January’s Simply Held Fiction Picks

Have you joined Simply Held? If not, you’re missing out! Four times a year, we choose fiction titles for Simply Held members to read from multiple categories: Diverse Debuts, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, International Fiction, Juvenile Fiction, Out of This World, Overcoming Adversity, Rainbow Reads, Stranger Things, and Young Adult. Join Simply Held to have any of the new picks automatically put on hold for you.

Below you will find information provided by the publishers and authors on the titles we have selected for January.

Diverse Debuts:

Diverse Debuts: Debut fiction novel by a BIPOC author.

Late Bloomers by Deepa Varadarajan

“I have a soft spot for underdogs. And late bloomers. You’ve told me a lot of things about yourself, so let me tell you something about me.”

After thirty-six years of a dutiful but unhappy arranged marriage, recently divorced Suresh and Lata Raman find themselves starting new paths in life. Suresh is trying to navigate the world of online dating on a website that caters to Indians and is striking out at every turn—until he meets a mysterious, devastatingly attractive younger woman who seems to be smitten with him. Lata is enjoying her newfound independence, but she’s caught off guard when a professor in his early sixties starts to flirt with her.

Meanwhile, Suresh and Lata’s daughter, Priya, thinks her father’s online pursuits are distasteful even as she embarks upon a clandestine affair of her own. And their son, Nikesh, pretends at a seemingly perfect marriage with his law-firm colleague and their young son, but hides the truth of what his relationship really entails. Over the course of three weeks in August, the whole family will uncover one another’s secrets, confront the limits of love and loyalty, and explore life’s second chances.

Charming, funny, and moving, Late Bloomers introduces a delightful new voice in fiction with the story of four individuals trying to understand how to be happy in their own lives—and as a family. – Penguin Random House

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Graphic Novel:

Graphic Novel: Fiction novel for adults of any subgenre with diverse characters depicted by color illustrations, sketches, and photographs.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

Blankets is the story of a young man coming of age and finding the confidence to express his creative voice. Craig Thompson’s poignant graphic memoir plays out against the backdrop of a Midwestern winterscape: finely-hewn linework draws together a portrait of small town life, a rigorously fundamentalist Christian childhood, and a lonely, emotionally mixed-up adolescence.

Under an engulfing blanket of snow, Craig and Raina fall in love at winter church camp, revealing to one another their struggles with faith and their dreams of escape. Over time though, their personal demons resurface and their relationship falls apart. It’s a universal story, and Thompson’s vibrant brushstrokes and unique page designs make the familiar heartbreaking all over again.

This groundbreaking graphic novel, winner of two Eisner and three Harvey Awards, is an eloquent portrait of adolescent yearning; first love (and first heartache); faith in crisis; and the process of moving beyond all of that. Beautifully rendered in pen and ink, Thompson has created a love story that lasts. – Craig Thompson

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Historical Fiction:

Historical Fiction: Historical fiction novel written by a BIPOC author with BIPOC main character(s).

Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward

“‘Let us descend,’ the poet now began, ‘and enter this blind world.’” —Inferno, Dante Alighieri

Let Us Descend is a reimagining of American slavery, as beautifully rendered as it is heart-wrenching. Searching, harrowing, replete with transcendent love, the novel is a journey from the rice fields of the Carolinas to the slave markets of New Orleans and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation.

Annis, sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader’s guide through this hellscape. As she struggles through the miles-long march, Annis turns inward, seeking comfort from memories of her mother and stories of her African warrior grandmother. Throughout, she opens herself to a world beyond this world, one teeming with spirits: of earth and water, of myth and history; spirits who nurture and give, and those who manipulate and take. While Ward leads readers through the descent, this, her fourth novel, is ultimately a story of rebirth and reclamation.

From one of the most singularly brilliant and beloved writers of her generation, this miracle of a novel inscribes Black American grief and joy into the very land—the rich but unforgiving forests, swamps, and rivers of the American South. Let Us Descend is Jesmyn Ward’s most magnificent novel yet, a masterwork for the ages. – Simon & Schuster

This title is also available in large print, Libby eBook, and Libby eAudiobook.

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International Fiction:

International Fiction: Fiction novel originally written in another language with BIPOC main character(s).

Pyre by Perumal Murugan; translated from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan

From the author of One Part Woman and The Story of a Goat, both longlisted for the National Book Award for Translation, comes a poignant and startling novel about love, caste, and intolerance

Saroja and Kumaresan, a young married couple, return to Kumaresan’s family village where they hope to build a happy life. But they have a dangerous secret: Saroja is from a different caste than Kumaresan, and if the villagers find out, they will both be in danger. Will they–and their marriage–survive? – Black Cat

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Juvenile Fiction:

Juvenile Fiction: Fiction chapter book with diversity, equity, or inclusion subject matter written for children 7-11

Hope in the Valley by Mitali Perkins

Twelve-year-old Indian-American Pandita Paul doesn’t like change. She’s not ready to start middle school and leave the comforts of childhood behind. Most of all, Pandita doesn’t want to feel like she’s leaving her mother, who died a few years ago, behind. After a falling out with her best friend, Pandita is planning to spend most of her summer break reading and writing in her favorite secret space: the abandoned but majestic mansion across the street.

But then the unthinkable happens. The town announces that the old home will be bulldozed in favor of new—maybe affordable—housing. With her family on opposing sides of the issue, Pandita must find her voice—and the strength to move on—in order to give her community hope. – Farrar, Straus and Giroux

This title is also available as Libby eBook.

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Out of this World:

Out of this World: Science fiction novel written by a BIPOC author with BIPOC main character(s).

The Deep Sky by Yume Kitasei

They left Earth to save humanity. They’ll have to save themselves first.

It is the eve of Earth’s environmental collapse. A single ship carries humanity’s last hope: eighty elite graduates of a competitive program, who will give birth to a generation of children in deep space. But halfway to a distant but livable planet, a lethal bomb kills three of the crew and knocks The Phoenix off course. Asuka, the only surviving witness, is an immediate suspect.

As the mystery unfolds on the ship, poignant flashbacks reveal how Asuka came to be picked for the mission. Despite struggling through training back on Earth, she was chosen to represent Japan, a country she only partly knows as a half-Japanese girl raised in America. But estranged from her mother back home, The Phoenix is all she has left.

With the crew turning on each other, Asuka is determined to find the culprit before they all lose faith in the mission—or worse, the bomber strikes again. – Flatiron Books

This title is also available in large print.

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Overcoming Adversity:

Overcoming Adversity: Fiction novel with diversity, equity, or inclusion subject matter written for people 14 and older.

King of the Armadillos by Wendy Chin-Tanner

Victor Chin’s life is turned upside down at the tender age of 15. Diagnosed with Hansen’s disease, otherwise known as leprosy, he’s forced to leave the familiar confines of his father’s laundry business in the Bronx – the only home he’s known since emigrating from China with his older brother – to quarantine alongside patients from all over the country at a federal institution in Carville.

At first, Victor is scared not only of the disease, but of the confinement, and wants nothing more than to flee. Between treatments he dreams of escape and imagines his life as a fugitive. But soon he finds a new sense of freedom far from home – one without the pull of obligations to his family, the laundry business, or his mother back in China. Here, in the company of an unforgettable cast of characters, Victor finds refuge in music and experiences first love, jealousy, betrayal, and even tragedy. But with the promise of a life-changing cure on the horizon, Victor’s time at Carville is running out, and he has some difficult choices to make.

A page turning work of historical fiction, King of the Armadillos announces Wendy Chin-Tanner as an extraordinary new voice. Inspired by her father’s experience as a young patient at Carville, this tender novel is a captivating and lyrical exploration of the power of art. – Flatiron Books

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Rainbow Reads:

Rainbow reads: Fiction novel with LGBTQ+ main character(s).

Blackouts by Justin Torres

Out in the desert in a place called the Palace, a young man tends to a dying soul, someone he once knew briefly but who has haunted the edges of his life: Juan Gay. Playful raconteur, child lost and found and lost, guardian of the institutionalized, Juan has a project to pass along, one built around a true artifact of a book—Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns—and its devastating history. This book contains accounts collected in the early twentieth century from queer subjects by a queer researcher, Jan Gay, whose groundbreaking work was then co-opted by a committee, her name buried. The voices of these subjects have been filtered, muted, but it is possible to hear them from within and beyond the text, which, in Juan’s tattered volumes, has been redacted with black marker on nearly every page. As Juan waits for his end, he and the narrator recount for each other moments of joy and oblivion; they resurrect loves, lives, mothers, fathers, minor heroes. In telling their own stories and the story of the book, they resist the ravages of memory and time. The past is with us, beside us, ahead of us; what are we to create from its gaps and erasures?

A book about storytelling—its legacies, dangers, delights, and potential for change—and a bold exploration of form, art, and love, Justin Torres’s Blackouts uses fiction to see through the inventions of history and narrative. A marvel of creative imagination, it draws on testimony, photographs, illustrations, and a range of influences as it insists that we look long and steadily at what we have inherited and what we have made—a world full of ghostly shadows and flashing moments of truth. A reclamation of ransacked history, a celebration of defiance, and a transformative encounter, Blackouts mines the stories that have been kept from us and brings them into the light. – Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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Stranger Things:

Stranger Things: Horror novel written by a BIPOC author with BIPOC main character(s).

All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby

Titus Crown is the first Black sheriff in the history of Charon County, Virginia. In recent decades, quiet Charon has had only two murders. But after years of working as an FBI agent, Titus knows better than anyone that while his hometown might seem like a land of moonshine, cornbread, and honeysuckle, secrets always fester under the surface.

Then a year to the day after Titus’s election, a school teacher is killed by a former student and the student is fatally shot by Titus’s deputies. As Titus investigates the shootings, he unearths terrible crimes and a serial killer who has been hiding in plain sight, haunting the dirt lanes and woodland clearings of Charon.

With the killer’s possible connections to a local church and the town’s harrowing history weighing on him, Titus projects confidence about closing the case while concealing a painful secret from his own past. At the same time, he also has to contend with a far-right group that wants to hold a parade in celebration of the town’s Confederate history.

Charon is Titus’s home and his heart. But where faith and violence meet, there will be a reckoning. – Flatiron Books

This title is also available in large print, CD Audiobook, Libby eBook, Libby eAudiobook, and Playaway audiobook.

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Young Adult Fiction:

Young Adult Fiction: Fiction chapter book with diversity, equity, or inclusion subject matter written for children 14 and older.

Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim by Patricia Park

Alejandra Kim feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere.

Not at home, where Ale faces tense silence from Ma since Papi’s passing. Not in Jackson Heights, where she isn’t considered Latinx enough and is seen as too PC for her own good. Certainly not at her Manhattan prep school, where her predominantly white classmates pride themselves on being “woke”. She only has to survive her senior year before she can escape to the prestigious Whyder College, if she can get in. Maybe there, Ale will finally find a place to call her own.

The only problem with laying low— a microaggression thrusts Ale into the spotlight and into the middle of a discussion she didn’t ask for. But her usual keeping her head down tactic isn’t going to make this go away. With her signature wit and snark, Ale faces what she’s been hiding from. In the process, she might discover what it truly means to carve out a space for yourself to belong.

Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim is an incisive, laugh-out-loud, provocative read about feeling like a misfit caught between very different worlds, what it means to be belong, and what it takes to build a future for yourself. – Crown Books for Young Readers

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