Throughout the year, we’ve been updating our best books list according to what we were reading. As the new year has started, we’re sharing our final verdicts, and offering some of the best books we’ve found for the slowed-down days and weeks ahead. Rather than a definitive “best books” list, this is simply what we’ve loved this year—and we hope that you do too. This year had so many blockbuster reads… check out our top picks for the best books of 2021.

2021 has brought us some incredible titles, so if you want to read the best books that people couldn’t stop talking about this year, keep reading for our list of powerful novels!

Here are the best books of 2021 according to the top critics

best books

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

A lone astronaut must save the earth from disaster in this irresistible interstellar adventure as only Andy Weir could deliver. Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival that takes us to places we’ve never dreamed of going.

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

Following her 2016 debut, “Behold the Dreamers,” Mbue’s sweeping and quietly devastating second novel begins in 1980 in the fictional African village of Kosawa, where representatives from an American oil company have come to meet with the locals, whose children are dying because of the environmental havoc (fallow fields, poisoned water) wreaked by its drilling and pipelines.

This decades-spanning fable of power and corruption turns out to be something much less clear-cut than the familiar David-and-Goliath tale of a sociopathic corporation and the lives it steamrolls. Through the eyes of Kosawa’s citizens young and old, Mbue constructs a nuanced exploration of self-interest, of what it means to want in the age of capitalism and colonialism — these machines of malicious, insatiable wanting.

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

This story of a resentful artist turned stay-at-home mom morphing into a dog claws its way out of the pile. Yes, the premise sounds a bit like it was found on the reject list at a B-movie studio, but Yoder’s commitment to describing the animal nature of parenting carries it through with maximal success.

The protagonist grows a scruff of coarse hair above her sacrum and sniffs out bunnies in her yard; playtime with her son involves licking and biting. Her metamorphosis is a “a pure, throbbing state” that redirects her energy and moves her beyond learned helplessness. Yoder goes deep on the performative nature of mothering — how so much of it feels like a Marina Abramović performance in which strange creatures are invited to scream in our ears and wrestle raisins from our fuzzy pockets, all while we gaze ahead coolly.

In a crowded field of novel-manifestos about the indignity of parenting, Nightbitch is primal and corporeal, a labor scream of a book.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

If I had the ability to momentarily wipe my memory, I’d use it to reread Detransition, Baby for the first time. In Torrey Peters’ searing novelistic debut, a recently detransitioned man impregnates his cis female boss and asks his ex-girlfriend, a trans woman longing for motherhood, to help raise the baby; the plot’s uniqueness is matched by Peters’s distinctive and kinetic voice, and the two intermingle to form an unforgettable portrait of gender, humanity, and family.

The Push: A Novel by Ashley Audrain

Fans of psychological thrillers, crack open this one about the relationship between mothers and daughters. Before Blythe’s daughter is born, she wants to create the deep bond she never had with her own mom. But when Violet arrives, she’s convinced something’s wrong with her little girl. The tragic events that follow will make you question her sanity and the story she’s telling us.

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So

That So died so young and suddenly certainly adds to the eerie sense of promise and potential in his posthumous debut collection, but rest assured, So knew he was going to be a star and this collection proves it.

From the first story about two sisters working at a donut shop and speculating on the customer who comes in late at night to a virtuosic screenplay rendering of a family wedding with secrets unearthed to the gut-wrenching final story based on So’s mother’s family history — the writing is electric and original.

One Friday in April: A Story of Suicide and Survival by Donald Antrim

One Friday in April 2006, Antrim checked himself into the psychiatric facility at Columbia Presbyterian; late that summer he finally exited its doors, after several new medications had failed and innumerable group- and individual-therapy sessions, as well as about a dozen rounds of electroshock treatments that made it possible for him to at least “look forward to feeling well.”

His memoir about the experience ought to immediately join the pantheon of classic works about the treacherous pull between life and death that can occur in one person’s mind. Antrim cracks himself wide open. The book is declarative and urgent, tracing the precise contours of suicidal thinking; it’s also quiet and engineered, a fully reasoned tour of a recalcitrant brain. “Maybe you’ve spent some time trying every day not to die, out on your own somewhere,” Antrim writes. “Maybe that effort has become your work in life.” One Friday in April may be remembered as the work of his own.