5 Books to Pick up in 2021
BY CATHERINE FOSTER
Over Thanksgiving and winter break, I’ve had the chance to catch up on reading with a variety of books. If you like the sound of any of these five books, this could be the perfect opportunity to use any gift money you received for the holidays for some 2021 reading!
Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart
Written by the author of #1 New York Times bestseller We Were Liars, this novel is a page-turning psychological thriller. It’s witty and dark and tells the story of Jule, a mysterious, street-smart young woman who is entangled in the world of wealthy New York City families and their drama. Jule is living under the identity of her best friend Imogen when the novel begins and from there, the story progresses in reverse chronological order, providing many twists and revelations along the way. The unreliable narration, anti-hero main character, and reverse chronological storytelling make this novel a fascinating, unique read!
Although I loved the book, I’ve heard lots of mixed reviews from other readers -- it seems that people who loved We Were Liars didn’t enjoy Genuine Fraud as much (I felt the opposite because I liked Genuine Fraud more than We Were Liars). If you read with an open mind and understand that it is very different from We Were Liars, you’ll be much more likely to enjoy it.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Normal People follows the lives of Irish young adults Marianne and Connell as they navigate high school and college with their on-and-off relationship.
It was a much heavier and emotional read than expected as the characters experience battles with mental illness and every kind of abuse -- it’s definitely not a light romance. The novel can be awkward or uncomfortable to read at parts (but that’s sort of how Marianne and Connell’s lives are anyways) and you have to adjust to Sally Rooney’s unique writing style (for example, there are no quotation marks around dialogue).
It’s been turned into a TV show as well, so if you enjoy the book, you’ll have something else to look forward to! One of my favorite things about the book version of Normal People that the show misses is the characters’ internal monologues, which are important for character development and for the reader to feel connected to Marianne and Connell. Other than that, the show seems like a very accurate and emotional interpretation of the book.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
I almost stopped reading this book at first, but I’m glad I didn’t because it was thrilling and fast-paced. This action-packed novel with parallels to Lord of the Flies takes place at an all-girls boarding school on a remote island in Maine that is struck by a plague called the Tox. The Tox’s effects are gruesome: the girls who aren’t killed are left with mutations, from scales and gills to bloody eyes to double spines, and the wildlife on the island are also affected and become more dangerous. Students and best friends Hetty, Byatt, and Reese are forced to fight for survival, especially when one of them goes missing, while they wait for a cure on the somewhat-apocalyptic island.
A couple notes before you pick up this book: First, it’s definitely a gory, disturbing read because of the disgusting Tox symptoms and the many deaths and killings throughout. If you aren’t comfortable with that, then definitely skip. Next, the ending is pretty open ended, so don’t read it if you want a neat, satisfying ending that answers every question.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
One of my all-time favorites! The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a heartbreaking yet endearing coming-of-age novel narrated by the protagonist, Charlie, through a series of letters to an unnamed friend. Charlie faces mental illness and begins high school struggling without any friends. Seniors Patrick and Sam take him under their wing and welcome Charlie into their friend group, and the story chronicles the rest of Charlie’s freshman year with his new-found friends, family struggles, romance, and other eye-opening experiences.
The book explores a range of dark topics, so be prepared. But although the topics of mental illness and trauma prevalent throughout the story are very depressing, Charlie’s sweetness and the themes of friendship and first love make the story hopeful and heartwarming. The movie version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson, is just as touching and spectacular as the novel.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
In this novella (only around 100 pages!), protagonist Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning as a giant insect. Gregor’s shocking transformation puts his family through economic hardship (as he is the only working family member) and his family struggles to take care of him and themselves. As the story goes on, Gregor’s condition harms the family more and more and he becomes increasingly isolated from them.
The novella is bleak and not particularly satisfying or exciting, so if you like action or eventful plots, skip The Metamorphosis. However, if you want to try a more reflective story that explores topics like existence, alienation, family relations, and labor and capitalism, this is the perfect read for you. There are also many different interpretations of it that you can read about if you enjoy the story and want to think more about it afterwards.