End your year on a high note with these highly anticipated reads — and maybe even hit your 2021 reading goals, too. This month’s best new books include memoirs from Emmy winners Sharon Gless and Billy Porter, the latest from Siri Hustvedt, and the followup to Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli’s hit “What If It’s Us.”
Sea State by Tabitha Lasley
Tabitha Lasley needed a change, so she quit her job at a magazine in London and moved to Scotland to write a book about the lives of local oil riggers. In her raw and brutally honest memoir, she explores class, love, masculinity, and what happens when a writer’s distance from her subject becomes too thin.
Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim
In her intense and emotional debut, Kim shows the lives of several people inextricably tied together between the start of the Korean independence movement in 1917 and the end of WWII, when Korea became free of Japanese rule. Between its unforgettable characters and stunning prose, this epic story of love, war, and sacrifice is a modern masterpiece.
The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa
This heartwarming story of finding courage, dealing with grief, and cultivating acceptance is for cat lovers as well as petless folks. This fun, quirky tale of a bookish high school student wrestling with the decision to close the bookstore he inherited from his grandfather — and the talking cat who helps him — is as uplifting as it is charming. If you’re not usually drawn to animal books, let this one be an exception.
Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel
Patel shows his incredible talent of making readers laugh and then cry in his story of one Indian American family and their long-held secrets. In this stunning debut, you can’t help but fall in love with the relationship between Patel’s 28-year-old protagonist struggling with his music career (and sexuality) and his widowed mother coming to terms with her true feelings about her arranged marriage.
Mothers, Fathers, and Others by Siri Hustvedt
Described as “a 21st-century Virginia Woolf,” Hustvedt is back with another outstanding collection of essays, and this time it’s personal. Half family memoir, half feminist philosophy, Hustvedt’s latest is full of wit and striking originality as she muses on a variety of subjects, including motherhood, art, gender, and Wuthering Heights.
Apparently There Were Complaints by Sharon Gless
It took the Emmy-winning star of the ’80s series Cagney and Lacey seven years to write her story, but it was worth the wait. Gless’ witty and bold memoir is full of entertaining celebrity run-ins, including a flight with Betty White and the time she went on a date with Steven Spielberg without knowing who he was. A warning for her fans: This one’s too much fun to put down.
Profit and Punishment by Tony Messenger
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Messenger illustrates the brokenness of the for-profit prison system through the tragic stories of three real people financially ruined by the court appearances, incarceration, and fines associated with minor crimes. “Crucial evidence that the justice system is broken and has to be fixed. Please read this book,” says bestselling author James Patterson.
If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich
Saturday is the most popular boy band in the world, but bandmates Ruben and Zach don’t feel like they’re number one, since management keeps telling them to keep their romantic relationship a secret. If This Gets Out shines like a star, subverting the usual heroes and villains in queer YA stories, while revealing the many pitfalls of fame.
The Upper World by Femi Fadugba
This debut is set for stratospheric success, with a Netflix adaptation produced by and starring Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Black Panther) already in the works. It follows Esso, who, after getting into a car accident, can briefly glimpse the past and the future — and he doesn’t like what he sees. The Upper World explores the ethics of time travel in new, nuanced, and fascinating ways. (We wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up as the rare novel assigned in science classes — previously a physicist, Fadugba’s novel effectively explains principles of quantum physics.)
Unprotected by Billy Porter
The Pose and Kinky Boots star is a powerful symbol for unapologetically living as your authentic self. But, as he reveals in this unfiltered memoir, growing up Black and gay forced Porter to overcome adversity and trauma before becoming the unforgettable and inspiring icon he is today.
Here’s to Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli
The sequel to the hit What If It’s Us finds Ben and Arthur living their separate lives in college, engaged in new romantic relationships. But when they start running into each other, old feelings crop up again. Albertalli and Silvera’s sweet and tender story has a heady mix of youthful hope, anxiety, and romantic tension.