The Best Southern Books of December 2021

My TBR pile grew significantly in 2021 — it has been another wonderful year for Southern literature. If you’re looking for last-minute holiday gift ideas or just love Southern books as much as we do, check out our monthly lists for some of our favorite Southern books from this year. And as always, support independent book stores if you can!

The Shade Tree
By Theresa Shea
December 1, 2021

Guernica Editions: “The Shade Tree is a dramatic exploration of racial injustice and conflict set against the backdrop of some of America’s most turbulent historical events. The lives of two white sisters and a black midwife are inextricably linked through a series of haunting tragedies, and the characters must make difficult, life-changing decisions about where their loyalties lie: with their biological families or with a greater moral cause. From a Florida orange grove to the seat of power in Washington, DC, during the height of the civil rights movement, The Shade Tree tells a sweeping yet intimate story of racial discrimination and the human hunger for justice.”

Living Queer History
By Gregory Samantha Rosenthal
December 7, 2021

University of North Carolina Press: “Living Queer History tells the story of an LGBTQ community in Roanoke, Virginia, a small city on the edge of Appalachia. Interweaving historical analysis, theory, and memoir, Gregory Samantha Rosenthal tells the story of their own journey — coming out and transitioning as a transgender woman — in the midst of working on a community-based history project that documented a multigenerational southern LGBTQ community. Based on over forty interviews with LGBTQ elders, Living Queer History explores how queer people today think about the past and how history lives on in the present.”

Penny Candy: A Confection
By Jonathan Norton
December 7, 2021

Deep Vellum Publishing: “penny candy: a confection, which had its acclaimed premiere at the Dallas Theater Center in 2019, follows one family as they seek to balance their responsibilities to their community and to one another. Growing up in a candy house sounds like every kid’s dream. But for 12-year-old Jon-Jon, helping his father run Paw Paw’s Candy Tree out of their run-down one-bedroom apartment isn’t quite a dream come true. As their neighborhood of Pleasant Grove, Dallas sees a surge of violence fueled by epidemic drug use and increasing racial tensions, the business begins to fail and danger looms immediately outside the family’s front door.”

Dark Tourist
By Hasanthika Sirisena
December 10, 2021

Mad Creek Books: “Dark tourism — visiting sites of war, violence, and other traumas experienced by others — takes different forms in Hasanthika Sirisena’s stunning excavation of the unexpected places (and ways) in which personal identity and the riptides of history meet. Deftly blending reportage, cultural criticism, and memoir, Sirisena pieces together facets of her own sometimes-fractured self to find wider resonances with the human universals of love, sex, family, and art — and with language’s ability to both fail and save us. Dark Tourist becomes then about finding a home, if not in the world, at least within the limitless expanse of the page.”

You Never Get It Back
By Cara Blue Adams
December 15, 2021

University of Iowa Press: “The linked stories in Cara Blue Adams’s precise and observant collection offer elegantly constructed glimpses of the life of Kate, a young woman from rural New England, moving between her childhood in the countryside of Vermont and her twenties and thirties in the northeast, southwest, and South in pursuit of a vocation, first as a research scientist and later as a writer. Wryly funny and shot through with surprising flashes of anger, these smart, dreamy, searching stories show us a young woman grappling with social class, gender, ambition, violence, and the distance between longing and having.”