To say that 2020 was a rollercoaster ride would be an understatement. This year was emotionally taxing with more days spent crying than doing anything else. I spent a good chunk of the year away from family, stuck at my college town while waiting for people to quarantine. Despite the bad days, I also accomplished some big girl things! I moved into my first apartment, conducted summer research with a professor, learned to cook Vietnamese food, and started AllegoryofWords. I learned to love reading again, turning to words and pages for a sense of escapism from the constant anxiety and stress that reality provided. I found a lovely community to engage with and friends whom I’d stay up until 3am to talk to. And more than that, I discovered incredible stories through the bookish community! Stories that kept me up until daylight, stories that made me cry my eyes out. I’m immensely grateful for this space and this community.
Though 2020 had been incredibly lonely, I found refuge in books. And so, I’m excited to enter 2021 and to read and engage with books that I know I’ll treasure forever. With so many diverse stories soon hitting the shelves, I get a bit emotional thinking about YA readers (or readers in general) getting represented and having their voices heard through empowering works—books I wish I could have read during my childhood. 2021 is THE year to pick up reading again if you’re looking for a new hobby or just looking to jump back into immersive worlds and beautiful stories.
So let’s jump in! The list is in order of the book’s release date.
A Pho Love Story by Loan Le
Release Date: February 9th
When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.
Vietnamese-American own voices! Viet food! Rivals to lovers! I received an ARC for this book through NetGalley and have actually read it, and let me tell you- I absolutely adored this. It’s so cute, full of fluff, and had me sobbing by the end.
Fireheart Tiger by Aliette De Bodard
Release Date: February 9th
The Goblin Emperor meets Howl’s Moving Castle in a pre-colonial Vietnamese-esque world featuring a romantic fantasy and sapphic excellence!
More Viet own voices! A stunning cover, and VIET LORE? Please hand me this book right now. I’m so so excited, especially since I love Viet myths so much. Like, look at the cover! Thanh’s sleeve features one of the Hue gates from the Imperial City. AND the name derived from the tale of how the tiger got its stripes? Phew.
The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Release Date: March 2nd
The long-awaited new novel from one of America’s most highly regarded contemporary writers, The Committed follows the Sympathizer as he arrives in Paris as a refugee. Both literary thriller and brilliant novel of ideas, The Committed is a blistering portrayal of commitment and betrayal that will cement Viet Thanh Nguyen’s position in the firmament of American letters.
ANOTHER Viet own voices! I am always enthralled by Nguyen’s writing and his political commentary on historical contexts. The Sympathizer was one of my favorite reads of 2020 and I can’t wait to follow his journey soon. If you haven’t already, do pick up The Sympathizer. It’s an incredible novel full of delicious prose and in a way, a pedagogy to the Viet refugee experience.
She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen
Release Date: April 10th
High school nemeses fall in love in this queer YA rom com perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Casey McQuisten. This book include heartbreak, and sapphic fake-dating scheme for the ages. From author Kelly Quindlen comes a new laugh-out-loud romp through the ups and downs of teen romance.
Fake-dating! Sports sapphic! Rom com! This looks utterly ADORABLE and I can’t wait to read it. Like look at cover!! Sooo cute!! I just know this will be a huge serotonin boost to my soul.
The Ones We’re Meant To Find by Joan He
Release Date: May 4th
One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars with sci-fi scope, Lost with a satisfying resolution. Featuring a story of two sisters, along with climate change and Black Mirror twists.
First of all, the cover is absolutely gorgeous. I want a huge poster of this plastered on my wall, please. But also, climate change? The ocean? Give me. After reading Descendant of the Crane, I am officially Joan He’s servant. I will read whatever Joan throws at me. Needless to say, I am excited.
Counting Down With You by Tashie Bhuiyan
Release Date: May 4th
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?
After Shelley Parker-Chan said that this is their favorite YA novel of 2020, I became even more excited. Tashie Bhuiyan is such an inspiring person and you can really see how much love and soul she poured into this work. Tashie also said that this book features “a chaotic girl squad, kissing in the rain, moonlit dinners…” I’m going to combust it sounds so good!! I actually received the ARC from NetGalley and I’m so excited to start! Will have a review up on my blog when I read it soon.
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
Release Date: May 11th
With one week to win back the best friend she might just be in love with, a travel writer plans the trip of a lifetime. Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven’t spoken since.
After Beach Read, I will read any novel by Emily Henry. I’m so excited for this friends-to-enemies-to-lovers rom com. Emily knows how to write rom com, and I bet that this book will make me laugh, cry, and cheer for the characters.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
Release Date: May 4th
Immigrant. Socialite. Magician. Nghi Vo’s debut novel reinvents this classic of the American canon as a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess, and introduces a major new literary voice.
BEAUTIFUL COVER!! AND THE GREAT GATSBY RETELLING WITH A QUEER ASIAN AMERICAN MC? Hand it over!! “Luxurious, thrilling, and sexy,” I literally cannot wait for this book since The Great Gatsby was one of my favorite mandatory reads in high school. If you haven’t read any works by Nghi Vo, I highly recommend checking Vo’s novellas: The Singing Hills Cycle, and be immersed in beautiful storytelling.
The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang
Release Date: June 2021
USA Today bestselling author Helen Hoang returns with a witty and sizzling new romance that shows how wrong you can be about someone…and how right they can be for you.
Love on the spectrum! Another Viet own voices! Woooo! 2021 is looking so bright for my Vietnamese soul. I’m such a sucker for Helen Hoang’s work, The Kiss Quotient was such a treat and I’m forever in love with Hoang’s stories. I’m so ready for another romantic book by Hoang, I’m ready.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Release Date: June 1st
An incendiary and utterly compelling thriller with a shocking twist that delves deep into the heart of institutionalized racism, from an exceptional new YA voice. Welcome to Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect. Until now. Because anonymous texter, Aces, is bringing two students’ dark secrets to light.
Did someone say Gossip Girl? This book looks SO GOOD I’m drooling. The concept just seems incredible along with the exploration of institutionalized racism and class privilege. AND own voices. This book is THE book of 2021, I’m calling it right now.
Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta
Release Date: June 29th
Two girls on opposite sides of a war discover they’re fighting for a common purpose–and falling for each other–in Zoe Hana Mikuta’s high-octane debut Gearbreakers, perfect for fans of Pacific Rim, Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga, and Marie Lu’s Legend series.
Mechas! Sapphic! Found family! Zoe dubbed this book as “mechas and mecha swordfights and wlw-pining disaster girls who like tattooing each other as a form of affection™” and you know what, I’m sold. I love mechas, especially mechas anime, and this book just looks so badass. I’m extremely excited for this cyberpunk debut from Zoe and I just know that this book will blow my mind. If you haven’t already, add this book to your list and be on the look out for its release!
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
Release Date: July 20th
Mulan meets The Song of Achilles in Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun, a bold, queer, and lyrical reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty from an amazing new voice in literary fantasy.
To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything
HAND THIS BOOK OVER RIGHT NOW! I’m not kidding when I say that this is my #1 most anticipated release of 2021. I love Asian epics, high fantasy, and especially works that weave together history and own voices. Shelley Parker-Chan is also an author whom I deeply admire, and you can really tell how much thought they’ve poured into this work. I know that this book will wreck me in the most beautifully profound way.
How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao
Release Date: August 3rd
In a YA thriller that is Crazy Rich Asians meets One of Us is Lying, students at an elite prep school are forced to confront their secrets when their ex-best friend turns up dead.
This was a book with a concept that I didn’t know I’d needed until now. Katie Zhao explores the experiences of Asian American within academia, uncovering the hyper-competitiveness of “elite students,” stress, anxiety, and most importantly, the model minority myth. Per the author’s twitter, she also explained that she included Asian Am. experiences at a PWI (predominantly white institution), especially when it comes to fetishization and tokenism. I’m extremely excited to read this work as these experiences are deeply personal to me, and I’m so glad that Katie Zhao decided to voice such narratives.
Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee
Release Date: September 21st
Jade, the mysterious and magical substance once exclusive to the Green Bone warriors of Kekon, is now known and coveted throughout the world. Everyone wants access to the supernatural abilities it provides, from traditional forces such as governments, mercenaries, and criminal kingpins, to modern players, including doctors, athletes, and movie studios. As the struggle over the control of jade grows ever larger and more deadly, the Kaul family, and the ancient ways of the Kekonese Green Bones, will never be the same.
SCREAMS. I love the Green Bone Saga and a proud member of the No Peak Clan. If you haven’t already, please pick up Jade City. I promise that you’ll be in love with such immersive storytelling, badass characters, and the Kauls. This series has everything: found family, politics, jade magic, cool female characters who challenge the status quo, and characters you want to punch sometimes (Kaul Hilo).
JADE FIRE GOLD by June C.L. Tan
Release Date: November 2nd
Told in a dual POV narrative reminiscent of EMBER IN THE ASHES, JADE FIRE GOLD is a YA fantasy is inspired by East Asian mythology and folk tales. Epic in scope but intimate in characterization, fans of classic fantasies by Tamora Pierce and the magical Asiatic setting of AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER will enjoy this cinematic tale of family, revenge, and forgiveness.
The author said that this is for fans of ATLA and especially Zutara and I’m soooollldddd. From the author’s website: As someone who was raised in a former colony, I also wanted to explore the genesis of what we call “history”: how it may be twisted by colonizers and victors and how it could be rewritten to suit the purpose of oppressors and those in power. Please doesn’t that just sound so amazing? I’m practically drooling. There isn’t a cover yet, but I’m sooo excited for when there’s finally one.
Check out the author’s website for beautiful art, an amazing map, and get to know the characters here: https://www.junecltan.com/jadefiregold
And that’s it for now! I sincerely hope that you’ll add these books to your TBR. Take care, friends!