New Southern books we’re eager to read in 2021

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The new year is shaping up to be another stellar one for Southern literature. Social disparity, political polarity, immigration and the region’s reckoning with a past steeped in racial violence continue to be timely topics. But there are also suspense thrillers and ghost stories for fun. Here are 10 books destined for our to-be-read stack in 2021.

Courtesy of G.P. Putnam's Sons
Courtesy of G.P. Putnam's Sons

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘The Prophets’

Having sparked a fiercely competitive bidding war among publishers, Robert Jones Jr.’s debut novel is one of the most highly anticipated books of the season. It centers on Isaiah and Samuel, two enslaved men forced to care for the animals on a Southern plantation. Against all odds, they find refuge from their violent environment in a loving partnership. But when a fellow slave tries to curry favor with the master by preaching the white man’s gospel, lines are drawn and sides are taken over the men’s relationship. As tensions mount, acts of both betrayal and redemption are set in motion. About the author, Kiese Laymon says, “Robert Jones Jr. is a once-in-a-generation cultural worker whose art, thankfully, will be imitated for generations.” (Putnam, Jan. 5, $27)

Courtesy of Verso Books
Courtesy of Verso Books

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘Elegy for Mary Turner’

Mary Turner was eight months pregnant when she was lynched and tortured in Valdosta in 1918. Her death was part of a killing spree led by a white mob seeking revenge for the murder of a plantation owner widely reviled by his workers for his abusive treatment. Mary was singled out for protesting her husband’s lynching. The NAACP conducted an investigation that identified the killers, but legal action was never taken. Written and illustrated by Rachel Marie-Crane Williams, an artist and educator at the University of Iowa, this graphic nonfiction tale explores one of Georgia’s most shameful events in history. Includes an introduction by C. Tyrone Forehand, Mary’s great-grandnephew. (Verso Books, Feb. 21, $24.95)

Courtesy of Grand Central Publishing
Courtesy of Grand Central Publishing

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘What’s Mine and Yours’

Spanning from 1992 to the present, and from Piedmont, North Carolina, to Paris, France, Naima Coster’s sophomore novel explores what happens when a county decides to bus students from a Black majority neighborhood across town to a predominantly white high school. Spoiler alert: Tensions arise. At the center of the action are students Gee and Noelle, who are cast in a theatrical production meant to help bridge the gap between the students. Gee’s mother Jade is determined to see that her Black son has access to all the resources he needs to succeed. Noelle’s mother Lacey May is equally determined to protect her half-white, half-Latina daughter from outside influence. When their families become entangled, they make choices that have far-reaching implications. (Grand Central, March 2, $28)

Courtesy of Penguin Random House
Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘The Ghost Variations’

Ideal for readers with a short attention span, Kevin Brockmeier’s newest book is a collection of 100 pieces of flash fiction, just one or two pages long. What the stories share in common is a single topic: ghosts. Beyond that unifying principle, they range in tone from humorous and poignant to chilling and sad. The stories are grouped into categories that include memory, fortune, nature, time and speculation. But they’re ideal for just dipping into randomly and visiting the spirit world when this world feels too real. (Knopf Doubleday, March 9, $26.95)

Courtesy of Berkley
Courtesy of Berkley

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘Surviving Savannah’

Following the success of “Becoming Mrs. Lewis,” a novel based on the life of C.S. Lewis’ wife Joy Davidman, Patti Callahan returns to the well of historical fiction for her latest book, this one set in Savannah. Jumping back and forth in time from the present to 1838, the book traces the events surrounding the sinking of The Steamship Pulaski off the coast of North Carolina. Referred to as the Titanic of the South, the ship was ferrying elite members of Savannah society north for the summer when it went down. The story unfolds from the modern-day perspective of history professor Everly Winthrop, whose research on the ship’s ill-fated journey piques her fascination with a group of passengers from the Longstreet family — survivor Augusta Longstreet and her niece, Lilly Forsyth, who was never found. (Berkley, March 9, $26)

Courtesy of HarperCollins
Courtesy of HarperCollins

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘Mother May I’

Bree Cabbat lives a charmed life. She’s happily married to a successful lawyer whose family wields power and wealth; she has two teenage daughters in private school and a new baby boy; and they all live in a big fabulous house. But in Joshilyn Jackson’s latest domestic suspense thriller, Bree’s life is turned upside down when her infant is stolen. Instead of going to the police, she attempts to rescue her child by following a series of demands from a mysterious woman who pulls her deeper and deeper into a treacherous quagmire of deceit and intrigue. In the process, Bree is forced to consider how far she’ll go to protect her family. (William Morrow, April 6, $27.99)

Courtesy of Catapult
Courtesy of Catapult

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘Low Country’

J. Nicole Jones was raised in a family that made its fluctuating fortune in the hospitality industry catering to visitors in the tourist town of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. As she got older, she couldn’t distance herself fast enough from her Southern roots, starting with the erasure of her “hick” accent. She went on to attend prep school, then Columbia University and landed editing jobs at Vice and Vanity Fair. But as ex-pat Southerners often tend to do, Jones looks homeward in this lyrical, evocative memoir that explores her family’s volatile past filled with violence and financial highs and lows, set against a landscape haunted, literally and figuratively, by its history. (Catapult, April 13, $26)

Courtesy of Hub City Press
Courtesy of Hub City Press

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘The Parted Earth’

Johns Creek essayist Anjali Enjeti makes her literary debut with this multi-generational novel of love and loss set against the 1947 Partition of India, the birth of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the impact that tumultuous time in history had on three generations of women. But first, it is a love story about 16-year-old Deepa, a Hindu girl who falls in love with Amir, a Muslim boy whose family is forced to flee its home when New Delhi is rocked by street violence between warring bands of radical Hindus and Muslims. Seven decades later in Atlanta, Deepa’s granddaughter Shan is prompted by the loss of her pregnancy and the end of her marriage to investigate the true story of her estranged grandmother. (Hub City Press, May 4, $26)

‘While Justice Sleeps’

The indefatigable Stacey Abrams proves she’s more than just a powerful voting rights activist, lawyer and politician who served a decade in the Georgia House of Representatives. She’s also an author who has published a number of romance suspense novels under the name Selena Montgomery. Her new book is a political thriller, and it’s her first published under her real name. When law clerk Avery Keene becomes legal guardian of her comatose employer, Justice Wynn, she is thrust into the middle of a controversial case involving a merger between a biotech company and a genetics firm that could significantly change the medical industry. In the process, she learns about a related conspiracy among power brokers in Washington and suspects Wynn might be personally invested in the merger. (Doubleday, May 11, $28.95)

Courtesy of Knopf
Courtesy of Knopf

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘Things We Lost to the Water’

In Eric Nguyen’s debut novel, a mother immigrates from Vietnam to New Orleans with her two young sons and awaits the arrival of her husband, who never shows up. Homeless and jobless, she takes up with a car salesman who’s also new in town and tries to forge a life for her family. But in the wake of such loss, they all struggle. Hungry for the culture of his birthplace, son Tuan falls in with a Vietnamese street gang. His brother Binh, who changes his name to Ben, tries desperately to assimilate into the American way of life. Their tenuous toehold on stability is shaken when a hurricane bears down on the Crescent City. (Knopf, May 11, $25.95)

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