May 2021 Reads for the Rest of Us

The Feminist Know-It-All: You know her. You can’t stand her. Good thing she’s not here! Instead, this column by gender and women’s studies librarian Karla Strand will amplify stories of the creation, access, use and preservation of knowledge by women and girls around the world; share innovative projects and initiatives that focus on information, literacies, libraries and more; and, of course, talk about all of the books.

Each month, I provide Ms. readers with a list of new books being published by writers from historically excluded groups.

The aims of these lists are threefold:

  1. I want to do my part in the disruption of what has been the acceptable “norm” in the book world for far too long—white, cis, heterosexual, male;
  2. I want to amplify amazing works by writers who are women, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, APIA/AAPI, international, LGBIA+, TGNC, queer, disabled, fat, immigrant, Muslim, neurodivergent, sex-positive or of other historically marginalized identities—you know, the rest of us; and
  3. I want to challenge and encourage you all to buy, borrow and read them! 

And all of a sudden it’s May. Of 2021. Time is flying and I hope you’re able to get outside and enjoy the springtime flowers, sunny sunshine and singing birds.

I wanted to use the intro to this month’s list to clarify something important about how I decide to include some books over others each month. It is such a difficult decision because there are a lot of amazing books being written and released by women, nonbinary, transgender and gender-nonforming authors. I simply can’t include all of the books that are coming out that would normally meet the criteria that I’ve set out above. 

And so when I have too many books, I start to look at other elements such as if the author has published before. Are they well-known? Is the book backed by a major publisher that has spent lots of resources on marketing? Are they touring? If the answer to one or more of these is “yes,” I may forego that title for another which is the author’s first, which may not have the financial backing for fancy marketing and tours or which has been published on an indie label. I ask myself, “Which of these books do I want my readers to know about that they may not have already heard about?” 

Sometimes it almost breaks my heart to not include a title based on a “yes” answer to one of these questions. My remedy for that has been to cheat and still include the title—but in this intro instead of in the list itself. It came to my attention after last month’s list that when I do this, it may seem that I am less excited about the books in the intro or that they only received an honorable mention. I want to clarify that this isn’t the case! I love the books in the intro just as much as those on the list and you should definitely borrow, buy and read those books, too! 

Unfortunately, there just isn’t a good way to list the hundreds of books that come out each month or even all of those that I am most excited about. I do my best to shine some light on those by women, non-binary (NB) or transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) writers, especially those of color or those of other historically excluded communities. 

I hope this helps to clarify the process (which is wholly unscientific). With that, let’s get to this month’s list of 35 titles. Happy Spring!

May 2021 Reads for the Rest of Us

Negative Space

By Lilly Dancyger (@lillydancyger). Santa Fe Writers Project. 296 pages. Out May 1. 

Winner of the Santa Fe Writers Project Award, this striking memoir does what an outstanding memoir should: It not only encourages its readers to explore their pasts from new perspectives, but models the bravery needed to gaze behind the curtain of memory and face whatever realities you may find there.  

Tears of Amber 

Written by Sofía Segovia (@msofiasegovia) and translated by Simon Bruni (@simonbruni). Amazon Crossing. 493 pages. Out May 1.

Sofía Segovia’s second novel centers two families fleeing their homes in Prussia from an invading Soviet army. Inspired by real events and published in English for the first time, Tears of Amber is an extraordinary and inspirational story.  

Tainted Tap: Flint’s Journey from Crisis to Recovery 

By Katrinell M. Davis. University of North Carolina Press. 280 pages. Out May 3.

In this urgent volume, sociologist Katrinell Davis provides a useful framework for examining the dramatic, deadly effects of systemic environmental racism and explores what underserved communities might do to counteract mismanagement and neglect of essential service delivery.

African Europeans: An Untold History

By Olivette Otele (@olivetteotele). Basic Books. 304 pages. Out May 4. 

Intricately researched by renowned historian Olivette Otele, this is a much-needed addition to existing narratives of European history. It corrects the myth that the presence of Africans in Europe is recent and shines a light on their true and lasting contributions to the continent. 

The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng (Chronicles of the Wolf Queen, 3)

By K. S. Villoso (@k_villoso). Orbit. 640 pages. Out May 4.

Have you spent time with this series yet? If you love fantasy, magic, action, badass women and tremendous world-building, then you need to dive in—because this conclusion doesn’t disappoint.

Luck of the Titanic 

By Stacey Lee (@staceyleeauthor). G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR. 384 pages. Out May 4.

Following her dreams of becoming a circus performer in New York City, Valora Luck boards the biggest, most luxurious ship ever, the Titanic, as a stowaway. Lovingly rendered, Val’s bittersweet story is one of hope, courage and the fight to survive.

On Juneteenth

By Annette Gordon-Reed (@agordonreed). Liveright. 144 pages. Out May 4.

Part memoir, part Texas history, this slim volume is the Juneteenth history we all need. The incomparable Annette Gordon-Reed provides this essential collection of essays reflecting on racism, history and home.

The Parted Earth

By Anjali Enjeti (@anjalienjeti). Hub City Press. 272 pages. Out May 4.

This captivating debut follows one woman’s search for family, meaning, community and home against the legacy of the Partition of India.   

Pop Song: Adventures in Art & Intimacy

By Larissa Pham (@lrsphm). Catapult. 288 pages. Out May 4. 

A book for our times, Larissa Pham’s outstanding debut memoir-in-essays will speak to anyone who’s desperately examined love, heartache, intimacy and self.

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The Secret Talker: A Novel 

By Geling Yan. HarperVia. 160 pages. Out May 4.

Geling Yan has written this twisting crime novel focused on Hongmei, the seemingly perfect wife in a seemingly ideal marriage. But when she is emailed by a mysterious stranger, she is led down a path that endangers exposing secrets and tearing her life apart.

The Secret to Superhuman Strength

By Alison Bechdel (@alisonbechdel). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 240 pages. Out May 4.

Who better to make exercise palatable and indeed, hilarious, than Alison Bechdel? Take a much-needed break from the world—and your workout regime—and dive into Bechdel’s latest.

Sorrowland: A Novel 

By Rivers Solomon (@cyborgyndroid). MCD. 368 pages. Out May 4.

If you’ve read Rivers Solomon’s previous work, you’ll be familiar with their fearless explorations of transformation, identity, oppression and power, and Sorrowland continues this investigation with fantastic, terrifying sci-fi brilliance.

They Better Call Me Sugar: My Journey from the Hood to the Hardwood

By Sugar Rodgers (@14Sugar). Black Sheep. 176 pages. Out May 4.

In her inspiring and candid debut memoir, WNBA star Sugar Rodgers opens up about her challenging youth and her path to college, a successful career and a fulfilling, empowered life. 

Spirits of the Ordinary: A Tale of Casas Grandes

By Kathleen Alcalá (@katkat_alcala). Raven Chronicles Press. 234 pages. Out May 10.

This beautiful edition of the award-winning novel first published in 1997 is sure to attract a whole new generation of readers with its inclusion of once-taboo topics, vivid descriptions and magical storytelling throughout. 

Black Water Sister

By Zen Cho (@zenaldehyde). Ace. 384 pages. Out May 11.

As she contends with unemployment, adulthood and constrictive traditions, Jessamyn Teoh moves back in with her parents in Malaysia. Once she starts hearing voices, she knows she must get control of her life in this contemporary urban fantasy full of ghosts, legacy and heart.  

Cyclopedia Exotica

By Aminder Dhaliwal (@aminder_d). Drawn and Quarterly. 268 pages. Out May 11.

This book is so wonderfully weird! Sharing candid cyclops stories, this delightful satiric graphic novel centers very real explorations of race, xenophobia, visibility, tokenism and assimilation.

From Little Tokyo, With Love

By Sarah Kuhn (@sarahkuhn). Viking BYR. 432 pages. Out May 11. 

This charming YA romance centers Rika, a biracial orphan who’s always felt like an outsider. After meeting two popular actors during the Nikkei Week Festival, Rika embarks on adventures in hopes that all of her fairy tale dreams will come true. 

The Rock Eaters: Stories

By Brenda Peynado (@BrendaPeynado). Penguin Books. 288 pages. Out May 11. 

This debut story collection crosses genres, issues and dimensions. Wonderfully speculative, it reaches internal spaces and presents worlds both flawed and full of hope.

State of Emergency: How We Win in the Country We Built 

By Tamika D. Mallory (@TamikaDMallory). Atria/Black Privilege Publishing. 224 pages. Out May 11.

It seems appropriate for social justice leader Tamika Mallory’s literary debut to be the first title of the new imprint, Black Privilege Publishing. In this volume, Mallory provides a history of racism in the U.S. as well as equity-centered pathways forward.  

Stone Fruit 

By Lee Lai (@_leelai). Fantagraphics. 236 pages. Out May 11.

Lee Lai’s debut graphic novel is a beautiful and evocative reflection on queer identity, relationships, vulnerability and acceptance of self and others. 

There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis

Edited by Tracy K. Smith and John Freeman (@freemanreads). Vintage. 320 pages. Out May 11.

This dynamic anthology captures the remarkable nature of the last year. Writers such as Edwidge Danticat, Layli Long Soldier, Monica Youn and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor have contributed essays, letters and reflections framing the unprecedented racial, social and political reckonings of the recent past.

America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s

By Elizabeth Hinton (@elizabhinton). Liveright. 408 pages. Out May 18.

This expansive and meticulously researched volume provides the context and history we need to not only understand the current moment of rebellion against police brutality and systemic racism, but to maintain the momentum on the way to necessary and lasting change. 

The Ex-Girlfriend of My Ex-Girlfriend Is My Girlfriend: Advice on Queer Dating, Love, and Friendship

Written by Maddy Court (@worrierprincess) and illustrated by Kelsey Wroten (@jukeboxcomix). Chronicle Books. 168 pages. Out May 18.

This volume is as adorable as it is useful. Candid and hilarious, it provides information to readers in a Q&A format exploring topics such as coming out, living queerly, building healthy poly relationships, maintaining positive mental health, and more. This is a book I could’ve used during my own queer coming of age!

Nervous System: A Novel

Written by Lina Meruane and translated by Megan McDowell. Out May 18.

Chilean author Lina Meruane has written a unique and eerie story of illness, family and dislocation. Mysterious and engrossing, Nervous System is a stunner.

Off the Record

By Camryn Garrett (@dancingofpens). Knopf BYR. 320 pages. Out May 18.

In her second blistering novel, Camryn Garrett centers a teen journalist who uncovers a #metoo scandal that seems bigger than she can handle. This is an unapologetic, feminist, brave look into the strength and solidarity of women.  

Tastes Like War: A Memoir

By Grace M. Cho (@gracemcho). The Feminist Press at CUNY. 296 pages. Out May 18.

Grace M. Cho’s debut memoir is a fascinating exploration into her past as the daughter of a white American Marine and a Korean bar hostess as well as an examination of her present and into the roots of her mother’s schizophrenia. 

Every Body Shines: Sixteen Stories About Living Fabulously Fat

Edited by Cassandra Newbould (@CassNwrites). Bloomsbury YA. 416 pages. Out May 25.

This collection of short stories celebrates body diversity and represents young fat individuals positively and lovingly. Contributors include Claire Kann, Nafiza Azad, Renée Watson, amanda lovelace, Cassandra Newbould, Francina Simone, Catherine Adel West, Jennifer Yen and more. 

Heaven: A Novel

Written by Mieko Kawakami (@mieko_kawakami) and translated by Sam Bett and by David Boyd. Europa Editions. 192 pages. Out May 25.

If you enjoyed Meiko Kawakami’s brilliant Breasts and Eggs, you’re certain to be astonished by her latest novel exploring violence and bullying with fierce, feminist and damning candor.

Holding Change: The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation

By adrienne maree brown (@adriennemaree). AK Press. 198 pages. Out May 25. 

This latest volume of the Emergent Strategy series is an essential guide to the facilitation and mediation skills necessary to change the world. Includes contributions from Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Ejeris Dixon, Autumn Brown, Sage Crump, Malkia Devich-Cyril, N’Tanya Lee and more. 

Impostor Syndrome: A Novel

By Kathy Wang (@bykathywang). Custom House. 368 pages. Out May 25.

Part espionage, part “Silicon Valley satire,” this novel is an engrossing statement on women at work, the power of Big Tech and the lengths we’ll go to for success.

Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance 

By Moya Bailey (@moyazb). NYU Press. 256 pages. Out May 25.

In this much-anticipated text, Moya Bailey examines misogynoir—a term she coined—and how Black women work to disrupt racist misogyny, to reclaim their autonomy and to tell their own stories, particularly in precarious digital spaces. 

My Remarkable Journey: A Memoir

By Katherine Johnson with Joylette Hylick and Katherine Moore. Amistad. 256 pages. Out May 25.

Math prodigy, human computer, groundbreaking contributor to NASA’s first missions into space, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, focus of the film Hidden Figures and hopeful inspiration to all who knew her, Katherine Johnson is the definition of remarkable.  

#SayHerName: Black Women’s Stories of State Violence and Public Silence 

By African American Policy Forum. Edited by Kimberlé Crenshaw (@sandylocks). Haymarket Books. 224 pages. Out May 25.

This volume is an urgent examination of how race intersects with gender to create uniquely oppressive, and often violent, circumstances for Black women and girls across the country and provides a much-needed feminist framework to investigate the ways in which we can all fight against this state violence and all-too-public silence.

A Sitting in St. James

By Rita Williams-Garcia (@onecrazyrita). Quill Tree Books. 480 pages. Out May 25.

Acclaimed author Rita Williams-Garcia has written a magnificent antebellum YA saga exploring the complicated, terrifying and lasting legacies of slavery and racism. This one is not to be missed.  

My Good Son: A Novel

By Yang Huang (@yangwrites). University of New Orleans Press. 256 pages. Out May 27.

A poignant meditation on fathers and sons, American and Chinese cultures and traditions in the face of modernity, Yang Huang’s latest novel is layered, evocative and engaging.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find

By Joan He (@joanhewrites). Roaring Brook Press. 384 pages. Out May 4. 

Joan He’s latest novel is a beautifully rendered climate change dystopian YA focused on two sisters, stasis and secrets. Tender, heart-wrenching and frightening, this one will stay with you.

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Karla J. Strand is the gender and women’s studies librarian for the University of Wisconsin. She completed her doctorate in information science via University of Pretoria in South Africa with a background in history and library science, and her research centers on the role of libraries and knowledge in empowering women and girls worldwide. Tweet her @karlajstrand.