Spring Preview 2021 | Seasonal Selections to Know, Read, Share, and Buy

Librarians and LJ editors suggest the spring books collection development and readers’ advisory librarians will want to know, read, share, and buy.

While the ongoing coronavirus pandemic impacted every aspect of publishing in 2020, as it did life in general, one encouraging development is that, on the whole, the industry remained strong. Despite supply chain challenges, canceled author tours, delayed publication dates, and working from home, the field continued to connect books to readers, and is poised to do the same in the new year. Awards will continue to add significant buzz to the season. Debut authors will once again stake a claim, and readers can dig into gardening books, cookbooks, and those focused on health and wellness, all three categories more in demand than ever.
The events of 2020 continue to reverberate in 2021, not only in the streets but also between covers. Social justice is a prominent theme, and current events are examined through the prism of the past and the here and now, with solutions offered for the future. The death of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had the residual effect of making some fascinating “her-stories” even more relevant for librarians to share with patrons. Focusing on previously underappreciated or unrecognized contributions by women, these books provide a glimpse into the ways women influenced their time, and ours.
This spring also offers new looks at some old stories and new works by old hands, those authors readers always send soaring onto the best-seller lists. For additional highlights see the LJ editors’ picks, check out selections from the field, and download our quick guide to the books getting early buzz this season.
Typographic illustration by István Szugyiczky




Ninety writers were tapped for Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619–2019 (One World, Feb.; see starred review, LJ 12/20), edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain. Destined to become a core title for all collections, this multivarious work offers essays, poetry, personal stories, polemics, and more as it narrates 400 years of history.
Jesse McCarthy addresses Black Lives Matter with Who Will Pay Reparations on My Soul? (Liveright: Norton, Mar.). In 20 essays, McCarthy looks at the effect that events in Ferguson, MO, and Minneapolis have had on Black Americans. As a timely companion comes the account by Yusef Salaam, who was wrongly incarcerated at age 14 as one of the Central Park Five. He revisits his seven years in prison in Better, Not Bitter: Living on Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice (Grand Central, May) and offers inspiration on how to fix a system that has been broken for 400 years.
In the memoir I Am a Girl from Africa by Elizabeth Nyamayaro (Scribner, Apr.), a simple act of kindness becomes the springboard for a life of service. When a drought hit her village in Zimbabwe, eight-year-old Nyamayaro was fed a bowl of porridge by a United Nations aid worker. From that moment on, she decided that her life’s calling was to help others.
One thing many learned over the past year is that our food chain supply is a fragile thing, but Queen Sugar author Natalie Baszile’s anthology We Are Each Other’s Harvest: Celebrating African American Farmers, Land, and Legacy (Amistad: HarperCollins, Apr.; see starred review, LJ 3/21) showcases the contributions and triumph of African American farmers from Reconstruction to today.


Dorothy Wickenden’s The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights (Scribner, Mar.; LJ 4/21) examines the friendship of Harriet Tubman, Frances Seward, and Martha Wright and how these three unlikely allies took on the big issues of their day. Spanning more than 40 tumultuous years in our nation’s history, this work shows that these women were unafraid to make their voices heard.
Wickenden is just one of many authors addressing the achievements, conditions, and concerns of women this season. The history of reproductive rights and eugenics is the focus of Audrey Clare Farley’s The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt (Grand Central, Apr.; LJ 3/21). Cooper Hewitt was sterilized against her will by her mother, who stood to gain financially by ensuring her daughter would remain childless. Consider as well Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner (Knopf, Apr.; LJ 4/21), in which the author spins her childhood straw into literary gold as she examines what it was like to grow up as a first-generation Korean American and how the loss of her mother when Zauner was in her 20s forced her to take a hard look at her identity.
Work of all kinds rises to the fore this season. Raphael Cormack’s Midnight in Cairo: The Divas of Egypt’s Roaring ’20s (Norton, Mar.; LJ 1/21) peels back the curtain on the thriving nightlife that allowed women to not only in succeed but dominate the Egyptian entertainment scene. When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story of the Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered the Way We Watch Today (Harper, Mar.; LJ 2/21) by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong considers four pioneering women—Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg, Hazel Scott, and Betty White—who entered the new medium of television and firmly put their stamp on what we watch today. Jaime Lowe’s Breathing Fire: Female Inmate Firefighters on the Front Lines of California’s Wildfires (MCD: Farrar, Jul.) gives readers a glimpse into the heroic world and work of incarcerated women who volunteer to fight fires in California for less than a dollar an hour. Lastly, Julia Cooke looks at the new career opportunities for women in the 1960s with Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am (Houghton Harcourt, Mar.; see starred review, LJ 2/21). She does this through first-person narratives from the women who lived it, beginning in 1966 and ending with Operation Babylift’s rescue of 2,000 children from a fallen Saigon in 1975. 
Two more books take different tacks on the notion of “women’s work.” The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live (Norton, May) by Danielle Dreilinger discusses how, by turning domesticity into a science, women were able to accomplish more outside the home. More than 100 women professionals participated in Why We Cook: Women on Food, Identity, and Connection (Workman, Mar.; LJ 4/21) by Lindsay Gardner, a celebration of the contributions women have made in the culinary arts.


Ancient classics are given new life with three new, and newly imagined, works. Pat Barker continues her wonderful retelling of the Iliad with a feminist twist in The Women of Troy (Doubleday, Aug.). A Thousand Ships (Harper, Jan.; LJ 1/21) by Natalie Haynes also considers the Trojan War from a female perspective, with mortals and goddesses recounting the ancient story. In her debut, Ariadne (Flatiron: Macmillan, May), Jennifer Saint explores the ancient myth of Theseus and the Minotaur through the point of view of the Minotaur’s sisters, Phaedra and Ariadne. Norse mythology also gets a retelling with The Witch’s Heart (Ace, Feb.; see starred review, LJ 1/21). Genevieve Gornichec turns trickster Loki into a romantic hero, while Odin is a vengeful god bent on punishing those who have wronged him. Stuck in the middle is Angrboda, a witch exiled to the farthest reaches who is trying to raise her three remarkable children.
Modern-day classics are not exempt this spring from the retelling trend. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald finds a new story with Nick by Michael Farris Smith (Little, Brown, Jan; LJ 1/21). Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome is cunningly reexamined in The Smash-Up (Random, Feb.; see starred review, LJ 2/21) by Ali Benjamin. Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy gets a makeover and some social media exposure in The Anatomy of Desire (Morrow, May) by L. R. Dorn, while Brina Starler’s Anne of Manhattan (Morrow, Jun.) should scratch that Anne of Green Gables itch. Here, Anne is living in New York City and attending grad school. Will Gilbert Blythe be able to break down her wall of reluctance?


This season showcases a range of new talents and new story lines. Andrew J. Graff’s Raft of Stars (Ecco, Mar.; see starred review, LJ 12/20) introduces readers to Fish Branson and Bread Breadwin, 10-year-old boys who are convinced they have committed a crime and flee to the woods of Wisconsin. Will the boys be found before it’s too late to save them? And will saving them mean the salvation of the four adults looking for them? Another tense read is Alexandra Andrews’s Who Is Maud Dixon? (Little Brown, Mar.), a twisted, dark, and demented thriller—picture a deadly All About Eve, set in the world of publishing. For nonfiction, Somebody’s Daughter (Flatiron: Macmillan, Jun.) by Ashley C. Ford, is a fraught memoir about growing up poor, Black, and with a father behind bars.
Changing course, and striking a musical note, there is Songs in Ursa Major (Knopf, Jun.) by Emma Brodie, which transports readers to the summer of 1969 and the folk music scene. Can the love of singer Jane Quinn and folk legend Jesse Reid weather the storm of fame? Lastly, and continuing the stress on the uplit genre that readers sought in 2020, Marianne Cronin’s The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot (Harper Perennial, Jun.) is a heartwarming testament to the power of friendship found in a most unlikely place and between two most unlikely people: the terminal ward of a hospital and between a 17-year-old girl and an 83-year-old woman.


Big names will bring best sellers to the spring as Harlan Coben examines what happens to the secrets of the dead when they are revealed post-mortem in Win (Grand Central, Mar.). Also, Andy Weir is back in outer space with Project: Hail Mary (Ballantine, May) as an astronaut finds himself alone in space with two corpses: Will he remember his mission in time to save mankind? 
Foregone (Ecco, Mar.) is Russell Banks’s first novel in almost a decade. A dying man looks back on his life and shocks those nearest to him with a startling secret. As always, Banks sets the private life of his characters against the backdrop of the big questions of the here and now. 
Paul Doiron’s Mike Bowditch returns in Dead by Dawn (Minotaur: St. Martin’s, Jun.), and this time he is desperately trying to outwit some unknown assailants who want him dead. Check out as well Jennifer McMahon’s The Drowning Kind (Gallery, Apr.), a classic New England gothic that involves a family home, a dead sibling, and a most unusual swimming pool. New to the genre, but not to readers, Paula McLain tries her hand with a thriller in When the Stars Go Dark (Ballantine, Apr.). A missing-person’s detective becomes obsessed with a case that has a lot in common with her past.


For readers who still find solace in stress-baking, the newly updated and revised The King Arthur Baking Company’s All-Purpose Baker’s Companion (Countryman, Mar.) is just the book to suggest. 

Jennifer Dayton was the Collection Development Coordinator for Darien Library in Connecticut for six years. Currently, she can be found occasionally working the reference desk at Fairfield Public Library in Fairfield, CT.


Editors’ Picks for Spring 2021

Wendy Bartlett’s Picks for Spring 2021  

David Wright’s Picks for Spring 2021

Download our quick guide to the books getting early buzz this season


Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing