2021 Staff Picks: Literary Fiction

By Skokie Staff Advisory Services

Our expert staff members look back at the year and share their favorite titles.

  • Cloud Cuckoo Land

    2021 by Doerr, Anthony

    "Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you." Doerr juggles centuries and genres with confidence, but his greatest creation may be the Lakeport (Id.) Public Library, refuge for the lost and those touched by destiny. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • Klara and the Sun

    2021 by Ishiguro, Kazuo

    This is a beautifully written book which asks us to consider what it means to be human. Klara, a solar-powered robot, or AF (artificial friend), tells us the story of her life and her thought processes as she is purchased as a companion to a very ill little girl. I loved every word. Recommended by Mary.

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  • The Startup Wife

    2021 by Anam, Tahmima

    If you are a fan of darkly humorous literary fiction, pick this one up. It's funny and insightful. We liked Anam's writing style and the way the story seemed naturally to evolve. No one made one major mistake; instead, the natural buildup of tiny errors shook the cast of characters and made them all question their values. Recommended by Michelle and Becca.

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  • What Comes After

    2021 by Tompkins, JoAnne

    Both a story of loss and a testament to the redemptive power of faith. I was so moved by this book. Even when the characters disappoint us with their actions, I understand their motivations. A great pick for those in a book club (as there is plenty to discuss) and any reader like myself who likes well-written, complex novels. Recommended by Lynnanne.

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  • Afterparties: Stories

    2021 by So, Anthony

    The heartbreak is this is an amazing collection of posthumously published short-stories, the author having passed away in December of 2020 at the age of 28. The joy is this is a collection of ardently written stories steeped in Cambodian-American culture, including collective trauma, generational conflict, and the desire to assimilate without forgetting where you came from, all testimony to a preternaturally gifted writer just taking flight. Recommended by Chris.

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  • Edie Richter Is Not Alone

    2021 by Handler, Rebecca

    I adored Edie's wry inner monologue, full of anguish and deadpan takes on the absurdity of the human condition. Recommended by Annabelle.

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  • What's Mine and Yours

    2021 by Coster, Naima

    The event at the beginning of the book made me gasp and turn the pages fast. Some of the characters in this sweeping family story about race, identity, belonging, and parenthood are still with me. Recommended by Megan.

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  • Things We Lost to the Water

    2021 by Nguyen, Eric

    A moving story of a family of Vietnamese refugees living in New Orleans. The language is gorgeous, and the structure skillfully switches back and forth between various times, setting, and characters. Recommended by Megan.

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  • Maxwell's Demon

    2021 by Hall, Steven

    Playful, ingenious, smart, and fun: these are the adjectives I’d use to describe Steven Hall’s relentlessly clever experimental novel. Recommended by Steven.

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  • My Heart

    2021 by Mehmedinović, Semezdin

    I liked this father's love letter to his son. It felt very nostalgic. Recommended by Adnana.

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  • The Guncle

    2021 by Rowley, Steven

    One of those books that is a little sad but ultimately really lovely. Recommended by Becca.

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  • Once There Were Wolves

    2021 by McConaghy, Charlotte

    I've never found another author than can more reliably make me feel such a wild range of emotion. Charlotte McConaghy's incredible writing drew me into her descriptions of dark pine forests, hot wolf breath, and the cold, damp dirt of the remote Scottish Highlands. I love how she can describe nature in a way that is both wild and humanizing! Recommended by Grace.

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  • Intimacies

    2021 by Kitamura, Katie M.

    I tend to like stories in which not much happens aside from characters going about their daily lives--I feel it makes clear all the interesting bits of life that can seem mundane. There's plenty of that here--plus the protagonist's musings on the ethics of interpretation, seen from her role at the International Criminal Court. Recommended by Amy.

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  • The Committed

    2021 by Nguyen, Viet Thanh

    Of course, Reg Carney is downright saintly compared to Viet Thanh Nguyen's protagonist, unnamed in The Sympathizer and now going by Vo Danh (literally "Nameless" in Vietnamese). It's a can't-look-away journey to Hell, combining the multicultural Parisian underworld with a vicious satire of Western Orientalism. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • When We Cease to Understand the World

    2021 by Labatut, Benjamín

    Benjamin Labutat takes his readers on winding journey through the dark side of twentieth-century science in this dense and demanding collection of short stories. If you can imagine a collaboration between W.G. Sebald, Stephen Hawking, and H.P. Lovecraft, you wouldn’t be far off from what Labutat is doing here. I’d say 80% of this book is fascinating, though grim, and the rest is just plain out-there. Recommended by Steven.

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  • Zorrie

    2021 by Hunt, Laird

    As a longtime fan of Hunt, I eagerly await each of his new books. Zorrie, with its sparse yet poetic prose, is perfection. As a Midwesterner, Zorrie’s worldview matched my own, and I so enjoyed reading about her ordinary, yet extraordinary life. Recommended by Lynnanne.

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  • The Thirty Names of Night

    2020 by Joukhadar, Zeyn

    It did not take me long to get absorbed by The Thirty Names of Night. I found both narratives equally compelling and was in awe at how all the pieces came together in the end. Though it came out late in 2020, it is a book that is not to be missed. Recommended by Rummanah.

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  • The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

    2020 by Philyaw, Deesha

    A wonderful and moving collection of 9 short stories all focusing on the lives of contemporary Black women who live strong, beautiful, and flawed lives despite the unyielding systems of oppression surrounding them. A stunning debut! Recommended by Chris and Megan.

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  • White Ivy

    2020 by Yang, Susie

    White Ivy grabbed my attention right from the start. Though far from a likable character, Ivy shatters the model minority stereotype and is unabashedly ambitious. Her tenacity to claw her way into Gideon's social circle is mesmerizing and in a way admirable. Recommended by Rummanah.

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  • The Book of Form and Emptiness

    2021 by Ozeki, Ruth

    An original and multifaceted story about grief, growing up, our relationship to things and people, the power of storytelling and libraries, mental illness, nonconformity, love, Zen Buddhism, and so much more. Creative, heartwarming, and thought-provoking. Recommended by Megan.

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  • Detransition, Baby

    2020 by Peters, Torrey

    I loved this book. It's everything I want in literary fiction and more. It's truly a "you'll laugh, you'll cry" type of novel. Recommended by Becca.

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