Best Reads of 2021 – Ola
There was once a time in my life where I was able to read 100 books in one year. This was not that year.
But, as of this moment, I did read 34! And that’s a win, too. When I sat down to write this list, I already knew which ones I was going to pick…and then I finished reading another, and that made the list, too. It feels good to end the year on a good reading note.
Here are my favorite books I’ve read in 2021. It’s a messy list—I like to read contemporary, true crime, romance, thrillers, and (almost) anything in between. There should be a little bit of something in here for everyone.
Ivy Lin’s Chinese grandmother stole to survive, but Ivy did it for fun. After all, it was the only way she could get the nail polish, lipstick and hair clips her teenage-self thought would grab the attention of Gideon Speyer—a glamorous boy from one of Massachusetts’ wealthiest families. But stealth was not yet Ivy’s strong suit, and her parents later punished her by uprooting her entire life. Ivy never saw Gideon again…until one day, as an adult, Ivy runs into his sister. She takes this as a sign of a sure chance at the American dream, the pursuit of happiness. This time, she’s not letting anything get in the way of stealing Gideon’s heart and power. Don’t mistake this as a love story—it’s a suspenseful, dark and compelling examination of character, privilege and what success really means. The writing is lyrical and the plot steady as a drum, you really won’t want to put this down.
They say bad luck comes in threes, and Daunis Fontaine can prove it. As a biracial and unenrolled tribal member, Daunis’ eighteenth year is spent trying to figure out where her place is among her Native American Ojibwe community in Sault Ste. Marie. After the loss of her beloved Uncle David and her GrandMary’s subsequent stroke, Daunis’ world crumbles as she’s forced to face head on the ugly influence of meth that is ravaging her Native community. Using her scientific prowess and fueled by the passion of protecting her people, Daunis is thrusted into the heart of a criminal investigation that forces her to discover what it takes to truly become a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman). Daunis’ story is heartwrenching in all the right ways—perfect for any teen or adult reader looking for a complex story dipped in rich characterization, culture and strength.
As a little girl, Liza knew Tony as just Tony: the hotel’s handyman, the man that took Liza and her sister along for rides in his truck, bought them popsicles, and made every dull day a bit more memorable. Without the rose-colored glasses of childhood to protect her from the truth, Liza learns as an adult that those truck rides weren’t to the woods, they were to burial grounds—Tony Costa’s own sanctuary of shallow graves stuffed with his victims. While reading this book, you’ll sit alongside Liza as she tries to untangle the web of trauma surrounding her own childhood while connecting the dots of Tony’s horrors. This is a spine-tingling, thought-provoking story that gives you more chills when you remember it’s all a true story.
Shadi is suffocating under the weight of her grief—her brother is dead, her father is dying, she lost her best friend, and her Muslim community is being persecuted after the events of 9/11. She learns to close off her heart to the possibility of hope and joy after being burned so many times. And yet, she pushes herself through it. Breaking herself in the process, but pushing nonetheless. This is a raw, painfully beautiful story of a girl thrusted into chaos through the sheer existence of her identity and the life lessons she’s forced to learn along the way to survive. This book physically radiates empathy and Tahereh Mafi’s writing is guaranteed to make your heart weep. It’s a heavy story, but it’s one that is vital to read.
Identical twins Desiree and Stella Vignes ran away together from their small, black town of Mallard, Louisiana at age sixteen, but only one of them would return more than a decade later. After separating from the community that emphasized the value of light-skinned blackness, Stella breaks off from her twin to live a life passing as white while Desiree returns to Mallard with her dark-skinned daughter, Jude. The story shifts through time, characters and themes with grace and touches on the topics of race, identity and belonging with such brutal honesty. It’s a powerful story that begs to be read thoughtfully and slowly even though you’ll want to eat the plot up in one sitting.