My Favorite Books of 2021

As always, these are not books published in 2021, they are just my favorites that I read this year. This is in no way exhaustive and if I had more time, I would’ve added a few more…


The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

This was a delightfully magical read.  I couldn’t put it down.  If you only pick up one fictional book this year, make it this one—you’ll be very glad you did. 

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

I’m the least romantic person I know and unfortunately, my exposure to this story was to see the 80’s movie.  Anne’s annoying penchant for romanticizing everything and her love story with Gilbert Blithe seemed dumb to me (I know, hate me all you want). But being slightly more mature in my ability to stomach romanticism (at the ripe old age of 38), I tried it out.  It was delightful.  Not because of Anne–she was still pretty annoying–but because of Marilla Cuthbert. I identify with her in both the best and the worst ways.  Like her, I’m practical, a lover of cleanliness and efficiency, sarcastic, and if left to my sin-nature without God’s gracious mitigation, I can be cold and self-righteously unmerciful like her.  And yet, just as in the book, Anne is able to soften Marilla’s heart over time, and just as Anne does for her, so I find that I’ve surrounded myself with many Anne’s throughout the years and they have helped to make my heart more tender. It’s a classic for a reason and I’m glad I got over myself and read it.

My only caveat to the reader is, if this makes you feel inspired to go out and adopt an Anne of your own, just know it will be nothing like this (see parenting book review below).

Biographical Fiction

Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady

I was not expecting this.  I borrowed this from the library without knowing hardly anything about it and I’m so glad that was the case.  This is one powerful and poignant narrative based on a real-life event.  I don’t want to give much away, but the title could not have been more fitting.  It makes me want to read more of Eady’s works.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

As with the above book, I love how Saunders blurs the lines of fact and fiction.  He weaves so inventively both factual historical accounts of the life and times of Abraham Lincoln with his own fantastical narratives.  If you delight in encountering literary novelties, you will enjoy this book.  However, I would not recommend this to readers unable to tolerate divergent moral/theological ideas and perspectives.  It also tends toward the crass in various places.

Non-Fiction and Memoir

Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta by Brian Kolodiejchuk

This book has somehow stuck with me the entire year—like an ear-worm for the soul.  It was not beautifully written, it was tedious and repetitive, and points were belabored.  BUT it was powerfully inspiring and showed the deepest, darkest, and most intimate portrait of this saint. Her love for God and her great longing for Him is amazing.  I don’t think I could ever be a saint.  Although I try to do what God asks of me, there are few things that put dread into my heart more than what Mother Teresa encountered.  Saints like Mother Teresa, desire so much to be like Christ and to partake in his suffering, that they sometimes experience what is called the “long night of the soul.”  It is that complete silence, darkness, and feeling of separation from God like what Jesus experienced on the Cross when he cried, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”  So many times, as I read her words, “I cannot refuse anything God asks of me,” I was convicted and challenged. Could I do that?  Could I still be obedient to Him like she was for 55 years, if I no longer felt his presence?  Could I have the faith to remain steadfast?  

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker  

This book was riveting, heart-breaking and also, the MOST triggering book I’ve ever read. This is about a large family of 12 children, six of whom end up schizophrenic. If you have lived with a violent schizophrenic, or even a non-violent one (I’ve lived with both), this book will hit far too close to home in all of the worst ways. I couldn’t put it down, and yet, it was so painfully and intensely accurate to my own experience, that I would find myself shaking with adrenaline and had to set it down for several days at a time to move out of my own dark experiences and back into a healthy state of mind before continuing.  I understand far too well the different reactions of the siblings who escaped: one sister became the caregiver and advocate for her (safer) affected siblings, one brother moved far away, having little contact and creating his own life. And one sister, after years of emotional avoidance and self-sabotage, received therapy and started trying to reconnect with her brothers before their early deaths (an all-too common occurrence for those taking anti-psychotics for long periods of time).

This family and the sad improbability of half of their children developing the disease, is an important part in helping researchers understand schizophrenia better. Aside from the memoir aspect of the book, there is the thread of scientific study woven throughout the narrative and I found that both interesting and heartening.

If you know anyone with a family member or family members with schizophrenia, do them a favor and read this book. It will give you a good glimpse into how hard and sometimes, impossible it is for them every day to care for someone with this diagnosis.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

I knew nothing about horse-racing and frankly, didn’t care about it.  But because there are two authors that I implicitly trust to make me love something I know nothing about (and the other is the next listed), I knew that I would love it.  And I did.  It’s about so much more than a little knock-kneed horse winning horse races.  It’s about the amazing and eccentric people who cared for this horse and how all of what they did changed them and changed many.  Read it.  You will be so glad you did.

Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II by Daniel James Brown

“Lord have mercy,” was the prayer that kept forming on my lips as I read this book.  This is not the first time that I’ve read about the American concentration camps for Japanese-Americans (more gently called Japanese Internment camps). I did not know that immigrated Japanese (and Chinese for that matter) were denied the rights to become American citizens. This book delves into the personal stories of those that came from those concentration camps in order to fight for the country that had wrongfully bankrupted, imprisoned, and in some cases, killed their family members.  What heroism. And what tragedy based on racist paranoia. Most sadly though, some things don’t seem to have changed all that much in America for those who look different.

Know my Name by Chanel Miller

I didn’t know much about her story other than that she was the nameless girl that Brock Turner had sexually assaulted.  She tells such an intimate and raw story, leaving out nothing.  Her honesty, forgiveness and her courage are unrelenting.  It is an important story and it is an all-too common story that most people are too afraid to tell. It was special to listen to the author read her own story.  In places, her voice shook and cracked where she felt deep shame, or grief. It became defiant and incredulous when unbelievably unjust things were said and done to her, the victim. The terrible miscarriage of justice in her case has become the sounding alarm that America’s treatment of victims of sexual assault must change.

Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

This book is written by a girl who was brought up in foster care.  Her story is well-written and if you’ve experienced any part of the foster care world, you know that her story is like that of many others.  Although this book mostly took place in the 1990’s, at least in my experience, not much has changed. What makes this story stand out is that it is written by an author who found a way to move through her years of trauma.  Most kids who go through so much trauma from a young age, cannot and may not ever be able to tell their stories in a cohesive way. I’m thankful for this book as it gives voice to so many. 

As a foster parent, I cannot recommend this book enough and I think it should be required reading for those looking to foster and adopt (and for anyone in social work), as many of the behavioral/attachment challenges faced by prospective foster/adoptive parents are shown. The author does a wonderful job of showing her own thinking, behaviors, and struggles with attaching–and she is a mild norm. She also witnesses the extreme behaviors of other children she encounters along the way–and it’s those things that are so hard to explain to everyone except other foster parents.

Parenting Books

Dancing with a Porcupine: Parenting Wounded Children without Losing Yourself by Jennie Lynn Owens

This is the story of Jennie Owens and her adopted children.  It is the story of many if not most foster and adoptive parents and really pairs well with “Three Little Words.”  It is sometimes nearly impossible to describe what it’s like being a parent to wounded children, but Owens does it well through using the example of her own life and parenting.  It’s many times difficult, non-stop, and exhausting.  It’s far too easy for parents to lose track of their own selves amidst the sea of their kid’s needs.  If you know an adoptive family, this might be a good read for you (to understand how to best support them) and them (so they have more resources and know they’re not alone).

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