December 2021 Staff Picks: Best of 2021

Best reads of 2021

Recommended by Readers' Advisory Librarian Nancy

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
If this sounds familiar, it’s because I recommended it back in May as a “Hot Summer Read” before I read it, and it is one of my favorite books I read this year. Poppy and Alex are two estranged best friends who haven’t spoken in two years because of an undisclosed falling out on their last vacation together. Poppy is reevaluating her happiness and realizes that the last time she was truly happy was on that vacation with Alex, so she contacts him out of the blue and convinces him to take one last trip to fix their friendship. But what all of the summaries aren’t telling you is that almost every other chapter is a flashback to Poppy and Alex’s friendship history starting with how they went from enemies to friends and their first vacation; and Poppy’s last ditch effort vacation coincides with Alex’s brother’s wedding. That’s right. We get two extra romance tropes to our slow-burn romance! The characters feel real, their banter is believable, and their history-filled love story is a delight to be swept up in.

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
Infinite Country is a book I just won’t stop talking about this year. It’s only 191 pages, but manages to tell the emotional family saga and immigrant story of one family striving to better their lives, always reaching for the American Dream. The narrative switches perspectives mainly between three of the family members: Talia, the 15-year-old daughter who has just escaped from a nun-managed reform school; Mauro, the father who has been deported back to Columbia and separated from his family; and Elena, the mother who remains in the United States raising two of their three children alone. We learn the struggle of Elena and Mauro from their courtship in Columbia, to their emigration to Houston, and as they become parents, their difficult decision to stay in Texas illegally. Engel doesn’t linger too long on any one character, but I grew to care deeply about their family as a whole and hoping for their happy ending. What I really appreciated about this book is that it addresses immigration issues in a way that doesn’t feel antagonistic or preachy, while being empathetic in the portrayal of the immigrant experience.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
I’m personally not a frequent memoir reader. This was recommended to me by our Digital Services Librarian Justine (who extensively reads memoirs) and I needed to write some serious praise for it. Saying that Crying in H Mart is about Zauner’s childhood growing up as a Korean-American in Eugene, OR, her complicated relationship with her parents (especially her mom), and her experience of losing her mom to pancreatic cancer, is simultaneously true, and too simplistic. She writes so plainspokenly about these experiences, and doesn’t shy away from the quiet, raw, and devastating emotion that is grief. What I personally connected to most is her clearly Asian-American description of her experiences, including the connection between food and culture, and that conflicting feeling of otherness she has growing up multiracial. It’s such an honest, emotional, and poignant memoir that I don’t know if any memoir I read after this will live up to it! I’ll have to ask Justine for more recommendations.

Recommended by Teen Services Librarian Maggie

2021 was a year full of fantastic YA (young adult) horror and mysteries! Here are a few of my favorites: 

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley 
Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine is a biracial, unenrolled tribal member who doesn’t feel like she belongs in her hometown or the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She’s just trying to get through her senior year so she can go off to college and have a good life, but everything changes when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder and reluctantly becomes involved in an investigation of a series of drug-related deaths. This #ownvoices mystery thriller is a hit for older teens and adults. The first 50 pages are a bit slow, but you won’t regret sticking with it! 

As Good As Dead by Holly Jackson 
The final book of the Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series is finally here and it does not disappoint! After solving two murder cases,
Pippa Fitz-Amobi attracts a lot of attention. But when someone starts following her and she finds connections between her stalker and the killer she supposedly captured six years ago, Pippa wonders if the right person is behind bars. The inclusion of “documents” like transcripts and articles is an especially captivating part of the story. If you’re a true crime fan into podcasts and documentaries, I highly recommend this trilogy. 

#1 – A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder 
#2 – Good Girl, Bad Blood 
#3 – As Good As Dead 

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland 
Ten years ago, the three Hollow sisters went missing after their parents turned their heads for a second. Mysteriously, the three girls all returned a month later with no memory of where they’d been. Now the oldest sister, Grey, has gone missing again. Her sisters Iris and Vivi think it’s related to their disappearance years ago, but how can they find their sister if they have no memory of what happened? This dark and creepy mystery is like a modern Grimm fairytale mixed with Stranger Things. House of Hollow was my favorite read of 2021. 


Chapter Books
Recommended by Children's Librarian Lindsay

Black Boy Joy edited by Kwame Mbalia
A collection of short stories, poems, and comics detailing the experiences of growing up as a Black boy in the world. As the title suggests, this book focuses on the wonder and joy to be had in everything from baking competitions to skateboarding to superheroes—whether you’re a boy or not. Containing everything from humor to drama in its various stories, there is something for every reader to love.

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable
The first book in this graphic novel series introduces us to Katie, who takes a job babysitting her neighbor’s TWO HUNDRED SEVENTEEEN cats to try to earn enough money for summer camp. Things get interesting when Katie realizes that these cats are far from average and that her neighbor is probably a super villain. Animal lovers in particular will enjoy the message in this book, but everyone will enjoy the hijinks Katie and crew get up to.

Sunny Days Inside And Other Stories by Caroline Adderson
This book picks up just as the COVID-19 pandemic hits an apartment complex full of families who must shelter in place. Several kids in the apartment building tell stories from their own perspectives and the reader gets to experience how different children and adults are coping with the side effects of living in a pandemic. Confronting issues ranging from toilet paper theft to depression, this book emphasizes the value of community through the connected stories of the children in the building and helps the reader deal with life in a Covid-19 world.

Picture Books
Recommended by Library Assistant Victoria

Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen
This is an impactful, carefully descripted account of the tree which survived the September 11th attack in NYC.  The physical book itself is vertically elongated, corresponding to the Twin Towers as well as trees. The artwork is as powerful as the words in demonstrating the emotions, and ultimately, the message of resilience.  

What the Road Said by Cleo Wade
This is an inspiring book of comfort for all ages.It calmly delivers a conversation of the “what if’s” we encounter along life’s journeys. Many may find the thoughtful and encouraging messages are meant for them personally. 

It Could be Worse by Tsarfati, Einat, author, illustrator
Tsarfati has created a hilarious book about optimism prevailing in the worst of circumstances. His illustrations depicting two boys on an adventure are quite entertaining.