Darius the Great Is Not Okay
I saw a piece of me in Darius, the protagonist of the story, who feels like an outsider in his own world as the child of an immigrant mother. His life changes completely when he travels to Iran to meet his grandparents for the first time. Darius’s story fully captures what it can feel like to be first-generation American—a feeling I know well—split between the world you know, and the world that your family comes from.
The Wedding Date
I am very into romance novels now, but I wasn’t always. The Wedding Date is actually the book that changed that for me. Alexa is strong, smart, sassy, and outside the norm for a female character in a romance novel. And though the first meeting of the love birds was pleasantly cheesy, the novel was filled with thought-provoking subject matter too. I’ve read all of Guillory’s other books and enjoyed them all.
Whenever I think of leadership, I think of Michelle Obama. I can’t say anything about this book that hasn’t already been said but I will add that, especially now, it’s worth a read. Michelle Obama’s words are remarkable and inspiring and will provide hope and encouragement to those who need it most.
I found Tara Westover’s life story shocking and incredible. Tara was born to survivalists who didn’t believe in things like education, doctors, or the government. Her childhood was extremely difficult—she faced horrific abuse and sustained countless injuries. Eventually, Tara decided to break free of her family and go on a quest for an education, which led her to Harvard and to Cambridge University. This memoir is unforgettable.
The Night Circus
I haven’t stopped thinking about this book since I finished the last page: it’s magic. There’s a star-crossed love story at the core, but it’s also so much more than that. There’s a quest, there’s an incredible circus filled with wonder, and there’s the characters who make it all so special. The Night Circus is whimsical, beautifully written, and a book that you will not be able to put down.
The Nickel Boys
Even if you’ve read The Nickel Boys before, I urge you to read it again. There are so many things to learn a second time around. Whitehead took a dark piece of history—a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida—and fictionalized it in a way that will captivate you and break your heart in equal measure.
Daisy Jones & The Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Not many people know this about me, but I was actually a member of a rock band while I attended college. I sing, I play some guitar, and even some piano. Music has always been a huge part of my life, so this book was just perfect for me. It follows the rise and fall of a 1970s rock group and their beautiful, enigmatic lead singer.
City of Girls
This story is a powerful narrative about womanhood and the various ways in which it manifests. But I was also enchanted by the setting of this novel—New York City in the ‘40s—and by the theatre that Elizabeth Gilbert created. I was a big theatre kid, and my love for Broadway only expanded once I moved to New York City, so reading this immersed me in that world once more and reminded me of how special the stage is.
Know My Name
I’m including this book on this list because it is one of the most powerful memoirs I have ever read, and I believe that everyone should read it. Sexual assault impacts so many people and stays with them forever. In this book, Chanel Miller tells the story of her rape experience and how it shaped her but didn’t define her. I find her to be so inspiring—when I think resilience, I think Chanel Miller.
The Water Dancer
Magical realism is always so fun to get lost in and the way Ta-Nehisi Coates crafted this story will suck you in. Here’s the premise: Hiram Walker, born a slave, discovers that he has a mysterious power—a power that saves him from drowning and leads him on a dangerous journey to helping others achieve freedom. This book will make you think about generational trauma in new, profound ways and the significance of history-making headlines of today.
Ali Wong is HILARIOUS. Every page of this made me laugh—her unique voice and style really shine through—but it’s also surprisingly deep as she talks about things like marriage, children, miscarriage, and being a woman of color in the comedy world. I was supposed to see Ali perform (COVID-19 changed those plans) but I hope that one day, I’ll get the chance again.
All Adults Here
I love books that center on families and showcase different points of view, so it isn’t surprising that Emma Straub’s latest is on this list. All Adults Here focuses on a complex family that struggles to get along but tries to mend the broken parts of their relationships with each other. All of the characters have a bit of a secret, and, as they begin to open up, they realize that love and support has been there all along. Straub touches on sexuality, identity, motherhood, friendship, mortality, and a ton more.
This book tugged at all of my heartstrings. It begins with a huge tragedy: little Edward is the sole survivor of a horrific plane crash that claimed the lives of his family. As you can imagine, Edward struggles to move on from what happened, and wonders how his life can continue when it’s changed so drastically. You also learn a lot about a few of the passengers on board, which made me think deeply about how everyone has a story to tell.
We stan a good love story that feels authentic and isn’t all happy all the time. Normal People, which is now a sexy AF Hulu adaptation, follows Connell and Marianne, two troubled teens who fall for each other and go their separate ways, but find themselves connecting time and time again as the years fly by. I’ve had an experience like that once, and this book made me think about that time, and how we all have that certain someone who’s fated to be in our lives somehow.
Hi, it’s Jess, Read it Forward’s Assistant Editor. Many of you know me from hosting Read it Forward’s book club, our videos, Instagram, or from the articles I’ve written for our site. I want to let you know that I’m leaving Read it Forward and starting a new adventure! Just like every good chapter should (in books and in life), this one has come to an end, but working at Read it Forward has been an unforgettable journey and that’s largely due to all of you. To say thank you, I want to share my favorite reads of the last 2 years! These books have touched me and shaped me as a person. My heart lives in their pages and so, as I say goodbye, I’m leaving them with you. For the last time, happy reading—now, always, and forever.