Introducing Oak Park’s Best of 2021, a librarian-curated selection of titles, featuring some of the titles most requested and checked out by Oak Parkers! See our adult fiction and nonfiction favorites on this page or browse more using the links below.
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Why you should try it: "Sally Rooney has a way of writing that just sucks me in and keeps me invested. Deeply poignant and sharply acute, Beautiful World, Where Are You captured the feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, love, and thoughtful inner examination that many people face in this modern world. A truly remarkable work of prose and writing."—Rose, Adult Services Librarian
Description: Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he'd like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up, and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young—but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?
Cackle by Rachel Harrison
Why you should try it: "This delightfully witchy and super fun read is droll, spooky, and fiercely empowering."—Jenna, Collection Management Librarian
Description: After being unceremoniously dumped by her longtime boyfriend, Annie accepts a teaching position in a small picturesque village. Then Annie meets beautiful, charming, magnetic Sophie, who wants Annie to stop apologizing and start living for herself. Annie wants to spend more time with her, despite the fact that the rest of the townsfolk seem...a little afraid of her. Sophie's appearance is uncanny, her mansion in the middle of the woods feels a little unearthly, and she does seem to wield a certain power...but she couldn't be—could she?
China Room by Sunjeev Sahota
Why you should try it: "The characters in this novel are three-dimensional. Another thing I like about this novel is that the author has artfully intertwined the stories of a woman from the 1920s and of a young man from the 1990s. A gifted writer, he follows the characters across the generations and two countries. This novel was longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize."—Rashmi, Adult Services Librarian
Description: Married to three brothers in a single ceremony, Mehar and her now-sisters spend their days hard at work in the family's "china room," sequestered from contact with the men—except when their domineering mother-in-law, Mai, summons them to a darkened chamber at night. Curious and strong-willed, Mehar tries to piece together what Mai doesn't want her to know, which of the brothers is her husband.
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
Why you should try it: "This is Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games. Learn magic, or die! Written from a supremely sarcastic point of view, with funny banter and fast-paced action against Lovecraftian-style horrors."—Amy, Teen Services Digital Learning Librarian
Description: I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life. Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I’m concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I’m not joining his pack of adoring fans. I don’t need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I’m probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I’ll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world.
Go Home, Ricky! by Gene Kwak
Why you should try it: "Ricky may be a self-saboteur supreme, but he is also endearing in this strange, funny, and wholly original story. You won't read anything else like it."—Kathy, Collection Management Librarian
Description: A semi-pro wrestler spirals downward after he's kicked out of the league, leading him to a search into the complexities of identity.
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
Why you should try it: "A STEM love story! This sweet story lifted me out of a reading funk and brought me so much joy. I really loved the setting (biology lab at Stanford), the characters (two scientists with strong research projects), and the not so straightforward plot (little twists that make it more than a typical rom-com). Great for when you need a little pick-me-up."—Rose, Adult Services Librarian
Description: When a fake relationship between scientists meets the irresistible force of attraction, it throws one woman's carefully calculated theories on love into chaos.
Matrix by Lauren Groff
Why you should try it: "Who knew the story of a 12th-century nun would be so compelling and consuming?! The level of detail, from the banal to the extraordinary, is stunning. I could have kept reading this for another 100 pages."—Rose, Adult Services Librarian
Description: Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, 17-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease. At first, taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus and love in collective life with her singular and mercurial sisters.
The One Hundred Years of Lenni & Margot by Marianne Cronin
Why you should try it: "Funny, sweet, touching and honest. I loved this book."—Ginger, Materials Handling Supervisor
Description: Determined to leave a mark on the world even though they are in the hospital and their days are dwindling, unlikely friends, 17-year-old Lenni and 83-year-old Margot, devise a plan to create 100 paintings showcasing the stories of the century they have lived.
Recruited by Lauren E. Anderson
Why you should try it: "This book was so fun and wild, from college parties to the fast-paced rise and sharp decline of the late 90s dot-com boom. I loved every minute of it."—Dontaná, Collection Management Librarian
Description: Lost in a fast-paced, high-stakes "Brotopia," where hot recruiters make sure the country's best techies get anything they want to sign on the dotted line, Olivia risks it all—including her heart—to be a company star and get what she is after. But having gone from eco-warrior to dot-com fly girl, perhaps a little too easily, means dealing with some seriously irrational expectations. With the investors grabbing her "assets" and the star candidate holding out for more than just money, Olivia must decide how far she'll go to bring an extinct tree back to life.
Still Life by Sarah Winman
Why you should try it: "A big-hearted book about lovely people with just enough quirkiness. If you love character-driven stories and want a book that feels like a big, warm hug, this is for you."—Kathy, Collection Management Librarian
Description: Tuscany, 1944: As Allied troops advance and bombs fall around deserted villages, a young English soldier, Ulysses Temper, finds himself in the wine cellar of a deserted villa. There, he has a chance encounter with Evelyn Skinner, a middle-aged art historian who has come to Italy to salvage paintings from the ruins and recall long-forgotten memories of her own youth. In each other, Ulysses and Evelyn find a kindred spirit amidst the rubble of war-torn Italy, and set off on a course of events that will shape Ulysses's life for the next four decades.
Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time by Teju Cole
Why you should try it: "A quiet but intense essay collection that uses art to examine and make sense of our shared humanity."—Dontaná, Collection Management Librarian
Description: "Darkness is not empty," writes Teju Cole in Black Paper, a book that meditates on what it means to sustain our humanity—and witness the humanity of others—in a time of darkness.
LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About by Patti LaBelle
Why you should try it: "This cookbook has many easy-to-follow recipes. It surely contains many recipes to 'sing about.' I have cooked three recipes from this book: Better-Than-Mom’s Mashed Potatoes, Candied Sweet Potatoes, and Red Beans and Rice. All of the dishes came out perfect! I’m looking forward to trying more of these recipes!"—Rashmi, Adult Services Librarian
Description: For Patti LaBelle, cooking isn’t simply about food—it’s about love. Raised in a family of fantastic Southern cooks, she has kept the lessons she learned in her beloved parents’ and aunts’ kitchens close to her heart, but now she is ready to share these delicious family heirlooms.
Why you should try it: "A wonderful memoir that manages to be quiet yet powerful. Dawn Turner's writing is beautiful even when she writes about terrible things."—Kathy, Collection Management Librarian
Description: A memoir about three Black girls from the storied Bronzeville section of Chicago that offers a penetrating exploration of race, opportunity, friendship, sisterhood, and the powerful forces at work that allow some to flourish...and others to falter.
Why you should try it: "I read the audiobook, and I enjoyed Amber's humor and delivery. Beyond that, the essays were amazing."—Dontaná, Collection Management Librarian
Description: Now a writer and performer on Late Night with Seth Meyers and host of The Amber Ruffin Show, Amber Ruffin lives in New York, where she is no one's First Black Friend, and everyone is, as she puts it, "stark raving normal." But Amber's sister Lacey? She's still living in their home state of Nebraska, and trust us, you'll never believe what happened to Lacey.