Happy New Year! What a crazy ride 2020 has been. As we move into 2021, I’m excited to put together my TBR, both for my own personal reading and for books I’d like to share with my students (I’m a librarian).
Looking at the 2021 release calendar, there are plenty of enticing titles to choose from and lots of promising stories from both debut and experienced authors! Since there were so many choices, most of these are releases from the first half of the year and they do skew heavily to my own tastes: a.k.a heavy on the realistic and historical fiction and less so on fantasy and sci-fi, so I’m sure I’ve missed some great titles.
I’d love to hear more about what your reading plans are for the coming year, and if there are any must reads that I’ve missed!
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Bride of the Sea by Eman Quotah
In Cleveland, Ohio, newlyweds Muneer and Saeedah are expecting their first child, but their marriage is not going to last for long. After their divorce, Muneer returns to the couple’s native Saudi Arabia, while Saeedah and their daughter Hanadi remain in Ohio. Fearful of losing Hanadi, Saeedah disappears with her and Muneer will not see his daughter again until she is an adult. Once Hanadi comes of age, she’ll have to untangle the web of secrets and family ties that has formed her childhood. I love a good family saga, and I’m interested in how this one will also weave in themes of immigration, marriage, and cultural differences into the story.
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
The author of The Alice Network returns to historical fiction with this novel about three women working at Bletchley Park during World War II. Answering a mysterious ad, Osla, Mab, and Beth put their skills to work, hoping that their contributions to the war effort will help them transcend their individual pasts and give them more control over their futures. After the war, the women are ready to return to civilian life, but the after effects of their work are long and it turns out there was a traitor in their midst all along. The three of them will come back together to solve The Rose Code and uncover the spy, but doing so will put them in more danger than they ever faced during the war. In the past few years, I’ve read several nonfiction books about the work at Bletchley Park during the war, and I’m excited for Quinn’s fictional take on those events!
The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
Chicago, 2008: Ruth Tuttle is an Ivy-league educated, Black, engineer with a happy marriage and the comforts of a solid, middle class life. However, when her husband decides he wants to have a child, Ruth is forced to confront her feelings about the baby she abandoned as a teenager. To do this, she’ll travel back to the Indiana factory town of her youth, where poverty and racism have driven the community into a perpetual state of despair and crisis. There, Ruth unearths the secrets her family has been keeping and befriends a local, white boy, Midnight, who draws her further into the town and its tensions. This novel promises to look at racial and class divisions in the U.S., as well as being an examination of motherhood and the choices Ruth makes in her quest for the American Dream.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
Like I said above, I don’t necessarily gravitate toward books with fantastical elements, but this Jazz Age, high society tale that mixes in ghosts and magic elements looks too good to pass up. Jordan Baker is living the glamorous life of a 1920s socialite: parties, glamorous friends, and wealthy men who want to please her. She’s also Asian, adopted, and queer, which means that no matter how much money she has, some doors will always remain closed to her. Vo draws on The Great Gatsby to inspire this coming of age story, and also gives Jordan the power to perform magic on those, especially her lovers, who have spurned her and shut her out of their lives. Mixing the classic Gatsby motifs with Jordan’s unique character, this is a new twist on an American classic.
The Upstairs House by Julia Fine
A gothic story that mixes together new motherhood, postpartum psychology, and children’s author Margaret Wise Brown. Megan has just given birth to her first child, and is mostly alone with her daughter in their house while her husband travels for work. Dealing with the transition to motherhood and guilt over her unfinished thesis on mid-century children’s literature, Megan believes that the top floor of her house is haunted by Wise Brown and her lover, Michael Strange. As the spirits of Wise Brown and Strange become increasingly unquiet, Megan must fight against their attempts to draw her and her daughter into their fray. This book looks like it will play on the gothic horror trope of the big, haunted house, with a modern update that addresses postpartum haunting and the transition to new parenthood.
All Girls by Emily Layden
There’s nothing like a coming of age novel set at an elite prep school to get readers excited, and Layden’s All Girls looks like no exception. In this book, nine girls are involved in a scandal that the administration of their school is desperate to hush up and erase from public memory. As the girls navigate the challenges of friendships, ambition, an adolescence, they’re also dealing with pressure from their school to keep hidden painful incidents that could ruin the school’s reputation. I’ve written previously about how much I enjoyed the group narration by high schoolers technique in We Ride Upon Sticks, and this promises a similar storytelling method.
The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell
This Victorian inspired, atmospheric mystery begins in 1893 London, when a seamstresses jumps from a window with a cryptic message stitched into her skin. From there, O’Donnell introduces us to Inspector Cutter and his sidekick Gideon Bliss, who are determined to find the connection between the seamstress’s death and a rash of girls who have gone missing in the city. This book slowly peels back the layers of Victorian London, revealing how everything connects back to the House on Vesper Sands.
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas
Thomas, author of the Hate U Give, returns to that book’s Garden Heights setting seventeen years earlier. Seventeen-year-old Maverick, son of a gang legend, is dealing for the King Lords while balancing family life and his girlfriend, when he finds he’s a father. Everyone believes that a young man with Mav’s life will amount to nothing. Determined to finish school and be an involved parent, while also maintaining his loyalties, Mav is caught between an offer to turn away from gang life and the longstanding ties he has with the King Lords. Thomas’ other books have been a huge hit in our school library, and I’m looking forward to reading and discussing this one with students!
Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant
Tessa Johnson is a big fan of romance and romance novels, but she never sees herself reflected in their stories. As an outlet, she writes her own love stories, but shows them only to her best friend Caroline, until she hears she’s been accepted to a creative writing program. The only problem is, when Tessa starts at her new school, she finds her ideas have dried up, leading her and Caroline to hatch a plan to draw inspiration from real life. All Tessa has to do is cast brooding fellow student Nico as her Prince Charming, and then tick off the plot points on her way to happily ever after. Will this lead to a new story? Or will it just bring her further from the writing that got her into the program in the first place? I’m always looking for positive and diverse YA romances to add to our collection, and this one looks like it will be a great choice.
Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibañez
The follow up to Ibañez’s Woven in Moonlight, this fantasy/adventure novel takes readers deep into the Yanu Jungle at the side of Catalina Quiroga, who’s been banished from her people and her throne. Catalina is determined to win back her kingdom, and to do so she ventures into the jungle in search of the mysterious Illari people. The Illiari are being tormented by a crisis of their own: a force that is decimating their jungle and destroying their way of life. As a seer, Catalina tries to see what is coming for the Illari in order to help them, but doing so will force her to reckon with where her own loyalties and history lie.
The Project by Courtney Summers
When Lo Denham’s parents died, her sister Bea joined The Unity Project, which has only grown in popularity and influence. While most people in upstate New York think it’s a well-meaning organization, Lo knows otherwise and is determined to prove it. Six years after losing contact with Bea, a man shows up at the magazine where Lo works, claiming The Project is responsible for the death of his son. Lo’s investigation will lead her into the path of Lev Warren, the group’s founder, and cause her to question everything she knows about her sister, The Project, and who she can really trust. Thrillers like this are always popular with students looking for a fast-paced read, and this plot sounds particularly intriguing.
Yesterday is History by Kosoko Jackson
When Andre Cobb receives a liver transplant, he’s thrilled at how it will change his life. What he never expected, is that it would cause him to also gain the ability to time-travel. Once the transplant is complete, Andre finds himself being pulled between 1969, where he meets a charismatic boy named Michael, and present day Boston, where his donor’s brother, Blake, is waiting to explain how time travel works. In both times, Andre finds himself drawn to each boy, but he doesn’t know which life he wants to live. Dealing with navigating life in 1969 and the distance between him and Blake as a result of Blake’s brothers death, Andre’s transplant is just the beginning of a series of crazy twists and turns in his life.
You Have a Match by Emma Lord
Abby signs up for a DNA service partially as a joke and partially to smooth things over with her longtime friend and current crush, Leo. Imagine her shock then, when she discovers that she’s the younger sister of none other than Instagram star Savannah Tully, who her parents placed for adoption just eighteen months before Abby was born. To try to reconnect and figure out what’s going on, Abby and Savannah head to summer camp, accompanied by Leo as camp co-chef. There, Abby will deal with the uptight Savannah, her increasingly visible feelings for Leo, and the ramifications of her parents’ secrets. This looks like such an interesting take on family, perfectionism, and the increases in genetic testing, and I can’t wait to read it!
The Box in the Woods (Truly Devious #4) by Maureen Johnson
Normally I wouldn’t write about the fourth book in a series, but I’ll make an exception for the Truly Devious books and their main character, Stevie Bell. Stevie has spent the last few years wrapping up the Ellingham mystery at her former boarding school, and now she’s been asked to use her skills to solve the “Box in the Woods Murders” that occurred at a summer camp in the 1970s. Recruiting her Ellingham friends to as fellow counselors, Stevie shows up at the camp to find that creepy things are still happening in the present. Threatening messages appear on the walls, a box is found with dolls stuffed inside, and then the camp’s owner dies in a suspicious accident. I’m excited to see how Stevie weaves these threads together, in this Truly Devious follow-up.
The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm
Eleven-year-old Bell has spent his entire life living on Mars, in a colony established by the United States. He lives a pretty normal life, eating cake and playing with his cats, but sometimes he wonders about the things the adults in the colony don’t talk about. Why does the colony not have contact with Earth? Why can’t he travel to other colonies on the planet? And why have all the adults suddenly fallen ill, leaving Bell and his fellow kids to save the day and unite the inhabitants of Mars? My students loved the Moon Base Alpha series by Stuart Gibbs, as well as Holm’s other books, so I know they’ll love this outer space adventure!
The Last Shadow Warrior by Sam Subity
Abby Beckett comes from a long line of Viking warriors and has spent her life training to be part of the Aesir, a group of warriors chasing the Grendel monsters like the one that killed Abby’s mother. Despite Abby and the Aesir’s belief that the Grendels are still very much a threat, the Viking Council has recently decided to call off the hunt for them, leaving Abby without much to do. After an injury puts her father in a coma, she’s moved to Vale Hall, a mysterious school in Minnesota, where she finds the tables have turned and the Grendels are now hunting her. Can Abby revive her father and protect her people? Or will the strengths of the Aesir be lost forever?
The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas by Kimberly Willis Holt
How books handle and present 9/11 to students born post-2001 is an area I’ve always been interested in, and I look forward to seeing how Willis Holt handles the subject in her companion book to When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. Decades after the life changing summer of Zachary and Toby, Toby’s daughter Rylee befriends Ben, who has just moved to their small, Texas town from New York. Hearing the story of Ben’s father, who was a first responder on 9/11, inspires Rylee and Ben to try and reunite her father and Zachary, in a story about enduring friendship.
Alone by Megan E. Freeman
All twelve-year-old Maddie wanted was a secret sleepover with her best friends. Instead, she wakes up in a town that is completely deserted, with no power, no internet, and no one else around. Accompanied by only her dog and her books, Maddie slowly begins to adapt to being alone, and learns to survive the disasters and looters that come her way. This sounds like a new twist on Hatchet, and I’m excited to get it into the hands of some adventure loving readers!
A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
World War II era historical fiction is always a hit for many middle grade readers, and this book looks like a great addition to that genre. It’s 1940 in London, and siblings Anna, Edmund, and William have just lost their guardian and grandmother, and found out there are no more family members with whom they can live. With the war coming closer to London each day, the children are sent to live in a series of foster homes in the country side, where they experience bullying and loneliness as they fight to stay together. Their only refuge is at the town lending library, where the sweet Nora Muller takes in the children for stories and tea time. This looks like a sweet story about overcoming hardships and found families, perfect for fans of The War That Saved My Life.
Clues to the Universe by Christina Li
Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves watching NASA launches and building rockets with her, and when he passes away unexpectedly, all she has left is their last project. Meanwhile, Benji Burns only interest in space comes from the comic Spacebound, which he thinks may have been written by the dad that walked out on him years ago. Ro and Benji don’t have a lot in common, but they’ve been paired together for their class science project. Ro is determined to finish her last rocket and also to help Benji reunite with his dad, but Benji isn’t so sure. A refreshing and own voices take on loss, friendship, and family.
The Million Dollar Race by Matthew Ross Smith
Grant Falloon is fast. Fast enough that when the sneaker company Babblemoney announces an international competition to find the fastest kid in the world, he thinks he has a shot. There’s just one problem: Grant’s eccentric and nonconformist parents never actually got him a birth certificate. To compete Grant comes up with a crazy plan, to invent his own country, which he will represent in the games. This sounds like a kooky and fun story, that will interest readers looking for laughs.
Though there are about a thousand new releases I’d love to get to next year, these twenty-one books seem like a good place to start! What’s your first book of 2021 going to be? Let us know here or over on Instagram, @literaryquicksand.