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Read the best books of 2021

December 7, 2021

Do you have a best book that you read this year?  Each year, book lovers everywhere compile their “best books” lists.  We compiled an all-ages Best Books of 2021 with titles from The New York Times, Esquire, Washington Post, School Library Journal and more. 

Adult fiction

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

In the summer of 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson plans to start his life anew after he is released from a Nebraska prison for involuntary manslaughter. He and Billy, his eight-year-old brother will drive to California. However, that plan is not to be when he finds two of his fellow inmates, Woolly and Duchess at his house. They hid in the trunk of the warden’s car.

Told over the course of ten days from multiple points of view, Amor Towles’s third novel has colorful characters and beautiful storytelling as they travel to their destinations and find themselves.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Debut novelist Zakiya Dalila Harris tells the story of Nella Rogers, 26, who is the only Black employee at Wagner Books, a New York publishing house. She is excited when Hazel, a black girl from Harlem is hired. Hazel quickly becomes the office darling and Nella starts receiving threatening letters. This smart thriller will keep you guessing until the very end.

 

Adult nonfiction

Beautiful Country: A Memoir by Qian Julie Wang

A memoir from a Chinese woman who arrived in New York City at age 7 examines how her family lived in poverty out of fear of being discovered as undocumented immigrants and how she was able to find success.

In this powerful debut, Wang reflects on her childhood experiences as an undocumented immigrant. Her family traveled to the United States to escape communist rule in China when she was seven years old. The family settled in Manhattan's Chinatown, where they experienced disillusionment and poverty as they worked exploitative jobs while fearing the ever-present threat of deportation. Wang tells her family's story from her then-perspective as a child who was attempting to understand her new life. She makes frequent comparisons to her life in China and the United States as she learns to navigate a new culture and language and finds solace in her small but powerful collection of books. Wang's relationship with her parents becomes complicated when their mental health becomes more fragile, and her mother's health declines. Finally, Wang's mother feels compelled to make a change that will alter the family forever. Wang doesn't gloss over the hardship and trauma she experienced as an undocumented immigrant in the United States. She movingly tells how undocumented families like hers are often overlooked and their experiences ignored.

Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson

The bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs returns with a gripping account of how Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues launched a revolution that will allow us to cure diseases, fend off viruses, and have healthier babies.

In Isaacson's splendid saga of how big science really operates, curiosity and creativity, discovery and innovation, obsession and strong personalities, competitiveness and collaboration, and the beauty of nature all stand out. The lure of profit, academic prizes, patents, and historical legacy also looms large. The book's cast of complex characters is headlined by Jennifer Doudna, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and the versatile RNA molecule. In addition to his account of Doudna's life, an introduction to molecular biology, and applications for CRISPR (including fighting COVID-19), Isaacson provides a cautious consideration of the moral issues and risk of misuse engendered by a biotechnology that potentially provides a mechanism to hack our own evolution. CRISPR has the power to eliminate sickle-cell anemia and possibly other diseases, but should it also be employed for the enhancement of intelligence, muscle strength, or beauty? Who decides? Science can save us or destroy us, depending on how we wield it.

 

Teen

Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre by Brandy Colbert

A searing work of nonfiction from award-winning author Brandy Colbert about the history and legacy of one of the most deadly and destructive acts of racial violence in American history: the Tulsa Race Massacre.

In the early morning of June 1, 1921, a white mob marched across the train tracks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and into its predominantly Black Greenwood District—a thriving, affluent neighborhood known as America's Black Wall Street. They brought with them firearms, gasoline, and explosives.

In a few short hours, they'd razed thirty-five square blocks to the ground, leaving hundreds dead. The Tulsa Race Massacre is one of the most devastating acts of racial violence in US history. But how did it come to pass? What exactly happened? And why are the events unknown to so many of us today?

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

In this debut, Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never fit in at high school or on her Ojibwe Indian Reservation. After she witnesses a murder, she must use her knowledge of traditional Ojibwe medicine to help the FBI solve the case. Daunis is attracted to Jamie, her brother’s hockey teammate.

As the deaths mount, Daunis observes her community being torn apart as authorities punish the offenders rather than protecting the victims.

This book is being adapted for Netflix by Barack and Michelle Obama.

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

In Nicole Yoon’s sophomore novel, Evie, a high school senior, has given up on love after she finds out her father has cheated on her mom with another woman. She picks up a romance called Instructions for Dancing at a little free library. The book gives her the psychic ability to see the beginning, middle and end of the relationship of every couple she sees. She also goes to a ballroom dance studio and meets a boy named X who is as open to love as she is cynical. They are partners in a ballroom dance competition. Readers will enjoy watching this love story and the characters grow.

 

Children

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

This lyrical, stunning picture book tells a story about learning to love and celebrate your Asian-shaped eyes is a celebration of diversity.  A young Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from her peers'. They have big, round eyes and long lashes. She realizes that her eyes are like her mother’s, her grandmother's, and her little sister's. They have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future.  Drawing from the strength of these powerful women in her life, she recognizes her own beauty and discovers a path to self-love and empowerment. This powerful, poetic picture book will resonate with readers of all ages. (Ages 4-8)

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo

From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and two-time Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall comes a fantastical meditation on fate, love, and the power of words to spell the world.

In a time of war, a mysterious child appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Gentle Brother Edik finds the girl, Beatryce, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, coated in dirt and blood, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat. As the monk nurses Beatryce to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all—for the king of the land seeks just such a girl, and Brother Edik, who penned the prophecy himself, knows why.

And so it is that a girl with a head full of stories—powerful tales-within-the-tale of queens and kings, mermaids, and wolves—ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her—a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone—will never give up searching for her, and to know this is to know everything. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo’s lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters. (Ages 8-12)