by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)
Phew, I have read some amazing books so far this year! Every year it feels increasingly challenging to pick favorites, and that is proving to be true for 2021. I shared some favorites from my reading challenges so far in my latest Bookish Fave. Here are a few others that I have absolutely loved during the first half of 2021! This list of five favorites so far includes Kacen Callender's Felix Ever After (Amazon | Bookshop.org), Roz Chast's Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? (Amazon | Bookshop.org), Elizabeth Lim's Six Crimson Cranes (Amazon | Bookshop.org), Taylor Jenkins Reid's The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (Amazon | Bookshop.org), and Aiden Thomas's Lost in the Never Woods (Amazon | Bookshop.org).
Kacen Callender's Felix Ever After (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
From the Publisher: "From Stonewall and Lambda Award–winning author Kacen Callender comes a revelatory YA novel about a transgender teen grappling with identity and self-discovery while falling in love for the first time.
"Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.
"When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle....
"But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.
"Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve."
Why It Made the List: I have never read anything quite like this book. I absolutely loved getting to explore the nuances of gender and gender identity alongside Felix as he learned more about himself and what was holding him back from true and open love. I found his character to be so honest and so real, and I felt for him as he struggled to open himself up to the kind of love that would really bring him happiness and fulfillment.
Roz Chast's Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
From the Publisher: "#1 New York Times Bestseller | 2014 National Book Award Finalist | Winner of the inaugural 2014 Kirkus Prize in nonfiction | Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award | Winner of the 2014 Books for a Better Life Award | Winner of the 2015 Reuben Award from National Cartoonists Society
"In her first memoir, New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast's memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.
"While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies--an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades--the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care.
"An amazing portrait of two lives at their end and an only child coping as best she can, Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant shows the full range of Roz Chast's talent as cartoonist and storyteller."
Why It Made the List: I had never read any of Chast's work prior to this, but her talent as a storyteller and as a cartoonist are both so evident in this brilliant graphic memoir that explores the complicated reality of being an adult child and of navigating end of life care for one's parents. This is a beautiful, poignant, and raw portrayal of her own struggles to support her aging parents as they move from independent living into assisted living. Both of her parents lived into their 90s, and this memoir explores what that reality looks like for Chast as she tries to help them through the journey. Phew. So good and certainly memorable.
Elizabeth Lim's Six Crimson Cranes (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
From the Publisher: "A princess in exile, a shapeshifting dragon, six enchanted cranes, and an unspeakable curse... Drawing from fairy tales and East Asian folklore, this original fantasy from the author of Spin the Dawn is perfect for fans of Shadow and Bone.
"Shiori'anma, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted. But it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.
"A sorceress in her own right, Raikama banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes. She warns Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.
"Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and uncovers a dark conspiracy to seize the throne. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in a paper bird, a mercurial dragon, and the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she's been taught all her life to forswear--no matter what the cost.
"Weaving together elements of The Wild Swans, Cinderella, the legend of Chang E, and the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Elizabeth Lim has crafted a fantasy like no other, and one that will stay with readers long after they've turned the last page."
Why It Made the List: I finished this one recently (it just came out on July 6th!), and I was spellbound from start to finish. I loved Shiori's character, and I really felt for her as she transitioned from her royal life as a princess to her cursed life as a penniless, nameless girl trying to find her way back to her six brothers who were also cursed. She befriends a wily dragon and a brave knight, and I was here for all of that! I loved the way the story evolved and how Lim wove in so many mythical elements from Eastern Asian culture along with the fairy tale of The Wild Swan. This is such a great YA fantasy read, and it's a perfect one for the Unabridged Reading Challenge retelling of a fairy tale!
Taylor Jenkins Reid's The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
From the Publisher: "From the New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & the Six—an entrancing and 'wildly addictive journey of a reclusive Hollywood starlet' (PopSugar) as she reflects on her relentless rise to the top and the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.
"Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
"Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
"Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways."
Why It Made the List: This was one of my very first reads of 2021, and I knew right away that this one would be a favorite for the year. I was absolutely in love with Evelyn, and I didn't want her story to end. I loved the way that through her choices and through her unspooling of her life story, TJR paints a powerful, beautiful, and tragic picture of the harsh realities of success and what it can cost to make it as a woman in Hollywood. See my review of this one here.
Aiden Thomas's Lost in the Never Woods (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
From the Publisher: "When children start to go missing in the local woods, a teen girl must face her fears and a past she can't remember to rescue them in this atmospheric YA novel, Lost in the Never Woods from the author of Cemetery Boys.
"It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into the light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road...
"Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, asks for Wendy’s help to rescue the missing kids. But, in order to find them, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods."
Why It Made the List: Wow, I was captivated right away by this atmospheric story that opens with Wendy on her eighteenth birthday, and I was compelled by the mysterious backstory that led to the disappearance of Wendy's brothers five years before the current story timeline began. I shed quite a few tears as the hidden parts of the story came to light, but I loved the way that Thomas balanced the dark and disturbing underbelly of society with the hope and healing that are possible even after tragedy. Here's my review of this one. This is a great one for the Unabridged Reading Challenge retelling of a classic category!
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