Favorite Reads from Jen's 2021 Reading Challenge Picks So Far
by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
On our episode two weeks ago, we all shared mid-year updates on our reading challenges for 2021. As always, I appreciate the ways that taking on these challenges can help to make my reading more intentional, but I also seek balance: sometimes, those lists can stress me out! This year, I've been thrilled with my challenges. I'm doing three: the Tournament of Books (and now Camp ToB, which is in progress), the Unabridged 2021 Reading Challenge (which you can still join if you're interested!), and the 21backlistin2021.
Today, I'm featuring a few of my favorite reads that I've read so far this year for the reading challenges. Be sure to check out our 2021 Reading Challenge Check-In episode, and be on the lookout for our upcoming posts sharing our overall favorites from the year at this halfway point! (A few of my favorite challenge reads also appear on that list, so I'm mixing it up for variety and sharing two others from each challenge.)
Unabridged Podcast Reading Challenge
Mira Jacobs's Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations (Amazon | Bookshop.org) - This amazing work of graphic nonfiction blends memoir beautifully with Jacobs's innovative art. (It works for the "graphic novel" category of the challenge.) It's a reflection on motherhood, on navigating society leading up to the 2016 election, on what happens when people who are supposed to love you disappoint you completely. Jacobs takes on gender; race, racism, and colorism; religion; and so much more, but she always maintains that tight focus on her own, unique perspective. This was one of our Unabridged Book Club picks, and we had a phenomenal discussion about the book on IG. (Check out my review here and our episode here.)
Angie Thomas's Concrete Rose (Amazon | Bookshop.org) - Concrete Rose is a prequel to Thomas's The Hate U Give (Amazon | Bookshop.org), a work that I have read and re-read—it's just as powerful. I therefore picked up Concrete Rose with equal parts anticipation and trepidation. Thomas did not disappoint. I so loved diving back into the world of Big Mav again: he's one of my favorite characters in The Hate U Give, and having the chance to see a teenage Maverick, to understand this nuanced individual even more, made me so glad that Thomas couldn't leave this world completely, either. (Check out my review here.)
Tournament of Books & Camp ToB
Douglas Stuart's Shuggie Bain (Amazon | Bookshop.org) - What sticks with me about Shuggie Bain is the character of Shuggie himself. This novel is as much about his mother as it is about Shuggie, and yet, somehow, Shuggie—who goes through so much, who at times seems hopeless—shines through the rest of the book. This is a dark, difficult novel, but it's one I think about with hope and joy because Shuggie himself, despite all he's endured, epitomizes that for me. (You can find my review here.)
Kawai Strong Washburn's Sharks in the Time of Saviors (Amazon | Bookshop.org) - I've never read a book quite like this one. The synopsis immediately caught my attention—a strange boy is rescued from the sea by sharks, who carry him in their mouths back to his family—and yet the book is SO much more than that. This is a story of family, a story of myth and legend of reality. Steeped in the land and culture of Hawaii, Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a beautiful, magical book. (Read my review here.)
Patricia Park's Re Jane (Amazon | Bookshop.org) - This one also counts for the Unabridged Podcast Reading Challenge's "retelling of a classic," and I just loved it. I'm a sucker for a retelling, and this one does what the best retellings do: it hews closely to its source material until it doesn't . . . and when it doesn't, those departures offer commentary on the world and the people the new incarnation inhabits. (You can read my review here.)
Bryan Washington's Memorial (Amazon | Bookshop.org) - This was also a selection for the Tournament of Books, and it was a favorite. The narrative here shifts between two characters, Benson and Mike, who see their relationship very differently. As each navigates the distance between them when Mike is with his dying father in Osaka, Washington reveals, through their separate voices, the way people in a relationship can see so much about each other and yet be so wrong. It's a brilliant, brilliant book. (Read my review here.)
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