The 40 Best New Books To Read This May

Including new work from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Stacey Abrams.

by Bustle Editors
Books releasing in May 2021, including Rachel Cusk's 'Second Place' and Mieko Kawakami's 'Heaven.'

Summertime is almost upon us, but spring 2021 still has plenty of great books to roll out before we get there. The most anticipated books of May 2021 include new releases from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Stacey Abrams, Rivers Solomon, and more — might as well clear some space on the bookshelf now for this new crop of must-reads.

If there’s one thing May 2021 is delivering, it’s excellent memoirs. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shares the pain of losing her father in Notes on Grief. Alison Bechdel’s latest graphic novel, The Secret to Superhuman Strength, traces her decades-long relationship to fitness culture — and serves as something of a cipher for her previous work. Welcome to Night Vale co-creator Joseph Fink and his wife, writer and Night Vale tour emcee Meg Bashwiner, explore the first decade of their relationship in The First Ten Years. Andrew McCarthy, the star of St. Elmo’s Fire and Pretty in Pink, looks back on one glitzy, debaucherous decade in Brat: An ’80s Story. It’s a fantastic nonfiction lineup, and that’s without mentioning Lilly Dancyger’s Negative Space, Larissa Pham’s Pop Song, Selma van de Perre’s My Name Is Selma, and Brian Broome’s Punch Me Up to the Gods.

But don’t worry, fiction readers — there’s plenty of great new novels to check out this month, too. Check out the most anticipated books of May 2021 below:

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May 1

Perfect for fans of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, this debut memoir from Burn It Down editor Lilly Dancyger revisits the author’s childhood, which was surrounded by art and addiction.


May 4

Red Queen fans are ready and waiting for Realm Breaker: the first book in a new series from Victoria Aveyard. The novel follows Corayne, fated to become a hero by virtue of her blood, and her seven allies — many of whom seem unsavory at first blush — as they move to stop an ever-growing darkness.


May 4

From the author of Fun Home and Dykes to Watch Out For, The Secret to Superhuman Strength explores decades’ worth of evolving fitness fads, all while digging at a deeper truth.


May 4

Semiosis author Sue Burke returns to stores this May with a timely new speculative fiction novel. Set in a near-future version of the United States marked by fascism, climate crisis, and an emergent virus, Immunity Index centers on a geneticist who might hold the secret to saving the world from a deadly contagion.


May 4

Already lauded by critics, Rachel Cusk’s Second Place centers on M and L: a remarried woman settling into a peaceful life, and the painter whose work she idolizes. But when M invites L to stay at her guest house, she does not anticipate the fallout from the inevitable crash when three couples — M and her husband, L and his girlfriend, and M’s adult daughter and her partner — collide.


From the author of Hello, Sunshine and Eight Hundred Grapes comes this new thriller about a woman caught between her missing husband and her responsibility to her 16-year-old stepdaughter. When federal agents start asking questions about Owen’s disappearance, all Hannah has to go on is a two-word note from him — Protect her. — and whatever his reticent daughter, Bailey, might know about her dad.


May 4

Aminder Dhaliwal’s new book is Cyclopedia Exotica. Compiled from Dhaliwal’s Instagram comic, the book examines the interior lives of a cyclops community living among the two-eyed, providing nuanced commentary on microaggressions and discrimination toward immigrants.


May 4

Carrie Fountain explores fundamental questions of identity and growth in her latest poetry collection, The Life.


May 4

Containing three new novellas from the authors of The Witch’s Heart, Hammers on Bone, and The Luminous Dead, this intensely entertaining compilation will delight fans of vampire fiction and introduce a new generation of readers to the world of Vampire: The Masquerade.


May 4

Set in the real-life Martha’s Vineyard community of Oak Bluffs, Sunny Hostin’s debut novel centers on Perry, a New York City lawyer looking for a relaxing beach getaway — who soon finds herself pulled into a tense turf war between her god-sisters, as the three of them vie to inherit their godmother’s summer home.


May 4

The “Meet Cute Diary” is Noah’s online collection of feel-good trans romance stories. Although Noah markets his posts as tales from real life, he actually makes them all up himself. When someone outs him as a fraud, Noah sets out to fake his own meet-cute story to save his blog. But when that story starts to move beyond the bounds of Noah’s fictional narrative, life gets even more complicated.


May 4

Historical romance fans will love Luck of the Titanic: Stacey Lee’s new novel about British-Chinese twins sailing to America to — hopefully — join the circus as acrobats. But when a legendary tragedy strikes, Valora and Jamie are thrust into a fight for survival.


May 4

A rom-com setup swiftly turns into a murder mystery in Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo. Lila’s trying to save her aunt’s restaurant from certain doom, and a bad review from a food critic is the last thing she needs — especially when that critic is her ex. When he dies after eating Lila’s cooking, she becomes the primary suspect in his death. But can Lila prove her innocence before it’s too late?


May 4

Larissa Pham’s memoir-in-essays examines little moments where life’s biggest developments intersect with pop culture, art, and music.


May 4

Feted forest ecologist Suzanne Simard makes her book publishing debut with Finding the Mother Tree. In this intimate history of tree development, Simard illuminates some poignant insights about humanity as well.


May 4

Raised in a Black separatist religious community where her every move is controlled, Vern wants a different life for her unborn children. The threats to Vern and her twins follow her into the wilderness, however, and she soon finds herself protecting her little family with newfound powers even she doesn’t fully understand.


May 11

Stacey Abrams’ While Justice Sleeps — her first novel under her real name — is a political thrill ride you won’t want to miss. When the Supreme Court Justice she works under is hospitalized, Avery is given power of attorney, and finds herself responsible for his very life. But as she delves deep into the Justice’s work, she realizes that the two of them may be in imminent danger.


May 11

From the author of Sorcerer to the Crown and The Terracotta Bride comes Black Water Sister: a story of family, heritage, and vengeance. When circumstances force Jessamyn to return home to Malaysia — a country she barely knows — a line of communication opens between her and her late Ah Ma. She wants Jess to help her punish a gang leader from beyond the grave, but her granddaughter must walk a knife’s edge to do so.


Momo and Cassia have immigrated to the United States, leaving Junie — their 10-year-old daughter, who has congenital limb differences — behind in China, promising to return for her before her 12th birthday. But as Junie grows up in the tumult of 1980s China, Momo and Cassia must reckon with their memories of the Cultural Revolution if their family is to survive the next two years.


May 11

Best known for their work on Welcome to Night Vale, writers Joseph Fink and Meg Bashwiner recount the ups and downs of their first decade of romance in their joint memoir, The First Ten Years.


May 11

Two estranged friends from the same small town try to reconnect over the course of one fateful week, in Emily Henry’s The People We Meet on Vacation. Poppy hasn’t spoken to Alex in two years, but now she’s proposing they revive their old tradition: vacationing together. To her surprise, he agrees, but now Poppy’s got one shot at rescuing their relationship... and only seven days to do it.


May 11

In this must-read memoir, Adichie expands on her celebrated New Yorker essay by the same name, delving into her grief over her father’s death.


May 11

Brat Pack member and Orange Is the New Black director Andrew McCarthy revisits his youth in the limelight in Brat. Set in 1980s New York City, this memoir is a must-read for any film fan.


May 11

At the height of World War II, Selma van de Perre lost her father, mother, and sister to two of German-occupied Poland’s most infamous extermination camps. She spent two years fighting against the Nazis through subterfuge, only to be sent to Ravensbrück in 1944. Because no one knew she was Jewish — thanks to her assumed identity as a gentile — she survived until the camp was liberated. Now, van de Perre shares her story in My Name Is Selma.


May 18

Even though they haven’t spoken in years, Julian drops everything to attend Rye’s funeral, believing his old college chum has died by suicide. But when he discovers there’s no body to bury, Julian is forced to reevaluate everything he knows about Rye and their mutual friend, Magda.


May 18

Brian Broome plumbs the depths of his experience growing up gay and Black in the 1980s and ‘90s Midwest for his debut memoir, Punch Me Up to the Gods — sure to be one of 2021’s must-reads.


May 18

In ZR Ellor’s May the Best Man Win, a trans boy faces off against his ex-boyfriend in a high school contest. Set on asserting himself in the face of anti-trans bigotry, cheer captain Jeremy announces his bid for Homecoming King, but doing so puts him in direct opposition to his ex, football player Lukas, who heads up the Homecoming Committee.


May 18

A pair of reclusive, 51-year-old twins take center stage in Claire Fuller’s new novel, Unsettled Ground. Jeanie and Julius have been content to spend their lives with their aging mother, Dot. But when Dot dies unexpectedly, the twins must find a way to maintain their way of life, even as debt collectors and other adversaries arrive at their door.


May 18

Princess Diaries fans will want to take note of this one. Emiko Jean’s Tokyo Ever After centers on Izumi: a Japanese American teenager living in a majority-white town with her white mother. She’s always felt like an outsider — until when she learns that her father is actually the Crown Prince of Japan, and thinks she might finally find a place to belong. But is Izumi too American for the Japanese court?


May 18

After an online scandal leaves her without a job, Sasha turns over a new leaf, taking a position at the Atmosphere: a retreat, founded by her friend Dyson, that aims to help men overcome toxic masculinity and be better, healthier people. But will she be safe among the Atmospherians?


May 18

Desperate to find success as a playwright, Jonah finagles his way into a meeting with Richard: a Pulitzer Prize winner who’s basically the man Jonah wants to be when he grows up. There’s no denying their chemistry, and Richard soon invites Jonah to his home in the Hamptons... where it becomes clear that one of them, or perhaps both, has a dark side.


May 18

This prize-winning collection of short fiction is the perfect read for anyone getting ready to reunite with friends and loved ones, after over a year apart. Full of stories about people needing comfort, connection, and space, In the Event of Contact is one of 2021’s must-read collections.


May 18

Twenty years ago, 8-year-old Chrissie killed a small child. She now lives under an assumed name, trying to give her young daughter the childhood she never had — but her new life is threatened when her past comes to collect.


May 18

Four disparate women — a single mom, a wife languishing in a humdrum marriage, an ex-bride-to-be, and a woman stuck living with her monster-in-law — begin to lean on one another after meeting at a book club. When they really start to open up, the aftereffects are nothing short of spectacular.


May 25

When Nuah last confessed his feelings for Janna, she wasn’t ready to hear them. Now, her brother’s wedding is sure to lead to a reunion, and Janna already knows what she’ll say when Nuah approaches her again. But when the guy she’s interested in begins acting strangely, along with the rest of her family, Janna learns about what happens to the best-laid plans.


May 25

Kara’s whole life revolves around books and romance. She’s a popular romance novelist and bookstagrammer, but finding her own life partner has been a challenge. When her BFF announces her engagement, Kara devotes herself to helping out, but some big hurdles — like a book deadline and the reemergence of an old flame — might just get in her way.


May 25

A quiet, powerful novel from the author of Breasts and Eggs, Heaven centers on two bullied teenagers who find respite with one another. Anyone who has suffered the torment of peer bullying will see themselves in Eyes and Hazmat’s story.


May 25

Exit, Pursued by a Bear author E.K. Johnston returns to store shelves this month with Aetherbound. A girl — scorned by her family, thanks to a genetic difference — teams up with the twin heirs to a massive interstellar power in this novel of identity and rebellion.


May 25

When Maisie and Grant’s mom dies, it’s up to their Guncle — that’s Gay Uncle — Patrick to help. But though he loves his niece and nephew, but he’s not exactly parent material. With his own hangups about his professional and private affairs still looming large in his life, Patrick will be forced to make some tough choices, and maybe even grow up a little.


May 25

From One Crazy Summer author Rita Williams-Garcia comes A Sitting in St. James. Williams-Garcia’s new YA novel focuses on the interconnected lives of those living on one antebellum plantation, as they prepare for white matriarch Madame Sylvie Guilbert to have her portrait painted.