My list of favorite books from this year looks different from years past and shows the shift my taste has taken, both deliberately and just naturally. I, as I know others have been doing for the past couple of years, have been making more of a deliberate effort to diversify my bookshelves. These books all represent stories and characters that I connected with. They stayed with me long after I had turned the last page. All of these books I talked about for weeks after to anyone who would listen. They all taught me lessons and some even felt familiar. I could relate to them. This year signaled a change in the books that I gravitate towards and it's a change that is here to stay.
The Fire Next Time, The Devil Finds Work, and Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
I wanted to read all of James Baldwin’s bibliography in chronological order this year, but as so many other plans this, that just didn’t happen. Instead I reread some of my favorites books of his in November. The first time I read Baldwin I was instantly blown away not only by his honesty and how current his work was, but also how comforting his work was. Although most of it was published over 30 years ago, it was shocking to see how little things had changed. And because this year shined a spotlight on that, I felt it was necessary to seek solace in his words once more.
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez
“How do we process grief and loss? Both look different for everyone—the process is never the same, but we all encounter grief and loss at some point in our lives. It's not something that we ever really heal from. It is an ongoing struggle, something that hits you when you least expect it—even years later. You learn to shift that loss to a less prominent part of your mind, but it lives inside you.” I wrote this in my original review of Afterlife for The Book Slut and it pretty much sums up how the book made me feel and why I was unable to stop thinking about it even weeks after I’d finished it. This was the second book by Julia Alvarez that I read after having read How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent and I once again was mesmerized by her words and the story that she told.
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The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
If I had to choose one book on this list that was my favorite out of all my favorites, it would be The Undocumented Americans. Cornejo Villavicencio gives us an insiders’ look at the undocumented immigrants that are largely absent from the stories told on the daily newstations and publications. Even as a Latina, there was a lot in the book that I wasn’t aware of. It was an eye-opener, and it also made me angry. No matter how much this country may try to invalidate our existence, this book shows just how integral of a role we play in this country. Not only did I find it to be an educational book, but it was also a touching tribute to the immigrants that have worked and fought behind the scenes with no thank you.
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Life of the Party by Olivia Gatwood
I haven’t been successful in finishing many poetry collections, but Gatwood’s debut collection is the first since high school that I finished. I devoured each page. I carried it around with me everywhere for weeks. Every poem was relatable, maybe a little too much. Gatwood managed to put into words, poems no less, what many women experience throughout their lives. She exquisitely wrote how these experiences shape women and how we carry them with us everyday of our lives. These poems are ones that I know I will come back to for years to come, They feel like companions, friends that know how you feel.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Reading Clap When You Land was like being surrounded by family. It was the one of the first books I can remember reading that dealt with a Dominican-American family that sounds like mine. I reviewed this book for The Book Slut and the way I felt about it then still stands. In my original review, I wrote about how I had a wonderful and heart-rending experience reading this book. The story at times hit too close to home, but it was for that reason that it is a favorite book of mine this year. I connected to this book in a way that I hadn’t with any other book this year.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I love a good horror book whose every page keeps me on edge until the end. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Shirley Jackson have scared me many, many times. This was the first time though that I read a horror book set in Mexico and written by a Mexican writer. Sylvia Moreno-Garcia reimagined the classic gothic horror genre setting her new novel in 1950’s Mexico, which besides the obvious horror aspect of a strange family in a strange mansion where mysterious deaths occurred, there was also the at times not so secret racism toward the protagonist and her family. No matter how scared I was reading this I couldn’t put it down because I needed to find out how the story ended. I do wish I had read this during October for the ultimate fright, but there's always 2021 for that.
Luster by Raven Leilani
I really don’t know what I could possibly say about Luster that hasn’t already been said. This was one of the literary darlings of the year and for good reason. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, it is hard to believe that this is Leilani's first novel. She expertly weaves commentary on race, class, and relationships with humor. One minute you're laughing at something the protagonist, Edie, has said and the next she’s making an honest comment on what it is like to be a Black woman in this country and in a white suburban neighborhood. This is a book that I still think about even months later, particularly how Edie was written. We all know Edie is a Black woman, but Leilani made sure that that isn’t all she is. As I wrote in my original review of the book for The Book Slut, “Edie is multifaceted and Leilani celebrates that. She doesn’t allow Edie to fall into a stereotype of what a young Black woman is or isn’t supposed to be and she also doesn’t make any apologies or judgements. And that is refreshing to encounter in a novel.”