Kari’s Top Ten of 2021

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry 

The losing Danvers High Women’s Varsity Field Hockey Team pledges themselves to dark forces by signing their names into a spiral notebook with actor Emilio Estevez’s face on it and by tying strips of sweat socks around their arms. When they start to win, the Falcons find themselves trying to recharge the power of Emilio with darker and darker witchcraft to keep their streak going all the way to state.

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily R. Austin 

Gilda, a twenty-something, depressed, hypochondriac, lesbian atheist obsessed with death, finds herself accidently working as the office assistant for a Catholic Church. While she tries to blend in as a good Catholic, she becomes fixated on the death of the 86-year-old woman she replaced. Was her predecessor murdered?

The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon 

In order to save her public radio station and her job from the chopping block, Shay proposes a new show where exes-turned-friends deliver relationship advice. Her boss enthusiastically greenlights the show. The problem? He wants Shay to host it with Dominic, her arch nemesis, and pretend that they’ve dated, essentially lying to their listeners and violating who knows how many journalism ethics. Sparks fly immediately: the show becomes a hit, the deception grows, and Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other.  

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo 

After seeing an ad for Tommy Andrews, male impersonator at the Telegraph Club, Lily sneaks out with classmate Kathleen Miller to see her perform. Both girls quickly become entangled in the underground lesbian culture of 1950s San Franciso, but Lily’s new secrets and her blossoming feelings for Kathleen jeopardize her father’s citizenship status.  

Memorial by Bryan Washington 

When Mike abruptly leaves for Japan to see his dying father, his partner Benson finds himself the roommate of Mike’s mother, a woman he’s never met and who came for an extended visit the very same day Mike took off for Japan. As they separately unravel their traumas, Mike and Benson learn what it means to fall in and out of love over and over. 

Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit by Eliese Colette Goldbach 

When Eliese’s plans for escaping her hometown of Cleveland come to a halt during the Economic Recession, she finds herself working at the Cleveland Steel Mill as Utility Worker #6691. In confronting mental illness, gender inequality, Catholicism, politics, and the very real dangers of the molten iron she works with day after day, Eliese rebuilds herself, just like Cleveland.  

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson  

A descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings takes refuge in Jefferson’s Monticello when white supremacists threaten violence; A university professor uses his son to test the depths of racism; A woman named Virginia tries to escape her namesake birthplace; Another crafts an impossible list for buying a house and attaining security. This collection of short stories explores racial identity and the quest for self-discovery in a world that is still grappling with the legacies of slavery and racism.

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante 

Giovanna’s father calls her ugly; she’s just like his sister, Vittoria. The comparison to a woman that she’s never met and that her parents so clearly hate triggers Giovanna’s insecurities and sends her into an existential panic. As Giovanna begins a quest to learn about her aunt and her identity, she must grapple with deceptions from the adults around her.  

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders 

It is February 1862 and the United States is slowly realizing that the Civil War is going to be a long, bloody struggle. Against the backdrop of the nation’s collective grief, President Lincoln is in anguish over the death of his eleven-year-old son Willie. While the President visits his son’s tomb and holds his body, Willie finds himself stuck in a strange purgatory, unsure where his soul should go, with a diverse array of ghosts.   

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens   

Kya is abandoned by her parents, her siblings, and even her community at a young age, but the hermit takes solace in the surrounding North Carolina marshlands and becomes an expert on the natural world. The lush landscape, however, can’t protect Kya when she is suspected of murdering the town’s most beloved son. 

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