There’s no better time than a new year to investigate identity.
It’s apt then that many of the best new books arriving in January—following an unprecedented year of introspection and pain—ask us to consider how we became who we are. In their memoirs, Nadia Owusu and Ta Nehisi-Coates reflect on their upbringings to make sense of their adult lives. Gabrielle Glaser illuminates the horrifying history of adoption in post-World War II America in her harrowing new nonfiction book. And new fiction from Angie Thomas and Torrey Peters also inspects identity, particularly as it relates to community.
Here, the ten new books you should read in January.
Read More: The 21 Most Anticipated Books of 2021
The Prophets, Robert Jones, Jr. (Jan. 5)
In his debut novel, Robert Jones, Jr. charts the ripple effects of a love affair between two enslaved young men on a Mississippi plantation. Though The Prophets is centered on the ill-fated relationship, its scope widens to include the larger community, and pays particular attention to the women who have shaped the two men’s lives. It’s both a scintillating portrait of Black queerness and a bleak account of slavery in the antebellum South, captured in Jones’ lyrical yet incisive prose.
The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir (Adapted for Young Adults), Ta-Nehisi Coates (Jan. 12)
In a young adult edition of his 2008 memoir, journalist and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates artfully details his coming-of-age in a crumbling corner of West Baltimore. Coates dissects his family unit to reveal the struggles he faced while growing up, specifically illustrating his efforts to connect with his father, a former Black Panther with a penchant for tough love. The result is a thoughtful examination of a father-son relationship and a moving look at how the author became who he is today.
The House on Vesper Sands, Paraic O’Donnell (Jan. 12)
It’s late 19th century London in Paraic O’Donnell’s new novel, and unusual things are happening all over the place. The story begins with an ending: A seamstress has just died after jumping out a window and strange words are found stitched into her skin. Her apparent suicide connects to a larger network of deaths and disappearances in the city, including a group of missing girls, which O’Donnell describes in eerie and supernatural terms. What ensues is a thrilling gothic mystery, as an inspector, college dropout and young journalist come together to uncover the dark secrets that link these peculiar cases.
Aftershocks: A Memoir, Nadia Owusu (Jan. 12)
By the time she moved to New York City as a young adult, Nadia Owusu had lived all over the world. Her father worked for the United Nations, so her family was uprooted throughout her childhood, always leaving a new home as soon as she felt settled. The instability this created was only compounded by the missing presence of Owusu’s mother, who abandoned the author when she was a toddler, and later floated in and out of her life sporadically. In her searing debut memoir, Owusu analyzes her shaky sense of belonging and identity as she reflects on her fractured family unit and upbringing.
Detransition, Baby, Torrey Peters (Jan. 12)
Reese is a trans woman living in New York City, coping with loneliness after a breakup by indulging in her self-destructive tendency to sleep with married men. Her ex, Ames, who used to be Amy before he detransitioned, wants to be back in Reese’s life even if they’re no longer romantically involved. When Ames learns that his lover, Katrina, is pregnant with his baby, he invites Reese, who is desperate to become a mother, to raise the child with them. As the three attempt to understand their roles in their unconventional family, author Torrey Peters crafts a tender and bold exploration of gender, parenthood and love.
Concrete Rose, Angie Thomas (Jan. 12)
Best-selling author Angie Thomas revisits the universe of Garden Heights in her latest YA novel, set 17 years before the events of The Hate U Give. It’s 1998 and high school senior Maverick Carter is dealing drugs for the King Lords to bring in extra money for his family while his father, a gang legend, serves time in prison. Mav is dealing with all the turbulence that comes with being part of the neighborhood gang—until he discovers that he’s a father himself. When baby Seven enters the picture, everything changes, and Mav is determined to reset his life’s course. Like Thomas’ previous young adult fiction, Concrete Rose is rooted in a deeply complex world described with attention and care. In illuminating Mav’s struggles, Thomas underlines the intricate realities of Black manhood.
Remote Control, Nnedi Okorafor (Jan. 19)
Nebula and Hugo Award winner Nnedi Okorafor uses another imaginative lens to uncover the intersection of gender, power and control in her latest science-fiction thriller. Okorafor traces the coming-of-age of Sankofa, the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. When she came upon a strange green seed as a child, Sankofa gained the power to kill with just a glance. Unable to control her destructive ability, she accidentally wipes out her entire family. Now, Sankofa’s on a mission to find out exactly who she is and where this power came from. As she navigates a technologically advanced Ghana, Sankofa searches for answers in a world she’s only just beginning to understand.
Let Me Tell You What I Mean, Joan Didion (Jan. 26)
The 12 essays that comprise Joan Didion’s latest collection showcase her range and strength as a writer, and prove to be timeless and urgent despite being written between 1968 and 2000. Though many pieces were originally published in magazines, they’ve never been collected together before. Didion’s voice feels as fresh and cutting as ever as she dissects topics from a Gamblers Anonymous meeting to being rejected from Stanford University to the act of writing itself.
American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption, Gabrielle Glaser (Jan. 26)
When she was 16 years old, Margaret Erle became pregnant and her parents sent her to a maternity home. After giving birth to a baby boy, she was threatened by social workers to waive her parental rights. For decades, Erle desperately tried to find her son, but the adoption agency wouldn’t share details of his new identity or life. Journalist Gabrielle Glaser follows Erle’s journey in a wrenching narrative centered on the exploitative adoption processes in postwar America. In American Baby, Glaser highlights how the practices of the adoption industry led to countless stories of birth mothers losing contact with their children, which she lays out in intense and chilling terms.
Just As I Am: A Memoir, Cicely Tyson (Jan. 26)
At 96 years old, Cicely Tyson has had a lengthy acting career, garnering a slate of awards over her lifetime, including three Emmys, a Tony, an Oscar and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. In her highly anticipated memoir, Tyson looks back on her trailblazing decades in the industry, as well as everything that came before it. Her reflections on her childhood, tumultuous relationship with jazz musician Miles Davis and more, alongside stories from celebrated movies and television shows including A Woman Called Moses and Roots, coalesce into a stirring portrait of the groundbreaking artist.
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