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theGrio’s Top 50 books to read this summer: ‘Contemporary Fiction’

Great contemporary fiction helps us process current events and see beyond our own experience.

No reading list is complete without great contemporary fiction. Versatile and multifaceted, novels set in the present day deliver escape, insight, and a window onto the world. They help us process current events and see beyond our own experience. In this, Black authors are consistently leading and innovating, blurring lines and bending genres. Here’s a tiny sample of some of our best.

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor (Literary fiction, short stories)

Taylor’s debut novel, Real Life, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His intense, melancholic and unsettling collection of short stories set around a 24 hour period in Madison, Wisconsin may be even better. 

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour (Literary fiction, satire)

This debut novel is social satire with the hard bite of reality. When a Brooklyn-born barista who graduated at the top of his competitive high school class but never went to college gets an invite to join a mysterious go-go startup, he thinks it’s the big break he’s been waiting for. But all that glitters is definitely not gold.  Just announced honor: Longlisted for the Center for Fiction 2021 First Novel Prize.

The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass (YA Horror)

I’m especially excited about this brand new release, a social thriller that’s like a Get Out for Gen Z. A closeted Black teen comes into his own while doing battle with a malevolent ghost. Survival is definitely not guaranteed.

This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith

Sometimes you need a story that’s going to break you down before it lifts you up. This is that book, an exploration of friendship and love that also touches upon mental health and social justice through the story of two strangers and the weekend that changes their lives forever. Tallie is a therapist. When she sees a soul in distress, her first instinct is to help. One day she spots a man who looks like he’s about to jump from a bridge. She convinces him not to and they spend days just talking and connecting. Entertaining and enlightening, reading this novel felt like taking an emotionally satisfying and surprising literary journey.

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