There are always books on my mind. But some stick longer than others.
I shared a list of the 2019 books on my mind just over one a year ago. And I didn’t plan for another. But I recently started reading Us Against You by Fredrik Backman, the sequel to Beartown. I had a whole cosy evening set up, sat down to enjoy my book, and got through 30 pages before this blog post popped into my head. While reading Us Against You, I started thinking about how much I loved Beartown. It was a mid-2020 read, but still feels just as fresh as the books I’ve enjoyed so far this year. In fact, it’s one of those books I think I’ll remember for a very long time. And then I started thinking about all the other books I loved in 2020 and still love. And before I knew it, I was typing out the list for this post. Here are the books still on my mind in 2021.
People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.
Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.
Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.
Why it’s still on my mind: the complex characters, the small town, and the surprisingly heavy tone
I did not expect a book about hockey to affect me as deeply as Beartown did. I don’t care much for the sport, but this book totally and completely stole my heart. I’m so happy I chose to read it. My favourite thing about the entire book was the characters. And there are so many. Usually, when I read a book with more than 6 characters I feel lost. Too many voices feels messy and the quality of the story decreases drastically. But with Beartown, it felt as each there were at least 20 significant characters and not one faded into the background.
When I picked up Beartown, I expected weight. I didn’t expect it to be the kind of weight that makes you cry and then inspires courage and hope. It’s a total rollercoaster. Beartown highlights the importance of friendship and loyalty without compromising its compelling plot. The reader gets to experience the concept of devotion from both sides, as well as the idea of community from those with privilege and those who lack power. This dysfunctional town was built by the people living in it. The fictional story is enlightening and acts a mirror. When you read you have no choice but to look and analyse.
For years, rumours of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet fishing village. Kya Clark is barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her.
But Kya is not what they say. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life’s lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world–until the unthinkable happens.
In Where the Crawdads Sing, Owens juxtaposes an exquisite ode to the natural world against a profound coming of age story and haunting mystery. Thought-provoking, wise, and deeply moving, Owens’s debut novel reminds us that we are forever shaped by the child within us, while also subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
The story asks how isolation influences the behaviour of a young woman, who like all of us, has the genetic propensity to belong to a group. The clues to the mystery are brushed into the lush habitat and natural histories of its wild creatures.
Why it’s still on my mind: the author’s writing, the setting, and the character of Kya
Where the Crawdads Sing is an incredibly deep and moving novel that I have no doubt I will forever remember. This is the book I’m constantly recommending, because it just too good not to be praised. I love the protagonist’s independence. Kya is a character that’s incredibly easy to connect to, even as a reader I found myself feeling protective over this young girl. While she is sensitive and timid, she has a fierceness that’s admirable. And her courage, agility and intuition add to her brilliance as a main character. Even into adult hood, I appreciated her spirit.
Owens’ writing floats between a thick intensity and an empathetic calmness that makes it near-impossible to forget. I found the atmosphere of 1960s North Carolina effortless to imagine. Her expertise and familiarity of the natural world also gave me a refreshing outlook on life and value. While the plot of Where the Crawdads Sing is very impassioned and rousing, it’s the author’s elegantly revealing voice that will remain sharp in my mind. It’s not only a novel that will have you sobbing by the last page, but also stuck in awe and wonder at the natural beauty of Delia Owens’ words and descriptions.
Calla Fletcher returns to Toronto a different person, struggling to find direction and still very much in love with the rugged bush pilot she left behind. When Jonah arrives on her doorstep with a proposition she can’t dismiss, she takes the leap and rushes back to Alaska to begin their exciting future together.
But Calla soon learns that even the best intentions can lead to broken promises, and that compromise comes with a hefty price—a log cabin in interior rural Alaska that feels as isolating as the western tundra.
With Jonah gone more than he’s home, one neighbour who insists on transforming her into a true Alaskan, and another who seems more likely to shoot her than come to her aid, Calla grapples with forging her own path. In a world with roaming wildlife that has her constantly watching over her shoulder and harsh conditions that stretch far beyond the cold, dark, winter months, just stepping outside her front door can be daunting.
This is not the future Calla had in mind, leaving her to fear that perhaps she is doomed to follow in her mother’s fleeing footsteps after all.
Why it’s still on my mind: the romance, the character development, and the magic of Alaska
There could be 100 books about the Barbie and the Yeti, and I know I’d read every single one of them. A large portion of the book concentrates on Calla’s personal character growth since the events of the first book. She’s adapting to huge life changes, while still trying to find her identity and her place in a new place. She was constantly worried about following in her mother’s footsteps, and learned the importance of being honest with yourself and finding something you really love. Her voice felt consistent and familiar from the first book, but it was clear she was a new person. I absolutely adored the way Calla handled her obstacles and fears, and found her to be very inspiring.
One of my favourite things about this book, and The Simple Wild series, is the atmosphere Tucker builds. The characters are living in these idyllic, rural towns that are picturesque in natural simplicity. From the lakes, to the mountains, the town centres and the wildlife, it all sounds like a fantasy. Wild at Heart is a journey, but a charming one. It’s humorous, heart-warming, and enchanting. Understandably, it’s not as emotional as the first, but twice as romantic.
Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living showing other women how to do the same. A mother to two small girls, she started out as a blogger and has quickly built herself into a confidence-driven brand. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night. Seeing a young Black woman out late with a white child, a security guard at their local high-end supermarket accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make it right.
But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.
Why it’s still on my mind: the relevant theme, the overall message, and the authentic interactions
Such a Fun Age is a refreshing debut novel that explores privilege, racial biases and millennial anxiety. It became obvious from the beginning that both Alix and Kelley (Emira’s boyfriend) suffer from a saviour complex. The characters used their relationship with Emira to prove to themselves that they were just and upright people. Reading about their constant attempts to be impartial was exhausting, yet painfully realistic. The author’s intention was to highlight some of the racial prejudices and micro-aggressive behaviours that don’t make the news every day, and she did just that.
My favourite thing about the novel was the light and easy writing, despite the book’s heavy themes. The characters in the novel are well-developed and skilfully used to move the narrative along while teaching the reader an important lessons on racial biases and stereotypes. Overall, Such a Fun Age is the perfect book to construct diverse and interesting conversation. Its thought-provoking story, realistic themes and straightforward writing makes this debut an gratifying and compelling read.
Between life and death there is a library.
When Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right. Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change.
The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every one of her regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life. But things aren’t always what she imagined they’d be, and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger. Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question: what is the best way to live?
Why it’s still on my mind: the powerful message, the unique plot, and the fascinating escape
The Midnight Library is a captivating, inspiring and uplifting book that is a delightfully heartfelt reminder to do more than exist. It’s a reminder that we must truly live. This novel truly is an immersive reading experience. When my eyes are on the pages of The Midnight Library, I’m fully committed to the book. It’s as if I fall into a whole of enchantment and curiosity. When it comes to visiting The Midnight Library, I’m immediately lost in its rich, dreamlike atmosphere. The originality of the narrative really sticks in the mind, long after the story is done. To me, that’s a sign of an extraordinary read.
The Midnight Library taught me a number of things. First, we shouldn’t underestimate the difference we make in the lives of others. Big or small, it all matters. Second, self-analysis shouldn’t be overlooked. Nora has a habit of saying or believing things she isn’t really thinking. She doesn’t always take the time to really consider how she’s feeling or what she genuinely wants. That habit blocks her own happiness. However, the way she learns and evolves really inspired me as a reader. Third, “You can be anything you want to be. Because in one life, you are.”
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern Black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her Black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
Why it’s still on my mind: the nuanced characters, the distinctive premise, and the author’s story-telling skill
The Vanishing Half is a magnetic slow-burner of a novel. A tale of twins born into the same world, yet escaping into two different ones. From the introduction of the town and the characters, Brit Bennett establishes the turmoil that comes with a conflicted sense of identity. In the book, dark skin is undesirable, even detestable. And there’s a very similar narrative in the world we live in today. It’s an intergenerational issue that continues to poison humanity. I love the questions this book forces the reader to ask, as it evaluates what really makes a person’s identity.
Each character in this novel is constructed in such a mesmerising way. As the plot constantly moves forward, the characters move effortlessly with it. They’re three-dimensional, with flaws and mistakes that make it easy to attach to them. In my opinion, the journey and the back-and-forth is the most enjoyable part of the reading experience. This book is simply a spectacular story that has been beautifully told. And with an undeniable depth, The Vanishing Half is both thought-provoking, inspiring and heart-breaking.
What books are still on your mind in 2021?
Have you read any of the titles in this list?