Favorite Books Read in 2021

YA and Middle Grade:

Hold Back the Tide- Melinda Salisbury

A tragic, intense horror novel/rural fantasy–in a small Scottish village sometime in the 19th century, monsters attack from the loch. They are legitimately terrifying and vicious, but there are as many monsters in the village as coming from the loch. And they’re not who you might think fromt eh summary. Gripping and terrifying, but also uplifting in a strange way despite its sad ending. I loved Melinda Salisbury’s The Sin-Eater’s Daughter series and this was a worthy and skillful successor.

The Beauty of the Moment- Tanaz Bhathena

Susan, an Indian Christian brought up in Saudi Arabia, moves to Canada, where she tried to adjust and falls for a Parsi boy who was born there. Susan and Malcolm’s relationship is realistically imperfect, but hopeful, and helps them grapple with Susan’s parents’ divorce and Malcolm’s formerly physically abusive, now withdrawn, widowed father. Bhathena wrote A Girl Like That about a half-Parsi girl in Saudi Arabia ostracized by the community she wants so badly to be hers; this book, by contrast, is about finding community.

The Last Hawk- Elizabeth Wein

A young glider pilot in WWII is given the opportunity to help her country–or so she’s told. Living in Nazi Germany, our heroine is afraid her stutter will mark her out as intellectually disabled and thus a target of the regime (this is not made as clear as it could be in the novel, but people back then often connected speech impediments to intellectual disability). Instead, she’s swept up into the glamorous world of an older pro-Nazi female pilot, which gives her safety but also exposes her to the terrible truth about what the Nazis are doing with forced labor and concentration camp prisoners. She must decide what to do with this knowledge. There’s a delicate balance between self-deception and self-preservation in this one–the main character absolutely knows the disabled are being killed from the beginning, but she doesn’t see a way to do anything other than keep her head down and hope it’s not her next. As she grows in power both external and internal, she realizes she does have the opportunity and the duty to fight the regime, and that she can love her country while opposing it in wartime.

Adult:

A Passage to India- E.M. Forster

Let’s be real, I didn’t think a British person writing in the 1910’s and 1920’s could write something this good about India. There are flaws–the self-insert character who’s let off the hook morally for witness tampering in a rape case, the exoticization of Hindu customs–but as the story of good people struggling to connect in a system that not only discourages, but in Forster’s view makes impossible honest friendship across racial lines, it is a powerful indictment of colonialism written before its imminent collapse became obvious. Credit to the author for looking past what his society told him and writing this beautiful, horrifying book.

Poetry:

Deaf Republic- Ilya Kaminsky

When a city is occupied by enemy soldiers who kill a deaf boy, the whole city goes deaf in protest, communicating by sign language as part of their resistance. But will the resistance succeed, and to what extent is the cycle of violence corrupting? And even if resistance is futile…well, is it? Includes the much-quoted poem “We Lived Happily During the War” and a message in a multilingual sign language created for the book.

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