid from San Francisco, into a new suburban school, where a janitor’s closet appears whenever he requires a refuge.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club
Malinda Lo (Dutton)
In San Francisco, 1954, 17-year-old Lily Hu discovers a lesbian hangout called the Telegraph Club. Dawning recognition of her own lesbianism comes alongside a budding connection with classmate Kathleen Miller, against a landscape of contemporarily resonant sociopolitical turmoil. Smoothly referencing places with historic Chinese American significance, Lo transcends historicity through a sincere exploration of identity and love.
Fish and Sun
Sergio Ruzzier (HarperAlley)
In this early reader comic by Ruzzier, Fish escapes a “cold and dark and boring” underwater world to spend a day of light on the surface, frolicking with Sun until the orb’s movements result in Fish’s sorrow—and eventual joy. An understated plot allows new readers to focus on the words and emotional arc, and Ruzzier’s slightly bonkers visual worldbuilding keeps things fresh.
The Morning Star
Karl Ove Knausgaard, trans. from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken (Penguin Press)
Fans of Knausgaard’s My Struggle series remarked on how those books were page-turners even though not much happens. His latest, in contrast, revolves around a momentous fantastical event: a new star appears in the sky, causing people and animals to act erratically and dangerously. The result evokes the horror of the everyday as well as the otherworldly.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty
Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday)
This investigative tour de force from New Yorker staff writer Keefe (Say Nothing) builds a devastating case against the family behind OxyContin, who spent decades whitewashing their image with philanthropic gifts to arts institutions while their deceptive marketing practices, aggressive sales techniques, and denial of evidence of addiction helped plunge America into the opioid crisis.
Ashley Audrain (Viking/Dorman)
In this stunning debut, reluctant mother Blythe worries that something’s wrong with her first child, Violet. To save her deteriorating marriage, Blythe has a second child, Sam, whom she adores. Then seven-year-old Violet precipitates a tragedy that leads into the darkest corners of motherhood. This is psychological suspense at its disquieting best.
On Fragile Waves
E. Lily Yu (Erewhon)
This masterful debut offers a humane and unflinching look at the plight of refugees as siblings Firuzeh and Nour travel from war-torn Afghanistan to Australia with their parents, bolstering one another along the harrowing journey with fantastical stories and flights of imagination. In shimmering prose, Yu balances despair with hope as she probes the limits and the power of storytelling.
All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake
Tiya Miles (Random House)
MacArthur fellow Miles blends meticulous scholarly research with novelistic imagination to explore how material objects—in this case, a cloth sack packed by an enslaved woman for her nine-year-old daughter when she was sold to a new master—can illuminate the hidden corners of the American past. No other history this year was more revelatory or compassionate.
Katie the Catsitter (Katie the Catsitter #1)
Colleen AF Venable, illus. by Stephanie Yue (Random House)
When preteen New Yorker Katie Spera takes a cat-sitting gig, she’s surprised to learn that her neighbor’s 217 cats are both evil and extremely capable, with specialties including computer hacking, lock picking, and talent scouting. Yue’s expressive cartoons and Venable’s text make for a laugh-out-loud funny, well-paced series starter that’s Neko Atsume meets The Tick.
Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human
Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan (Random House Graphic)
Moen and Nolan apply their signature humor to this accessible guide covering the “in-between stages” of intimacy, “from having a crush to... putting a condom on something.” Showcasing variations in ability, body shape, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, and pairings, this refreshingly inclusive read takes individual desires and needs into account while offering comprehensive, no-nonsense information on sex and sexuality.
Have You Seen Gordon?
Adam Jay Epstein, illus. by Ruth Chan (Simon & Schuster)
As elaborately detailed spreads by Chan show anthropomorphized animals in various seek-and-find settings, Epstein’s chirpy narrator insists that readers spot an eager-eyed purple tapir named Gordon. But Gordon quickly grows disenchanted with the premise, foiling the search, then announcing he’s intent on standing out—a refusal that raises big questions about authority and autonomy, allyship and consent en route to the book’s sweetly affirming end.
Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering How the Forest Is Wired for Intelligence and Healing
Suzanne Simard (Knopf)
“The trees have shown me their perceptiveness and responsiveness, connections and conversations,” writes forest ecologist Simard in this stunning mix of memoir and scientific discovery. She highlights the proof she’s found about tree communication and the struggles she’s faced to receive acceptance in the scientific community. The story is inspiring, and Simard’s findings are awe-inducing.
Rivers Solomon (MCD)
Vern, an albino Black woman, escapes her cult leader husband and raises her twins in monster-infested woods in this gut-wrenching, genre-bending horror novel. As Vern fights for survival and wrestles with conflicting identities, Solomon’s signature lyricism and no-holds-barred approach to confronting America’s horrific histories give rise to a painful, powerful story that’s equally accessible and deeply philosophical.
All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler
Rebecca Donner (Little, Brown)
This spellbinding WWII espionage tale begins with the facts—the author’s great-great-aunt, Mildred Harnack, was a leader of the largest underground resistance group in Berlin until she was captured by the Nazis and executed in 1943—and weaves a thrilling and utterly unique story of courage, conviction, inheritance, and the vagaries of fate.
The Last Cuentista
Donna Barba Higuera (Levine Querido)
Centuries after boarding one of the last ships off-world, an aspiring storyteller discovers that she alone remembers life on Earth and must use her wits and her knowledge of Mexican folklore as protection against a cultlike group. Gripping, euphonious, and full of storytelling magic, Higuera’s suspenseful speculative novel explores how story can awaken empathy, hope, and even resistance.
The Mary Shelley Club
Goldy Moldavsky (Holt)
Following a home invasion, Rachel Chavez spends her time bingeing scary movies to process her trauma and joins the Mary Shelley Club, a secret society whose members share a passion for all things horror—a devotion that takes a sinister turn. At once gripping teen melodrama, incisive meditation on fear, and love letter to horror tropes, Moldavsky’s adrenalized novel enthralls.
Keeping the City Going
Brian Floca (Atheneum/Dlouhy)
Paying tribute to the frontline workers helping to make New York City run during the pandemic, Floca brings precision and expert draftsmanship to renderings of working vehicles, centering the heroes striving to get supplies out and save lives, and the equipment that helps them do it.
Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law
Mary Roach (Norton)
Nature’s a rule breaker in Roach’s witty latest, a showstopping exploration of what happens when nature breaks “laws intended for people.” Fascinating anecdotes abound: bears burglarize restaurants, gulls vandalize a flower arrangement for the Pope, and the lethal rosary pea makes the USDA’s “list of top criminals.”
Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America
Eyal Press (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Military drone operators, slaughterhouse laborers, prison guards, and oil rig workers discuss the physical and emotional burdens of their jobs in this deeply reported and extraordinarily empathetic account from New Yorker contributor Press, who finds that such “dirty work” falls disproportionately to the poor and people of color. This probing study lays bare the machinery of exploitation.
Playing the Cards You’re Dealt
Varian Johnson (Scholastic Press)
Via an engaging, “mostly hands-off” omniscient narrator who dynamically breaks down the “great African American institution called spades,” Johnson deftly addresses themes of toxic masculinity, family, and legacy in this vividly told novel centering Black 10-year-old card shark Anthony “Ant” Joplin, who prepares for an annual spades tournament while learning truths about his family and navigating friend dynamics.
The Mirror Season
Anna-Marie McLemore (Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends)
Referencing Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” McLemore’s spellbinding tale, written with due consideration and care, centers queer teen Ciela, who has inherited her bisabuela’s ability to “know what bread or sweet would leaven the heart of anyone she met.” After Ciela and a visiting boy are sexually assaulted at the same party, however, her gift disappears—and a strange season begins.
Let Me Fix You a Plate
Elizabeth Lilly (Holiday House/Porter)
A road trip leads to two different midnight kitchens, and a shared form of love, as a family visits their elders—the three young siblings’ paternal grandparents in West Virginia, and their large maternal family in Florida. With clear, bighearted text and an expressive ink line, Lilly offers an appreciation of memory and familial richness across generations and cultures.
The Great Dissenter: The Story of John Marshall Harlan, America’s Judicial Hero
Peter S. Canellos (Simon & Schuster)
This masterful biography intertwines the lives of Supreme Court justice John Marshall Harlan, whose lone dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson influenced Thurgood Marshall’s campaign to reverse decades of racial discrimination, and his rumored half brother, Robert Harlan, who was born a slave, made a fortune in the California Gold Rush, and became a political power broker in Cincinnati.
A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance
Hanif Abdurraqib (Random House)
Abdurraqib studies Black artists and their influence on American culture in this phenomenal collection. He movingly captures the power of Josephine Baker, the history of dance marathons, the work of magician Ellen Armstrong, and his own relationship with music and performance. It’s vivid, gorgeous, and full of life.
The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book: A Greenglass House Story
Kate Milford, illus. by Nicole Wong (Clarion)
Fifteen stranded individuals alternately spin stories during a storm in this deliciously folkloric, carefully plotted compilation that has roots in Milford’s Greenglass House. The tales, which focus on “peddlers, tricksters, gamblers, and lovers,” coalesce to form an elegant feat of telescopic storytelling that serves as both map and key to a dazzling and immersive mystery.
The Other Merlin (Emry Merlin #1)
Robyn Schneider (Viking)
Schneider’s first foray into fantasy, a clever trilogy starter based in the King Arthur mythos, changes most of the canonical facts but gets everything that matters right. As bisexual teen Emry Merlin befriends Arthur and his best friend Lancelot, the bawdy jokes land, the magic flies, and the court politics feel high-stakes.
The Longest Storm
Dan Yaccarino (MineditionUS/Russo)
In decisive lines conveying instantly recognizable stresses, Yaccarino crafts an emotionally nuanced tale that delicately alludes to recent events: “It was unlike any storm we’d ever seen,” the volume’s narrator says; “We were going to have to stay inside.” As the event rages, domestic life unravels under the pressure of unrelenting proximity, until a moment gentles the family’s connection.
The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice
Scott Ellsworth (Dutton)
In this gripping portrait of a community peering into the darkest corners of its past, Tulsa native Ellsworth chronicles the origins and aftermath of the city’s 1921 race massacre, when white rioters marched through a thriving Black neighborhood shooting residents and looting stores while planes dropped incendiary bombs from overhead.
Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir
Ashley C. Ford (Flatiron)
This one isn’t for the fainthearted, but those who read this staggeringly beautiful work will close it having been entirely changed. Recalling the years she spent growing up while her father was serving a 24-year prison sentence for rape, Ford offers up a stunning story about love, forgiveness, truth, and the ways in which familial bonds can both make and break a person.
Rukhsanna Guidroz, illus. by Fahmida Azim (Kokila)
In 2012, Samira, an 11-year-old Rohingya refugee living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, steers clear of the water following the boat trip from Burma that took her grandparents. But when she sees a group of Bengali surfer girls, she finds that surfing offers a secret pleasure and a sisterhood. With immersive illustrations by Azim, Guidroz’s riveting novel-in-verse employs sensory diction and spare poetic touches in a richly told story.
Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People
Kekla Magoon (Candlewick)
Magoon presents an incisive, in-depth study of the Black Panther Party, starting with a history of slavery, emancipation, and segregation before diving into the civil rights and Black Power movements and ending with Black Lives Matter. Providing visual breaks that inform while contributing to a digestible pace, the volume offers nuanced information about the group’s self-defense stance, community programming, and dedication to legal action.
Corey R. Tabor (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
With Mama temporarily away from the nest, a chick named Mel strides to the edge of a tree branch and announces that she’s going to fly. Tabor’s art shows Mel executing an impressive aerial somersault before blithely hurtling downward, toward a visual surprise that shows she’s a kingfisher through and through. “Hope” may be the thing with feathers, but Mel proves that “gutsy” can be, too.
My Year Abroad
Chang-Rae Lee (Riverhead)
Lee spins a wild and moving picaresque about an American college student named Tiller who winds up stranded in China by a shady entrepreneur who’d promised him a business opportunity. Tiller then makes it home and shacks up with an older Chinese American woman, and their relationship helps him explore his Asian ancestry. Each page is full of life and real-feeling sentiment.
Brandon Webb and John David Mann (Bantam)
People are dying aboard an American aircraft carrier headed home from the Persian Gulf. A Navy SEAL traumatized by a recent failed mission in Yemen suspects a serial killer is on the loose. Authentic naval detail and the highly unusual setting help make this edge-of-your-seat, character-driven series debut, the authors’ first foray into fiction, a winner.
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America
Clint Smith (Little, Brown)
The critical questions of how, when, and where to confront the legacies of slavery and racial inequality lie at the heart of Atlantic contributor Smith’s probing and often poetic tour of landmarks—including Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate, Angola prison, and the Blandford Cemetery for Confederate soldiers—tied to America’s original sin.
Sisters of the Neversea
Cynthia Leitich Smith (Heartdrum)
Centering a mixed Creek and British family, Smith’s smart Peter Pan reboot follows 12-year-old stepsisters Lily and Wendy, whose family is on the brink of separation when Peter Pan enters, looking for his shadow and enticing Wendy and her young brother Michael to fly to Neverland. Lily shortly follows, soon learning Peter isn’t what he seems in this sharp, contemporary retelling starring Indigenous kids.
Skin of the Sea
Natasha Bowen (Random House)
Simidele is a mermaid tasked with ushering to the afterlife the souls of West African people thrown overboard from passing slave ships, but when a teen lands in the water during a storm, she defiantly saves his life. Recognizing West Africa as a place of great invention, fellowship, and hope, Bowen centers a headstrong protagonist coming into her own power in an age of change.
Milo Imagines the World
Matt de la Peña, illus. by Christian Robinson (Putnam)
On a long subway ride through New York City, a Black boy named Milo imagines existences for other passengers in his sketchbook until an interaction transforms his perspective. De la Peña and Robinson celebrate a city’s kaleidoscope of scenes, offer a glimpse at a child’s experience with parental incarceration, and convey that child’s keen observations about his circumstances and surroundings.
No One Is Talking About This
Patricia Lockwood (Riverhead)
A young woman, famous for a viral post, becomes a globe-trotting social media pundit. Then she finds out her sister is struggling with a pregnancy, and reluctantly returns to her Ohio hometown to help. The tonal shift leads to a staggering meditation on real life versus screen life. In a glut of novels about the internet, Lockwood’s is one for the ages.
These Toxic Things
Rachel Howzell Hall (Thomas & Mercer)
Digital archaeologist Michaela Lambert has an appointment with a client, Nadia Denham, who’s showing signs of Alzheimer’s and wants Michaela to create a digital scrapbook for her. But Nadia is dead, an apparent suicide, when Michaela arrives at Nadia’s shop. This complex, nuanced mystery puts an original spin on the serial killer theme.
I Live a Life Like Yours: A Memoir
Jan Grue (FSG Originals)
Norwegian novelist Grue, who was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at age three, contends with how the disabled are erased by a society that believes “it’s easier not to look too closely” at others’ differences. In rewriting the narrative around living with a wheelchair—and how he was able to achieve his dreams—he shatters cultural stereotypes with trenchant humor and astonishing humanity.
Lisa Fipps (Penguin/Paulsen)
To avoid the bullying she’s long endured, 11-year-old Ellie lives by the unspoken Fat Girl Rules—the rules one learns “when you break them—/ and suffer/ the consequences.” Finding solace in her pool, and growing support from new friends, her father, and a therapist, aspiring poet Ellie discovers her voice in Fipps’s triumphant verse novel centering self-acceptance and self-advocacy.
A Snake Falls to Earth
Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)
With a basis in Apache stories, this sharply told speculative novel by Little Badger is a smartly intertwined, shifting-perspective story about two characters in worlds that diverged thousands of years ago: Earth-dwelling Nina, who is nine, and shape-shifting, Reflecting World–dwelling Oli, 15.
The Night Walk
Marie Dorléans, trans. from the French by Polly Lawson (Floris)
In this graceful, perfectly paced appreciation of nature by Dorléans, a family takes a blissful summer night walk into the countryside. Prose shines with sensory acuity as the family leaves a village behind them, and suspense builds as sparse beams of light illuminate the darkness, each spread carrying the family forward through the night—and toward a breathless conclusion.
Serhiy Zhadan, trans. from the Ukrainian by Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler (Yale Univ.)
Poet and novelist Zhadan, also a Ukrainian independence activist, delivers a profound road story about a teacher named Pasha and his attempt to retrieve his nephew from an orphanage during an onslaught of devastation by Russian-backed separatists. A blend of naturalism and lyrical metaphors conveys Pasha’s struggle as well as the corrupt Ukrainian authorities’ crippling distortion of the truth.
Who Is Maud Dixon?
Alexandra Andrews (Little, Brown)
Aspiring novelist Florence Darrow, whose publishing career is going nowhere, welcomes the opportunity to be the live-in assistant to famous writer Maud Dixon. On a research trip to Morocco, things get complicated when Florence wakes up in the hospital after a car crash to find Maud has disappeared. This debut is worthy of Patricia Highsmith.
Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres
Kelefa Sanneh (Penguin Press)
Surveying the history of pop music through the genres that have defined it, New Yorker writer Sanneh provides fascinating insights into the iconic sounds of everyone from Eminem to Aretha Franklin. His dazzling criticism blends the cultural and political, illuminating how genre mirrors the “very American” tendency to “define ourselves as much by what we hate as what we love.”
Stuntboy, in the Meantime
Jason Reynolds, illus. by Raúl the Third (Atheneum/Dlouhy)
In a lively apartment community, Portico Reeves navigates the stress of his ever-fighting parents and his own “frets”; as secret alter ego Stuntboy, he watches over the building’s larger-than-life characters, keeping “other superheroes safe, so they can save the world!” Vibrant, comic book–style art and running gags balance serious moments in this engaging, high-energy collaboration by Reynolds and Raúl the Third.
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet
Laekan Zea Kemp (Little, Brown)
Combining deliciously described food, expressive prose, and contemporary romance, Kemp follows two Latinx teens after their lives intersect at a beloved neighborhood restaurant on her last—and his first—day working there. Serving up finely rendered, stirring character arcs for both, the novel also offers an intimate portrait of two teens grappling with mental health, complicated family relationships, and newfound love.
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone
Traci N. Todd, illus. by Christian Robinson (Putnam)
In this skillfully paced portrait, Todd traces Simone’s journey from her childhood in North Carolina to later years as a performer, protest song pioneer, and civil rights activist, while Robinson contributes distinctive vignettes of historical scenes. An engaging, affecting, and powerful biography that aptly situates Simone’s enduring legacy in musical and social history.
Anna North (Bloomsbury)
North’s revisionist western follows a young newlywed on the run from accusations of witchcraft in the late 19th century. In the Dakota Territory, she joins up with a gang of women and gender-nonconforming people who want to build a town for outsiders like themselves. A plan to rob a wagon for gold goes terribly wrong, but everything is just right in this blistering adventure.
A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World’s Smartest Birds of Prey
Jonathan Meiburg (Knopf)
Meiburg’s enthusiasm is infectious in this evocative study of caracaras, birds of prey found in South America. They’re “one of the strangest and most wonderful animals on Earth,” he writes as he lyrically sheds light on their habits and striking intelligence.
Too Bright to See
Kyle Lukoff (Dial)
In this gently paced debut, 11-year-old Bug’s beloved uncle Roderick has just died, and his family’s house, always haunted, has gained a new ghost—one intent on sending Bug a message. Lukoff makes thought-provoking use of the ghost story framework to reflect Bug’s experiences as a trans boy, using creepy horror elements to portray dysphoria and societally enforced femininity.
The Witch King (The Witch King #1)
H.E. Edgmon (Inkyard)
Having fled the fae kingdom where he was persecuted for Texas, a trans witch must face his former fiancé—a royal from that world attempting to secure the throne against a rival upstart. Technomagic and queer activism sparkle in Edgmon’s wisecracking, intimate debut, a vividly lovable, revolution-tinged celebration of trans joy, which refreshingly builds its conflict without jumping for trauma tropes.
The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art
Cynthia Levinson, illus. by Evan Turk (Abrams)
Levinson’s smooth, well-researched profile of Jewish artist and activist Ben Shahn, who emigrated from Lithuania to America in 1906, highlights the threads of compassion and social justice that ran through his work. Bold, richly layered multimedia illustrations by Turk feature abstracted characters in Shahn’s style in this comprehensive introduction to a justice-minded painter.
Hanne Ørstavik, trans. from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken (Archipelago)
A woman named Liv leaves her seminary in Germany for a post at a church in northern Norway, the site of a Sami rebellion against Christian missionaries. Liv’s reflections on that fraught history dovetail brilliantly with her responses to the conservative and sexist men she meets in the Church of Norway. Ørstavik’s slow-burning narrative crescendoes as a potent feminist anthem.
People Love Dead Jews: Notes from a Haunted Present
Dara Horn (Norton)
Novelist Horn’s piercing intellect and caustic wit enliven these meditations on the “many strange and sickening ways in which the world’s affection for dead Jews shapes the present moment.” Surveying Holocaust memorials, media coverage of anti-Semitic crimes, Jewish heritage sites in the Chinese city of Harbin, and other topics, Horn punctures shibboleths and provokes genuine soul-searching.
Too Small Tola
Atinuke, illus. by Onyinye Iwu (Candlewick)
In this trio of stories, Atinuke and Iwu introduce counting whiz Tola, who lives with her siblings and industrious grandmother while their father works abroad. Invoking all senses to render contemporary Nigeria and consistently affirming the value of community care, the creators celebrate the beauty of daily life through Tola’s joy, wonder, and perseverance.
The Rock from the Sky
Jon Klassen (Candlewick)
In this pleasurably tense five-episode volume that’s just right for uncertain times, Klassen provides 96 pages of dark, Beckett-caliber comedy and proves himself a top-notch student of the way that conscious beings seek to take charge of their own realities while facing inexorably advancing events—efforts that nearly always fail and are sometimes punctuated by falling rocks.
Damon Galgut (Europa)
South African playwright and novelist Galgut, twice shortlisted for the Booker, conceives of a damning and explosive story of a white family that fails to make good on a promise to a Black woman who once worked as their maid. The prose and the voices are pitch-perfect in this tragic, all-too-plausible drama.
Pessoa: A Biography
Richard Zenith (Liveright)
Translator Zenith untangles the many personae of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa in this expert biography. He considers Pessoa’s rich intellect, the literary movements he spearheaded, and the mass amount of his work that went unpublished before his death in 1935, bringing the elusive and exceedingly eccentric poet into full view.
Soul Food Sunday
Winsome Bingham, illus. by C.G. Esperanza (Abrams)
In Bingham and Esperanza’s abundantly satisfying picture book, as a large family—“Mommas and Poppas,/ aunts and uncles,/ nieces, nephews, and a whole lot of cousins”—gathers for Soul Food Sunday, the child narrator follows Granny into the kitchen to learn how to cook each of the meal’s elements. A nourishing story for anyone who’s experienced how food and tradition can strengthen bonds.
Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir
Brian Broome (Mariner)
Structuring his starkly gorgeous debut around Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem “We Real Cool,” Broome recalls his fraught coming-of-age as a young Black gay man in Ohio in the early ’80s. As he interrogates his own understanding of manhood amid the swirling racism around him, he delivers with devastating clarity a searing indictment of the relentless pressures Black men face in society today.
Thank You, Neighbor!
Ruth Chan (HarperCollins)
Each day, Chan’s protagonist trades “Thank you!” with neighbors: a firefighter, a person sweeping leaves on a sidewalk, a garbage collector. As text reminds readers that connection is “what makes our neighborhood// feel like home,” crisp art highlights a range of apartment dwellers liaising on narrow sidewalks—the book’s strong sense of community is as invigorating as a brisk walk.
Pure America: Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia
Elizabeth Catte (Belt)
Historian Catte’s lacerating and exquisitely crafted study of the links between present-day economic and racial inequalities and the history of eugenics in America has its roots in the transformation of a Virginia hospital where 1,700 people were involuntarily sterilized between 1924 and 1967 into an upscale hotel and condominiums.
Andrea Wang, illus. by Jason Chin (Holiday House/Porter)
In a multilayered autobiographical narrative employing elegant free verse, Wang conveys a car ride, portrayed in muted watercolors by Chin, that’s interrupted when a child’s parents notice watercress in a roadside ditch, and stop to pick it. Though her older brother readily picks, and subsequently eats, the watercress, the narrator is resistant—until her mother shares an affecting childhood memory that makes “a/ new memory of/ watercress.”
Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature
Farah Jasmine Griffin (Norton)
In this majestic mix of literary criticism and memoir, African American studies professor Griffin offers illuminating takes on the works of such writers and artists as James Baldwin, Miles Davis, and Toni Morrison. She tells her own story of falling in love with literature along the way, and extracts urgent lessons from each work.
The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century
Amia Srinivasan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Oxford University philosopher Srinivasan foregoes easy answers and calls on the feminist movement to be “relentlessly truth-telling, not least about itself” in these incisive, up-to-the-minute essays on incel culture, consent, digital pornography, the slogan “Believe all women,” and other issues at the intersection of sex and power.
Louis Edwards (Amistad)
It’s been two decades since Whiting winner and New Orleans music industry veteran Edwards published a novel, and this saga of a 12-year-old NOLA boy’s search for his father in the Middle East was worth the wait. The author writes on a Dickensian scale with quick-witted young characters reminiscent of Twain. This has the feel of a classic.
Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic
Glenn Frankel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Frankel goes behind the scenes of a classic in this colorful study of the only X-rated movie to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. His rich analysis of Midnight Cowboy makes for an eye-opening cultural history of New York in 1969, and a fascinating look at the cast and crew that brought the film to life.
Brandon Hobson (Ecco)
A Cherokee family reunites for an annual independence celebration a year after the killing of one of the children by police. The uneasy mix of trauma and celebration sets the tone, and the story is filled with the spirits of the family’s ancestors along with cameos from the ghosts of David Foster Wallace and Jimi Hendrix. Heartfelt and painful, Hobson’s latest is a revelation.
Truffle Hound: On the Trail of the World’s Most Seductive Scent, with Dreamers, Schemers, and Some Extraordinary Dogs
Rowan Jacobsen (Bloomsbury)
James Beard Award–winning journalist Jacobsen brings readers along on a joy ride deep into the forests of France, Hungary, Italy, and beyond as he hunts down the history of the elusive and captivating truffle. The book is as potent as its subject’s intoxicating aroma, and is packed to the gills with deception, intrigue, and accounts of illegal trading.
Louise Erdrich (Harper)
This inventive story from NBA, NBCC, and Pulitzer winner Erdrich rises like a phoenix from its grief-stricken setting: the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. At the center of these overlapping historical moments is a resilient bookstore. An ingenious structure and the urgent tone make this impossible to turn away from.
Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future
Elizabeth Kolbert (Crown)
Kolbert follows up The Sixth Extinction with a powerful and carefully observed account of the many ways humans have changed nature already, and how they’re responding to those changes. With razor-sharp reporting, she sheds light on the people working to fix, solve, and reverse the damage that humans have already done, covering what she calls “the control of the control of nature.”
Winter in Sokcho
Elisa Shua Dusapin, trans. from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins (Open Letter)
A young French Korean woman works at a seaside inn near the DMZ in South Korea. After an older Frenchman, a comic book writer, visits in search of inspiration, a complex relationship develops between the two. Dusapin’s spare, ornate prose evokes French writers such as Nathalie Saurraute, while her heroine’s resistance to Korean beauty standards feels direct and incendiary. It makes for a brilliant and infectious stylistic mix.
Warmth: Coming of Age at the End of Our World
Daniel Sherrell (Penguin Books)
Climate activist Sherrell’s insightful and incendiary meditation on the looming climate crisis takes the form of a cautionary tale told to his hypothetical future child. His writing swings between hope and despair as he considers how humanity can harness both to move forward in a world that’s warming.
Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?: Essays
Jenny Diski (Bloomsbury)
This posthumous collection from novelist Diski is full of striking originality. She trains her sharp eye on pop culture, literature, and her own life, covering death, Howard Hughes, and fashion, among other topics. Diski never lets herself off the hook, and her incisive humor and relentless curiosity are striking.