The celebrated narratives below stirred our hearts and minds during a truly challenging year. From anticipated historical fiction to celebrated debut novels, Team Celadon shares our favorite fiction books of 2021.
Our Favorite Fiction Books of 2021
Ring out the year with these stellar novels.
By Brandon Miller
By Maggie Shipstead
Maggie Shipstead’s Great Circle “soars and dips with dizzying flair” (Boston Globe) and is one of the most thrilling literary epics released in years. The novel, which crisscrosses the globe and spans a century, introduces us to Marian Graves, a teen girl in early-20th-century Montana who’s determined to become the first pilot to circumnavigate the world by flying over the North and South poles. A wealthy bootlegging benefactor subsidizes Marian’s quest, setting her on a collision course with destiny. Flash forward to present-day Los Angeles, and actor Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a biopic about the aviator’s fated voyage and her disappearance over Antarctica. As Hadley immerses herself in the role, Marian’s own story unfolds, connecting the two women through history and across time.
By Louise Erdrich
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Louise Erdrich crafts a timely and compelling tale in her latest novel. The Sentence revolves around an independent bookstore in present-day Minneapolis that seems to be haunted by the spirit of a former customer. New employee Tookie — who was hired as a bookseller after serving time in prison — must expose the truth about the haunting while at the same time navigating life in 2019 to 2020 Minneapolis amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the 2020 presidential election. By setting her ghostly mystery against the backdrop of great racial and social unrest, Erdrich delivers an engaging narrative that tackles the trials and tribulations of our unprecedented moment in time.
By Jean Hanff Korelitz
Hailed by Stephen King as “insanely readable,” Jean Hanff Korelitz’s bestselling novel The Plot is a critically acclaimed addition to the psychological thriller genre. The sophisticated narrative centers on Jacob Finch Bonner, a once-promising author who now finds himself stuck in a rut while teaching at a third-rate writing program. In a last-ditch attempt at resuscitating his career, Bonner steals a story idea from one of his deceased students. Sure enough, Jake’s new work of fiction is a smashing success. But just as he’s about to let down his guard, he receives a message threatening to expose his act of literary thievery. Now Jake must disentangle fact from fiction and uncover the truth about his former student before his world comes crashing down.
The Days of Afrekete
By Asali Solomon
Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Toni Morrison’s Sula, and Audre Lorde's Zami, Asali Solomon’s The Day of Afrekete is a must-read piece of fiction. The novel follows two women in middle age who are drawn back together after years apart. Liselle Belmont is in the middle of a dinner party but has lost herself in service to her husband, a failed politician who may now be facing corruption charges. Across town, Selena Octave is just trying to make it through the day. As the anxieties of life weigh heavy on her heart, Selena’s mind drifts back to happier days spent with her college lover, Liselle. “Tense, affecting, and slyly funny” (Philadelphia Enquirer), Solomon’s novel is a moving meditation on the past and its aching impact on the present.
Of Women and Salt
By Gabriela Garcia
Gabriela Garcia’s debut novel is a culturally rich and complex work of fiction that weaves together intergenerational narratives of family and legacy. Young Jeanette lives in present-day Miami and has made the hasty decision to house a child whose parents have been detained by ICE. Jeanette’s also battling addiction, and in an effort to better understand her family history, she ventures to Cuba in search of her grandmother. Meanwhile, Carmen, Jeanette’s mother, must deal with Jeanette’s defiant ways while also grappling with her own traumatic past and a complicated relationship with her mother. An instant New York Times bestseller that will “please readers of sweeping multigenerational stories” (Publishers Weekly), Of Women and Salt is not to be missed.
We Are the Brennans
By Tracey Lange
Tracey Lange’s bestselling debut We Are the Brennans is a fantastic family drama about secrets, shame, and love. In the novel, Sunday Brennan returns to her family in New York after a drunk-driving incident in Los Angeles nearly claims her life. Once home, she must confront the life that she abruptly left behind five years prior and attempt to make things right with her Irish Catholic family. Complicating Sunday’s attempts at reconciliation is a dangerous man from her past — a man who now threatens to ruin the family business. Before they can move forward, the Brennans must finally confront their family secrets and heal from the hurt and heartache they’ve all suffered.
By Alex Michaelides
Alex Michaelides much-anticipated follow-up to his bestselling debut The Silent Patient is a nerve-jangling dark academia thriller that delivers a shocking final twist. In The Maidens, group therapist Mariana Andros becomes obsessed with Edward Fosca, a charming Greek tragedy professor at Cambridge University. When a member of an all-female secret campus society known as The Maidens is murdered, Mariana is convinced that Fosca’s to blame. She’s single-minded in her pursuit, but how far is she willing to go to expose the truth? The Maidens expertly merges psychological mystery with Greek myth and ritual, delivering a labyrinthine narrative that will keep you entranced until the very last page.
A Calling for Charlie Barnes
By Joshua Ferris
Joshua Ferris’s A Calling for Charlie Barnes is both touching and hilarious — a tender and sometimes tragic tale delivered with beauty, humor, and grace. The dynamic narrative is told from the perspective of Jake Barnes, Charlie Barnes’s son, who strives to understand his father’s rocky life of marriages, divorces, compromises, and disappointments. Ultimately, Charlie receives a chance at redemption via an act of selfless love that offers a new perspective on life and promises to transform Charlie into the man he always dreamed he could be.
The Firekeeper’s Daughter
By Angeline Boulley
TIME included The Firekeeper’s Daughter in its selection of the 100 best YA books of all time — and Angeline Boulley’s bestselling narrative is indeed great. The young adult crime novel features Daunis Fontaine, a Native teenage girl who witnesses a murder then goes undercover to expose the source of a lethal new drug plaguing her community. Boulley’s “immersive and enthralling” (Financial Times) debut deftly foregrounds Anishinabe culture and the Native American experience, and it is told in four parts based upon Ojibwe medicine wheel teachings.
By Maggie O’Farrell
This novel actually came out in 2020, but we couldn’t help but include since the new paperback edition came out this summer. A National Book Critics Circle Award winner and a New York Times bestseller, Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet is a literary delight — especially if you’re a Shakespeare fan. The story is set in 16th-century England as the Black Death ravages society. An eccentric young woman named Agnes falls for a young Latin tutor with a troubled past, and the lovers soon settle down in Stratford-upon-Avon and start a family. Agnes’s husband establishes himself on the London stage, and everything seems hunky-dory… until their young son Hamnet becomes ill. Beautifully written and remarkably tender, Hamnet is a transporting story of love, loss, and grief.