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Year in review

Best Books of 2021

Raquel Aparicio for The Boston Globe

Whatever else we say about 2021, it was a great year for books. Of the countless wonderful titles published, here's a list of 90 we loved most in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and works for children and young adults. We hope you, too, will find some to treasure, and share your own new discoveries with us.

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  • Afterparties

    By Anthony Veasna So

    Stories centered on Cambodian-American life in California hum with life, wit, and humor. Posthumously published, “Afterparties” is a bittersweet achievement; we need so many more stories from So, and yet his voice was so tenderly, incredibly singular.

    — Joshunda Sanders

    A book cover for Afterparties
  • Bewilderment

    By Richard Powers

    A grieving widower and his son offer up lessons about the vast possibilities of the universe in a heartwarming, resonant narrative that touches on politics, climate change, and how we uplift the legacies of those we love.

    — Joshunda Sanders

    A book cover for Bewilderment
  • Caul Baby

    By Morgan Jerkins

    A superb, poetic fiction debut from an accomplished writer who was already a New York Times bestselling author, “Caul Baby” is a powerful story about family, desire, loss, grief, and rage that also manages to be a beautiful exploration of motherhood and survival.

    — Gabino Iglesias

    A book cover for Caul Baby
  • The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell

    By Brian Evenson

    Mystery, horror, science fiction, literary fiction: Evenson can do it all, and he shows that here. An outstanding mix of genres and superb writing in which the author makes every tale cohere via recurring characters and echoes of previous narratives.

    — Gabino Iglesias

    A book cover for The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell
  • Great Circle

    By Maggie Shipstead

    A pioneering female pilot’s story is depicted decades after her death by the actress playing her; this soaring work delves into the negotiations and navigation women in every era have had to make in order to pursue their ambitions.

    — Joshunda Sanders

    A book cover for Great Circle
  • Harlem Shuffle

    By Colson Whitehead

    One of the best storytellers out there flexes new muscles in this perfect blend of noir and humor that’s full of hilarious dialogue and engaging plot twists. This is a historical look at New York City in the 1960s that explores race as well as the struggle for upward social mobility.

    — Gabino Iglesias

    A book cover for Harlem Shuffle
  • In the Company of Men

    By Véronique Tadjo

    At once a touching chronicle of the Ebola outbreak that devastated West Africa and a timely fable about loss, fear, love, sacrifice, and the fragility of human life, this is a perfect book to read during a pandemic because it reminds us of the things that matter most.

    — Gabino Iglesias

    A book cover for In the Company of Men
  • The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois

    By Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

    A sweeping matriarchal epic that leads readers through a majestic tour of race, family, and love in America, this striking debut novel by an award-winning poet is, indeed, the Great American Novel at its finest.

    — Joshunda Sanders

    A book cover for The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
  • The Man Who Lived Underground

    By Richard Wright

    This previously unpublished novel Wright wrote before modern movements focused on police brutality delves with prescience into the social and psychological ramifications of being racially profiled.

    — Joshunda Sanders

    A book cover for The Man Who Lived Underground
  • Monkey Boy

    By Francisco Goldman

    Literary fiction that’s also a little dirty and hilarious, “Monkey Boy” is a wonderfully written account of life in the interstitial space between languages and cultures. Goldman explores politics in the US and Latin America while simultaneously focusing on one family and its internal workings.

    — Gabino Iglesias

    A book cover for Monkey Boy
  • Monster in the Middle

    By Tiphanie Yanique

    The essence of this beautiful, multi-generational and decade-spanning novel that centers on two present-day lovers is this: Falling in love with someone means falling in love with the composite of all the people and places that collided in order to make them.

    — Joshunda Sanders

    A book cover for Monster in the Middle
  • My Heart Is a Chainsaw

    By Stephen Graham Jones

    A beautiful and brutal love letter to slasher movies that deconstructs horror narratives while centering Native Americans. Horrific, yes, but also a soulful story about growing up in a toxic environment and being a perennial outsider.

    — Gabino Iglesias

    A book cover for My Heart Is a Chainsaw
  • Of Women and Salt

    By Gabriela Garcia

    This is a poignant narrative about family, migration, and generational trauma that centers Cuban migrants, a narrative that goes from the turmoil of 19th-century cigar factories in Cuba to present-day detention centers, and a timely novel about Otherness that humanizes migration.

    — Gabino Iglesias

    A book cover for Of Women and Salt
  • The Other Black Girl

    By Zakiya Dalila Harris

    An outstanding debut set in the world of publishing; as tense as it is engaging and sharp, this novel embodies the feeling of two people of color making eye contact across a room and acknowledging a million things without saying a word.

    — Gabino Iglesias

    A book cover for The Other Black Girl
  • The Prophets

    By Robert Jones, Jr.

    This magnificent debut novel features two enslaved men mapping their way to one another despite the cruel and brutal environment in which their love tries to flourish.

    — Joshunda Sanders

    A book cover for The Prophets
  • Skye Falling

    By Mia McKenzie

    One of the funniest books of the year features Skye, a malcontent ambivalent about human connection, who finds herself drawn to an endearing 12-year-old and falling for the girl’s aunt in a story that celebrates two uncommonly mined areas of joy: Black queer love and West Philadelphia.

    — Joshunda Sanders

    A book cover for Skye Falling
  • The Sweetness of Water

    By Nathan Harris

    The forbidden love of two men in the Reconstruction South, unwittingly discovered by a recently freed man, leads to ripples of tragedy and remorse in this quietly profound debut.

    — Joshunda Sanders

    A book cover for The Sweetness of Water
  • The Turnout

    By Megan Abbott

    No one takes seemingly harmless environments and cracks them open to reveal their dark heart quite like Megan Abbott, and she does it again here with a tense narrative about the backstage antics of a ballet school that looks at femininity, anxiety, and power.

    — Gabino Iglesias

    A book cover for The Turnout
  • Velvet Was the Night

    By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

    Simultaneously a noir set in 1970s Mexico City, a strange love story, and a stylish narrative that looks at the Dirty War and the cultural context around it, this novel proves once again that Moreno-Garcia isn’t just a great science fiction and horror writer, she’s a gifted, chameleonic storyteller.

    — Gabino Iglesias

    A book cover for Velvet Was the Night
  • What Storm, What Thunder

    By Myriam J. A. Chancy

    An elegiac and moving portrait of Haitians as they experienced the devastating 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, this novel offers an ensemble of resilient, hopeful characters, haunted by those they mourn, but faithful for a better future.

    — Joshunda Sanders

    A book cover for What Storm, What Thunder


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  • America on Fire

    By Elizabeth Hinton

    “America on Fire” remains on my mind. As I wrote in these pages earlier this year, Hinton’s study corrects the idea that the rebellions we’ve witnessed in America since Ferguson in 2014 are either new or over. It is a book worth reading over and again.

    — Walton Muyumba

    A book cover for America on Fire
  • All That She Carried

    By Tiya Miles

    Starting with a simple, humble item — a cotton sack with hand-stitched words on it — Harvard historian Miles embarks on a journey over time and space, through slavery and freedom, and into a revolutionary understanding of the brilliance and power of Black maternal love.

    — Kate Tuttle

    A book cover for All That She Carried
  • Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane

    By Paul Auster

    In this addictively readable biography of the author of “The Red Badge of Courage,” Auster chronicles the poet, fiction writer, and journalist who packed an extraordinary amount of life into his short 29 years (Crane died of tuberculosis in 1900). Even readers who never took to Crane will eat this up.

    — Kate Tuttle

    A book cover for Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane
  • Covered With Night

    By Nicole Eustace

    At the center of this brilliant history is the 1722 death of an indigenous man at the hands of two white fur traders; what happened after the murder challenged white European concepts of justice, civility, reparation, and community.

    — Kate Tuttle

    A book cover for Covered With Night
  • Disorientation: Being Black in the World

    By Ian Williams

    Williams, a Canadian poet, novelist, and essayist, describes his North American Black experience as dizzying. In this pithy, kaleidoscopic book, Williams interrogates moments when Black people have their personal identities challenged by the powerful misperceptions of others. Williams turns these scenes of intimate and public disorientation into subtle, radical essays on self-realization.

    — Walton Muyumba

    A book cover for Disorientation: Being Black in the World
  • Empire of Pain

    By Patrick Radden Keefe

    In this searing, meticulously researched exposé of the Sackler family, Keefe reveals the malfeasance and criminality of the pharmaceutical billionaires — who made a fortune of opioids even after understanding the drugs’ dangers — and shows how they used philanthropy to launder their clan’s reputation.

    — Kate Tuttle

    A book cover for Empire of Pain
  • Festival Days

    By Jo Ann Beard

    A new collection of essays from the beloved Beard, along with two pieces of short fiction — here you’ll read of the mortality of dogs and the immortality of stories, in prose that excavates all our most human secrets.

    — Kate Tuttle

    A book cover for Festival Days
  • How the Word Is Passed

    By Clint Smith

    In this exploration of the ways we talk about — and avoid talking about — slavery, Smith blends reportage and deep critical thinking to produce a work that interrogates both history and memory.

    — Kate Tuttle

    A book cover for How the Word Is Passed
  • Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse

    By Anahid Nersessian

    Thinking through John Keats’s six “Great Odes,” Nersessian offers up six critical and autobiographical essays that work, in their own right, like odes. “Keats’s Odes” is also a terse, stunning pastiche of Roland Barthes’s “A Lover’s Discourse.” In imaginative, lucid prose, Nersessian proves that criticism can be loving, literary art.

    — Walton Muyumba

    A book cover for Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse
  • A Little Devil in America

    By Hanif Abdurraqib

    In this collection of essays, poet and critic Abdurraqib looks deeply at Black performers and performances (including his own). With dazzling prose, sharp insights, and sly humor, he unpacks a century of music history, from Depression-era dance contests to undersung background singer Merry Clayton.

    — Kate Tuttle

    A book cover for A Little Devil in America
  • On Freedom

    By Maggie Nelson

    Nelson’s essays about art, sex, drugs, and climate degradation illustrate that our conceptions of freedom are inextricably conjoined with constructs of unfreedom. Rather than trying to achieve it, we ought to practice freedom instead. Sorting out those practices demands close, intense, attention. The reward? Realizing that Nelson’s criticism models freedom in practice.

    — Walton Muyumba

    A book cover for On Freedom
  • On Juneteenth

    By Annette Gordon-Reed

    Overlapping memoir and historiography, Gordon-Reed meditates on the born-in-Texas, African American celebration of deferred emancipation. Considering her home state’s legacies of slavery and genocide, its culture of historical evasion, its warrior mythologies, and its blended, multiethnic lineage, Gordon-Reed reframes this Black origin story into a rich, complex story of America itself.

    — Walton Muyumba

    A book cover for On Juneteenth
  • On Violence and On Violence Against Women

    By Jacqueline Rose

    Rose’s serious, fierce, dazzling, convincing book demonstrates that feminist critique is a crucial practice of freedom. Thinking intensely about violence, including “the equivocations of our inner lives,” she explains, forces us to “recognise the corpse still lying on the road, the continuing injustice.” Without such labor, there cannot be “political emancipation” for anyone.

    — Walton Muyumba

    A book cover for On Violence and On Violence Against Women
  • Read Until You Understand

    By Farah Jasmine Griffin

    Mining personal and professional experiences, especially the tragic, maddening circumstances of her father’s death in 1972, Griffin documents how the African American literary tradition arms readers with equipment for living: grace, resistance, joy, and beauty. Griffin’s own narrative expresses her claim, thus extending the tradition. She’s both masterful critic and master teacher.

    — Walton Muyumba

    A book cover for Read Until You Understand
  • Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

    By Heather Clark

    Since her death in 1963, Plath has been read as tragic figure, poetic martyr, feminist icon. This biography, a stunning and exhilarating 1000+ pages, forces us to confront the woman herself, more complicated than any of the roles she’s been forced into after her brief and always-vivid life.

    — Kate Tuttle

    A book cover for Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath
  • The Right to Sex

    By Amia Srinivasan

    Srinivasan’s essays are about the politics and ethics of sex in this world. Srinivasan wants to release us from narrow thinking about gender, consent, violence, and sexuality. “These essays seek to remake the political critique of sex for the twenty-first century: to take seriously the complex relationship of sex to race, class, disability, nationality, and caste.” The title essay is a tour de force.

    — Walton Muyumba

    A book cover for The Right to Sex
  • Seek You

    By Kristen Radtke

    With this gorgeous meditation on American loneliness, Radtke joins the very top ranks of literary graphic artists. Not only is she a magical visual narrator, Radtke is also a sophisticated thinker and lyrical writer.

    — Walton Muyumba

    A book cover for Seek You
  • Smile

    By Sarah Ruhl

    After giving birth to twins, playwright Ruhl was presented a new challenge: Bell’s Palsy, a paralysis of half her face. In this humane, graceful, and often humorous memoir, Ruhl writes gorgeously about life with a changed countenance.

    — Kate Tuttle

    A book cover for Smile
  • Travelling While Black

    By Nanjala Nyabola

    Early in these essays, the author explains that “travel has forced my mind open in a way that books alone could not.” And yet, Nyabola’s writing opens the mind to the global complexities surrounding mobility and Blackness. This is a trenchant and necessary guidebook for understanding the political meaning of travel.

    — Walton Muyumba

    A book cover for Travelling While Black
  • What Just Happened

    By Charles Finch

    If you’re still reeling from the changes that began in March 2020, you are not alone. In this smart, beguiling diary, novelist and critic Finch writes about pandemic life and its challenges: what he’s reading, listening to, obsessing over to keep him sane.

    — Kate Tuttle

    A book cover for What Just Happened


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  • Against Silence

    By Frank Bidart

    Frank Bidart’s first collection since his Pulitzer-winning “Half-light: Collected Poems 1965–2016,” not to mention his eightieth birthday, has a title fit for a political protest, or a hardcore-punk album. “Against Silence” reserves its bluntest blows for Americans coddled into complacency, not least Bidart himself: he gives one poem the title “The Moral Arc of the Universe Bends Toward Justice”—“is an illusion,” read the poem’s first three words.

    — Christopher Spaide

    A book cover for Against Silence
  • All This Time

    By Cedar Sigo

    Sigo has been sending open-hearted messages out in the wind to the rest of the world for five volumes now, influenced both by his Suquamish background and by his beloved Beat and post-Beat forebears: he’s newly full of air and light and welcome, with light strokes that will let new readers in. “Have the swallows/ returned,” one quiet poem asks, “to my porchlight?// I may have left it on/ throughout the night.”

    — Stephanie Burt

    A book cover for All This Time
  • Ceive

    By B. K. Fischer

    A mother loses her daughter, gains a boyfriend, and escapes a flooded, chaotic, war-ravaged America in favor of a trip to the far North, with “no icebergs to worry about any more” thanks to climate catastrophe, on a container ship that becomes a near-future Noah’s Ark. That’s the plot for Fischer’s magnificently effective science-fictional novella in verse.

    — Stephanie Burt

    A book cover for Ceive
  • Doppelgangbanger

    By Cortney Lamar Charleston

    Fast-moving, fun, full of hyperintelligent puns, Charleston’s second volume also gets quite serious. Charleston speaks to his past and future selves, to skateboards and FUBU and merit scholarships, to and in African American vernacular English, and to the “dogma that dogs me and us.”

    — Stephanie Burt

    A book cover for Doppelgangbanger
  • Even Shorn

    By Isabel Duarte-Gray

    Haunting is what this debut collection is and does: Isabel Duarte-Gray tracks family history and violent lineages across Western Kentucky’s small towns. Starting from scant archival traces — quilt patterns, bloodied landscapes, the finest vintages in local gossip — Duarte-Gray resurrects ghostly testimonies, crafted out of rural dialects and a free-verse line filed to a brilliant sharpness.

    — Christopher Spaide

    A book cover for Even Shorn
  • frank: sonnets

    By Diane Seuss

    The title of Diane Seuss’s fifth collection compacts a centuries-old conundrum into a two-word face-off: How have so many poets arrived at frank, inhibition-free expression — or a convincing performance of it — by fiddling with that familiar form, the sonnet? Seuss leaves space for second thoughts, retrospective lessons: “The sonnet, like poverty, teaches you what you can do / without.”

    — Christopher Spaide

    A book cover for frank: sonnets
  • Gentefication

    By Antonio de Jesús López

    English and Spanish and Spanglish, straightforward story and more-than-clever imitations of AP American history tests, court transcripts, sacred scriptures, and letters to newspaper editors: all these pieces come together in a vivid debut volume that tracks López’s life from rough neighborhoods in East Palo Alto, through the mosques where López considered converting to Islam, to the activist Los Angeles communities of his present day.

    — Stephanie Burt

    A book cover for Gentefication
  • The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems

    By Arthur Sze

    A new cornerstone of the Asian American poetic canon, Arthur Sze’s career-spanning book collects early adaptations of classical Chinese poetry, his signature terrain-traversing sequences, and new work written in lines like microscope slides, long and translucent, each one isolating a single clarified perception: “adjusting your breath to the seasonal rhythm of grasses— // gazing into a lake on a salt flat and drinking, in reflection, the Milky Way—.”

    — Christopher Spaide

    A book cover for The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems
  • Heard-Hoard

    By Atsuro Riley

    No one in American poetry has a voicebox quite like Atsuro Riley’s — trained by ear on a mother’s native Japanese, the raised vowels of the South Carolina Lowcountry, and Gerard Manley Hopkins’s hyphen-happy, consonant-crowded compounds. In his second collection, Riley lends his inimitable instrument to boyhood acquaintances and communal complaints: “We come gnawed by need on hands and knees.”

    — Christopher Spaide

    A book cover for Heard-Hoard
  • The Last Thing

    By Patrick Rosal

    Felt vigor and physical joy wrestle with urban unease in this first new-and-selected from the New Jersey-bred Filipino-American Rosal. His earlier poems told crisp tales in free verse about his boyhood, and adapted the Filipino song form called kundiman to American streets; recent work turns instead to vivid parables, multi-page unfoldings, mini-epic suggestions about how bodies, his own and others, survive and thrive.

    — Stephanie Burt

    A book cover for The Last Thing
  • Late Human

    By Jean Day

    This one’s a challenge, decidedly not for everyone, but potentially life-changing for some. Day asks us to put the pieces together, re-orienting our eyes and ears to fit a world that cannot fit us. Once we do, we find a mature and sympathetic writer wondering how to approach a slow- motion apocalypse, a capitalist nightmare year, one tick closer to the end of our world. Is the redeeming song, the clear line, in older poetry even possible now?

    — Stephanie Burt

    A book cover for Late Human
  • Little Pharma

    By Laura Kolbe

    The first book by the writer, doctor, and clinical ethicist Laura Kolbe takes a dissecting blade to reality, peeling apart medical institutions with an “anatomist’s awe of layers.” In a cast of personae ranging from Lady Macbeth to Marianne Moore, no figure becomes more familiar or fearsome than Kolbe’s alter ego Little Pharma, who wanders through purgatorial hospitals and feels worryingly at home: “She thinks somehow she belongs there / Its shadows and somnolence appeal to her.”

    — Christopher Spaide

    A book cover for Little Pharma
  • Mutiny

    By Phillip B. Williams

    Williams’s dense and intellectually ambitious second effort folds in triple rhyme, Shakespeare and Wallace Stevens, slave ship manifests, action sequences, erotic couplings, the music of Nina Simone, and a self-conscious long poem in which Williams “tried to rewrite” T. S. Eliot. It’s a volume with something for everyone, justice for no one, and minor shocks everywhere.

    — Stephanie Burt

    A book cover for Mutiny
  • Parallel Movement of the Hands

    By John Ashbery

    John Ashbery’s first posthumous publication, peerlessly edited by his former assistant Emily Skillings, collects five serial works inspired by artistic obscurities and extrapoetic obsessions. All five are billed as “unfinished,” but they are less like unfinished symphonies than unfinished conversations, shared between lifelong friends — to be picked back up at any time, as if no time had passed at all.

    — Christopher Spaide

    A book cover for Parallel Movement of the Hands
  • The Past

    By Wendy Xu

    Intangible mysteries and taut heartstrings, Chinese American ethnography and personal intellectual exploration, intertwine through the sequences in this movingly self-conscious book. Xu’s long lines and digressive phrasings keep coming back to her birth and her parents’ immigration to the United States, within weeks of the Tiananmen Square events.

    — Stephanie Burt

    A book cover for The Past
  • Playlist for the Apocalypse

    By Rita Dove

    In Rita Dove’s first book in twelve years, apocalypse encroaches from all sides, at all times: early modern Venice, where Jews were compelled to live in the first ghetto; the centuries-long legacy of white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia; Dove’s quarter-century living with multiple sclerosis. Her book’s best defense against a hemmed-in life? The ceaseless variety and optimistic sprawl of its poetic playlist, a sum greater than its parts.

    — Christopher Spaide

    A book cover for Playlist for the Apocalypse
  • Popular Longing

    By Natalie Shapero

    Shapero’s unfailingly smart and important book should come with a manufacturer’s warning: its catchy, almost hummable lines, full of verbal switchbacks and bleakly comic punchlines, address as few poets since Plath have done the feeling that the world is all too much, that life — especially life as an adult woman, as a mother, as a figure expected to live for others — is a game not worth the candle.

    — Stephanie Burt

    A book cover for Popular Longing
  • Sho

    By Douglas Kearney

    Nothing in Douglas Kearney’s polyphonic poetry means just one thing — not even the three-letter title Sho, which covers the Black vernacular sho’, “a negrocious show // of feels” performed for and against a racist society, and the sho(rn) stylings of this book, Kearney’s seventh. Stowing away the typographic toolkit of his immensely influential visual poetry, Kearney still makes an uproarious ruckus.

    — Christopher Spaide

    A book cover for Sho
  • Spilled and Gone

    By Jessica Greenbaum

    Greenbaum specializes in agile joy: even during the height of the lockdown, she can marvel “at the good fortune/ of my containment in this house,” as well as at street life in a dense metropolis, “warm bread,” “feral/ cherry tomatoes,” demolition sites, and romantic connections of all kinds. Her third collection also deploys a variety of free verse forms, with line lengths and sentence shapes shifting and leaping up to match her — and maybe your — moods.

    — Stephanie Burt

    A book cover for Spilled and Gone
  • The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us From the Void

    By Jackie Wang

    The exuberant title of Jackie Wang’s debut collection is an unmissable invitation and a foretaste of her poetry’s deadpan dream-logic. The author of the celebrated essay collection “Carceral Capitalism,” Wang is no less radical in these poems, which skim the iridescent surface of her subconscious for catastrophic visions and miraculous glimpses of survival.

    — Christopher Spaide

    A book cover for The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us From the Void


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  • Picture book

    Chez Bob

    By Bob Shea

    Bob is a lazy alligator with a great idea — he’ll start a restaurant for birds and make his dinner fly right to him! But as the birds build a community and involve Bob, will he really be able to eat his new friends? Slyly funny in both story and illustration.

    — Laura Koenig

    A book cover for Chez Bob
  • Picture book

    Dumplings for Lili

    By Melissa Iwai

    Lili and her Nai Nai run out of cabbage while making baos, sending Lili on a journey up and down the stairs of an apartment building where every grandma is making dumplings — from pierogi to fatayer to tamales. Warm, charming, and oh- so delicious.

    — Laura Koenig

    A book cover for Dumplings for Lili
  • Picture book

    El Cucuy Is Scared, Too!

    By Donna Barba Higuera and Juliana Perdomo (Illustrator)

    El Cucuy, the monster who lives in Ramón’s cactus, isn’t so scary in the face of the bigger fears of moving to a new place. El Cucuy is also worried about their new home, and they help each other be brave. Bright, cartoonish illustrations keep the story cheerful and reassuring for kids facing something new.

    — Laura Koenig

    A book cover for El Cucuy Is Scared, Too!
  • Picture book

    Everybody in the Red Brick Building

    By Anne Wynter and Oge Mora (Illustrator)

    A baby’s cry starts a crescendo of noise in an apartment building, waking everybody up. But one by one as people go back to bed, gentle noises take the place of the racket and nighttime calm is restored. Vibrant collage illustrations add to the chaos before this bedtime story’s gentle resolution.

    — Laura Koenig

    A book cover for Everybody in the Red Brick Building
  • Picture book

    Room for Everyone

    By Naaz Khan and Mercè López (Illustrator)

    As the driver invites an increasingly improbable jumble of people and objects aboard a Tanzanian minibus, Musa is sure they can’t all fit. But with a little squeezing and a lot of generosity from the passengers, there’s room for everyone in this cheerful, colorful, chaotic ride.

    — Laura Koenig

    A book cover for Room for Everyone
  • Picture book

    Someone Builds the Dream

    By Lisa Wheeler and Loren Long (Illustrator)

    A celebration of the many hands that turn an idea into something real, from plumbers and steelworkers to the typesetters who helped make this book. The rhyming text’s forceful rhythm seems to keep time with the workers in the detailed, muscular illustrations.

    — Laura Koenig

    A book cover for Someone Builds the Dream
  • Picture book


    By Matt Ringler and Raúl the Third and Elaine Bay (Illustrators)

    When Sam gets grumpy and inside feels too small, it’s time for dad to take her on The Strollercoaster! Their fast-paced, noisy trip is a wild ride through a busy neighborhood, full of vibrantly illustrated details to explore, before landing at home ready for a nap.

    — Laura Koenig

    A book cover for Strollercoaster
  • Picture book

    Time for Kenny

    By Brian Pinkney

    Exuberant, swirling illustrations follow a little boy through a day of movement. His loving family laughs when he tries on the wrong clothes and tickles him to save him from the terrible vacuum. After a busy day, Kenny is ready to sleep at just the right moment.

    — Laura Koenig

    A book cover for Time for Kenny
  • Picture book


    By Andrea Wang and Jason Chin (Illustrator)

    A girl is embarrassed when her family picks watercress from the side of the road, but the taste of the spicy greens lead her mother to share an old picture from China and memories of family tragedy. An understated, visually stunning exploration of memory and family history.

    — Laura Koenig

    A book cover for Watercress
  • Picture book

    We All Play

    By Julie Flett

    Animals play by hiding in grass, bubbling in water, and wiggling in snowdrifts. Groups of laughing children follow, shouting “We play too! / kimêtawânaw mîna” in English and Plains Cree. The children’s movement echoes the motions of geese and buffalo in the simple, lovely illustrations.

    — Laura Koenig

    A book cover for We All Play
  • Middle grade

    Amari and the Night Brothers

    By B. B. Alston

    Meet Amari Peters, a Black girl from Atlanta who is surprised with an invitation to an exclusive summer camp that turns out to be a secret training program for the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, in this fantastic series opener that will leave readers begging for the sequel (due out next year).

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Amari and the Night Brothers
  • Middle grade

    Black Boy Joy

    By Kwame Mbalia (Editor)

    They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but this delightful collection of short stories by seventeen acclaimed Black authors, including Jason Reynolds and Jerry Craft, is guaranteed to make readers smile as widely as the boy on Kadir Nelson's cover art.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Black Boy Joy
  • Middle grade

    Born Behind Bars

    By Padma Venkatraman

    In modern day Chennai, India, Kabir has lived his entire life in jail, because his low-caste mother was pregnant with him when she was jailed for a crime she didn't commit. When a new warden unexpectedly releases him but not his mother, Kabir befriends an orphaned Roma girl who helps him in his moving quest to reunite his family.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Born Behind Bars
  • Middle grade

    The Last Cuentista

    By Donna Barba Higuera

    Petra Peña is twelve when she and her family board one of the last ships leaving Earth just before its imminent destruction by comet. As the remaining Earthlings struggle to survive, all of the cuentos — stories — Petra grew up listening to will turn out to be more powerful than she could have imagined in this thrilling and hopeful work of science fiction.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for The Last Cuentista
  • Middle grade

    The Legend of Auntie Po

    By Shing Yin Khor

    Historical fiction meets fable in this lovely graphic novel as thirteen-year-old Mei, a Chinese American girl working with her father in a Californian logging camp in 1885, serves up entertaining tall tales about a Paul Bunyan-like figure named Auntie Po, along with the pies and other treats she serves to hungry workers, white and Chinese alike.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for The Legend of Auntie Po
  • Middle grade

    Ophie's Ghosts

    By Justina Ireland

    Ophelia Harrison is a young Black girl whose ability to see ghosts first manifests after her father's death at the hands of a white mob in 1922 Georgia. When she and her mother move north and find work in a haunted old manor in Pittsburgh, Ophie must use her newfound ability to put the house's unhappy spirits to rest in this compelling, atmospheric mystery.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Ophie's Ghosts
  • Middle grade

    Rez Dogs

    By Joseph Bruchac

    This timely novel in verse will transport readers back to the early days of the pandemic, when middle schooler Malian's visit to her grandparents on a Wabanaki reservation is extended indefinitely due to the shelter in place order. Readers will relate to Malian's anxiety and boredom and appreciate her bond with her new dog as well as the stories her grandparents tell her.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Rez Dogs
  • Middle grade

    The Shape of Thunder

    By Jasmine Warga

    Cora hasn't spoken to her best friend, Quinn, in a year — not since Quinn's older brother brought a gun to school and killed four people, including Cora's older sister. But when Quinn comes to Cora with a plan to unlock a time-traveling wormhole to prevent the shooting, the two girls are finally able to share their grief in this powerful, timely book.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for The Shape of Thunder
  • Middle grade


    By Lisa Fipps

    This poignant novel in verse tells the story of Ellie, a 5th grade girl who has learned to live by "Fat Girl Rules" like "no eating in public" to avoid being teased. Readers will root for her as Ellie learns to take up space with support from her friendly new neighbor, her therapist, and her dad.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Starfish
  • Middle grade

    Too Bright to See

    By Kyle Lukoff

    After the death of eleven-year-old Bug's beloved uncle Roderick, it definitely seems like he is trying to deliver a message from beyond the grave that Bug can't quite decipher. The sensitive depiction of grief and thoughtful exploration of gender identity will resonate with a lot of young readers.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Too Bright to See
  • Young adult

    Ace of Spades

    By Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

    Chiamaka and Devon don't have much in common, aside from being the only two Black students at the prestigious Niveus Private Academy. But when the school's anonymous online gossipmonger Ace of Spades seems to be targeting them specifically, the two have to team up to find out who is trying to ruin their senior year in this timely mystery.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Ace of Spades
  • Young adult


    By Thomas King and Natasha Donovan (Illustrator)

    The unnamed protagonist of this graphic novel and his mother attempt to travel from Canada to visit his older sister in Utah. But when his mother will only declare their citizenship as "Blackfoot" rather than "Canadian" or "America," the pair end up trapped between the two borders, unable to cross in either direction in this wry but powerful depiction of the ongoing effects of colonialism.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Borders
  • Young adult

    Concrete Rose

    By Angie Thomas

    This prequel to the acclaimed “The Hate U Give” goes back to the 1990s to find seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter unexpectedly becoming a single father to his newborn son, Seven. Mav has tough choices ahead of him as he tries to provide for his son in this heartfelt coming-of-age story.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Concrete Rose
  • Young adult

    In the Wild Light

    By Jeff Zentner

    Cash Pruitt met his best friend Delaney in a support group for teens whose parents struggle with addiction in their poor Appalachian town. When they both get full-ride scholarships to a prestigious Connecticut prep school, the adjustment is difficult but Cash learns to express himself through poetry in this spectacular tearjerker.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for In the Wild Light
  • Young adult

    Indestructible Object

    By Mary McCoy

    Self-proclaimed "messy bisexual" Lee and her boyfriend cohost a podcast called Artists in Love — until he breaks up with her on the air right after graduation, sending Lee into a chaotic summer as she and other friends create a new podcast called Objects of Destruction, investigating whether love exists at all. This funny, realistic, contemporary novel will reassure teens that they don't need to have it all figured out yet.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Indestructible Object
  • Young adult

    Iron Widow

    By Xiran Jay Zhao

    In the futuristic Chinese-influenced world of this book, female pilots of mecha war machines are considered expendable in the war against invading alien Hunduns. But powerful new pilot Zetian starts to change things as she becomes the titular Iron Widow in this intense, feminist page-turner.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Iron Widow
  • Young adult

    Last Night at the Telegraph Club

    By Malinda Lo

    Lily Hu has lived in San Francisco's Chinatown for all seventeen years of her life, but begins to sneak out to the lesbian bar the Telegraph Club with her white classmate Kath. This stunning work of historical fiction effectively depicts both the thrills of young queer love and the horrors of racism and the Red Scare.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Last Night at the Telegraph Club
  • Young adult

    So Many Beginnings

    By Bethany C. Morrow

    This "remixed classic" tells the story of “Little Women” starring a Black March family living in the Freedpeople's Colony of Roanoke Island during the Civil War. Morrow's gorgeously written retelling captures the warm familial love of the original but adds an incisive new layer of commentary on American history.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for So Many Beginnings
  • Young adult

    Six Crimson Cranes

    By Elizabeth Lim

    When Princess Shiori discovers her stepmother Raikama's secret magical abilities, Raikama turns Shiori's six older brothers into cranes and curses Shiori: for each word she speaks, one of her brothers will die. Penniless and silent, Shiori must find a way to break the curse and save her family in this fresh fairy tale.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for Six Crimson Cranes
  • Young adult

    The Valley and the Flood

    By Rebecca Mahoney

    Impossibly, the last voicemail Rose's dead best friend ever left her is being broadcast over the radio. Rose sets out across the desert in search of the source of the radio transmission and finds Lotus Valley, a town prophesied to be destroyed by a flood in three days' time. She decides to protect the town in this haunting, magical exploration of trauma and grief.

    — Renata Sancken

    A book cover for The Valley and the Flood

​​Stephanie Burt is Professor of English at Harvard. Her latest books include “After Callimachus Poems and Translations” and “For All Mutants,” a short collection of poems about the X-Men.

Gabino Iglesias is a literary critic, professor, and the author of “Zero Saints,” “Coyote Songs,” and “The Devil Takes You Home,” coming in 2022.

Laura Koenig is the head of Children's Services at the Boston Public Library's Central Children's Library.

Walton Muyumba is a former NBCC Board member and holds the Susan D. Gubar Chair of Literature at Indiana University-Bloomington.

Renata Sancken is a teen services librarian at Memorial Hall Library in Andover and a co-host of the Worst Bestsellers readers advisory podcast.

Joshunda Sanders is a proud book nerd and author.

Christopher Spaide is a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.

Kate Tuttle is a freelance writer and editor.