2021 Librarian Favorites | Reader's Shelf

The Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS) BIPOC Library Workers Group share favorite titles from the year.

In keeping with the December tradition of the Reader’s Shelf, we asked members of the Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS) BIPOC Library Workers Group to share favorite titles from the year.

Mieko Kawakami’s Heaven (Europa Editions. May 2021. ISBN 9781609456214. tr. by Sam Bett and David Boyd), opens with two bullied students who start exchanging notes. Their earnest and tender friendship helps them through their suffering—from their own family issues to their schoolmates’ cruel acts of emotional humiliation and physical abuse. For a while, the teens seem to accept their fates matter-of-factly. But it becomes clear that each has a very different view of what it means to be victimized. Kawakami even offers a startlingly philosophical point of view of bullying from one of the bullies. Narrating in the first-person, the unnamed protagonist shares his story in a direct and confiding voice. It is raw, gripping, and movingly profound. Read next: Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori, evokes a similar pathos of sympathy but not pity for the main characters who somehow find their way through their challenges.

In P. Djèlí Clark’s A Master of Djinn (Tor.com. May 2021. ISBN 9781250267689), Fatma el-Sha’arawi is a special agent for the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. She has a vital job—keeping the magical and nonmagical parts of the world safe and happy. But someone pretending to be the great prophet al-Jahiz is seeking to disrupt that. After this new al-Jahiz brutally murders a group of white elites who worshipped his work, Fatma, her new partner Hadia, and Fatma’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, Siti, set out to discover who this “prophet” is and why they’re ready to bring Cairo to its knees. Clark weaves a new version of history that centers Cairo as a bustling metropolis and cultural touchstone, full of magic, mystery, and of course, a few djinn. Read next: “The Daevabad Trilogy,” by S. A. Chakraborty, also has a rich alternate history full of intrigue and mystery.

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’s enthralling epic The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois (Harper. Aug. 2021. ISBN 9780062942937) follows Ailey as a child in the late 1970s through adulthood in the 2000s as she encounters traumatic events, romantic misfires, and academic pressure. Juxtaposed with Ailey’s story are “songs” of her Black, Indigenous, and white ancestors from the 1700s, when the state of Georgia was the land of the Creek, and also from a plantation that radiated horror in the period prior to the Civil War. There are additional 20th-century narratives featuring Ailey’s family. Jeffers’s lyrical prose enhances the sense of time and place. Readers will visualize the lush forests of the Creek and feel the dread of the plantation. While there is an abundance of sexual abuse and other types of violence throughout Ailey’s family history, this is ultimately a story of how they persevere using love and community as guiding lights. Read next: These Ghosts Are Family, by Maisy Card, also explores a complex family history, this time with roots in Jamaica.

Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance (Workman. June 2021. ISBN 9781649040190), written and narrated by Black yoga instructor and body-positive advocate Jessamyn Stanley, feels like a blunt, intimate conversation with a friend. While her relationship to yoga and its benefits are often discussed, this is not a how-to yoga audiobook. It is a collection of essays that delve deeply into problematic issues with the U.S. yoga industry, white supremacy, body shaming, cultural appropriation, and more. She candidly discusses the challenges of trying to fit into a homogeneous space, her struggles with imposter syndrome, and her sexual assault. She is brutally honest and hilarious, and curses often. Even while discussing challenging topics, Stanley keeps a laid-back, conversational tone, making her insights feel approachable. Listen next: For more hilarious essays that combine personal experience with social commentary, check out You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain, written and read by comedian Phoebe Robinson (of the podcast Two Dope Queens).

In Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Beautiful Ones (Macmillan Audio. Apr. 2021. ISBN 9781250808288), the Grand Season has begun. But Nina isn’t concerned about becoming a lady or acting how the Beautiful One’s society cares to act. She isn’t like the rest of her family, so they send her off to the city to be with her cousin and his wife Valérie. When Nina goes to her first ball she meets Hector Auvray, a performer with a special talent. Narrator Imani Jade Powers has a lovely voice and does an amazing job managing the pace of the story and conveying the emotions behind each character. See what this twisted Midsummer Night’s Dream meets the Dangerous Liaisons story will bring. Read next: A Beautiful Poison, by Lydia Kang, offers another mystery set within the world of high society.

This column is contributed by members of the (RAILS) BIPOC Library Workers Group. Annotations are in the order given: Soon Har Tan, Adult Reference, Bloomingdale P.L.; Amy Dittmeier, Marketing Coordinator & Programming Librarian, Blue Island P.L.; Anjelica Rufus-Barnes, Reference Librarian, Prospect Heights P.L. Dist.; Van McGary, Adult & Teen Services Librarian, Downers Grove P.L.; and Vanessa Villarreal, Youth and School Services Librarian, Vernon Area P.L. Dist., Lincolnshire.

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