After 2020 ended, I thought 2021 was going to be the best, and I was planning on taking lots and lots of rest, acknowledging my body’s cues, and working on my boundaries. I maybe made it 30% of the way there, which is an accomplishment in itself. In reality, 2021 turned out to be an absolute roller coaster in my personal and professional life.
Personally, I celebrated my kiddo turning 3 (THREE?!) this year, and making it through three years of parenting. I saw her grow into the most creative, curious, funny, adventurous, and kind little human in the world, and every day I am immensely proud of her. She also labels her feelings and tells me where she feels it in her body, and what she’d like to help her regulate in that moment, and like – not even I can do that. So, basically, I am small plankton and she is all-knowing queen.
Close to the end of this year, I lost someone in my family of origin who was extremely influential in my upbringing, not necessarily in all positive ways, but influential nonetheless, and I’m still processing everything that happened. I also had two friendship breakups that I thought would truly last forever, but that’s life, I guess. The adjustment is still taking place, but it’ll take time.
Professionally, I made big career moves, including leaving my most long-standing job position, which was both terrifying and great for my mental health. I also started working for and with my favorite professor from grad school, who is an absolute genius and someone I look up to. It’s an honor. And also terrifying and great for my mental health. I’m still working on my impostor syndrome.
Anyways, throughout this year of self-discovery and reclaiming my space and worth, I didn’t get to read much (typical), but there were five books that resonated, some in similar and some in different ways. Here they are, kind of chronologically but in no ranked order:
Parachutes by Kelly Yang
I started the year off well by reading Parachutes. I knew I would love it because Front Desk was my “audition” review to blog for CW and the Pond, but I didn’t know exactly how much I would love it. I appreciated that it shows how pervasive misogyny is within education, and intergenerationally if not worked through. As well, Kelly Yang writes amazing characters, and links them seamlessly, and she crafted them to illustrate that the Asian diaspora is not a monolith, even folks from similar backgrounds and upbringings. Parachutes is definitely grittier and written for an older audience than the Front Desk series, but I loved them just the same.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
Also in my personal life this year, I started to make more sense of difficult and overwhelming experiences from my early childhood, especially socially and from a sensory lens, where things were just TOO MUCH. Coming to terms with my own neurodivergence and unpacking internalized ableist messages (and continuing to do so) was immensely validating, and I found comfort in books like Act Your Age, Eve Brown, where Eve experiences something similar, as well as The Heart Principle, which is coming up in a bit here.
Apart from Eve’s understanding of being autistic, her story is also a charming, hot, and hilarious grump and sunshine romance, which is one of my favorite tropes. I also had the opportunity to interview Talia Hibbert (!!!!!!) and she talked about her own experience being autistic and navigating the medical system as an autistic Black woman.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
I don’t think any words can do this book justice, but Ace of Spades was un-put-downable (are we still using that term?), and from maybe 20% into the book, I knew it would make my favorites list. It is a YA dark academia thriller featuring Black queer characters, and a Pretty Little Liars-esque plotline, demonstrating the oppression of institutional and academic racism, and how it can be felt and experienced when right when these students began school and is unrelenting.
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
Seven Days in June is one of the most special books in the world to me. I had SO MANY people send this to me when it was announced, like, was this book put into the universe for you?? And well, no, it was not, but damn, it has literally everything I could ever want in a book, and so much more. It took me about a month to finish it, because it was too overwhelming to my nervous system to consume it all at once, even though I so desperately wanted to.
If you know me, you’ll know that if you were to go fishing to try and catch a me, you would probably use the following: second chance romance, a romance with authors who write to each other through their books over many years, teens obsessed with mental health, mothering, intergenerational trauma particularly through matrilineal heritage, chronic pain, humor, a little history, and hot sex scenes. Well, folks, this book has it all, and so much more. I was again, so lucky to interview Tia Williams, and she talked about her own experience with intractable chronic migraines, as well as incorporating Louisiana Black French Creole history into Seven Days in June. After reading this book, and I really mean this, I cannot imagine a world without it.
The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang
Finally, The Heart Principle made me laugh, cry, and hug my kid and my spouse (and maybe even myself). I have loved Helen Hoang’s books since The Kiss Quotient, but The Heart Principle really hit different. The book opens with Anna, who is a concert violinist, experiencing autistic burnout, including feeling stuck and trapped in the creative process. Her boyfriend just told her that he wants to open the relationship, which she does not want, but ends up agreeing to. She meets Quan, who is the absolute loveliest man in the world and who really Gets It. Again, there are themes of intergenerational trauma and shame, discovering neurodivergent identity and experience, and finding love through it all. Though I love all of Helen Hoang’s books, I think The Heart Principle is my favorite.
Bonus book: The Silence that Binds Us by Joanna Ho
This doesn’t come out until June 2022, so this isn’t a review, but you should read this. As an Asian woman who lives in the Bay Area of California, this felt so familiar to me in an unexplainable way. It’s phenomenal.