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The Best Fiction of 2021

While the Covid-19 pandemic raged throughout the world in 2020 and we were forced to stay inside and bake bread or binge-watch shows, writers were busy creating stories. What resulted was a bounty of amazing fiction in 2021.

In my search for the top-reviewed books of the year, I once again compiled an overall tally, gathering 28 lists by professional book readers, including the Cook Memorial Public Library District staff. I also included the genres and links to our catalog for descriptions.

Eighty-one books rose to the top from among more than 700 adult and young adult fiction titles. Many of the top writers of our time came out with books in 2021, providing a cornucopia of extraordinary novels. I was happy that several of my favorites were among the best, including The Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead, The Sentence by Louise Erdrich and Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. Did any of your favorites make it?

If you are looking for even more great books, come to the library to pick up the booklet featuring our Staff Fiction Favorites of 2021, with 164 titles of all genres. There is something for every reader. Start placing your holds, and get ready for a great winter of cozying up with books. On Tuesday I will write about the top nonfiction titles.

18 Mentions:

The Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead (Historical Fiction) was the clear favorite of the 2021. I highly recommend this ode to 1960s Harlem and how a furniture salesman gets caught up in a crime scheme. It was also recommended by Cook staffers Jenn, Marianne and Andrea.

17 Mentions:

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Literary Fiction), recommended by Jo, Marianne and Ellen J. This thought-provoking book involving an unforgettable artificial friend stayed with me for a long time.

16 Mentions:

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, recommended by Jo and Jenn. Erdrich takes on the pandemic, climate change, the George Floyd murder and Native American issues against the backdrop of a Minneapolis bookstore haunted by the ghost of its most annoying patron. I think it is one of Erdrich’s best.

15 Mentions:

Beautiful World Where Are You by Sally Rooney (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Jenn.

Detransition Baby by Torrey Peters (Contemporary Fiction)

14 Mentions

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (Literary Fiction), recommended by Jo, Ellen J., Sonia and Joe. Read my review on Cook Memorial Library’s blog, Shelf Life.

The Matrix by Lauren Groff (Historical Fiction), recommended by Marianne and Ellen J.

13 Mentions:

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna (Short Stories)

Crossroads (#1 Keys to all Mythologies trilogy) by Jonathan Franzen (Literary Fiction), recommended by Ellen J, and Dorota.

The Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead (Historical Fiction), recommended by Jo, Andrea, Becky and Ellen J. Read my review on our blog.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuisten (Romance), recommended by Erica.

12 mentions:

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (Historical Fiction), recommended by Jo, Marianne and Ellen J. Read my review on our blog.

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. (Historical Fiction), recommended by Jo.

11 mentions:

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel (Literary Fiction), recommended by Andrea.

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge (Historical Fiction), recommended by Jo. Read my review on our blog.

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (Contemporary Fiction)

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby (Thriller), recommended by Andrea, Amy, Dorota, Marianne and Karen. Read Andrea’s review on our blog.

10 Mentions:

Bewilderment by Richard Powers (Literary Fiction).

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton (Historical Fiction), recommended by Marianne.

The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, (Historical Fiction) recommended by Ellen B.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (Thriller), recommended by Marianne.

9 mentions:

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert (Romance), recommended by Erica.

The Five Wounds (Literary Fiction), recommended by Nate.

A Hell of a Book (Literary Fiction) by Jason Mott.

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue (Contemporary Fiction).

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura (Contemporary Fiction).

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (Short Stories and a Novella), recommended by Andrea and Jo. Read Andrea’s review on our blog.

The People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry (Romance), recommended by Andrea, Jenn and Marianne.

8 Mentions:

Oh William! By Elizabeth Strout (Literary Fiction), recommended by Jo and Trish.

Second Place by Rachel Cusk (Literary Fiction).

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams (Romance), recommended by Jean and Jenn.

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon (Science Fiction).

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris (Historical Fiction), recommended by Carolyn and Becky.

7 Mentions:

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo (Historical Fiction), recommended by Erica.

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor (Short Stories).

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave (Thriller), recommended by Marianne.

Of Women and Salt by Eva Garcia (Mystery, #1 White City), recommended by Andrea.

Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Thriller), recommended by Marianne and Amy.

6 Mentions:

Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara (Historical Mystery), recommended by Jo and Melissa. Read Jo’s review on our blog.

The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Thriller).

Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson (Contemporary Fiction).

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen (Historical Fiction).

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix (Horror), recommended by Mark.

The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Young Adult Thriller), recommended by Erica, Mark, Amy and Brooke.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (Historical Fiction), recommended by Trish, Becky and Jo. Read Jo’s review of this and other historical novels on our blog.

Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe (Young Adult), recommended by Erica.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Jean, Marianne, Becky and Jo.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (Science Fiction), recommended by Joe, Andrea and Jean.

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart (Contemporary Fiction).

Outlawed by Anna North (Historical Fiction), recommended by Jo and Erica. Read Jo’s review on our blog.

The Push by Ashley Audrain (Thriller), recommended by Dorota. Read Karen’s review on our blog.

The Removed by Brandon Hobson (Literary Fiction).

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (Fantasy).

Wayward by Dana Spiotta (Contemporary Fiction).

5 Mentions:

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty (Suspense), recommended by Andrea, Jo and Marianne.

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Joe, Becky and Erica.

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki (Literary Fiction), recommended by Becky.

Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins (Magical Realism).

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas (Young Adult).

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez (Short Stories).

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Erica, Haley and Jo.

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang (Romance), recommended by Jenn.

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer (Science Fiction), recommended by Joe.

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, by Claire Vaye Watkins (Contemporary Fiction).

Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward (Horror), recommended by Lindsay and Mark.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (Young Adult).

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (Science Fiction).

The Magician by Colm Toibin (Historical Fiction), recommended by Dorota.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman (Mystery, Thursday Murder Club #2), recommended by Jenn, Lori, Haley, Jo and Erica.

Milk Blood Heat (Short Stories) by Dantiel W. Moniz.

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark (Fantasy).

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder (Romance).

My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones (Horror), recommended by Mark.

My Year Abroad by Chang-rae Lee (Contemporary Fiction).

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (Science Fiction).

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (Historical Fiction), recommended by Melissa.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz (Thriller), recommended by Jean, Becky and Ellen J.

The Promise by Damon Galgut (Literary Fiction).

What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J.A. Chauncy (Contemporary Fiction).

What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad (Contemporary Fiction).

Sources: Amazon, American Library Association’s Carnegie Medal Long List, Barnes & Noble, BookPage, Book Riot, Chicago Public Library, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Cook Memorial Public Library Staff Favorites, Goodreads, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Kirkus, Library Journal, New York Public Library, New York Times, NPR, Oprah Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Real Simple, School Library Journal, Slate, Time, Vogue, Vulture, Washington Post.

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