Feature Image Credit: @pages.and.pinots
There’s always something so exciting about starting a new year especially when we get to make our book club reading plan, too! There are a lot of exciting books coming out in 2021, but these picks are perfect for your Fall 2021 book club selection because regardless of the genre, they’re thought-provoking and easy to discuss.
Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara (Aug 3)
Chicago, 1944: Twenty-year-old Aki Ito and her parents have just been released from Manzanar, where they have been detained by the US government since the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, together with thousands of other Japanese Americans. The life in California the Itos were forced to leave behind is gone; instead, they are being resettled two thousand miles away in Chicago, where Aki’s older sister, Rose, was sent months earlier and moved to the new Japanese American neighborhood near Clark and Division streets. But on the eve of the Ito family’s reunion, Rose is killed by a subway train. Aki, who worshipped her sister, is stunned. Officials are ruling Rose’s death a suicide. Aki cannot believe her perfect, polished, and optimistic sister would end her life. Her instinct tells her there is much more to the story, and she knows she is the only person who could ever learn the truth. Inspired by historical events, Clark and Division infuses an atmospheric and heartbreakingly real crime fiction plot with rich period details and delicately wrought personal stories Naomi Hirahara has gleaned from thirty years of research and archival work in Japanese American history.
Shallow Waters by Anita Kopacz (Aug 3)
Shallow Waters imagines Yemaya, an Orïsha—a deity in the religion of Africa’s Yoruba people—cast into mid-1800s America. We meet Yemaya as a young woman, still in the care of her mother and not yet fully aware of the spectacular power she possesses to protect herself and those she holds dear. The journey laid out in Shallow Waters sees Yemaya confront the greatest evils of this era; transcend time and place in search of Obatala, a man who sacrifices his own freedom for the chance at hers; and grow into the powerful woman she was destined to become. We travel alongside Yemaya from her native Africa and on to the “New World,” with vivid pictures of life for those left on the outskirts of power in the nascent Americas. Yemaya realizes the fighter within, travels the Underground Railroad in search of the mysterious stranger Obatala, and crosses paths with icons of our history on the road to freedom. Shallow Waters is a nourishing work of ritual storytelling from promising debut author Anita Kopacz.
Edge Case by YZ Chin (Aug 10)
When her husband suddenly disappears, a young woman must uncover where he went—and who she might be without him—in this striking debut of immigration, identity, and marriage. After another taxing day as the sole female employee at her New York City tech startup, Edwina comes home to find that her husband, Marlin, has packed up a suitcase and left. The only question now is why. Did he give up on their increasingly hopeless quest to secure their green cards and decide to return to Malaysia? Was it the death of his father that sent him into a tailspin? Or has his strange, sudden change in personality finally made Marlin and Edwina strangers to each other? As Edwina searches the city for traces of her husband, she simultaneously sifts through memories of their relationship, hoping to discover the moment when something went wrong. Poignant and darkly funny, Edge Case is a searing meditation on intimacy, estrangement, and the fractured nature of identity. In this moving debut, YZ Chin explores the imperfect yet enduring relationships we hold to country and family.
Riding High in April by Jackie Townsend (Aug 24)
Inside the rising tech microcosms of Seoul, Singapore, Japan and India, far from the mendacity of Silicon Valley, a serial tech entrepreneur pursues a last-ditch attempt to build something great: COMPASS, an open-source network platform that Microsoft has labeled “reckless.” At stake are his reputation, his dwindling bank account, and his fifteen-year relationship with the only woman he’s ever loved—a woman in the midst of reckoning with who she is and what really matters to her in the face of the narcissism and destructiveness of the technology world. She shows up in Seoul in a big, bold move to be with him—only to find that living in Asia reshapes her in intangible, unexpected ways. Taut and richly layered, Riding High in April is a powerful evocation of our contemporary tech moment, a revealing exploration of resilience and the pursuit of something unattainable, and a moving story of love, friendship, and letting go.
The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson (Aug 31)
Lonely librarian June Jones has never left the sleepy English village where she grew up. Shy and reclusive, the thirty-year-old would rather spend her time buried in books than venture out into the world. But when her library is threatened with closure, June is forced to emerge from behind the shelves to save the heart of her community and the place that holds the dearest memories of her mother. Joining a band of eccentric yet dedicated locals in a campaign to keep the library, June opens herself up to other people for the first time since her mother died. To save the place and the books that mean so much to her, June must finally make some changes to her life. For once, she’s determined not to go down without a fight. And maybe, in fighting for her cherished library, June can save herself, too.
Beautiful Country: A Memoir by Qian Julie Wang (Sept 7)
In Chinese, the word for America, Mei Guo, translates directly to “beautiful country.” Yet when seven-year-old Qian arrives in New York City in 1994 full of curiosity, she is overwhelmed by crushing fear and scarcity. In China, Qian’s parents were professors; in America, her family is “illegal” and in Chinatown, Qian’s parents labor in sweatshops. Instead of laughing at her jokes, they fight constantly, taking out the stress of their new life on one another. Shunned by her classmates and teachers for her limited English, Qian takes refuge in the library and masters the language through books, coming to think of The Berenstain Bears as her first American friends. And where there is delight to be found, Qian relishes it: her first bite of gloriously greasy pizza, weekly “shopping days,” when Qian finds small treasures in the trash lining Brooklyn’s streets, and a magical Christmas visit to Rockefeller Center. But then Qian’s headstrong Ma Ma collapses, revealing an illness that she has kept secret for months for fear of the cost and scrutiny of a doctor’s visit. Inhabiting her childhood perspective with exquisite lyric clarity and unforgettable charm and strength, Qian Julie Wang has penned an essential American story about a family fracturing under the weight of invisibility, and a girl coming of age in the shadows, who never stops seeking the light.
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (Sept 7)
Beautiful World, Where Are You is a new novel by Sally Rooney, the bestselling author of Normal People and Conversations with Friends. Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up, and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young―but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?
The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas (Sept 7)
The Salpetriere Asylum: Paris, 1885. Dr. Charcot holds all of Paris in thrall with his displays of hypnotism on women who have been deemed mad and cast out from society. But the truth is much more complicated—these women are often simply inconvenient, unwanted wives, those who have lost something precious, wayward daughters, or girls born from adulterous relationships. For Parisian society, the highlight of the year is the Lenten ball—the Madwomen’s Ball—when the great and good come to gawk at the patients of the Salpetriere dressed up in their finery for one night only. For the women themselves, it is a rare moment of hope. Genevieve is a senior nurse. After the childhood death of her sister Blandine, she shunned religion and placed her faith in both the celebrated psychiatrist Dr. Charcot and science. But everything begins to change when she meets Eugenie, the 19-year-old daughter of a bourgeois family that has locked her away in the asylum. Because Eugenie has a secret: she sees spirits. Inspired by the scandalous, banned work that all of Paris is talking about, The Book of Spirits, Eugenie is determined to escape from the asylum—and the bonds of her gender—and seek out those who will believe in her.
The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall (Sept 14)
It’s 1997 and Missy is a cellist in an indie rock band on tour across America. At twenty two years old, she gets on stage every night and plays the song about her absent mother that made the band famous. As the only girl in the band, she’s determined to party just as hard as everyone else, loving and leaving a guy in every town. But then she meets a tomboy drummer who is hard to forget, and a forgotten flap of cocaine strands her at the border. Forty-something Carola is just surfacing from a sex scandal at the yoga center where she has been living when she sees her daughter, Missy, for the first time in ten years—on the cover of a music magazine.Ruth is eighty-three and planning her return to the Turkish seaside village where she spent her childhood. But when her granddaughter, Missy, winds up crashing at her house, she decides it’s time that the strong and stubborn women in her family find a way to understand one another again. In this sharply observed novel, Zoe Whittall captures three very different women who each struggle to build an authentic life. Definitions of family, romance, gender, and love will radically change as they seek out lives that are nothing less than spectacular.
I Was Never the First Lady by Wendy Guerra (Sept 14)
A lush, sensuous, and original tale of family, love, and history, set against the backdrop of the Cuban Revolution and its aftermath. Nadia Guerra’s mother, Albis Torres, left when Nadia was just ten years old. Growing up, the proponents of revolution promised a better future. Now that she’s an adult, Nadia finds that life in Havana hasn’t quite matched its promise; instead it has stifled her rebellious and artistic desires. Each night she DJs a radio show government censors block from broadcasting. Frustrated, Nadia finds hope and a way out when she wins a scholarship to study in Russia. Leaving Cuba offers her the chance to find her long lost mother and her real father. But as Nadia discovers more about her family, her fate becomes entwined with that of Celia Sanchez, an icon of the Cuban Revolution—a resistance fighter, ingenious spy, and the rumored lover of Fidel Castro. A tale of revolutionary ideals and promise, Celia’s story interweaves with Nadia’s search for meaning, and eventually reveals secrets Nadia could never have dreamed.
The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine (Sept 21)
By National Book Award and the National Book Critics’ Circle Award finalist for An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine, comes a transporting new novel about an Arab American trans woman’s journey among Syrian refugees on Lesbos island. Mina Simpson, a Lebanese doctor, arrives at the infamous Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, after being urgently summoned for help by her friend who runs an NGO there. Alienated from her family except for her beloved brother, Mina has avoided being so close to her homeland for decades. But Mina hopes to accomplish something meaningful, among the abundance of Western volunteers who pose for selfies with beached dinghies and the camp’s children. Soon, a boat crosses bringing Sumaiya, a fiercely resolute Syrian matriarch with terminal liver cancer. Determined to protect her children and husband at all costs, Sumaiya refuses to alert her family to her diagnosis. Bonded together by Sumaiya’s secret, a deep connection sparks between the two women. Cunningly weaving in stories of other refugees into Mina’s singular own, The Wrong End of the Telescope is a bedazzling tapestry of both tragic and amusing portraits of indomitable spirits facing a humanitarian crisis.
The Vanished Days by Susanna Kearsley (Oct 5)
From international bestselling author Susanna Kearsley comes a historical tale of intrigue and revolution in Scotland, where the exile of King James brought plots, machinations, suspicion and untold bravery to light. An investigation of a young widow’s secrets by a man who’s far from objective, leads to a multi-layered tale of adventure, endurance, romance…and the courage to hope. In the autumn of 1707, old enemies from the Highlands to the Borders are finding common ground as they join to protest the new Union with England. At the same time, the French are preparing to launch an invasion to bring the young exiled Jacobite king back to Scotland to reclaim his throne. Queen Anne’s commissioners, seeking to calm the situation, have begun paying out money sent up from London to settle the losses and wages owed to those Scots who took part in the disastrous Darien expedition eight years earlier―an ill-fated venture that left Scotland all but bankrupt. When the young widow of a Darien sailor comes forward to collect her husband’s wages, her claim is challenged. One of the men assigned to investigate has only days to decide if she’s honest, or if his own feelings are blinding him to the truth.
My Famous Brain by Diane Wald (Oct 5)
Although deemed a genius, psychologist Jack MacLeod never became famous. Here, after falling victim to a brain tumor, he narrates his life story from beyond the grave—relying on his intelligence and memory to gain insight into the relationships, both romantic and platonic, that shaped his existence, and to understand his life more richly.
Fight Night by Miriam Toews (Oct 5)
From the bestselling author of Women Talking and All My Puny Sorrows, a compassionate, darkly humorous, and deeply wise new novel about three generations of women. Swiv’s Grandma, Elvira, has been fighting all her life. From her upbringing in a strict religious community, she has fought those who wanted to take away her joy, her independence, and her spirit. And now, even as her health fails, Grandma is fighting for her family: for her daughter, partnerless and in the third term of a pregnancy; and for her granddaughter Swiv, a spirited nine-year-old who has been suspended from school. Cramped together in their Toronto home, on the precipice of extraordinary change, Grandma and Swiv undertake a vital new project, setting out to explain their lives in letters they will never send. Alternating between the exuberant, precocious voice of young Swiv and her irrepressible, tenacious Grandma, Fight Night is a love letter to mothers and grandmothers, and to all the women who are still fighting-painfully, ferociously- for a way to live on their own terms.
Trashlands by Alison Stine (Oct 26)
A few generations from now, the coastlines of the continent have been redrawn by floods and tides. Global powers have agreed to not produce any new plastics, and what is left has become valuable: garbage is currency. In the region-wide junkyard that Appalachia has become, Coral is a “plucker,” pulling plastic from the rivers and woods. She’s stuck in Trashlands, a dump named for the strip club at its edge, where the local women dance for an endless loop of strangers and the club’s violent owner rules as unofficial mayor. Amid the polluted landscape, Coral works desperately to save up enough to rescue her child from the recycling factories, where he is forced to work. In her stolen free hours, she does something that seems impossible in this place: Coral makes art. When a reporter from a struggling city on the coast arrives in Trashlands, Coral is presented with an opportunity to change her life. Told in shifting perspectives, Trashlands is a beautifully drawn and wildly imaginative tale of a parent’s journey, a story of community and humanity in a changed world.
A Day Like This by Kelley McNeil (Nov 1)
What if everything you’ve ever loved, ever known, ever believed to be true…just disappeared? Annie Beyers has everything―a beautiful house, a loving husband, and an adorable daughter. It’s a day like any other when she takes Hannah to the pediatrician…until she wakes hours later from a car accident. When she asks for her daughter, confused doctors tell Annie that Hannah never existed. In fact, nothing after waking from the crash is the same as Annie remembers. Five happy years of her life apparently never happened. Now a successful artist living in Manhattan, she’s no longer home in their beloved upstate farmhouse. Her long-estranged sister is more like a best friend, and her recently deceased dog is alive and well. With each passing day, Annie’s remembered past and unfamiliar present begin to blur. Haunted by visions of Hannah, and with knowledge of things she can’t explain, Annie wonders…is everyone lying to her? The search for answers leads Annie down an illuminating path far from home, to reconcile the memories with reality and to discover the truth about the life she’s living.
Cosmogramma by Courttia Newland (Nov 2)
In his sharply crafted, unnerving first collection of speculative short stories, Courttia Newland envisages an alternate future as lived by the African diaspora.Robots driven by all-too-human urges set out to colonize space; Kill Parties roam the streets of a postapocalyptic world; a matriarchal race of mer creatures depends on interbreeding with mortals to survive; mysterious seeds appear in cities across the world, growing into the likeness of people in their vicinity. Through transfigured bodies and impossible encounters, Newland brings a sharp, fresh eye to age-old themes of the human capacity for greed, ambition, and self-destruction, but ultimately of our strength and resilience. An exquisite collection of speculative fiction stories depicting an alternate future as lived by the African diaspora.