Under-the-Radar Spring 2021 Books You May Have Missed

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Cassie Gutman

Staff Writer

Cassie Gutman is happiest when surrounded by books and dogs. Originally from a small, funny-named town near Louisville, Kentucky, she now edits words for a living near Chicago and would like to be paid in ice cream. You can find her on Instagram @happybooklovers or on Twitter @cassiepgutman.

With all the hype around big, buzzy books, it can be super easy to overlook or totally miss other great books that are being published constantly, whether they’re books from smaller, independent presses, or even just books that are published the same weeks as huge, big-name authors that get lost in the chaos. 

And while many books that were delayed originally due to the COVID-19 crisis have now finally been published, the publishing world is seeing an amazing spike in reading and book purchases, resulting in a huge number of books hitting shelves in 2021, larger than initially planned for by many. With so many books coming out constantly, it’s hard to keep up with every single book showing up in stores every Tuesday (no matter how diligently you listen to All the Books!).

There’s also something so satisfying in reading an under-the-radar book and being able to feel like you are the one who discovered it and can run to tell your friends about how amazing it is. So whether you’re looking for a new historical mystery, a fast-paced young adult novel, a true crime book, or anything in between, these under-the-radar books from spring of 2021 are out now for you to devour immediately or add to your never-ending TBR pile.

The Gaps book cover

The Gaps by Leanne Hall

When 16-year-old Yin is abducted, her classmates are shocked and terrified. Balmoral Ladies’ College is on edge, and police don’t seem to be close to solving the case. Chloe and Natalia could not be more different, but they find themselves both affected by Yin’s disappearance, and form a strange new friendship to help cope with their fear and grief.

Astrid Sees All book cover

Astrid Sees All by Natalie Standiford

It’s 1984 in New York, and Phoebe is grieving the death of her father and still reeling at the betrayal she feels from Ivan, an ex. She’s ready to escape it all in New York City, slipping into the ‘80s club scene with ease, into a world of underground artists, It Girls, beatnik poets, and everyone in between. When Phoebe’s best friend, Carmen, disappears, she spirals out of control and knows she must confront her own shadows.

Whenever a Happy Thing Falls book cover

Whenever a Happy Thing Falls by Eric M. Johnson

This debut novel from journalist Johnson follows Bale, a young man on his semester abroad in London, flourishing in his liberal arts studies of literature and poetry. But upon graduation, his father, a businessman and corporate executive, pushes him to pursue a career in finance, and Bale reluctantly takes a job at an elite investment bank. Faced head-on with the realities of Wall Street and corporate culture life, Bale is forced to confront himself and his own decisions.

Swimming Back to Trout River book cover

Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng

Ten-year-old Junie receives a letter from her parents in 1986 promising that they will return for her. They left for America years earlier, and now have promised to come back to China to collect Junie by the time she is 12. But even though she misses her parents, Junie actually loves living in China and has grown close with her grandparents. Meanwhile, Junie’s parents are struggling in America, dealing with terrible secrets from their past and tension in their present, fearing that the only way to bring them all together as a family is to finally bring Junie to them.

Don't Breathe a Word book cover

Don’t Breathe a Word by Jordyn Taylor

This dual timeline mystery asks how far we’re willing to go to belong and ensure our own success. In the present day, Eva isn’t exactly happy about being forced to attend her new boarding school, but she is determined to make the best of it. When she’s tapped by the school’s ultra-secret society, The Fives, she feels like she finally may fit in somewhere, and she’ll do anything she needs to in order to stay in the group. In 1962, the boarding school is following in the country’s footsteps to prepare for nuclear disaster and builds a fallout shelter on school grounds. Connie is terrified of the threat of war, but her best friend convinces her to sign up for the school’s test group, which will send six students into the shelter to test it for several days. But only five come out.

After Alice Fell book cover

After Alice Fell by Kim Taylor Blakemore

It’s 1865, and Marion is asked to come collect the body of her sister, Alice, from the local asylum. She had fallen four stories from the roof, and the asylum has ruled her death an accident. Secretly, they tell Marion they believe Alice died by suicide, but Marion thinks differently. She thinks someone pushed her. As more clues begin to surface and Marion learns more about her sister’s final days, her quest becomes more dangerous as she tries to pinpoint what happened to Alice.

The Third Pole book cover

The Third Pole: Mystery, Obsession, and Death on Mount Everest by Mark Synnott

It’s well-known today that many people never complete their quest to climb Mount Everest, and many perish along the treacherous path, whether it’s from avalanche, hypothermia, or losing their way. Synnott was drawn to one case in particular: In June of 1924, two climbers headed out on their expedition, determined to climb to the very top, years before the first recording of Sir Edmund Hillary completing that mission. The two were last seen just shy of the summit and were carrying a camera. They, along with the camera, were never found. Synnott details why Everest is such a perilous journey and the toll it takes on the human body to complete the climb, as well as trying to determine what happened to the first climbers who attempted to make it to the top.

We Are Satellites book cover

We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker

The newest tech craze is the Pilot, and everyone is scrambling to get one to keep up. It’s a brain implant to help with school, work, and lots of other things, its creators say. As they quickly make their way across the country, Val and Julie must decide what their family will do, as their teenage son David has begun asking for one. But Sophie, their daughter, isn’t so sure. Soon, everyone either has one or hates them, and lines are drawn everywhere as the system takes over and threatens the current way of life.

The Startup Wife book cover

The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam

Asha and Cyrus are newlyweds and work at a highly exclusive tech startup called Utopia. The platform replaces religious rituals for some, creating a sensation and ritual for millions of users each day. The platform becomes an overnight sensation, and Asha and Cyrus are skyrocketed into fame with it, putting their marriage to the test. This is a satirical and critical look at startup culture, cults, and modern relationships.

Burn It All Down book cover

Burn It All Down by Nicolas DiDomizio

Joey Rossi is an 18-year-old aspiring comedian, but when he finds out his boyfriend has been cheating on him, he unravels. At the same time, his mother, Gia, also has a relationship going up in flames, and together, the two decide to take matters into their own hands. But instead of good old fashioned ex revenge, they inadvertently end up on a crime spree and have to flee the state to evade authorities, landing at the house of another ex of Gia’s to hide out. This is a comedy of errors and mishaps and road trips gone wrong all in one.

Future Feeling book cover

Future Feeling by Joss Lake

Penfield Henderson is pretty bored with his life; he walks dogs and responds to booty calls, but that’s it, and he’s ready for something different. He’s recently become infatuated with fellow trans man Aiden Chase, an influencer who posts holograms of his transition online. When Pen has a chance encounter with Aiden that goes horribly wrong, he enlists the help of his roommates to put a hex on Aiden, but it ends up missing and affecting another person instead. It’s up to Pen to save him in this weird, futuristic, sci-fi humor book.

Better Not Bitter book cover

Better Not Bitter: Living on Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice by Yusef Salaam

This is a gut-wrenching and brutal memoir from Yusef Salaam, one of the Exonerated Five (formerly known as the Central Park Five and wrongfully incarcerated). Salaam writes of his youth, growing up Black in central Harlem, and his years of incarceration and fights in court. His story is unforgettable, and the publisher’s copy says it best: “This memoir is an inspiring story that grew out of one of the gravest miscarriages of justice, one that not only speaks to a moment in time or the rage-filled present, but reflects a 400-year history of a nation’s inability to be held accountable for its sins.”

Need more under-the-radar picks to add to your TBR? We got you!