37 Must Read 2021 Contemporary Books!

Hi everyone,

Wow did this take me way longer than anticipated! December is always so busy. But following from my most anticipated books of 2021, I’m doing a series of genre-based lists of books I want to read in 2021! We’re starting with the wonderful contemporary books coming next year, so without further ado, here are 37 must read YA and Adult contemporary books coming in 2021!

YA

The Ghosts We Keep by Mason Deaver

A book about a nonbinary teen who uses both they and he pronouns?! YES PLEASE. There’s a few books coming next year showcasing a more fluid sense of gender and I am so excited for it as a genderfluid person myself. Deaver’s debut, I Wish You All the Best, is one of my alltime favourite YA novels and I can’t wait to cry some more at their second novel!

Perfect for fans of Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli, this book will rip your heart out before showing you how to heal from tragedy and celebrate life in the process.

When Liam Cooper’s older brother Ethan is killed in a hit-and-run, Liam has to not only learn to face the world without one of the people he loved the most, but also face the fading relationship with his two best friends.

Feeling more alone and isolated than ever, Liam finds themself sharing time with Marcus, Ethan’s best friend, and through Marcus, Liam finds the one person that seems to know exactly what they’re going through, for the better, and the worse.

This book is about grief. But it’s also about why we live. Why we have to keep moving on, and why we should.

Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June

Yes okay, there’s a really clear theme for the contemporary books on this list and that is the TRANS, NONBINARY AND GENDER DIVERSITY AND I AM LOVING IT. It just makes me so, so happy to see. Jay’s Gay Agenda is about a teen who moves to a school where he’s no longer the only out gay kid in a small rural town, and he finally gets to start crossing things off his romance to-do list (otherwise known as his Gay Agenda).

There’s one thing Jay Collier knows for sure—he’s a statistical anomaly as the only out gay kid in his small rural Washington town. While all his friends can’t stop talking about their heterosexual hookups and relationships, Jay can only dream of his own firsts, compiling a romance to-do list of all the things he hopes to one day experience—his Gay Agenda.

Then, against all odds, Jay’s family moves to Seattle and he starts his senior year at a new high school with a thriving LGBTQIA+ community. For the first time ever, Jay feels like he’s found where he truly belongs, where he can flirt with Very Sexy Boys and search for love. But as Jay begins crossing items off his list, he’ll soon be torn between his heart and his hormones, his old friends and his new ones…because after all, life and love don’t always go according to plan.

From debut novelist Jason June comes a moving and hilarious sex-positive story about the complexities of first loves, first hookups, and first heartbreaks—and how to stay true to yourself while embracing what you never saw coming.

Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee

I will read every book compared to Felix Ever After for the rest of my days because THAT BOOK is just PERFECTION. Meet Cute Diary is a rom-com about a trans teen with a blog that shares stories of trans happily ever afters. But. All the stories are fake. And when a troll reveals the stories are fake, he must fake date someone in order to prove the stories are true. Marketing a book as a fake dating trans rom-com will always, always make me buy the book.

Felix Ever After meets Becky Albertalli in this swoon-worthy, heartfelt rom-com about how a transgender teen’s first love challenges his ideas about perfect relationships.

Noah Ramirez thinks he’s an expert on romance. He has to be for his popular blog, the Meet Cute Diary, a collection of trans happily ever afters. There’s just one problem—all the stories are fake. What started as the fantasies of a trans boy afraid to step out of the closet has grown into a beacon of hope for trans readers across the globe.

When a troll exposes the blog as fiction, Noah’s world unravels. The only way to save the Diary is to convince everyone that the stories are true, but he doesn’t have any proof. Then Drew walks into Noah’s life, and the pieces fall into place: Drew is willing to fake-date Noah to save the Diary. But when Noah’s feelings grow beyond their staged romance, he realizes that dating in real life isn’t quite the same as finding love on the page.

In this charming novel by Emery Lee, Noah will have to choose between following his own rules for love or discovering that the most romantic endings are the ones that go off script.

May the Best Man Win by Z.R Ellor

GOD THIS BOOK SOUNDS SO GOOD. This trans contemporary romance involves a trans boy, Jeremy, who decides to challenge his ex-boyfriend, Lukas, for the title of Homecoming King. Meanwhile Lukas refuses to let his ex break his heart and steal his crown so plots to bring down his campaign. Annnnd of course they both take it too far and almost get Homecoming cancelled.

A trans boy enters a throw-down battle for the title of Homecoming King with the boy he dumped last summer in ZR Ellor’s contemporary YA debut.

Jeremy Harkiss, cheer captain and student body president, won’t let coming out as a transgender boy ruin his senior year. Instead of bowing to the bigots and outdate school administration, Jeremy decides to make some noise—and how better than by challenging his all-star ex-boyfriend, Lukas for the title of Homecoming King?

Lukas Rivers, football star and head of the Homecoming Committee, is just trying to find order in his life after his older brother’s funeral and the loss long-term girlfriend—who turned out to be a boy. But when Jeremy threatens to break his heart and steal his crown, Lukas kick starts a plot to sabotage Jeremy’s campaign.

When both boys take their rivalry too far, the dance is on the verge of being canceled. To save Homecoming, they’ll have to face the hurt they’re both hiding—and the lingering butterflies they can’t deny.

Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve

Not much makes me more excited than combining my two loves: trans literature and THEATRE! And that’s what Between Perfect and Real is all about! A closet trans boy (whom everyone believes is a lesbian) is cast as a “nontraditional Romeo” in the school play, but during rehearsals, he begins to realise he wants everyone to see who he really is outside of the stage as well.

A moving YA debut about a trans boy finding his voice—and himself.

Dean Foster knows he’s a trans guy. He’s watched enough YouTube videos and done enough questioning to be sure. But everyone at his high school thinks he’s a lesbian—including his girlfriend Zoe, and his theater director, who just cast him as a “nontraditional” Romeo. He wonders if maybe it would be easier to wait until college to come out. But as he plays Romeo every day in rehearsals, Dean realizes he wants everyone to see him as he really is now––not just on the stage, but everywhere in his life. Dean knows what he needs to do. Can playing a role help Dean be his true self?

Off the Record by Camryn Garrett

I loved Camryn Garrett’s debut, Full Disclosure. It had one of the best, most realistic teen voice’s I’ve read, was really funny, super sex-positive and had some excellent discussion around topics like HIV and bisexuality. Thus, I am of course very excited to read Garrett’s new book, Off the Record, which deals with a teen journalist who uncovers a scandal in the midst of the #MeToo movement.

The behind-the-scenes access of Almost Famous meets the searing revelations of #metoo in this story of a teen journalist who uncovers the scandal of the decade.

Ever since seventeen-year-old Josie Wright can remember, writing has been her identity, the thing that grounds her when everything else is a garbage fire. So when she wins a contest to write a celebrity profile for Deep Focus magazine, she’s equal parts excited and scared, but also ready. She’s got this.

Soon Josie is jetting off on a multi-city tour, rubbing elbows with sparkly celebrities, frenetic handlers, stone-faced producers, and eccentric stylists. She even finds herself catching feelings for the subject of her profile, dazzling young newcomer Marius Canet. Josie’s world is expanding so rapidly, she doesn’t know whether she’s flying or falling. But when a young actress lets her in on a terrible secret, the answer is clear: she’s in over her head.

One woman’s account leads to another and another. Josie wants to expose the man responsible, but she’s reluctant to speak up, unsure if this is her story to tell. What if she lets down the women who have entrusted her with their stories? What if this ends her writing career before it even begins? There are so many reasons not to go ahead, but if Josie doesn’t step up, who will?

From the author of Full Disclosure, this is a moving testament to the #MeToo movement, and all the ways women stand up for each other.

When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert

I have heard so many incredible things about Kelly Loy Gilbert and it is a CRIME that I still have not read any of her work. But maybe this will be the first!! It’s about a group of friends who witness a shocking act of violence in the home of one of their own, and will do whatever it takes to protect their friend.

All Beth wants is for her tight-knit circle of friends — Grace Nakamura, Brandon Lin, Sunny Chen, and Jason Tsou — to stay together. With her family splintered and her future a question mark, these friends are all she has — even if she sometimes wonders if she truly fits in with them. Besides, she’s certain she’ll never be able to tell Jason how she really feels about him, so friendship will have to be enough.

Then Beth witnesses a private act of violence in Jason’s home, and the whole group is shaken. Beth and her friends make a pact to do whatever it takes to protect Jason, no matter the sacrifice. But when even their fierce loyalty isn’t enough to stop Jason from making a life-altering choice, Beth must decide how far she’s willing to go for him—and how much of herself she’s willing to give up.

From award-winning author Kelly Loy Gilbert comes a powerful, achingly romantic drama about the secrets we keep, from each other and from ourselves, perfect for fans of Permanent Record and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar

I absolutely loved Jaigirdar’s brilliant debut novel, The Henna Wars and so I have been excited for her next one since I finished her debut earlier this year. Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating looks to be somehow even more amazing, because it has one of my absolute favourite romance tropes: fake dating! There are so many wonderful fake dating romances coming next year and I am absolutely living for it.

Everyone likes Humaira “Hani” Khan—she’s easy going and one of the most popular girls at school. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual, they invalidate her identity, saying she can’t be bi if she’s only dated guys. Panicked, Hani blurts out that she’s in a relationship…with a girl her friends absolutely hate—Ishita “Ishu” Dey. Ishu is the complete opposite of Hani. She’s an academic overachiever who hopes that becoming head girl will set her on the right track for college. But Ishita agrees to help Hani, if Hani will help her become more popular so that she stands a chance of being elected head girl.

Despite their mutually beneficial pact, they start developing real feelings for each other. But relationships are complicated, and some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from achieving happily ever after.

She’s Too Pretty to Burn by Wendy Heard

This is one of my favourite covers of 2021, I just adore the colouring so so much!! It also sounds pretty epic as well – this is a sapphic retelling of The Picture of Dorian Gray and yes please, I definitely need dark powerful girls who do murders and art in my life immediately.

An electric romance set against a rebel art scene sparks lethal danger for two girls in this expertly plotted YA thriller. For fans of E. Lockhart, Lauren Oliver and Kara Thomas.

The summer is winding down in San Diego. Veronica is bored, caustically charismatic, and uninspired in her photography. Nico is insatiable, subversive, and obsessed with chaotic performance art. They’re artists first, best friends second. But that was before Mick. Delicate, lonely, magnetic Mick: the perfect subject, and Veronica’s dream girl. The days are long and hot―full of adventure―and soon they are falling in love. Falling so hard, they never imagine what comes next. One fire. Two murders. Three drowning bodies. One suspect . . . one stalker. This is a summer they won’t survive.

Inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray, this sexy psychological thriller explores the intersections of love, art, danger, and power.

Bruised by Tanya Boteju

I have always always wanted to try roller derby and it might be something I look at once sports leagues get back up and running next year in Australia. But it makes me very excited for a book version of Whip It!! Alongside the exploration of mental health and self-harm, this sounds like it’s going to be an absolutely phenomenal read.

Whip It meets We Are Okay in this vibrant coming-of-age story, about a teen girl navigates first love, identity, and grief when she immerses herself in the colorful, brutal, beautiful world of roller derby—from the acclaimed author of Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens.

To Daya Wijesinghe, a bruise is a mixture of comfort and control. Since her parents died in an accident she survived, bruises have become a way to keep her pain on the surface of her skin so she doesn’t need to deal with the ache deep in her heart.

So when chance and circumstances bring her to a roller derby bout, Daya is hooked. Yes, the rules are confusing and the sport seems to require the kind of teamwork and human interaction Daya generally avoids. But the opportunities to bruise are countless, and Daya realizes that if she’s going to keep her emotional pain at bay, she’ll need all the opportunities she can get.

The deeper Daya immerses herself into the world of roller derby, though, the more she realizes it’s not the simple physical pain-fest she was hoping for. Her rough-and-tumble teammates and their fans push her limits in ways she never imagined, bringing Daya to big truths about love, loss, strength, and healing. 

The Unpopular Vote by Jasper Sanchez

Yes, there is EVEN MORE trans YA coming in 2021. We truly are blessed and I am just so happy and excited to buy all these books. The (Un)popular Vote explores truth and perception in politics, following a trans guy who hides his past and pretends to be a cis guy to protect his congressman father’s image, but then decides to run for student council president.

Vaseline on the teeth makes a smile shine. It’s a cheap stunt, but Mark Adams knows it’s optics that can win or ruin an election.

Everything Mark learned about politics, he learned from his father, the congressman who still pretends he has a daughter and not a son. To protect his father’s image, Mark promises to keep his past hidden and pretend to be the cis guy everyone assumes he is. But when he sees a manipulatively charming candidate for student body president inflame dangerous rhetoric, Mark decides to risk the low profile he assured his father and insert himself as a political challenger.

One big problem? No one really knows Mark. He didn’t grow up in this town, and he has few friends; plus, the ones he does have aren’t exactly with the in-crowd. Still, thanks to countless seasons of Scandal and The West Wing, these nerds know where to start: from campaign stops to voter polling to a fashion makeover. Soon Mark feels emboldened to get in front of and engage with voters—and even start a new romance. But with an investigative journalist digging into his past, a father trying to silence him, and a bully front-runner who stands in his way, Mark will have to decide which matters most: perception or truth, when both are just as dangerous.

Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan

From the author of the brilliant The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is another sapphic contemporary that I’ve been waiting to read since OCTOBER 2019!! I’m so excited for this book about a bi, Pakistani immigrant whose racist school bully graffitis her house which leads to a violent crime that puts her family at risk of losing their home in the US.

Zara’s family has waited years for their visa process to be finalized so that they can officially become US citizens. But it only takes one moment for that dream to come crashing down around them.

Seventeen-year-old Pakistani immigrant, Zara Hossain, has been leading a fairly typical life in Corpus Christi, Texas, since her family moved there for her father to work as a pediatrician. While dealing with the Islamophobia that she faces at school, Zara has to lay low, trying not to stir up any trouble and jeopardize their family’s dependent visa status while they await their green card approval, which has been in process for almost nine years.

But one day her tormentor, star football player Tyler Benson, takes things too far, leaving a threatening note in her locker, and gets suspended. As an act of revenge against her for speaking out, Tyler and his friends vandalize Zara’s house with racist graffiti, leading to a violent crime that puts Zara’s entire future at risk. Now she must pay the ultimate price and choose between fighting to stay in the only place she’s ever called home or losing the life she loves and everyone in it.

From the author of the “heart-wrenching yet hopeful” (Samira Ahmed) novel, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, comes a timely, intimate look at what it means to be an immigrant in America today, and the endurance of hope and faith in the face of hate.

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

The Princess Diaries was one of my absolute favourite films growing up (and it still is!) which means I can’t wait to read this Japanese take on it! Tokyo Ever After is about a Japanese-American teen who finds out she’s really a Japanese princess and must travel to Japan to meet her father, the prince, her conninving royal cousins and the bodyguard she starts to fall for.

Crazy Rich Asians meets The Princess Diaries in this irresistible story about Izumi, a Japanese-American girl who discovers her senior year of high school that she’s really a princess of Japan.

Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity…and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.

In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.

Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after?

Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales

Sophie Gonzales’ Only Mostly Devastated was one of my favourite books of 2020, so of course I was ecstatic when I got an ARC of her 2021 release, Perfect on Paper. We’re still 3 months out from release, and there is already so much hype and love for this book celebrating bisexuality. Perfect on Paper is about a girl who gives annoymous love advice to classmates and the boy who hires her to get his ex back.

In Sophie Gonzales’ Perfect on Paper, Leah on the Offbeat meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: a bisexual girl who gives anonymous love advice to her classmates is hired by the hot guy to help him get his ex back.

Her advice, spot on. Her love life, way off.

Darcy Phillips:
• Can give you the solution to any of your relationship woes―for a fee.
• Uses her power for good. Most of the time.
• Really cannot stand Alexander Brougham.
• Has maybe not the best judgement when it comes to her best friend, Brooke…who is in love with someone else.
• Does not appreciate being blackmailed.

However, when Brougham catches her in the act of collecting letters from locker 89―out of which she’s been running her questionably legal, anonymous relationship advice service―that’s exactly what happens. In exchange for keeping her secret, Darcy begrudgingly agrees to become his personal dating coach―at a generous hourly rate, at least. The goal? To help him win his ex-girlfriend back.

Darcy has a good reason to keep her identity secret. If word gets out that she’s behind the locker, some things she’s not proud of will come to light, and there’s a good chance Brooke will never speak to her again.

Okay, so all she has to do is help an entitled, bratty, (annoyingly hot) guy win over a girl who’s already fallen for him once? What could go wrong?

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

I am very here for the food related romances coming next year and A Pho Love Story is one of them! This one is about two Vietnamese-American teens who fall in love, despite their families’ age-old feud about their competing pho restaurants.

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must nanvigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Indivisible by Daniel Aleman

I think this book will end up being one of the big YAs of 2021, early reviews are absolutely raving about it and it looks to be a very timely and important read about immigration in America. Indivisible follows Mateo and his sister after they come home from school one day to find their undocumented parents have been taken by ICE.

A timely, moving debut novel about a teen’s efforts to keep his family together while his parents face deportation from the United States.

There is a word Mateo Garcia and his younger sister Sophie have been taught to fear for as long as they can remember: deportation. Over the past few years, however, the fear that their undocumented immigrant parents could be sent back to Mexico has started to fade to the back of their minds. And why wouldn’t it, when their Ma and Pa have been in the United States for so long, they have American-born children, and they’re hard workers and good neighbors?

When two ICE agents come asking for Pa, the Garcia family realizes that the lives they’ve built are about to come crumbling down. And when Mateo returns from school one day to find that his parents have been taken, he must come to terms with the fact that his family’s worst nightmare has become a reality. With his parents’ fate and his own future hanging in the balance, Mateo must figure out who he is and what he is capable of, even as he’s forced to question what it means to be an American teenager in a country that rejects his own mom and dad.

Daniel Aleman’s Indivisible is a remarkable story — both powerful in its explorations of immigration in America and deeply intimate in its portrait of a teen boy driven by his fierce, protective love for his parents and his sister.

An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi

Tahereh Mafi is the author behind the very popular Shatter Me series (which I am ashamed to say I haven’t read). But I have read her absolutely incredible contemporary novel A Very Large Expanse of Sea. That book was absolutely wonderful so I’m really excited for An Emotion of Great Delight, a second book examining love and loneliness in a world fraught with Islamophobia in the years after 9/11.

From bestselling and National Book Award–nominated author Tahereh Mafi comes a stunning novel about love and loneliness, navigating the hyphen of dual identity, and reclaiming your right to joy—even when you’re trapped in the amber of sorrow.

It’s 2003, several months since the US officially declared war on Iraq, and the American political world has evolved. Tensions are high, hate crimes are on the rise, FBI agents are infiltrating local mosques, and the Muslim community is harassed and targeted more than ever. Shadi, who wears hijab, keeps her head down.

She’s too busy drowning in her own troubles to find the time to deal with bigots.

Shadi is named for joy, but she’s haunted by sorrow. Her brother is dead, her father is dying, her mother is falling apart, and her best friend has mysteriously dropped out of her life. And then, of course, there’s the small matter of her hear—

It’s broken.

Shadi tries to navigate her crumbling world by soldiering through, saying nothing. She devours her own pain, each day retreating farther and farther inside herself until finally, one day, everything changes.

She explodes.

An Emotion of Great Delight is a searing look into the world of a single Muslim family in the wake of 9/11. It’s about a child of immigrants forging a blurry identity, falling in love, and finding hope—in the midst of a modern war.

Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore

As both a queer person and a huuuuuuuuuuge musical fan, I am of course ECSTATIC that we’re getting a genderqueer musical book in 2021! Can’t Take That Away follows a genderqueer teen who is cast as a female lead in the school musical and must fight against discrimination from their school administration.

Steven Salvatore’s debut Can’t Take That Away is about Carey Parker, a genderqueer teen who dreams of being a diva like their hero Mariah Carey. When they are cast as the female lead in the school musical, they must fight against discrimination and injustice from their closed-minded school administration.

Counting Down With You by Tashie Bhuiyan

YES there’s more fake dating in 2021 and I can’t wait! Counting Down With You is about a Bangladeshi teen who agrees to fake date the school bad boy when her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for 4 weeks. But as she’s counting down the days till their return, she begins to think she doesn’t want to go back to normal because that bad boy turns out to be someone who promises to buy her books, and really, who would not want that.

In this sparkling and romantic YA debut, a reserved Bangladeshi teenager has twenty-eight days to make the biggest decision of her life after agreeing to fake date her school’s resident bad boy.

How do you make one month last a lifetime?

Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.

Karina is my girlfriend.

Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.

T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?

The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimons

There will never, ever be enough trans YA but 2021 is really doing it’s best to bring us the most trans joy possible. The Passing Playbook follows Spencer, a passing trans boy at a liberal private school who joins the soccor team. But a discimatory law forces Spencer to be benched when his coach discovers an ‘F’ on his birth certificate and Spencer needs to decide whether to fight back, even if it means coming out to everyone. This sounds just completey, utterly fantastic!!

Love, Simon meets Friday Night Lights in this feelgood LGBTQ+ romance about a trans teen torn between standing up for his rights and staying stealth.

Fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris is a proud nerd, an awesome big brother and a Messi-in-training. He’s also transgender. After transitioning at his old school leads to a year of bullying, Spencer gets a fresh start at Oakley, the most liberal private school in Ohio.

At Oakley, Spencer seems to have it all: more accepting classmates, a decent shot at a starting position on the boy’s soccer team, great new friends, and maybe even something more than friendship with one of his teammates. The problem is, no one at Oakley knows Spencer is trans – he’s passing.

So when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him after he discovers the ‘F’ on Spencer’s birth certificate, Spencer has to make a choice: cheer his team on from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even if it means coming out to everyone – including the guy he’s falling for.

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa

Drunk decision making? Accidentally outing yourself on Twitter whilst living in a conservative town? Yes please. Jonny Garza Villa’s contemporary looks to be the queer romance of your dreams, one that will have you crying and then laughing on every page! As well as dealing with the awkward result of coming out online after drinking lots of tequila, Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun will also tackle coming out to homophobic parents and looks like it might explore teen masculinity as well, which is a topic I really want to see explored more in YA!

An #OwnVoices debut pitched as SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA meets ONE DAY AT A TIME, in a home where social conservatism, machismo, and masculine identity run deep, Corpus Christi, Texas high school senior Julián Luna is forced to keep his gay identity a secret. Jules’ only focus is laying low the next ten months and enjoying every moment he has left with his friends before college takes them on separate paths.

Completely doable.

Until Jules wakes up hungover and discovers he came out on Twitter in between tequila shots. In an instant, his entire life is thrown—literally—out the closet.

Helping him navigate the life that is openly gay Jules is Mat, a Twitter mutual from Los Angeles who slides into Jules’ DMs. He’s friendly, supportive, funny, and so attractive. He’s the first person Jules says the words “I’m gay” to. And, if he weren’t three states away, could definitely be Jules’ first boyfriend.

But a cute boy living halfway across the country can’t fix all Jules’ problems. There’s one thing he’ll have to face on his own: coming out to his homophobic father.

Adult

Detransition Baby by Torrey Peters

Starting the adult contemporary books to read in 2021 off with one of my most anticipated books of the year, Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters! This book aims to BLOW CIS PEOPLE’S MINDS as three women, trans and cis, come together to raise a child after one of them gets unexpectedly pregnant.

A whipsmart debut about three women–transgender and cisgender–whose lives collide after an unexpected pregnancy forces them to confront their deepest desires around gender, motherhood, and sex.

Reese almost had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York City, a job she didn’t hate. She had scraped together what previous generations of trans women could only dream of: a life of mundane, bourgeois comforts. The only thing missing was a child. But then her girlfriend, Amy, detransitioned and became Ames, and everything fell apart. Now Reese is caught in a self-destructive pattern: avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men.

Ames isn’t happy either. He thought detransitioning to live as a man would make life easier, but that decision cost him his relationship with Reese–and losing her meant losing his only family. Even though their romance is over, he longs to find a way back to her. When Ames’s boss and lover, Katrina, reveals that she’s pregnant with his baby–and that she’s not sure whether she wants to keep it–Ames wonders if this is the chance he’s been waiting for. Could the three of them form some kind of unconventional family–and raise the baby together?

This provocative debut is about what happens at the emotional, messy, vulnerable corners of womanhood that platitudes and good intentions can’t reach. Torrey Peters brilliantly and fearlessly navigates the most dangerous taboos around gender, sex, and relationships, gifting us a thrillingly original, witty, and deeply moving novel.

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

Another of my favourite covers of the year (and also one of my favourite titles for that matter!) It’s just so colourful and full of joy and also that dog is real cute, and the EARRINGS are fabulous! It just makes me very happy to look at! Arsenic and Adobo is about a woman who moves back home to save her family’s failing restaurant. However, when her ex-boyfriend (and food critic) dies after a confrontation with her, she becomes the prime suspect in the murder.

When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant and has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Jennifer Crusie romp to an Agatha Christie joint.

With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longanisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Okay so this one does technically have a bit of a scifi edge (so it will also probably appear in my 2021 Sci Fi to read list!) but it also has a very strong romcom/contemporary feel so I’ve kept it here too! One Last Stop is from the author behind Red, White & Royal Blue, and is a sapphic romance set in the New York subway, where August meets a gorgeous woman on the train. But there’s one problem: she’s displaced in time from the 1970s.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Red, White & Royal Blue comes a new romantic comedy that will stop readers in their tracks…

“Dreamy, other worldly, smart, swoony, thoughtful, hilarious – all in all, exactly what you’d expect from Casey McQuiston!” – Jasmine Guillory, New York Times bestselling author of The Proposal and
 Party for Two

For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a magical, sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

I want this book to me one of the biggest books of 2021, it sounds so incredibly brilliant and is everything I have ever wanted in a romance! Honey Girl is about a woman who goes to Las Vegas to celebrate completing her PhD and then…..gets drunkenly married a stranger. So she goes to New York with her new wife and has to tackle all those millenial problems we know so well: burnout, struggling job market, scars leftover from our traumatic families…

A refreshingly timely and relatable debut novel about a young woman whose life plans fall apart when she meets her wife.

With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.

This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father’s plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her father’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows.

In New York, she’s able to ignore all the annoying questions about her future plans and falls hard for her creative and beautiful wife, Yuki Yamamoto. But when reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.

The Split by Laura Kay

YES messy sapphics time! I have an ARC for this book and I cannot wait to read it! This queer romance is about a woman who is dumped by her girlfriend so runs away to her dad’s house. With her ex’s cat. Yes, she steals her ex’s cat. Back with her family, she meets up with an old friend and they make plans to win their exes back by running a half marathon in revenge! I can already tell these two share one brain cell between them after coming up with that idea and so I think this is going to be a really funny and relaxing read!

Wounded and betrayed, after being dumped by her girlfriend, Ally makes off to her dad’s in Sheffield with the one thing that might soothe the pain and force her ex to speak to her again: Emily’s cat, Malcolm.

Back home and forced into a ‘date’ by their parents, Ally and her first ever beard, Jeremy, come up with a ridiculous plan to win their exes back… to revenge-run a half marathon. Given neither of them can run, they enlist the support of athletic, not to mention beautiful, Jo. But will she have them running for the hills… or will their ridiculous plan pay off…?

We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman

This book narrowly missed out on making my most anticiapted books of 2021 list! It sounds like a very dark sapphic contemporary, after a writer who flees to LA to escape a scandal and meets a filmmaker who goes too far when filming a documentary about a group of teenage girls who run a fight club.

After a humiliating scandal, a young writer flees to the West Coast to start over, where she is drawn into the morally-ambiguous orbit of a charismatic filmmaker and the teenage girls who are her next subjects.

Not too long ago, Cass was a promising young playwright in New York, hailed as “a fierce new voice” and “queer, feminist, and ready to spill the tea.” But at the height of all this attention, Cass finds herself at the center of a searing public shaming, and flees to Los Angeles to escape — and reinvent herself. There she meets her next-door neighbor Caroline, a magnetic filmmaker on the rise, as well as the pack of teenage girls who hang around her house. They are the subjects of Caroline’s next semi-documentary movie, which follows the girls’ violent fight club, a real-life feminist re-purposing of the classic.

As Cass is drawn into the film’s orbit, she is awed by Caroline’s ambition and confidence. But over time, she becomes increasingly troubled by how deeply Caroline is manipulating the teens in the name of art. When a girl goes missing, Cass must reckon with her own ambitions and ask herself: in the pursuit of fame, how do you know when you’ve gone too far?

Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley

This satirical literary fiction looks to be a very interesting exploration of class, wealth, property and ownership. Hot Stew is about a group of women who live and work in a brothel and the billonaire-building owner who wants to kick them out on the street.

London has changed a lot over the years. The Soho that Precious and Tabitha live and work in is barely recognisable anymore. And now, the building they call their home is under threat; its billionaire-owner Agatha wants to kick the women out to build expensive restaurants and luxury flats. Men like Robert, who visit the brothel, will have to go elsewhere. The collection of vagabonds and strays in the basement will have to find somewhere else to live. But the women are not going to go quietly. They have plans to make things difficult for Agatha but she isn’t taking no for an answer.

Hot Stew is an insightful and ambitious novel about property, ownership, wealth and inheritance. It is about the place we occupy in society, especially women, and the importance placed on class and money. It doesn’t shy away from asking difficult questions but does so with humour and intelligence.

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

Another gorgeous 2021 cover! This contemporary is set in a fictional African town where people are living in fear of the environmental devastation brought by a nearby American oil company which has made the surrounding farmland infertile and water toxic. It follows a generation of children and the family of one who grows up to be become a revolutionary fighting back against the oil company.

From the celebrated author of the New York Times bestseller Behold the Dreamers, comes a sweeping, wrenching story about the collision of a small African village and an America oil company.

“We should have known the end was near.”

So begins Imbolo Mbue’s powerful second novel, How Beautiful We Were. Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, it tells the story of a people living in fear amidst environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company.

Pipeline spills have rendered farmlands infertile. Children are dying from drinking toxic water. Promises of clean-up and financial reparations to the villagers are made—and ignored. The country’s government, led by a brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interest. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight back. Their struggle would last for decades and come at a steep price.

Told through the perspective of a generation of children and the family of a girl named Thula who grows up to become a revolutionary, How Beautiful We Were is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghost of colonialism, comes up against one community’s determination to hold onto its ancestral land and a young woman’s willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people’s freedom.

The Rebellious Tide by Eddy Boudel Tan

I still haven’t managed to read Eddy Boudel Tan’s debut, After Elias, but I’m already looking forward to his next novel as well! It’s about a son looking for revenge on his father who abandoned his mother 30 years ago, and finds him on a luxury ship in the Mediterranean. Cue a violent assault which causes the ship’s crew to revolt against the officers.

Sebastien’s search for his father leads him to a ship harbouring a dangerous secret.

Sebastien has heard only stories about his father, a mysterious sailor who abandoned his pregnant mother thirty years ago. But when his mother dies after a lifetime of struggle, he becomes obsessed with finding an explanation — perhaps even revenge.

The father he’s never met is Kostas, the commanding officer of a luxury liner sailing the Mediterranean. Posing as a member of the ship’s crew, Sebastien stalks his unwitting father in search of answers as to why he disappeared so many years ago.

After a public assault triggers outrage among the ship’s crew, Sebastien finds himself entangled in a revolt against the oppressive ruling class of officers. As the clash escalates between the powerful and the powerless, Sebastien uncovers something his father has hidden deep within the belly of the ship — a disturbing secret that will force him to confront everything he’s always wondered and feared about his own identity.

With Teeth by Kristen Arnett

Arnett’s novel Mostly Dead Things is one of my surprise favourite books of the year – surprise, because it was just a random book I picked up whilst scanning the library shelf. And then I was just blown away by it! So I can’t wait for her next novel, With Teeth, a book that explores toxic masculinity in a queer family.

From the author of the New York Times-bestselling sensation Mostly Dead Things a surprising and moving story of two mothers, one difficult son, and the limitations of marriage, parenthood, and love

If she’s being honest, Sammie Lucas is scared of her son. Working from home in the close quarters of their Florida house, she lives with one wary eye peeled on Samson, a sullen, unknowable boy who resists her every attempt to bond with him. Uncertain in her own feelings about motherhood, she tries her best–driving, cleaning, cooking, prodding him to finish projects for school–while growing increasingly resentful of Monika, her confident but absent wife. As Samson grows from feral toddler to surly teenager, Sammie’s life begins to deteriorate into a mess of unruly behavior, and her struggle to create a picture-perfect queer family unravels. When her son’s hostility finally spills over into physical aggression, Sammie must confront her role in the mess–and the possibility that it will never be clean again.

Blending the warmth and wit of Arnett’s breakout hit, Mostly Dead Things, with a candid take on queer family dynamics, With Teeth is a thought-provoking portrait of the delicate fabric of family–and the many ways it can be torn apart.

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily R Austin

Since I loved Mostly Dead Things, I am of course interested in the book that is compared to it! Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead, as well as having an epic title, is about an anxious lesbian who is hired at a Catholic church to be a receptionist to replace a woman who recently died. But then she starts impersonating the dead woman as she’s too afraid to break the bad news to someone who keeps emailing…. Cue disaster.

This hilarious and profound debut for fans of Mostly Dead Things and Goodbye, Vitamin, follows a morbidly anxious young woman—“the kindhearted heroine we all need right now” (Courtney Maum, New York Times bestselling author)—who stumbles into a job as a receptionist at a Catholic church and becomes obsessed with her predecessor’s mysterious death.

Gilda, a twenty-something, atheist, animal-loving lesbian, cannot stop ruminating about death. Desperate for relief from her panicky mind and alienated from her repressive family, she responds to a flyer for free therapy at a local Catholic church, and finds herself being greeted by Father Jeff, who assumes she’s there for a job interview. Too embarrassed to correct him, Gilda is abruptly hired to replace the recently deceased receptionist Grace.

In between trying to memorize the lines to Catholic mass, hiding the fact that she has a new girlfriend, and erecting a dirty dish tower in her crumbling apartment, Gilda strikes up an email correspondence with Grace’s old friend. She can’t bear to ignore the kindly old woman, who has been trying to reach her friend through the church inbox, but she also can’t bring herself to break the bad news. Desperate, she begins impersonating Grace via email. But when the police discover suspicious circumstances surrounding Grace’s death, Gilda may have to finally reveal the truth of her mortifying existence.

A delightful blend of warmth, deadpan humor, and pitch-perfect observations about the human condition, Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead is a crackling exploration of what it takes to stay afloat in a world where your expiration—and the expiration of those you love—is the only certainty.

The Arsonist’s City by Hala Alyan

The Arsonist’s City is a new novel from Palestinian-American author and poet Hala Alyan! It follows the Nasr family who are spread across the world and when they come home to Beirut to save their house from being sold by the patriarch of the family. But families have secrets and these ones threaten to tear the family apart.

A rich family story, a personal look at the legacy of war in the Middle East, and an indelible rendering of how we hold on to the people and places we call home.

The Nasr family is spread across the globe—Beirut, Brooklyn, Austin, the California desert. A Syrian mother, a Lebanese father, and three American children: all have lived a life of migration. Still, they’ve always had their ancestral home in Beirut—a constant touchstone—and the complicated, messy family love that binds them. But following his father’s recent death, Idris, the family’s new patriarch, has decided to sell.

The decision brings the family to Beirut, where everyone unites against Idris in a fight to save the house. They all have secrets—lost loves, bitter jealousies, abandoned passions, deep-set shame—that distance has helped smother. But in a city smoldering with the legacy of war, an ongoing flow of refugees, religious tension, and political protest, those secrets ignite, imperiling the fragile ties that hold this family together.

In a novel teeming with wisdom, warmth, and characters born of remarkable human insight, award-winning author Hala Alyan shows us again that “fiction is often the best filter for the real world around us” (NPR).

Let’s Get Back to the Party by Zak Salih

Set in recent history just after the US Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage, Let’s Get Back to the Party follows an art history teacher longing to settle down and envious of the freedom his queer students have. When he runs into a childhood best friend at a wedding, the two try to find themselves in a world where gay culture is rapidly changing.

What Does It Mean to Be a Gay Man Today?

It’s just weeks after the historic Supreme Court marriage equality ruling, and all Sebastian Mote wants is to settle down. A high school art history teacher, newly single and desperately lonely, he envies his queer students their freedom to live openly the youth he lost to fear and shame.  

So when he runs into his childhood friend Oscar Burnham at a wedding in Washington, D.C., he can’t help but see it as a second chance. Now thirty-five, the men haven’t seen each other in a decade. But Oscar has no interest in their shared history. Instead, he’s outraged by what he sees as the death of gay culture: bars overrun with bachelorette parties; friends getting married, having babies.

While Oscar and Sebastian struggle to find their place in a rapidly changing world, each is drawn into a cross-generational friendship that treads the line between envy and obsession: Sebastian with one of his students and Oscar with an older icon of the AIDS era. And as they collide again and again, both men must come reckon not just with one another, but with themselves.

Rich with sharply drawn characters and contemporary detail, provocative, and emotionally profound, Let’s Get Back to the Party is sure to appeal to readers of Garth Greenwell, Alan Hollinghurst, Claire Messud, and Rebecca Makkai.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

As someone who works in publishing, it makes me extremely excited for this thriller described as Get Out meets The Devil Wheres Prada, about two young Black women in the New York publishing industry and what happens when one of them begins to receive threatening messages telling her to leave the company now.

Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

Violet by Shin Kyung-Sook

We don’t know huge amounts about this one yet, but what we do know sounds amazing! It’s a sapphic contemporary about a woman who works in a flower shop in Seoul after she is shunned by her high school lover. This just makes me so happy and full of joy, I want to read about all the plant gays please!!!

NYT-bestselling author of PLEASE LOOK AFTER MOM and winner of the International Man Booker Prize Kyung-Sook Shin’s VIOLET, about a young woman who works in a flower shop and has been shunned by her female high school lover, which sets her apart from society and the world of Seoul, to Jisu Kim at Feminist Press, in an exclusive submission, for publication in 2021.

Radiant Fugitives by Nawaaz Ahmed

Radiant Fugitives is a contemporary following three generations of a Muslim Indian family in the early years of the Obama presidency. It follows a political activist who was exiled from her family after coming out as a lesbian. Now, she wants to reconcile with her family as she’s nine months pregnant. I’m really keen to see how this book is “infused with the poetry of Worsworth, Keats and the Quran”, that sounds like such a beautiful touch to this contemporary.

A tour de force debut following three generations of a Muslim Indian family confronted with a nation on the brink of change in Obama-era San Francisco and Texas.

Working as a political activist in the early days of the Obama presidency, Seema still struggles with her father’s long-ago decision to exile her from the family after she came out as lesbian, forcing her to construct a new life in the west. Now, nine months pregnant and estranged from the father of her unborn son, Seema seeks reconciliation with the family that once renounced her: her ailing mother Nafessa, traveling alone to California from Chennai, and her devoutly religious sister, Tahera, an OB/GYN living in Texas with her husband and children.

Pushed apart and drawn together in equal measure by their often conflicting beliefs, Seema, Tahera, and Nafessa must confront the complex yearnings in their relationships with one another—and within their innermost selves—as the events that transpire over the course of one fateful week unearth an accumulated lifetime of love, betrayal, and misunderstandings.

Told from the point of view of Seema’s child at the moment of his birth and infused with the poetry of Wordsworth, Keats, and the Quran, Radiant Fugitives is an operatic debut from a bold new voice, exploring the tensions between ideology and practicality, hope and tradition, forgiveness and retribution for one family navigating a shifting political landscape. 

Making these posts just makes me so incredibly excited for 2021, we have such a great year of books coming. Over the next week or so, I’ll be making more of these posts so watch out for my must read fantasy, science fiction and horror books posts soon! What 2021 contemporary book are you most excited for? Let me know in the comments! And I hope everyone has a lovely holiday period!

6 thoughts on “37 Must Read 2021 Contemporary Books!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s