2021 was an incredible year for books. In spite of perpetually feeling like I was in a bit of a reading slump, I read 110 books throughout the year! Each month, I shared my three favorites. There’s a full list of all those at the bottom of this post, but first, here are the six books that stuck with me most from my year of reading:
Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Lisa Sterle (Illustrator)
Tokuda-Hall's debut novel, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea was a sharp, intricate, high-fantasy story of connection and colonialism. Squad, Tokuda-Hall's debut graphic novel, couldn't be more different in content – it's contemporary with a tight focus and an absolutely wicked sense of humor – but it's got precisely the same level of depth, complexity, and impact as her novel-length work. Reading this was fun as hell (teen girl werewolves eating boys, how can you go wrong). Reading this also peeled away layer after layer of my own certainty, my willingness to accept or reject violence, and my ability to justify any number of things in the name of community. Brutal, tender, insightful.
Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee
It’s no secret that I’ll ravenously devour anything Fonda Lee writes. I’ve been on the Green Bone Saga train since the beginning, and I’ve written extensively about my love of the series for anyone who will give me column inches. Jade Legacy is the third book in the series, and it absolutely sticks the landing. While I’m normally hesitant to recommend a sequel this strongly, I can’t push this one hard enough: Make time to read Jade City and Jade War to prepare for Jade Legacy. Bold, revelatory, stunning.
Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
I had the good fortune to celebrate the release of Light From Uncommon Stars with author Ryka Aoki, and between this book and that conversation, I feel like I’ve grown in ways I never could have predicted. This book is about so many things — finding safety and acceptance, weathering things that feel unsurvivable, giving equal weight to the beautiful and the terrible. Donuts and violins and curses. I can’t recommend this book strongly enough to anyone who is feeling like life is simply too much. Weird, stunning, transformative.
A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell
This book is Hollowell’s debut novel, and I don’t mind telling you how brilliant it is. The protagonist, Derry, is full of fury and power. While the book doesn’t punish her for that — as so many narratives love to punish young women who display true anger — it doesn’t shy away from the complexity and consequences of recklessness, either. It’s a deeply emotional, intricate story of family, abuse, fear, and control. The entire time I was reading it — which happened all in one sitting — I kept thinking “I’ve never read anything like this before.” You will love it. Feral, fearless, confrontational.
Revelator by Daryl Gregory
I simply loved this book. Revelator is not for the fainthearted: it’s terrifying on several levels. Without spoiling anything, I can share that there was one scene during which I had to choose between my book and the sandwich I was eating. The narrative is grounded beautifully in the headspace of the main character, Stella, which means that there are sometimes perspectives on race and culture that might belong in the unexamined thoughts of a young white girl in Tennessee in the 1930’s; meanwhile, adult Stella’s perspectives on those matters reflect the way those perspectives can change with time. This is true of the entire book at large: through the story of young Stella and adult Stella, the reader gets to see the way thoughts, feelings, and beliefs can evolve as one gains different perspectives on the world. This is true of religion, love, family, and -- in one of the most staggering plot twists I’ve ever encountered -- the very nature of oneself. Brassy, exhilarating, intricate.
Girly Drinks: A Women's History of Drinking by Mallory O'Meara
It’s no secret that I’m a huge O’Meara fan. Her debut, The Lady From the Black Lagoon, was a brilliant combination of biography and memoir, a history of practical effects in Hollywood horror and an examination of misogyny in the film industry combined with a reflection on the life of Milicent Patrick. Where that book was narrower in scope, Girly Drinks is broad, examining the entire history of alcohol and society in different cultures throughout the world, and highlighting the roles of women in a world that often tries to deny they’ve ever had any role at all. Be prepared to have your perspective on booze totally upended by the time you get to the end of the last page. Sharp, funny, dazzling.
Here are all the books I shared in my Favorite Reads series this year:
Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard – intricate, honest, subversive
Depart, Depart! by Sim Kern – bold, tender, hopeful
Beach Read by Emily Henry – bold, thoughtful, healing
The Project by Courtney Summers – compelling, terrifying, breathtaking
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers – thoughtful, honest, luminous
Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Lisa Sterle (Illustrator) – brutal, tender, insightful
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah – heartfelt, unflinching, trenchant
What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo – lovely, labyrinthine, challenging
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon – dynamic, unsettling, profound
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – tense, mythic, personal
Thirsty Mermaids by Kat Leyh – sweet, hilarious, healing
You Have a Match by Emma Lord – complex, thoughtful, dynamic
Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall – sweet, charming, welcoming
Dare Me by Megan Abbott – tight, tense, gripping
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry – charming, deep, lovely
A Lot Like Adiós by Alexis Daria – funny, dynamic, steamy
Seven Demons by Aiden Truhen – captivating, dizzying, magnificent
Girly Drinks: A Women's History of Drinking by Mallory O'Meara – sharp, funny, dazzling
Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee – bold, revelatory, stunning
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris – taut, cutting, ingenious
The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig – viscerally honest and devastating
Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik, Monica Murphy – terrifyingly nonfiction
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers – tender and earnestly human
The Husbands by Chandler Baker – bold, relevant, thrilling
Revelator by Daryl Gregory – brassy, exhilarating, intricate
Take Me With You When You Go by David Levithan, Jennifer Niven – tender, powerful, confrontational
Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki – weird, stunning, transformative
The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley – delicious, fun, satisfying
A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell – livid, magical, gorgeous
The Ones We're Meant to Find by Joan He – incisive, thoughtful, heartbreaking
The Violence by Delilah S. Dawson – sharp, propulsive, satisfying
House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland – haunting, compelling, pitch-dark
Like Other Girls by Britta Lundin – bold, sweet, earnest
The Farm by Joanne Ramos – devastating
How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu – stunning and beautiful
As always, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.