As a kid who grew up devouring books. I didn’t think it was possible to fall even more in love with books and reading, but it seems that’s what has happened this year. Not only did I read more books this year than any other (adult) year I’ve tracked, but I’ve also spent too much time scrolling through Bookstagram and I discovered The Stacks, the best book podcast in your podcatcher.
This year, I also learned more about myself as a reader. Perhaps because it was an overwhelming year in many ways (wrapping up grad school, a whole lot of work, a change in job, still living in a pandemic, etc.), I became much more of an emotional reader than I ever have been in the past. Instead of struggling through books when my brain just wasn’t having it, I really gave myself permission in the last few months of this year to be more of a mood reader. It’s made reading so much easier. It has also meant that I’ve let romance novels back into my life. It turns out there are actually some good ones out there!
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
This was far and beyond the book of the year for me. I cannot stop talking about it. I tell everyone I encounter to read it. It’s without question on my favourite-of-all-time list. Oh my goodness. This book tells the story of 15-year-old Vanessa, and the affair she had with her 42-year-old teacher. Alternating between the perspective of Vanessa at 15, and Vanessa 17 years later, the novel explores themes of agency, consent, complicity and victimhood. In the era of the #MeToo movement, the stories we hear often have an easily recognizable good side and bad side. This book raises the idea that it’s not always quite so simple, even, and especially, for the victim. Be forewarned: This book is DARK.
Five Little Indians by Michelle Good
This is another book that has made it on to my all-time favourites list. This was so well written, and I absolutely loved all the characters- even when some of them broke my heart. This novel tells the story of five residential school survivors, and what happens to them once they age-out of residential school. Each of them walks a different path, but their stories are also deeply intertwined. I have to admit, I had never really considered what happened to Indigenous folks immediately after residential school. I also have to admit that this book made me cry- probably more than once.
The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
I’m not typically a huge short story fan, but I really enjoyed this collection from Danielle Evans. The stories, which explore themes of race, culture and history, are fleshed out enough for you to feel invested and connected to the characters. They make you think and feel and question. I’m not sure I have the language to meaningfully talk about short stories, but I really, really recommend this collection!
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
This was an extremely popular book this year, no matter where you looked- the holds list at the library, #Booktok, Bookstagram, bestseller lists, you name it. It was an extremely entertaining novel that I couldn’t put down…it’s extremely possible that I read this entire book in one sitting. If I didn’t, it definitely wasn’t my choice to get up and walk away. The “midnight library” contains an infinite number of books, each telling the story of your life had you made a different specific choice. This book is an amazing exploration of the impact of our choices, and what matters most in life.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
I almost didn’t even start reading this book after I realized it was entirely written in verse, but I’m so glad I kept going. The verse read so smoothly that it still felt like a novel, but with a little extra. This book tells the story of two half-sisters, one living in Dominican Republic and the other in the U.S., who only learn of each other after their father dies in a plane crash. This is an amazing book full of grief, love, secrets and choices, and I loved it.
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
This was an absolutely delightful YA read. In some ways, this was just a cute and fluffy read, but it also touched on anxiety, homophobia, and class issues in really meaningful ways. The main character, Liz, is planning to escape her small, prom-obsessed, mid-Western town by going to college. When she doesn’t get the scholarship she was expecting, she ends up running for prom queen in the hope of winning the prize money- and so much happens along the way.
The House on the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
I don’t know the last time I’ve fallen in love with a cast of characters the way I fell in love with the children at the Marsyas Island Orphanage. I could have spent forever immersed in their story. This is the story of Linus, a government worker who is sent on a highly classified trip to observe the orphanage at Marsyas. Along the way, we learn about friendship and love, while also putting fear and government systems in their place (kind of). This book was charming and delightful from beginning to end.
Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life by Christie Tate
Okay, I know this book is a bit contentious, and lots of people don’t like how therapy was portrayed (and, like, they’re not wrong. I also have a lot of questions). But I really connected with the main character (is that what you call it in a memoir?), and lots of her thoughts, and feelings, and struggles with life. I’m not sure what that says about me…
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
I believe John Green is one of the best thinkers and writers of our time. In this non-fiction essay collection, he “reviews different facets of the human-centred planet on a five-star scale.” His essays explore far more than the titles would lead you to believe, and helps you see the world in different ways. The writing is brilliant, and I’m always in awe of people who can write essays that weave together entirely different stories. I loved the podcast the book is based on, so would highly recommend reading the audiobook if you can!