What are the most popular books of the year? Check out our in-depth guide to the Goodreads Awards 2021 and see whether you agree with the winners.
Every December, Goodreads announces the winners of the annual Goodreads Choice Awards. And every year, I hear complaints about how it’s a glorified popularity contest.
In some aspects, it is. Whenever you are polling the general population, name recognition is a big part. Well-known authors are not only more likely to be read but also more likely to get the vote even if someone hasn’t read their book.
For the Goodreads Awards 2021, I feel like it’s a mixed bag. Some of the winners were among my favorite books of the years, and some feel extremely overrated.
Here are the 2021 winners of the Goodreads Awards. I’d love to hear what you think, so be sure to comment below!
Goodreads Awards 2021: Best Fiction
Hitting the upper end of the new adult genre, Sally Rooney’s latest novel follows the lives of four single 30ish Irish protagonists as they try to find their way in life. On a whim, Alice, a novelist, invites Felix, a warehouse worker she just met, to travel to Rome with her. Meanwhile, while recovering from a breakup, Alice’s best friend Eileen begins flirting with Simon, a childhood friend.
My Thoughts: I hated this book. The millennial angst of thirtysomethings who make terrible choices and wonder what’s wrong in their lives is not my thing. I voted for Once There Were Wolves, which dives into conservation and climate change in a fascinating way.
Goodreads Awards: Best Mystery & Thriller
Before Owen Michaels disappeared, he smuggled a note to his new wife Hannah: Protect her. Hannah knows he’s referring to his sixteen-year-old daughter Bailey, but Bailey doesn’t want anything to do with Hannah. As Owen’s boss gets arrested and the FBI come knocking, Hannah and Bailey must come together to discover Owen’s secrets.
My Thoughts: Remember this category is mystery and thriller, because The Last Thing He Told Me is definitely a mystery, not a thriller. I loved the book, though. It’s definitely slower and forgoes most of the suspense by taking a more thoughtful approach.
Also, Harlem Shuffle is not a mystery & thriller, but historical fiction, and I think it would have done much better there.
Goodreads Choice Awards: Best Historical Fiction
Taylor Jenkins Reid
In 1983, four famous siblings throw an epic summer party at their Malibu mansion. Secrets come out, the party gets out of control, and a fire will burn it all down by dawn. Malibu Rising is a gorgeous family drama that surpasses a simple beach read. The story of the Riva children abandoned by their famous rockstar father is heartbreakingly sad and yet still hopeful. The characters come alive as each sibling ponders if they can escape their parents’ fates.
My Thoughts: I absolutely loved Malibu Rising because I’m always in for complicated family relationships. However, I’m surprised it beat out Kristin Hannah’s The Four Winds, which was Book of the Month’s Book of the Year.
Goodreads Awards 2021: Best Fantasy
Sarah J. Maas
Sarah J. Maas lands among the Goodreads Awards 2021 with the fifth book in her bestselling fantasy series, A Court of Thorns and Roses. Haunted by the horrors of the previous war, Nesta’s temper is constantly on edge, and no one seems to bother her more than Cassian. When the human queens threaten the fragile peace, she must work with Cassian to save the kingdom.
My Thoughts: No surprises that Sarah J. Maas won the fantasy category. I don’t read much fantasy, so I don’t have too many opinions here. I’m just glad Under the Whispering Door didn’t win because I thought it was trying too hard to be meaningful.
Goodreads Choice Awards 2021: Best Romance
Poppy and Alex have been best friends forever even though she’s a wild child full of wanderlust and he’s an introverted bookworm. Although she lives in New York City and he still lives in their hometown, every year they take a week-long vacation together. Until two years ago, when their trip ended in a falling out. Now Poppy convinces Alex to take one final vacation with her in an attempt to fix their relationship … and maybe even fall in love.
My Thoughts: Romance is really not my genre, but I actually did read this one. It was okay. I thought Poppy was super whiny and I really didn’t think she was the best fit for Alex. Not that I could tell you which book should have won this category.
Goodreads Awards 2021: Best Science Fiction
In a last-ditch effort to save Earth from an extinction-level event, a group of astronauts is sent on a desperate mission in a cobbled-together spacecraft. But when Ryland Grace wakes up, he has no memory of his mission or why the rest of the crew is dead. The sole survivor, he must take on an impossible task with no margin for failure.
My Thoughts: Audible chose Project Hail Mary as their Book of the Year, which shocked me. Out of all the books, they thought it was the best audiobook out there. I thought the book was okay. Ryland Grace is a not-as-charming copy of Mark Watney from The Martian, but the friendship story was entertaining. However, I voted for the much more literary Klara and the Sun.
Goodreads Awards: Best Horror
For over a decade, Lynnette Tarkington has been meeting with five other girls in the Final Support Group. All have survived the unthinkable and are attempting to process their trauma and go forward with their lives. When one woman disappears, the group realizes that someone has found out about them, and they must use all their tenacity to fight back.
My Thoughts: I rarely read horror, but I’m disappointed Jennifer McMahon’s The Drowning Kind didn’t make it into the top 6. I’m just glad that someone other than Stephen King won this year.
Goodreads Awards 2021: Best Humor
Among the Goodreads Awards Winners in 2021 is Jenny Lawson’s candid look at anxiety and depression. With wit and humor, Lawson relates her mental and physical health journey in a series of essays. In a world where we don’t talk about mental health enough, Lawson’s humorous anecdotes remind us that we aren’t the only ones with these struggles.
My Thoughts: I have no thoughts here. I generally find humor books to be either not very funny or too crass (which I don’t find funny), so I never read them.
Goodreads Awards: Best Nonfiction
Adapted and expanded from his podcast, The Anthropocene Reviewed is a collection of essays about how humans have reshaped the planet and its biodiversity. John Green focuses on the complexities and contradictions inherent in humankind with wit and humor.
My Thoughts: General nonfiction is such a random category, throwing in all kinds of books that don’t classify otherwise. I haven’t read any of these books, so I don’t have any opinions.
Goodreads Awards 2021: Best Memoir & Autobiography
A powerful memoir about growing up a Korean American from the indie singer known for her Japanese Breakfast project. Growing up in Eugene, Oregon, Michelle Zauner struggled to fit in as the only Asian-American student in high school, burdened by the high expectations of her mother. Moving East, she began working in the restaurant industry and joined a fledgling band. But not until her mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis did Zauner feel like she discovered her identity and understand her Koreanness.
My Thoughts: I’m so glad Michelle Zauner’s memoir won for this category. I loved how many deep themes she hit on – from her relationship to her mother, her feelings about being mixed race, her struggles caring for her dying mother, and, of course, all the Korean food.
Goodreads Choice Awards: Best History & Biography
Patrick Radden Keefe
In one of the best nonfiction books in the Goodreads Awards 2021, Patrick Radden shines with a brilliant piece of investigative reporting chronicling the life of three generations of the Sackler family. One of the richest families in the world, their name adorns some of the most storied institutions. Yet, the source of their wealth has long remained hidden: the making and marketing of OxyContin, the painkiller that sparked the current opioid crisis.
My Thoughts: I haven’t read Empire of Pain, but I have heard so many great reviews that it is near the top of my to-read list. Actually, I haven’t read any of these finalists, and they all sound so good.
Best Graphic Novels & Comics
Having been raised in the mortal realm, Persephone is finally allowed to live among the gods when she promises to become a sacred virgin. Instead, she meets Hades, the misunderstood ruler of the Underworld, at a party and must navigate the politics of Olympus so they can pursue a relationship.
Goodreads Awards 2021: Best Poetry
In 2021, Amanda Gorman became the youngest presidential inaugural poet in US history when she read her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at President Biden’s inauguration. A special edition hardcover copy of her inaugural poem with a foreword by Oprah Winfrey.
My Thoughts: If you can land at the top of the New York Times bestseller list twice in one year with your poetry, then you deserve to win the Goodreads Choice Awards.
Goodreads Awards: Best Debut Novel
With her sister’s wedding fast approaching, Catalina Martín is regretting the white lie she told her family about her American boyfriend. Desperate for someone to take home to Spain as her wedding date, Cataline turns to her arrogant colleague Aron. But the more time Catalina spends with Aron outside the office, the more she realizes he might actually be perfect for her.
My Thoughts: I know I’m not very into romance, but I make it my business to be on top of all the hot new books coming out. However, I had NEVER even heard of this book until it won for debut novel and was a finalist for best romance. My vote was for The Lost Apothecary.
Goodreads Choice Awards: Best Young Adult Fiction
As a biracial teen, Daunis Fontaine has never fit in at her hometown or in the nearby Ojibwe reservation. While her dreams of studying medicine are on hold so she can care for her mother, Daunis’s eye gets caught by her brother’s new friend. When Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, she gets pulled into an investigation that could tear her community apart.
My Thoughts: Reese Witherspoon chose this as one of her young adult Reese’s book club picks this year, and I’ve been hearing great things. I think I might have to read this for my 2022 Reading Challenge.
Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction
In the finale of the King of Scars Duology, Nikolai Lantsov must use every ounce of his powers, and possibly even the demon within, to keep the wolves at bay and remain king. Meanwhile, Zoya, afraid to lose any more loved ones, struggles with her country’s need of her powers and Nina, deep undercover, risks it all for king and country.
My Thoughts: Fantasy categories are always one where you can absolutely tell the Goodreads Choice Awards are a popularity contest. I always feel bad for the fantasy categories because they are always one by later books in a popular series.
Goodreads Awards 2021: Middle Grade & Children’s
Ana Dakkar is a student at Harding-Pencroft Academy, a school that trains young minds to people marine scientists and naval experts. On the bus ride to the final trial of her freshman year, Ana and her classmates witness a terrible tragedy that will change their lives. Suddenly Ana and her friends are thrown into a Cold War between her school and their rivals in this modern take of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
My Thoughts: I think it’s a shame that they combined all the middle grade and children’s categories into one group. Picture books and middle-grade fantasy are completely different things.
Do you agree with the winners of the Goodreads Awards 2021?