The theme for our book club in 2021 is Reading for Hope. We're treating ourselves to some warm, comforting, uplifting reads this year! Some are hugs in book form; others deal with tough, serious topics, but there is an undercurrent of hope in each one.
February's book is The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
This book made Benjie's favorites of 2020 list! Here's how she describes it:
This is one of those books that feels like a hug. If you've ever wondered about the lives of the strangers you pass by in your daily life, this book shows how reaching out to connect with others can be life-changing. It was heartwarming without ever being cheesy, and I loved each of the characters equally. I was sad when this one ended.
March's book is The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede
It's hard to believe that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. This is a decidedly good memory of an objectively horrible event. I certainly remember the way U.S. airspace quickly closed on that day, but I never really thought about what happened to all of the planes that were already in the air, on their way to the U.S. with no idea what was happening in New York and Washington D.C. As it turns, a bunch of those planes were forced to land in Canada and several found themselves in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland. The story of the efforts the people of Gander went to for these strangers is inspiring, humbling and heartwarming. I suspect (hope) that someday we'll see similar stories come out about how people cared for each other during the pandemic. Somehow, that makes this story feel both historic and relevant.
April's book is The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
The #1 book of 2020 for both Dawn and Nicole!
We fell head over heels for this story of love, family and acceptance. Utterly charming, funny, warm, magical — TJ Klune has created an absolutely delightful world that was a lot more pleasant to spend time in this year than our own! It's a terrifying, topsy-turvy, fiercely loving, amazingly magical place that you'll never want to leave.
Nicole says, "This book will heal your poor, tired heart! I read it pre-pandemic, then re-read it in April during a particularly bad reading slump. It's my #1 pick for the year; I absolutely adore it!"
Dawn says, "Yes! Also my #1 pick of the year. Wholesome, inclusive, hilarious, and it explores some of my favorite themes: beauty in brokenness, strength in kindness, magic in the ordinary. And now I need to go re-read it. Again."
May's book is Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
A 2020 favorite for both Madeleine and Nicole. Here's Madeleine's review:
I have never been able to picture a story in my mind so vividly… I fell in love with this book because of its setting, gripping storytelling, and the mystery at its heart. At no point in the novel was I able to guess what came next. Migrations is easily one of the best books I have read this year.
June's book is The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett
Another one of Nicole's favorites from 2020:
The best kind of epic, multigenerational, family saga! The Vanishing Half takes its readers from small town Louisiana to New Orleans, California, and New York following one family from the 1950s to the 1990s as their lives and relationships blossom, expand, and fracture. At its heart is a story of passing - the many ways of passing - of what it feels like to be judged harshly and immediately based solely on your outward appearance; and how a person learns to hide, rebel, or adapt when who they are inside clashes with the way they are perceived by others. It's a nuanced and moving story of race, gender identity, prejudice, friendship, and love. The kind of compulsively readable, but rich and thought-provoking story that makes for book club gold!
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July's book is The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
August's book is Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
This was one of two books unanimously chosen by all of the Hartfield booksellers for our best of 2020 list! Here's Dawn's review:
Beautiful imagery, powerful verse, and a compelling narrative that delivers a story that touches on so many relevant contemporary issues: racism, stereotyping, gentrification, education shortfalls, issues with social and judicial procedures, the school-to-prison pipeline, the shadows of slavery, and more. But it's also the story of Amal — a boy, a poet, a son, a skater, a student, an artist. It's a story of art and poetry and brotherhood and family and hope and love. Perfect for readers of Elizabeth Acevedo, Jason Reynolds, and Angie Thomas.
September's book is The Deepest South of All by Richard Grant
In a lot of ways, this book feels like a case of truth is stranger than fiction. Grant's writing immerses you immediately into this insular community, a place that is amazing and disturbing, beautiful and terrifying. And, while a lot of this feels exotic and far away (cotillions, plantations, gigantic portraits of modern children in Confederate uniforms), there were definitely familiar elements, as well (well meaning progressives who try to braing about much-needed change in their community, but are ultimately beaten down or thwarted by the majority still firmly mired in racism disguised as tradition).
October's book is The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
This is the most exciting kind of debut. Set in a not-so-distant 2008, that also kind of feels like a lifetime ago, The Kindest Lie is a sharp reminder of things that were always there, even if we weren’t ready to see them yet. The simmering, always present racial and class tensions in Johnson’s fictional, rural Indiana town provide an unsettling backdrop to Ruth’s personal journey into a complicated past. There’s a low-grade feeling of dread throughout that finally resolves in a heart-pounding crescendo, leaving relief and something that feels like hope in its wake. Urgent, relevant and highly nuanced, this is a story that needs to be read quickly, digested slowly and discussed thoroughly.
November's book is Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
Another one loved by both Dawn and Nicole:
No one creates a rag-tag group of strangers thrown together by amusing circumstance quite like Frederik Backman! Anxious People is a who-dunnit mystery with all of the wit, winking and heart his fans have come to expect. The story is tightly condensed, mostly taking place in a single day, expertly crafted and endlessly fun to read. Despite the quick pace, you'll also get rich character development in memories recalled and stories shared. We've been shelving it in both fiction and mystery because we think it will appeal to both fans of Backman's previous work and mystery fans who may never have encountered him before.
Dawn says, "This is a delightful puzzle of a tale that reveals the idiocy, wisdom, love and humanity in us all!"
Nicole says, "If you love Agatha Christie, or Knives Out (and not just for Chris Evans in the cable knit sweater), you should definitely pick up this absolute gem of a novel."