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but hopeful, and helps them grapple with Susan’s parents’ divorce and Malcolm’s formerly physically abusive, now withdrawn, widowed father.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.

2020 YA Titles Not To Miss!

Here’s a look at some of the YA books I’m most looking forward to in 2020.

Screen Shot 2019-10-04 at 3.58.46 PM1. Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena
After A Girl Like That, the story of an Indian half-Parsi orphan growing up in Saudi Arabia, I will read anything Bhathena writes. This Indian-inspired epic fantasy dealing with class and politics looks like a lot of fun.

2. Open Fire by Amber Lough
I had the privilege of reading a draft of this take on the Women’s Battalion of Death, a Russian Revolution-era all-female military unit. I can’t wait for the rest of the world to meet patriotic-but-increasingly-conflicted Katya and follow her journey in WWI.

3. Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen CorcoranScreen Shot 2019-10-04 at 3.59.32 PM
This fantasy novel from a debut Irish author features a romance between an idealistic new queen and her female spymaster, as well as plenty of political intrigue.

4. Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
A fantasy retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes,” tying it to the the dancing plague in 15th century Strasbourg and the persecution of the Romani people. Sounds super interesting, and McLemore’s previous work, though I haven’t read it, is highly praised.

5. All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor
We (for values of we that mean Americans of my generation) all read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry growing up. I’ve always wondered what happened to Cassie and her brothers and friends after The Road to Memphis, and now we finally get answers in this story of grown-up Cassie in the Civil Rights Movement.

Screen Shot 2019-10-04 at 4.00.52 PM6. The Silence of Bones by June Hur
A teenage girl in 1800’s Korea is an indentured servant working for a police detective. Together, they investigate the murder of a noblewoman. This one certainly has a unique setting and premise! I don’t think I’ve read any YA set in Korea before the Japanese occupation.