There are still several months left in 2021, but we’ve already seen a ton of fantastic new titles land in stores this year. If you’re searching for the top releases, though — the absolute best books of 2021 — look no further. Below is curated list of great reads that have been the talk of the proverbial town.
Book lovers have found plenty to love among the recent slate of new releases, from
talented newcomers’ debut books to new novels from your favorite authors. Don’t worry if the chaos of 2020 disrupted your usual readerly habits, because 2021 has enough great reading material to get you back into the swing of things.
For readers who want to make the most of their precious reading time, we recommend the following memorable reads. Here, the best books of 2021.
We only include products that have been independently selected by Bustle's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article. 1 One of the Good Ones Jan. 5
When Kezi, an 18-year-old activist and influencer, dies in police custody, her younger sister, Happi, takes up Kezi's copy of the
Green Book to plan a road trip in her honor. Joined by her older sister, her ex-BFF, and Kezi's girlfriend, Happi sets out across Route 66 to learn more about Black history, but unearths more than a few skeletons in the process. 2 Detransition, Baby Jan. 12
The book everyone is talking about in 2021,
follows three people on the cusp of major personal changes. Things haven't been the same for Reese since her partner, Ames, detransitioned and left. Now, he’s come back to his old flame to ask for a favor. Ames’ new girlfriend — who also happens to be his boss — is pregnant with their first child, and he wants Reese to step in as the baby's third parent... so that he won't have to be a father. Detransition, Baby 3 Troubled: The Failed Promise of America's Behavioral Treatment Programs Jan. 12
Journalist Kenneth Rosen drew on personal experiences to write this investigative work of nonfiction.
Troubled exposes the cycles of abuse and manipulation deployed at wilderness camps to reform "troubled teens," many of whom are living with mental illness. 4 Last Night at the Telegraph Club Jan. 19
Set in San Francisco's Chinatown during the Red Scare, Malinda Lo's
Last Night at the Telegraph Club centers on Lily, a Chinese-American 17-year-old who falls in love with another young woman against the backdrop of McCarthyist America. 5 The Girls I’ve Been Jan. 26
Raised by a con-artist mother who targeted rich men, Nora knows exactly how to manipulate people to get what she wants. She hasn't deployed her talents since she and her mother had a falling out, but now Nora and her friends have just become hostages in a bank robbery. Whatever happens, one thing’s for certain: the robbers don't expect what Nora's about to do.
6 Fat Chance, Charlie Vega Feb. 2
Charlie Vega’s nothing like her best friend. Charlie is fat, Amelia is thin. Charlie is Puerto Rican, Amelia is Black. Charlie is shy, Amelia is popular. Now that the stars have finally aligned for Charlie, and Brian has asked her out, how will she deal with the knowledge that Amelia already turned him down?
7 The Gilded Ones Feb. 9
Deka’s blood is gold, which means she’s leaving her hometown for good. She’s an alaki — an almost un-killable warrior — and it’s her job to protect the empire’s borders from outside threats. Once she gets the capital and meets other people like her, Deka may find what she's wanted all along: a place to belong.
8 The Echo Wife Feb. 16
Evelyn’s research perfected the art of cloning, and her husband used it to make a copy of Evelyn. Martine looks exactly like Nathan’s wife, but she’s doting and submissive, which is exactly what her creator-lover wants. But when a confrontation leaves Nathan dead, his two identical lovers will need to work together to save themselves
. 9 Quiet in Her Bones Feb. 23
A decade ago, a posh cul-de-sac weathered a mild scandal when a resident’s wife disappeared, along with $250,000. Everyone assumed she’d run off to start a new life. But her bones have just been found nearby, and everyone in this little hamlet is at risk of seeing their secrets uncovered in the coming investigation.
10 Yolk Mar. 2
From the author of
Permanent Record and Emergency Contact comes this new YA novel about two estranged sisters who are pulled back into each other’s lives by frightening circumstances. June has always had her life in order, but when faced with a potentially fatal diagnosis, she steals her younger sister, Jayne’s, identity to take advantage of her health coverage. Jayne, the hot mess of the family, has spent years avoiding her sister, but now that her boyfriend has proven to be a terrible person, she decides to move in with June instead. As the pair get to know one another all over again, long-held secrets begin to unravel. 11 How Beautiful We Were Mar. 9
An African town plagued by a U.S.-owned pipeline takes center stage in Imbolo Mbue’s
How Beautiful We Were. Oil spills have changed life in Kosawa, contaminating the local water supply and leaving once-fertile land barren. The corrupt national government has chosen to line its pockets and turn away from the environmental devastation. But when the locals take a group of oil company delegates hostage, all eyes turn to Kosawa. 12 Big Time Mar. 16
Late Show with Stephen Colbert writer Jen Spyra comes a debut short fiction collection that moves effortlessly between funny and unsettling. From FOMO to body image and everything in between, Big Time picks apart Gen-Y anxieties. 13 The Unbroken Mar. 23
Perfect for fans of
Gideon the Ninth, C.L. Clark’s debut fantasy novel, The Unbroken, centers on two women caught in a struggle for the fate of an empire. Kidnapped and trained as a soldier, Touraine has forged deep bonds with other fighters in her company. But her loyalty to the empire that stole away her childhood is tested when she’s sent to the front lines to quell the rebellion brewing in her homeland. To further complicate matters, Touraine may just be the only hope Luca has of getting her uncle out of power... but can these two women from different worlds manage to work together to save an empire? 14 Of Women and Salt Mar. 30
A Cuban-American woman navigates delicate relationships with her mother and daughter in Gabriela Garcia’s touching debut,
Of Women and Salt. Carmen’s daughter, Jeanette, wants to learn more about their family history, but Carmen has no plans to tell her more than she already knows. Frustrated, Jeanette heads to Cuba, to her maternal grandmother’s home, determined to find out what her mother has been hiding. 15 Caul Baby Apr. 6
Two families — old magic practitioners and their clients — converge in unexpected ways in this debut novel from
This Will Be My Undoing author Morgan Jerkins. Adopted into the Melancon family when her birth mother was a young college student, Hallow has grown up feeling... different. But she’s about to meet her birth mother — Amara, a talented and passionate attorney — for the first time, and years of questions will be answered . 16 Gold Diggers Apr. 6
In Sanjena Sathian’s unputdownable debut, two old friends find themselves forced to partner up for one last gold heist, years after they used stolen gold to concoct a powerful potion designed to make their dreams come true — a brazen act that ended in tragedy.
17 Open Water Apr. 13
Two Black British artists grapple with the weight of societal expectations in Caleb Azumah Nelson’s engrossing novel. The unnamed photographer and dancer at the heart of
Open Water built their burgeoning romance on the foundation of a strong friendship. But being intimate means opening up, and toxic masculinity has a way of preventing just that. 18 Crying in H Mart Apr. 20 Japanese Breakfast singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner examines her relationship with her late mother, who passed away from cancer when Zauner was 25, in this heartfelt memoir. At turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Crying in H Mart is one of 2021’s must-reads. 19 Meet Me in Another Life Apr. 27
What does it mean to be soulmates? That’s the question at the heart of Catriona Silvey’s novel-in-stories,
Meet Me in Another Life. It centers on Thora and Santi, whose love story ends before it can even begin when one of them dies unexpectedly. But this isn’t the first time Thora and Santi’s spirits have come together, and it won’t be the last. 20 The Secret to Superhuman Strength May 4
From the author of
Fun Home and Are You My Mother? comes this new graphic memoir about one woman’s relationship to exercise and health — and romance, and family, and nature. Alison Bechdel masterfully weaves together threads as disparate as Jack Kerouac and karate, as she recounts her halting journey toward self-transcendence. 21 Arsenic and Adobo May 4
Rom-com meets murder mystery in this fun new novel. Still agonizing over her latest breakup, Lila returns home to help save her Tita Rosie’s restaurant and spend quality time with her meddling aunties. But when her ex — a prickly food critic — dies after one more nasty argument with Lila, Mia P. Manansala’s heroine finds herself being eyed for murder. She’ll have to team up with her aunties to crack the case
. 22 Black Water Sister May 11
Black Water Sister follows Jessamyn as she returns home to Malaysia after a series of personal tragedies. There’s also the matter of the voice she just can’t get out of her head— and as it turns out, Jess’ late Ah Ma is the one doing the talking. Ah Ma will need her granddaughter’s help with some unfinished business involving a shady and blasphemous tycoon before she can rest.. 23 May the Best Man Win May 18
Two high-school seniors face off in the campaign for Homecoming King in ZR Ellor’s YA rom-com. Jeremy’s faced a lot of pushback since he came out as trans, but he’s got his sights set on showing the haters who’s boss. The only guy standing in his way is his ex: Lukas, the Homecoming Committee’s leader and a shoe-in to win.
24 Somebody’s Daughter June 1
A young woman reckons with her incarcerated father’s crimes in this raw, touching memoir. Growing up, it was easy for
Ashley C. Ford to idolize her father. Being in prison, away from her, meant that he couldn’t disappoint her. But when Ford learned about her father’s trial, her whole world tilted on its axis. 25 One Last Stop June 1
A woman who doesn’t believe in love falls for the one person she can’t be with, in this
follow-up to . Time-traveling Jane desperately needs to get back to her life in the 1970s. August is there to help her... but what if she can’t stand to watch Jane go? Red, White & Royal Blue 26 The Chosen and the Beautiful June 1
Jordan Baker takes center stage in this retelling of
The Great Gatsby from The Empress of Salt and Fortune author Nghi Vo. Adopted by a wealthy white couple and raised in WASP society, Jordan, a queer Vietnamese American, has always felt like a bit of an outsider. But as the 1920s roar on, Jordan begins to find her own magical place in the world . 27 ¡Hola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons June 8 Columnist JP Brammer hasn’t been dubbed “the Cheryl Strayed for young queer people everywhere” for nothing. In ¡Hola Papi!, he discusses his experiences growing up mixed race and gay in Oklahoma, and how life gets better — or worse — as one gets older. 28 Seven Days in June June 8
Two successful writers recreate their short-lived teenage love affair in Tia William’s literary romance novel. None of Eva and Shane’s friends knows that they were once an item. And they might go back to being strangers once their week of summer passion ends — but before they part, one of them needs answers.
29 Gearbreakers June 29
The occupying nation of Godolia terrorizes the residents of the Badlands, using powerful mechs called Windups to keep them in line. Resistance fighter Eris knows just how to stop a Windup in its tracks, but when she’s captured and imprisoned, her time on the battlefield comes to a screeching halt. In the midst of her personal and professional tragedy, she meets Windup pilot Sona. The two girls should be enemies, but when they find out they’re fighting for the same end goal, they form an unlikely bond.
30 Objects of Desire June 29
An insightful and witty short story collection about the intricacies of women’s lives, Clare Sestanovich’s
Objects of Desire is a quiet and unsuspecting read that will linger in your brain long after you’ve closed the back cover. 31 Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness July 13 Imagine Wanting Only This author Kristen Radtke examines Americans’ relationship to solitude and society in her all-new work of graphic nonfiction, Seek You. 32 Intimacies July 20
When she begins working at The Hague, the interpreter at the heart of
Katie Kitamura’s new novel finds herself involved in increasingly complex dynamics, from the personal to the geopolitical. Her married boyfriend’s complicated union and a prominent politician’s alleged war crimes are just a few of the problems Kitamura’s protagonist encounters . 33 She Who Became the Sun July 20
In Shelley Parker-Chan’s
She Who Became the Sun, an orphaned girl in 14th century China assumes her dead brother’s identity and enters a monastery for community and protection — only to become an unwitting resistance leader when her home is destroyed by Mongol invaders. 34 Nightbitch July 20
Two years after she became a stay-at-home caregiver to her young son, a stressed-out mother becomes convinced she’s undergoing radical, feral changes. With her husband unconcerned and often away, Rachel Yoder’s protagonist turns to a mysterious book, titled
, for help, and soon comes to live by its words. A Field Guide to Magical Women: A Mythical Ethnography 35 All’s Well Aug. 3
A drama teacher gets a second chance at staging the show that nearly ended her career, only to find the production plagued by every possible setback, in this new novel from the author of
Bunny. 36 A Lesson in Vengeance Aug. 3
After leaving Dalloway School following the death of her girlfriend, Felicity returns to her old quarters in Godwin House, where she meets Ellis: a wunderkind novelist researching her second book in the dormitory’s haunted halls. Helping Ellis carry out her investigation soon tips Felicity over the edge, plunging her back into the dark recesses of her past, in
A Lesson in Vengeance. 37 Afterparties Aug. 3
The stories collected in Anthony Veasna So’s posthumous debut weave their way in and out of the lives of a wide cast of young, gifted, and burned-out Cambodian Americans.
38 My Heart Is a Chainsaw Aug. 31
A half-Indian teenager with a special interest in violent horror movies, Jade lives on the social outskirts of her tiny hometown. But when a brutal serial killer begins picking her neighbors off one by one, Jade’s love of all things scary tells her exactly what the villain will do next, in
My Heart Is a Chainsaw. 39 In the Watchful City Aug. 31
Ora is the safest city in the world, thanks to people like Anima — super-perceivers whom the city employs to watch over its citizens, via a network known as the Gleaming. Anima believes in the power of the Gleaming and its ability to keep Ora safe... until a stranger brings trinkets and stories from around the world into the walled city.
40 The Charm Offensive Sept. 7
A producer working on a
Bachelor-style reality show starts to fall for his leading man in Alison Cochrun’s The Charm Offensive. Charlie’s a man in need of an image reboot, and what better way to regain the public’s adoration than by participating on Ever After? Unfortunately, he’s not cut out for this kind of spotlight, much to the chagrin of the show’s producer, Dev. As Dev and Charlie start working together behind the scenes to make some romantic magic happen, it becomes clear that the real romance may lie off-screen. 41 Matrix Sept. 7
In her first novel since 2015’s
Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff takes readers back to the 12th century, into the life of francophone poet known only as Marie de France. In Groff’s fleshing-out of the writer’s life, Marie is a young, reluctant prioress, put in charge of an abbey on the brink of destruction... and blessed with visions from God. 42 Beautiful World, Where Are You Sept. 7
From the bestselling author of
Conversations with Friends and Normal People comes Beautiful World, Where Are You: the story of four aging millennials dealing with their transitions into “real” adulthood. 43 Palmares Sept. 14
Set in the eponymous, real-life quilombo, which thrived for the better part of a century in colonial Brazil, and gave its name to the modern-day city of União dos Palmares, Gayl Jones’ new novel centers on Almeyda, a woman who comes of age in the quilombo and must later go searching for her missing husband.
44 Harlem Shuffle Sept. 14
Most people know Ray as a furniture salesman on the straight and narrow, and that’s exactly what he is... mostly. Fencing the odd bauble for his criminally inclined cousin has never been too much to ask, but when Freddie signs Ray up to take care of a major haul, he finds himself in a whole new world of criminal activity, in Colson Whitehead’s
Harlem Shuffle. This list will be updated throughout 2021...
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This article was originally published on
Feb. 12, 2021