The Best New Books to Read in Summer 2021 (So Far)

Fitness

In the midst of a startling, unpredictable re-emergence into post-pandemic life, the publishing world came armed for battle: This summer’s reading list is one of the best in recent memory.

As June blends into July, we at ELLE are taking stock of the summer’s most promising releases so far. Below, you’ll be sure to find something for any vaccinated vacation—whether it’s a thriller, a beach-ready romance, or a lengthy, all-consuming meditation on the messiness of American history. Dive right in; after a year like the last, we’ve earned this literary banquet.

This story will be updated as new books are released throughout June, July, and August.

1

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Release date: June 1

There is truly no drama like publishing drama, and in this dynamite debut, Zakiya Dalila Harris takes advantage of every juicy nugget. Nella Rogers is the new editorial assistant at Wagner Books, not to mention the company’s only Black employee. She’s ecstatic when Hazel joins the team—as a young, Black girl from Harlem, surely she can understand the daily frustrations Nella endures from her white colleagues. But when Hazel becomes Wagner’s new star, Nella is left spiraling as the two are pitted against each other. —Lauren Puckett, associate editor

2

Long Division by Kiese Laymon

Release date: June 1

Heavy memoirist Kiese Laymon returns, this time with a fiercely creative novel combining time travel with institutionalized racism. Set in 2013, City Coldson has become an overnight sensation following an embarrassing meltdown on a televised quiz show. He’s sent to stay with his grandmother, but not before he’s given a copy of Long Division, in which, oddly, a character named City Coldson can travel through time. The resulting saga winds from the 1980s to the 1960s and beyond, weaving a fractured but fascinating path through Black America. —LP

3

The Ninth Metal by Benjamin Percy

Release date: June 1

The first installment in an enticing sci-fi series, The Ninth Metal is about a rogue comet—or rather, what that comet leaves in its wake. When the debris crashes to Earth, the fire wipes out homes and forests, but not without also depositing rich veins of “omnimetal.” This new type of metal proves to be a valuable energy source, and the fight to use it—and abuse it—slowly grips a floundering Minnesota community. Inventive but grounded, this is a smart take on the modern resource rush. —LP

4

House of Sticks: A Memoir by Ly Tran

Scribner
bookshop.org

$24.84

Release date: June 1

Graceful but unflinching, Ly Tran’s House of Sticks follows the author’s immigration from Vietnam to New York as a toddler, and the subsequent identity shaping and re-shaping she undergoes throughout her youth and early adult years. Resettled in Queens through a humanitarian program—her father is a former POW—Tran attempts to honor her family through faith and labor, only to find herself yearning for something that exists outside of their home. Intimate yet universal, this is a masterclass in memoir. —LP

5

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Release date: June 1

Daisy Jones and The Six author Taylor Jenkins Reid is back with yet another tale of the pleasures and pitfalls of celebrity. This time, she’s in the 1980s, where superstar musician Mick Riva’s children are preparing for the legendary Riva party at their Malibu home. By night’s end, secrets will have been spilled, and the house will go up in flames (literally). This is a turbulent but touching story of the sacrifices we make for our family—and how those sacrifices change us. —LP

6

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

St. Martin’s Griffin
bookshop.org

$15.62

Release date: June 1

Casey McQuiston knows how to do romance right. She crafts her love stories with such a clever blend of sharp wit and tender revelations that it’s a challenge not to savor every page. The latest is One Last Stop, in which 23-year-old August meets the stunning Jane on her morning subway ride. She quickly develops a crush, but there’s one problem: Jane is a time traveler from the 1970s. Cue the heart-warming antics. —LP

7

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

Release date: June 1

No landmark work on race can be truly comprehensive—the subject is too knotty, too deep. And yet The Atlantic writer Clint Smith’s How The Word Is Passed manages to feel complete, even as it attempts to reckon with an unfathomable tangle of history across America. Chronicling the many ways in which slavery leaves its mark in all facets of American life—whether we acknowledge it or not—Smith’s work illuminates truth while lending new perspectives to what we think we know.  —LP

8

Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir by Ashley C. Ford

Release date: June 1

Celebrated journalist and podcaster Ashley C. Ford makes her literary debut with an extraordinary memoir. Growing up, Ford idolized her father, who was incarcerated throughout her childhood. Only in the aftermath of trauma does she start to untangle the complicated threads of her inheritance. —Mariah Kreutter

9

With Teeth by Kristen Arnett

Release date: June 1

Darkly funny yet sobering, Kristen Arnett’s With Teeth follows a lesbian couple and their son, Samson, whom protagonist Sammie Lucas isn’t exactly sure how she feels about. I mean, of course she loves him—he’s her son—but he’s complicated, maybe even frightening. As he grows from unpredictable to dangerous, Sammie and her wife’s relationship begins to unravel, and all three family members must realize what it takes to make (and break) a home. —LP

10

Pure Flame: A Legacy by Michelle Orange

Release date: June 1

Taking a kaleidoscopic approach to motherhood, Michelle Orange’s cultural criticism-meets-memoir Pure Flame follows Orange’s discovery of her mother’s alter ego: Janis Jerome. Jerome was her mother’s name as part of a case study, ultimately published in the Harvard Business Review, in which she left her family to pursue a career in a big city. Sometimes achingly sad, but often warm and evocative, this reckoning between mothers and daughters is a brilliant work of feminist critique. —LP

11

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Release date: June 8

Apart from its clever cover, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is A Witch has several things going for it: 1) It’s based on real historical documents from a time when witchcraft ignited frenzy; 2) It’s about a 15th-century woman accused of casting spells, who must tell her side of the story in order to avoid execution; and 3) It’s by the whip-smart Rivka Galchen. Need we say more? —LP

12

Slipping by Mohamed Kheir, translated by Robin Moger

Release date: June 8

Translated from Arabic, this poetic novel fuses pieces of magical realism with the tragedy of trauma in the wake of the Arab Spring. Seif is a journalist, and when he’s introduced to a former exile who seems to know all of Egypt’s mysteries, he thinks he’s merely writing a story. But as their fractured adventures together lead him across the land, it also leads him into memories of his past—and thoughts of the woman he loved, a woman who could sing any sound, as if by magic. —LP

13

Kin: A Memoir by Shawna Kay Rodenberg

Release date: June 8

Rodenberg spent four years of her childhood in an isolated religious community, where she experienced sexual abuse. Kin, her memoir about surviving this traumatic episode, paints a complex portrait of an Appalachian community. —MK

14

Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir by Akwaeke Emezi

Release date: June 8

One of contemporary literature’s most engrossing talents, Akwaeke Emezi turns inward this summer with their latest, Dear Senthuran. A complex, innovative work of hybrid memoir, the story follows Emezi’s journey as someone who identifies as ogbanje, an “Igbo spirit that’s born to a human mother, a kind of trickster that dies unexpectedly only to return in the next child and do it all over again.” —LP

15

The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura, translated by Lucy North

Release date: June 8

A voyeuristic thriller, The Woman in the Purple Skirt is about two women: one in a purple skirt, and another in a yellow cardigan. One is obsessed with the other, and we can’t quite be sure why—at least not yet. This study in fascination, translated from Japanese, is as unusual as it is alluring. —LP

16

God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney

Release date: June 22

A bewitching fiction debut from Defector Media co-owner Kelsey McKinney, God Spare The Girls traces the fallout of an evangelical megachurch scandal through the lenses of a pastor’s two daughters. One is the co-author of a viral sermon about purity; the other isn’t so sure “purity” means what her church thinks it does. As the sisters spiral from their father’s secret, they band together in this tender but cutting coming-of-age story. —LP

17

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor

Release date: June 22

A critical darling and one of the foremost literary talents in publishing today, Brandon Taylor is back after his debut novel, Real Life—published mere weeks before the pandemic hit the U.S.—earned him a nomination for the Booker Prize. Now he’s released Filthy Animals, a collection of interlinked stories held together by a slew of emotionally overwhelmed characters. A must for short story fans. —LP

18

What’s Done in Darkness by Laura McHugh

Release date: June 22

I’ve been a long-time fan of McHugh’s work, not least because the popular crime author is from my Missouri hometown. She’s a sharp observer of the nuanced dynamics that make the Heartland tick, particularly in its shadier corners, and her female characters are rich and full of life—even when they’re the victims of horrific evils. In What’s Done In Darkness, a young woman is kidnapped from her Arkansas farmstead, only to be found a week later on the side of a highway. Years later, an investigator wants her help cracking a similar case, but that’ll mean dredging up her old traumas. —LP

19

Songs in Ursa Major by Emma Brodie

Release date: June 22

In the vein of Daisy Jones and the Six and The Final Revival of Opal and Nev, Songs In Ursa Major is an intoxicating chronicle of the music industry, inspired largely by the love affair between artists Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. In 1969, the Bayleen Island Folk Fest is hosting star Jesse Reid while local singer Jane Quinn can’t seem to get much attention. But when Jesse is caught in a motorcycle accident, Jane gets to play in his stead—and she blows the crowd away. As Jesse recovers on the island, Jane becomes his mentee, and a love begins to blossom between them. —LP

20

Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk and Nicola Yoon

Release date: June 22

Six of YA’s biggest and brightest come together in this glittering story collection about a summer blackout in New York City. As a group of Black teens find their way home while the stars come out, six couples fall in love in smart and unexpected ways. This is a perfect read for anyone seeking a burst of joy after a long year in the dark. —LP

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