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My Favorite Books I Read in 2021

This year, I was pretty intentional about what I read and when, which is probably why I loved a pretty large percentage of the books I chose to read. In total, I read 52 books, and I rated 42 of them between 4 and 5 stars. I might have been more generous at times than I would’ve been in years past, but at the same time, I stand by those ratings. If anything changes in the future, that’s okay too.

A lot of this year’s reading took place in the midst of flares or while waiting for doctor’s appointments. It was both a hectic and a slow-paced year, and I’m grateful I had books to share in the tumultuous journey with me. I’m also incredibly grateful for the copies of books I received  from publishing houses, whether digital or physical, advanced or not. All of this to say, it was a good reading year for me!

While I wish I could go into detail about every single one of the books I rated five stars this year, that would be an incredibly long blog post. Instead, I’ll be sharing some of the top standouts of the year below, but you can find the full list of what I read this year, as well as the full list of all the books I rated five stars, at my Bookshop.

*throughout this post denotes that I received a free copy of that book from the publisher

FIction Favorites

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng has been so popular for a reason. In Shaker Heights, Ohio, a town that has a perfect appearance to it, two families cross paths in ways that will cause them both to change. When a single mother and her teenage daughter move to town, Elena happily rents to them, believing herself to be doing a good deed by keeping the price of the place low. When Moody befriends Pearl, neither of them can predict how much their two families will end up crossing paths over the coming months or how much chaos will end up taking place.

Content notes: microagressions, colorblind approach to race by white characters, mention of abortion, plotline around an interracial adoption

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett is a dystopian novel that takes place in a society where, upon turning 16, girls are sent away for a year to get rid of their dangerous magic, or so they’ve been told. This novel had me on the edge of my seat, especially as it got closer to the end. There was also a cute love story in there as well, which lightened it up a bit. Very grateful for that, because it did have some particularly dark moments. 

Content notes: violence, death, purity culture type of vibe to the society including shaming of women, mention of sexual assault

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is considered a modern classic for a reason. This was a pretty quick read, but it was also absolutely profound and, at times, absolutely heartbreaking. Cisneros truly managed to capture what life for the protagonist is like through the use of vignettes that allow us glimpses at specific moments in Esperanza’s time living on Mango Street.

Content notes: sexual harrassment and assault, domestic violence, alcoholism, experiences of racism

The Year I Stopped Trying by Katie Heaney is a coming of age story about a teenage girl who decides to stop trying in school and other aspects of her life after she forgets to do an assignment and doesn’t get in trouble. But it’s also a story about a girl who’s unsure of who she is and wants to figure it out. She often makes choices based on what she thinks she should want and not what she actually does want. This was a super lighthearted, fun read.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a multigenerational story of one Korean family who moves to Japan and tries to make their way there. They wind up in Japan after Sunja becomes pregnant by a married man and instead decides to marry a sickly minister on his way to a job in Japan instead. Following these characters throughout so many years of their lives gave so much context for why they are a certain way and how they ended up having certain expectations of themselves. There are plenty of heartbreaking moments throughout, but I overall loved the story.

Content notes: ableism, including use of an ableist slur, xenophobia, racism primarily directed toward Koreans, mention of suicide and suicidal thoughts, multiple deaths, mention of abortion, chronic and terminal illnesses

NON-FICTION FAVORITES

White Space: Essays on Culture, Race, & Writing by Jennifer de Leon

There were certain parts of myself that I saw in a written work for the first time thanks to this collection of essays, and I’m so grateful it was written and published. De Leon shares about her experience entering adulthood as a child of immigrants and about a trip she took to Guatemala to try to better understand her dad’s love for his homeland as well as to improve her Spanish.

An Ordinary Age: Finding Your Way in a World That Expects Exceptional by Rainesford Stauffer*

This book is all about the high expectations that young adults are met with and how unrealistic those expectations are. We often have this idea that we’ll reach certain milestones by certain ages, but that’s just not true. There are a variety of factors that affect the pace at which we move through life, and that is what Stauffer explores in this book. 

What Doesn’t Kill You: A Life with Chronic Illness – Lessons from a Body in Revolt by Tessa Miller

This memoir/self-help book was such a comfort to me and helped me feel so seen and understood as someone who lives in a chronically ill body. I understood my body so much better because of this book, and it provided me with some language I hadn’t yet found at the time. Reading some of the tips the author has learned helped me out as well.

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

This book explores the political history of white evangelicals and the different strategies used by politicians and influential evangelicals in order to ensure that their political agenda was met. There was so much history within this book that I’d never heard about, and I truly learned so much.

Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha 

This book didn’t only make me feel seen, but also helped me feel hopeful about the idea of finding community in disabled spaces, and especially ones catered to and/or organized by disabled people of color. This book dreams about the types of spaces, events, and communities that could exist for disabled people of color, and I got teary-eyed through several sections of this book. After the last couple years, the idea of being surrounded by other people who also need a variety of accommodations and would be understanding about my limitations truly spoke to me. 

POETRY FAVORITES

Let the Water Run Clear by E.L. Dan was written by one of my close friends, and I’m so incredibly proud of her for not only writing such a lovely book but also putting it out into the world. This collection is an invitation to readers to come home to themselves, as the poet shares about her own journey toward self-love. 

Hermosa by Yesika Salgado is written by a Latina living in Los Angeles and focuses on the poet’s love of her city and herself. Salgado deals with grief, familial and romantic relationships, heartbreak, and so much more throughout, while also learning to fall in love with herself.

Content notes: mention of domestic abuse, alcoholism, miscarriage

I Love You, Call Me Back by Sabrina Benaim* is an exploration of loneliness after the end of a relationship, as well as due to isolation during the pandemic. It also chronicles Benaim’s concerns about her mother’s medical diagnosis. Benaim is one of my favorite poets ever, maybe because she was one of the first spoken word artists that I found and whose words so strongly resonated with me. So I was super appreciative to receive a free copy from the publisher of this book and to have new poems of Benaim’s to take in.

Everything I Read in 2021

Everything I Rated 5 Stars in 2021

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