BitchReads: 11 Books We Loved Reading in 2021

A gif of people perusing a collection of over-sized books, including Girl from the Sea, The Other Black Girl, and Detransition, Baby.

Illustration by Yuke Li

Time flies fast when you’re having fun. It flies even faster when it’s 2021. Though the year might’ve gone by quickly, these were the titles that we took the time to enjoy. Our list includes a novel about inherited trauma, ancestral curses, and reimagined Korean myths, a YA title featuring a girl with golden blood, and an essay anthology on vulnerability and Black humanity. Happy reading!

Every book recommendation in this list comes from a Bitch Media editor with complete editorial independence. However, Bitch Media is an affiliate of Bookshop.org, and we want to make sure you know that a small percentage of any books you click through and purchase will come back to Bitch as a commission. Bookshop.org does not ship internationally.

Angela Mi Young Hur
{ Erewhon }
Release Date: April 26, 2021

I was completely taken over by this wide and delightfully expansive mother-daughter story. We travel to the arctic, where scientist Elsa Park hears a terrifying sound out of the icy depths, to California, where Elsa’s family has experienced generations of difficulty, to Sweden, where she falls in love with a Korean adoptee. But it’s mainly Elsa’s journey through ancestral ghost stories and myths that still sticks with me to this day. It’s emotional and vivid storytelling about family, heritage, trauma, and resilience. —Rosa Cartagena, senior editor

Torrey Peters
{ One World }
Release Date: January 11, 2021

 This book constantly surprised and entranced me. Most striking was how delicately it maintained an intimacy and honesty with each character through the vacillating plot. Peters doesn’t attempt to polish the story, which results in a novel that openly tells about complicated trans experiences without seeming preoccupied with appealing to cis audiences.—Nicole Diaz-Radlauer, editorial assistant

Namina Forna
{ Delacorte Press }
Release Date: February 8, 2021

We read it out loud on a long road trip, my 12 year old son and 16 year old daughter also loved it! Great story. Note there are some pretty intense scenes for a YA novel. —Marisol Flores-Aguirre, MBA, CEO

Molly Knox Ostertag
{ Graphix }
Release Date: May 31, 2021

A beautifully illustrated coming-of-age story, a blossoming queer girl romance, and selkie mythology—what more could you possibly want? The Girl from the Sea is a quick read and one of the standout graphic novels of the year. Though it centers around a coming-out narrative, it refreshingly leaves out trauma, homophobic violence, and bigotry. The YA bestseller is suitable for ages 12 and up. —Marina Watanabe, senior social media editor

Briar Levit
{ Princeton Architectural Press }
Release Date: October 25, 2021

Women are famously stereotyped as adept communicators, yet their contributions to the field of graphic design have been overlooked throughout the industry’s history. In the anthology Baseline Shift, design professor, historian, archivist, and former Bitch art director Briar Levit offers a fascinating corrective. The book’s 15 essays take a detailed and richly visual look at the lives and creative legacies of women designers who shaped book publishing, decorative design, printing, letterforms, and more; together, their stories reframe the work of graphic design as an indelible part of women’s social, industrial, and political evolution. —Andi Zeisler, cofounder

Tarana Burke and Brené Brown
{ Random House }
Release Date: April 26, 2021

This is a book that moves you, you don’t have to consume it all at once, it’s piece by piece. One story at a time. —Marisol Flores-Aguirre, MBA, CEO

Zakiya Dalila Harris
{ Atria Books }
Release Date: May 31, 2021

I have raved about this book to anyone who would listen. Bitch has covered it well and extensively, and I don’t want to give too much away, but I couldn’t put it down. The suspense was high, the ending was heartbreaking in the best way, and Harris’s command of describing the unique challenges of workplace racism was all too familiar. —Rosa Cartagena, senior editor

N. K. Jemisin
{ Orbit }
Release Date: March 23, 2020

Was it just me or were N.K. Jemisin’s books a lifeline during the early Covid lockdown days? I read The City We Became on the heels of Jemisin’s The Broken Earth and The Inheritance trilogies. I can’t recommend her enough. Unlike those, this first novel from her new trilogy takes place here—the boroughs of New York City on planet earth kind of “here.” I wasn’t sure about how pleasurable that would be during this moment in time, but it’s Jemisin, so I should have known it would be a NYC I’d never seen before. —Danny Fish, bookkeeping and office manager

Rax King
{ Vintage }
Release Date: November 1, 2021

In harnessing inchoate desires, time-stamping life’s turning points, and cutting straight through our public personae to our soft, needy souls, pop culture remains undefeated. Part personal excavation and part subject analysis, the essays in Tacky chronicle a child-, teen-, and adulthood whose most indelible lessons about who—and how—to be came courtesy of The Sims, America’s Next Top Model, Jersey Shore, the Cheesecake Factory, and more. Come for the nostalgia, and stay for King’s fearless and beautifully frank writing about love, sex, loss, and the before-its-time brilliance of the Josie and the Pussycats movie. —Andi Zeisler, cofounder

Alex McElroy
{ Atria Books }
Release Date: May 17, 2021

If someone described the beginning point of this book to me—an internet famous, social media “it” girl gets doxxed and trolled online and is forced to begin again in a cult—I wouldn’t run out to buy it maybe—a little too close to reality for these times. But it turns out it’s one of the best written, funniest, and “realest” novels I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a truly breathtaking page-turner, and I can’t wait to read whatever comes next from McElroy’s almost absurdly talented mind. —Laura June, managing editor

Mario Jimenez Sifuentez
{ Rutgers University Press }
Release Date: March 7, 2016

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, are interested in immigration and labor history, or eat produce then this book is a must-read. Of Forests and Fields covers the push and pull factors of Mexican immigration into the region—such as the government sponsored Bracero program—and how immigrant and migrant communities responded to labor exploitation and inequality. Sifuentez provides oral histories of individuals who experienced the Bracero program, agricultural camps, Mexican labor unions, and strikes and contextualizes them within the political and social atmospheres of events such as WWII and the Cold War. This book gives voice to an often overlooked part of PNW history and it deeply impacted the way I understand labor and immigration in this country.—Edi Kim, editorial assistant

 

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