The 10 most heartwarming books of 2021

Think about the way you feel after a delicious meal. Although you know there are dishes to wash and leftovers to put away and perhaps a long drive home or work in the morning, as you look around the table at the faces of the people you love, and for that one moment, your spirit feels full, safe, happy, loving and loved. 

If that’s how you’d like to feel after your next read, the BookPage editors suggest one of these 2021 releases. 

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

The latest novel from Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is a vast undertaking, spanning centuries and incorporating multiple storylines. Amid this tangle of events, each character must face what feels like the end of their world, and it feels like a gift to the reader that Doerr’s response to each of these characters, even those who commit potentially unforgivable deeds, is mercy and hope and compassion. We have seen dark times before, and we’ll see them again—and maybe, if we trust in each other, it will all work out in the end.

—Cat Acree, Deputy Editor

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

If possible, this mystery is even better than the Osman’s charmer of a debut, The Thursday Murder Club. It’s a load of fun and an ode to how important the power of friendship is throughout one’s life but especially during the final stretch. 

—Savanna Walker, Associate Editor

These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett

As BookPage reviewer Kelly Blewett put it, “These Precious Days reinforces what many longtime fans like best about Ann Patchett: her levelheaded appraisal of what is good in the world.” Indeed, this essay collection overflows with goodness: good writing, good stories, good people. (One essay is literally about a priest whose work with unhoused people in his community caused Patchett to label him a “living saint.”) This is a companionable book, full of warmhearted reflections on how to love what we love—books, dogs, family—a little better.

—Christy Lynch, Associate Editor

Love Is a Revolution by Renée Watson

Today’s young readers are so lucky to have a writer like Renée Watson creating books for them, and Love Is a Revolution is a perfect example of why. This YA novel is a master class in characterization, from its grounded yet swoony central couple, to the family and friends who surround them, to Harlem itself, which Watson evokes vividly. Her respect for and belief in the power of young people comes through on every page, but what sets Watson apart are her words. Watson is a poet who writes novels, and that means every few pages, you will encounter a sentence so beautifully phrased that your eyes will brim with tears and your heart will be quietly filled.

—Stephanie Appell, Associate Editor

Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey 

A sweet and lighthearted rom-com that will appeal to readers who prefer stories that focus more on character than conflict, Very Sincerely Yours centers on the epistolary relationship between Teddy, a young woman who feels somewhat adrift in life, and Everett, the beloved host of a local children’s show. Both characters are lovingly and carefully drawn by Winfrey, who also creates a cozy, friendship-filled environment around her central pair. 

—Savanna Walker, Associate Editor

Goodbye, Again: Essays, Reflections, and Illustrations by Jonny Sun

On the one hand, reading Goodbye, Again feels like sharing a warm cup of tea with author and illustrator Jonny Sun. On the other hand, your pal Jonny might be a little depressed, or at least deeply introspective, and so your time together, while enriching, might make you cry. They’re good tears though—an overflow of feeling understood, of relief after hearing from someone else who feels as lonely, burnt out and hopeful as you do. Each short essay touches on an aspect of modern life that makes true connection, with yourself and others, harder. Together, they form a kaleidoscopic declaration that it’s worth the effort to nurture yourself and see what grows.

—Christy Lynch, Associate Editor

A Hundred Thousand Welcomes by Mary Lee Donovan, illustrated by Lian Cho

In her author’s note, Mary Lee Donovan writes that this deceptively simple picture book is her “love song to our shared humanity.” In multilingual rhyming couplets, A Hundred Thousand Welcomes offers a benediction for the sacredness of gathering together. Lines such as “The door is wide open— / come in from the storm. / We’ll shelter in peace, / break bread where it’s warm” have a plainspoken power, and Lian Cho’s friendly, colorful illustrations capture the joy of greetings and the happiness to be found around a shared table.

—Stephanie Appell, Associate Editor

Carry On: Reflections for a New Generation by John Lewis

During the last months of Congressman John Lewis’ life, he put pen to paper to collect some parting thoughts after 80 years of remarkable activism and service. Carry On captures Lewis’ memories of growing up as the son of a sharecropper in Alabama, shopping for comic books at the flea market, joining the Freedom Riders movement and more. Interspersed are snippets of advice for the next generation who will carry on the justice work Lewis and others began during the civil rights movement. After his death in 2020, Lewis’ last book reads as an even more precious labor of love, laced through with the congressman’s trademark wisdom, patience, determination and hope.

—Christy Lynch, Associate Editor

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

The type of book that the word heartwarming was made for, Chambers’ sci-fi novella follows a monk who is literally devoted to small comforts as they brew tea, explore the wild edges of the world and try to offer solace and warmth wherever they can. There are some heady philosophical themes at play, but just enough to engage and not overwhelm your brain as you happily sink into this small, perfectly wrought gem of a story. 

—Savanna Walker, Associate Editor

Of a Feather by Dayna Lorentz

“Two lost souls find each other and the way forward” is a story I will read as if it’s the first time every time. In Dayna Lorentz’ middle grade novel Of a Feather, the lost souls are a young girl named Reenie who’s been sent to live with an aunt she’s never met and a 6-month-old owl named Rufus who has also found himself alone and unprotected in the wide, wild world. Watching these two slowly drop their defenses and open themselves up to healing, love and hope has tremendous appeal and power: It reminds us that no one is ever truly so lost that they cannot be found.

—Stephanie Appell, Associate Editor


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