This was a lot of fun to create and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! (Any book I read this year was eligible regardless of publication date.)
My Favorite Fiction Book of the Year
I read this one so early in the year last year, but it has had staying power! I think of Mauro and Elena as real people – almost like a couple I read an in-depth article about – and my heart aches. The thing is: there are real people just like them that are faced with impossible choices when they’re simply trying to do the best they can for their families. Engel’s writing cut straight to my heart and I had literal tears flowing down my face as I finished the last pages.
My Favorite Nonfiction Book of the Year
I added this to my TBR after seeing it top so many “best of 2020” lists, and my only regret is that I didn’t read it sooner. Villavicencio takes an honest look into the lives of undocumented Americans – the fear and anxiety they have every day as they face possible deportation, the trauma inflicted on them when their families are forcibly separated by deportations, and the unconscionable way we treat immigrants because they are seen as “less than” or “below” documented citizens.
The Book I’d Most Like to Read Again ASAP
While there are larger themes of Indian politics and class prejudice, I appreciated Vijay’s exploration of grief, guilt, and the many layers of complexity that make up the human experience. Vijay’s writing is incredible; she weaves a story that becomes the very fibers of your being. Despite being a backlist selection, this book has a modernity that will be able to hold up for many years to come.
The Book I Couldn’t Put Down
I resisted this one all of last year because of the Shakespeare element. I took a chance and I’m glad I did because it was the most beautiful exploration of motherhood, grief, and resilience in the face of hard times. Agnes (Shakespeare’s wife) was so well-developed that I came to really care about her, and she remains one of my all-time favorite characters.
The Most Underrated Book
This story took me awhile to get into, but I soon found myself fully immersed. Over the course of twenty-six years, we see just how hard life can be, not only as an immigrant in a foreign country, but as a member of a family where miscommunication and misunderstandings are commonplace. I wish it was a little longer so we could unpack one of the character’s a bit more, but I really enjoyed it overall!
Honorable Mentions: We Are the Brennans
The Most Overrated Book
On paper everything about this book should have worked for me, but it was depressing, repetitive, and the ending completely ruined it for me. This book is going to be on all kinds of “Best of 2021” lists, but it was my biggest Kristin Hannah experience so far.
The Best Memoir of the Year
While this one could be super triggering to some people, it felt like I was reading about my own life. Miscarriage is one of those things that is far more common than we realize because not a lot of people talk about it. Moss gives a voice to this heartbreaking experience and provides some comfort to those who have lived through infertility and miscarriage issues.
The Most Unique Storyline
It’s blessed to go into this story blind; just sit back and let the experience wash over you. It’s one of the hardest books to describe, and even when I finished I wondered what the heck I had just read. But there’s also something interesting that happens to you as the story unfolds. Once I’d finished, I felt like I had just had one of the best, oddest, strangest, coolest experiences with a book ever…even though I’m not entirely sure what it was about or what happened. 🤷🏼♀️
Honorable Mentions: The Prophets
The Best Coming-of-Age Book
This book warms your heart and you can’t help but cheer for the main character, April. Faced with a tough adolescence, April also had grit and determination as she focuses on her music career to help her dig out of poverty and lonliness.
The Most Distressing Book
If there is one time period in history that completely breaks my heart, it has to be the way the AIDS crisis of the 1980s was handled. So many queer people were shunned from their families and loved ones, and the government refused to acknowledge what was happening in regards to HIV and AIDS. Queer people were left to die alone, stripped of their dignity and without an ounce of love or compassion from so many in the medical fields.
Thank goodness for people like Ruth Coker Burks…a woman who selflessly inserted herself into a crisis with her whole heart and soul. She is an inspiration and brought such hope, insight, and humanity to the HIV/AIDs crises.
Honorable Mentions: Every Minute Is a Day
The Best Debut of the Year
The story follows two different Muslim families that immigrate to the United States – one from Pakistan and one from Iraq. Their reasons for coming to the U.S. are vastly different, and Masood explores the nuances of family, love, immigration, and religion expertly and with some great humor! I loved his writing style and despite dealing with some heavy themes, he was able to also relay the complications of every day life – some parts are sad and hard, but there are also times where there is snark and humor and laughing too.
The Best Audiobook of the Year
With a large cast of narrators, this oral history of the COVID pandemic is unparalleled. While there are some experiences we all share, there are many more that are vastly different and Saslow’s collection of stories really highlights what the last couple of years have been like. Some of the stories are familiar and expected, others are heartbreaking and overwhelming; what they all have in common though is this shared humanity, and the book will be a reminder – good and bad – for years to come.
The Best YA of the Year
Set in 1955, the themes and happenings of this book are still far too real today than they should be. At the beginning of the summer, Ethan and Juniper start out oblivious to the racism, cruelty, and nonacceptance in the South, but by the time the book ends, this will be a summer they’ll never forget.
The Book With the Scariest House
There’s a whole inexplicable vibe throughout Chamerlain’s upcoming book (releases in January 2022), and the house at the end of the street is at the center of that mystery. Told in dual timelines, as secrets are revealed and mysteries are unraveled, teh journey I was taken on took a completely unexpected turn. I devoured this book and ended up really enjoying the story.
The Best Cover
Unfortunately, I like the cover of this one better than I liked the story. I hate it when an epic cover gets wasted on a bad book…anyone else feel that way?
The Book That Broke My Heart
I will never stop thinking about Meena and the impossible situation she was in. I don’t pretend to understand all the cultural nuances of India, but as an American, the thoughts behind honor killings is a hard pill for me to swallow. I became so fully invested in this story that I often find myself reflecting on the ways this world’s various cultures are archaic and backwards and in severe need of an overhaul to update their customs. I guess this book really made me think about humanity and how very far we still have to go in order to know true peace and coexistence.
The Most 2021 Book of 2021
This wasn’t my favorite book (it was just fine), but COVID is one of its main themes and I can’t think of anything that defines 2021 more. I’m hoping next year’s pick won’t have to mention the pandemic to be relevant to the year! 🤞🏼
The Book That Started Off Slow But Then Quickly Picked Up
This was a book I thought would be a page turner, but it’s more of a slow burn. It deals with some really heavy topics, but by the end, there is such redemption in the story and characters that it hit me hard in the gut (my favorite kids of books)!
The Most Eye-Opening Book
Living in rural America, we haven’t been hit or seen the overcrowed hospitals like they did in the bigger cities, especially New York City. This book really put those first few months into perspective and showed just how much we didn’t know about this virus. It was overwhelming to read at times, but also so important for those of us who didn’t have the firsthand experience.
While having to deal with separation through no fault of their own, Hadi and Sama’s commitment, love, and loyalty are tested in the most unimaginable ways. I thought there were many times where they wouldn’t be able to make it, but the heart wants what the heart wants. I loved their love and appreciated how Zgheib was able to show that true love can withstand the hardest of trials.
The Book That Gives Me the Most FOMO
Any book that talks about motherhood and choices is going to catch my attention. I am nervous about this book and being able to keep the storylines correct, but I also have a feeling this one is going to be a homerun for me!