Books To Add To Your Reading List In 2021

Arts engagement producer Arielle Gray selects books you should add to your 2021 reading list. (Courtesy of the publishers)
Arts engagement producer Arielle Gray selects books you should add to your 2021 reading list. (Courtesy of the publishers)

One of the best things about starting a new year is compiling a new book list. So many gems dropped in 2020 and even more are slated to publish in 2021. Whether you're into nonfiction, fantasy or YA, we've put together this list of books we think would be a good addition to your "To Read" list. We want to thank GrubStreet's Writers of Color group for their local book selection suggestions!


'The Talking Drum'

Lisa Braxton

Set in the fictional town of Bellport, Massachusetts, the novel follows the stories of multiple characters searching for their way forward. Bellport, a slowly dying, industrial town, doesn't seem to have much to offer but the characters in "The Talking Drum" are determined to see their dreams come to fruition.

'Say I'm Dead'

E. Dolores Johnson

Family secrets are uncovered in this memoir from Johnson recounting her family history. Decades ago, Johnson's white mother ran away to be with Johnson's Black father. What Johnson didn't know is that her mother orchestrated her own disappearance when she ran away. "Say I'm Dead" is a compelling tale about the legacy of racism in America, family and the power of love.

'50 Rappers Who Changed The World'

Candace McDuffie

Even if you're not a fan of hip-hop, the impact of the genre on global culture is undeniable. ARTery contributor and music journalist Candace McDuffie lays out 50 rappers whose music and careers shifted the trajectory of hip-hop and the world at large. With beautiful graphics, this book is perfect for you if you love music and want to learn more about the stories behind the artists.

'Your Corner Dark'

Desmond Hall | January 2021

This young adult novel follows the story of Frankie Green, a young man growing up in Jamaica. Where he's from, people don't always make it out so when Frankie gets a scholarship, he thinks it's his ticket out. A series of unfortunate events gets in the way of his escape and he ends up working for his uncle's gang to pay off medical debt. Will Frankie ever make it out?


'Interior Chinatown'

Charles Yu

This book published at the beginning of the year but I've only just been able to get around to reading it. The story revolves around Willis Wu, a self-described "Generic Asian Man" with a penchant for acting and film. From his room in Chinatown, he dreams of making it big in the film industry. But are there more roles for him than just the "Kung Fu Guy?" As Willis embarks on his own personal journey, he unearths much more about Chinatown and his family in the process.

'The Mermaid From Jeju'

Sumi Hahn

Haenyeo are female deep-sea divers, a tradition born in the Korean province of Jeju. With little equipment, haenyeo dive up to 30 meters and can hold their breath for up to three minutes. Junja, a young girl, is the most recent indoctrinated haenyeo in her family but she's still struggling to find herself in the aftermath of World War II. Her mother, also a successful haenyeo, dies suddenly after a diving trip and Junja finds her entire world out of whack. Armed with guidance from her cunning grandmother, Junja begins to carve out her own place, in love and in life.

'Concrete Rose'

Angie Thomas

This follow-up to Thomas' 2017 hit "The Hate U Give" takes us back to the Garden Heights neighborhood, but 17 years earlier than the events that unfolded. Mav is a young, charismatic man with plans of making it big with his girlfriend by his side. To make ends meet, he deals drugs for the King Lords. But things get complicated when his girlfriend gets pregnant. "Concrete Rose" tackles issues like Black masculinity and fatherhood as Mav figures out how to define himself in a world determined to box him in.


Catherine Hernandez

Are you one of those people who like a good dystopian fiction novel? This is one for you. Hernandez tells the tale of a not-so-distant world in which people of marginalized identities, including people of color, disabled and LGBTQ folks, are interned in labor camps. However, the emergence of a hero could disrupt the power structures that be and upend everything.

'Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America'

Ijeoma Oluo

If the title of this book makes you uncomfortable, then that means you should probably read it. In it, Oluo excavates the legacy of white male power and how our culture and systems have and continue to uphold it. Oluo recently did an interview with Here & Now's Tonya Mosley. Listen here.

'We Do This 'til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice'

Mariame Kaba | February 2021

Since the resurgence of protests after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, there have been calls to get rid of the carceral state, including prisons, jails and the police department. For those new to abolition work, these concepts can sound counter-intuitive or difficult to grasp. Kaba, whose Twitter is full of resources and information on abolition, lays out abolitionist principles, shows us how we can transform harm and the way we view justice and, even more importantly, how we ordinary people are the change agents we've been waiting for.

'The Ones We're Meant To Find'

Joan He | May 2021

Separated by a vast distance in a future where the world is heavily polluted, sisters Cee and Kasey have their work cut out for them. Cee is stranded alone, with only an android, on a remote island. Kasey, a STEM prodigy, lives in Earth's last remaining unpolluted city. But she's disillusioned with the moral bankruptcy of those living inside. Will these two sisters ever reunite?


Headshot of Arielle Gray

Arielle Gray Reporter
Arielle Gray is a reporter for WBUR.



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