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  • Writer's pictureJamie Saito

10 Books to Read in 2021

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

With the new year starting, it’s the perfect time to settle in with a good book. Whether you’re craving an edge-of-your-seat thriller or an eccentric trip across the country, these recommendations are sure to fill your free time.

If you’re on a budget or don’t want to purchase too many books, be sure to check out the OverDrive system. You can use your local library card to download ebooks and audiobooks onto your devices.

On Race Relations: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Recommended age: 16+

Adichie never fails. Her moving story follows the life of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman, who immigrates to the United States. In a novel that intertwines romance, politics, and culture, she explores—and deconstructs—our tainted ideas of race, identity, and immigration while painting both the vibrant, and devastating, parts of American and Nigerian society. Her work is beautiful, yet brutally honest, and will remain with you for years.

A Killer Thriller: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Recommended age: 14+

In a narrative that feels like a grainy horror film, Pessl weaves images of fictional newspaper articles, websites, and police reports between chapters, bringing the book to life. The story follows Scott McGrath—an investigative journalist—who begins inquiring about the mysterious death of Ashley Cordova, the daughter of a famous horror film director. Pessl’s novel straddles the divide between paranoia and realism. Night Film is an easy and enjoyable read, perfect for relaxing during the new year.

From Your English Teacher’s Bookshelf: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Recommended age: 16+

A haunting yet enchanting insight into human nature, The Secret History feels like a greek tragedy in an Ivy League setting. Richard Papen, a student attending an elite college in Vermont, recalls his experience as a pupil of an eccentric and highly selective Classics professor. Tartt’s vibrant characters are endearing, yet disturbing, and while her work feels literary, it is not a laborious read. Ultimately, The Secret History distorts the bounds of human morality into an unforgettable, absorbing novel.

A Timeless Sci-Fi: Dune by Frank Herbert

Recommended age: 14+

Frank Herbert’s famous work is vivid, daring, and gripping, filled with complex characters and scenes that come to life. The novel follows a young man, Paul, thrust into a world of adventure, survival, and discovery. As he navigates this dangerous, futuristic universe, readers are taken on an action-packed journey. Through its exploration of religion, science, politics, and environmentalism, Dune’s timeless themes make this read more relevant today than ever.

A Book to Read with Your Grandma (or Mom): The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Recommended age: 14+

While heavily influenced by Chinese culture, The Joy Luck Club illustrates with the universal connection between mother and daughter. Four Chinese immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters share anecdotes from their lives, illustrating their individual and internal struggle with identity, culture, and love. Amy Tan’s brilliant work explores the complex relationship we share with our family and their expectations.

The Original WhoDunIt: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Recommended age: 13+

As a collection of short stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a quick and easy read, perfect for a break from household chores or homework. With so many pop culture references to this famous collection, reading Sherlock Holmes is a prerequisite to the world of mystery. While over 100 years old, Doyle’s work is clever and refreshing, and after reading a few of these short stories, you will even notice your own detective skills sharpening!

Coming-of-Age Romance: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Recommended age: 14+

A complex, sophisticated look into identity and love, Felix Ever After provides insight into the world of 17-year-old Felix Love, who dreams of a scholarship from Brown University. Callender paints a vibrant, realistic world that tackles both gender identity and self-love. As a black, transgender, queer teenager, Felix grapples with the intersectionality of his identity and explores what it means to fall in love. Felix Ever After is truly groundbreaking. The work is an authentic and real representation of the world around us and is sure to touch the heart of every reader.

Young Adult (that Adults Will Enjoy Too): Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Recommended age: 13+

Mosquitoland is an ode for the downtrodden. In a quirky, eccentric narrative, readers follow Mim, a 16-year-old girl who embarks on a 1,000 mile journey to find her mom. Aboard a Greyhound bus, she encounters a cast of equally-endearing characters, each with their own struggles. Arnold masterfully tackles difficult subjects that are sure to resonate with readers of all ages.

For Your Local Book Club: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Recommended age: 15+

The first in a series of four novels, Ferrante’s bold, yet intimate, narrative follows the childhood of two young girls in poor, post-war Naples. As they grapple with their education, family responsibilities, romance, and womanhood, Elena and Lila experience the growing pains we can all relate to. My Brilliant Friend is a coming-of-age story for both the characters and Italy that you will want to discuss and share with those you love.

A Local Taste: Folks You Meet in Longs and Other Stories by Lee Cataluna

Recommended age: 14+

Written in pidgin-English, Folks You Meet in Longs feels like a walk around the neighborhood. From your hanai aunty to your childhood neighbor, each character’s narrative authentically describes life in Hawaii. Cataluna’s hilariously relatable voices express the awkwardness of growing up, the uncomfortable (and complicated) family relationships, and the reasons why we all need Longs Drugs in our life. At the intersection between culture, art, and narrative, Folks You Meet in Longs is a lighthearted ode to the place we call home.

Runner-ups (but winners in my book):

It’s hard to go wrong with a Pulitzer Prize winner. In A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan uses music to connect a web of vibrant, authentic characters. From a kleptomaniac to a record producer, each chapter explores the rawest parts of humanity. Egan’s work is clever and experimental, an unforgettable read that you never want to put down.

(Though, to be clear, Egan never disappoints. For a longer novel that tackles a world obsessed with the beauty and facades we create, check out Look at Me.)

It truly wouldn’t be a reading list without my all time favorite book. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl is part coming-of-age, part satire, and part murder mystery. Blue van Meer has traveled around the country with her academic father, yet when she enrolls in an elite high school for her senior year and meets an eccentric group of teenagers, she embarks on an unpredictable journey to understand herself, her father, and society. Pessl’s novel (complete with footnotes!) is an eclectic and gripping read.

For more recommendations, check out NPR’s Book Concierge for a recap on the best books of 2020.

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Feb 03, 2021

Some great choices here, but Ferrante? The best.

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