I started this new habit of DNFing any book I’m not fully enjoying.
Instead of spite-reading a number of one- and two-star books, I DNFed most of them.
As such, there were fewer contenders for this year’s Least Favorite Books list.
I still found some stinkers.
These were the worst books I read in 2021. I despise them.
(A note to my followers: I know many of you love the Heartstopper series. Letting you know right now that volumes 1 and 2 made this list. You might want to skip that entry.)
Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
I don’t understand what about this book was supposed to be scary.
A lot of page time was dedicated to relationship dynamics that in the end didn’t matter.
If the themes of survival, minority experience, and acceptable sacrifice were so important, why didn’t the book spend any time developing them?
The audiobook was less than 2 hours long and I still felt like I’d wasted my life listening to it.
Heartstopper Volumes 1 and 2 by Alice Oseman
(CW: homophobia, sexual assault)
I can’t express how much I hated these books.
Heartstopper tried to be both sweet, syrupy fluff and hardhitting w/r/t The Issues.
I don’t think it succeeded in either case.
The constant whiplash between a cutesy romance and brutal homophobia was jarring, to say the least.
These books hit the same rage button for me that people using fake baby voices does.
I know a lot of people consider this series a comfort read. For reasons I STILL can’t verbalize, it did not work for me.
Maybe it’s because it reminds me of Rainbow Rowell’s books, which are also marketed as the CUTEST and SWEETEST books, only to be emotionally brutal most of the time.
I certainly didn’t read Heartstopper expecting an ON-THE-PAGE SEXUAL ASSAULT.
Every New Year by Katrina Jackson
It is my own fault for picking up a Friends to Lovers romance.
I shouldn’t have expected to suddenly start liking my least favorite romance trope.
I am the problem here.
With that said…
The entire plot could have been resolved if the characters had had an adult conversation (or just, like…ANY conversation) about their relationship.
I GUESS THAT WAS THE WHOLE POINT. I’M STILL MAD ABOUT IT.
I can (sort of) forgive the misunderstanding that led to the characters’ initial missed connection. I couldn’t communicate in my early twenties either. Been there.
The novel follows these two characters into their THIRTIES.
The book OPENS with both characters heartbroken because they can’t take the pain anymore, even though NEITHER ONE OF THEM HAS EVER MADE A MOVE.
If you are IN YOUR THIRTIES and your Big Romantic Gesture is to jokingly suggest a Real Relationship while your love interest is falling asleep, I cannot root for you.
I didn’t rejoice when the leads finally got together. I just felt frustrated that these nerds had wasted so much time.
Well Played by Jen DeLuca
Well Met, the first book in this series, would have made my Best Of 2021 list if it weren’t for this godawful sequel.
NOTHING ABOUT THIS BOOK WAS ROMANTIC.
The main romance was built on halfhearted effort and lies.
Stacey deserved so much better than a man who would date her FOR A BET.
Also if Dandelion (I refuse to remember his actual name) was the one who fucked up, why did STACEY have to make the grand gesture?
This woman UPROOTED HER ENTIRE LIFE for a man who COULD NOT TELL THE TRUTH. OR HANDLE CONFLICT. OR BE HIMSELF.
Is this Reality Bites? Was this whole book a Renn Faire retelling of Reality Bites? Because REALITY DOES BITE IF THIS IS CONSIDERED A HAPPY ENDING.
Regarding rep: the book alludes to Stacey being plus-sized without fully committing.
Is Stacey fat or does she feel fat compared to her dainty friends? Those aren’t the same thing.
This book burned me so bad, I refuse to read Well Matched. I don’t care what happens anymore.
Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s by Tiffany Midge
(CW: transphobia, transmisogyny)
This book is categorized as humor. I didn’t laugh once.
Granted, I was very much not this book’s target audience. I can accept that there are some culturally-specific jokes that I didn’t get.
I do wish the author hadn’t relied on transmisogyny to land a punchline.
The main joke of an essay about Buffalo Bill was, “Haha, men who dress as women aren’t real women and shouldn’t be welcomed into women’s spaces!”
This viewpoint, even if intended as a “joke,” already shapes politicians’ decisions about trans healthcare and encourages anti-trans violence. It’s not funny – it’s harmful.
Other essays were more stressful than funny. I’m sure there are ways to make a story about a manipulative grifter funny. This book didn’t use any of them.
The inside cover hyped up Tiffany Midge’s INCISIVE POLITICAL COMMENTARY only for her “commentary” to consist of, “Trump is a big poopoo doodyhead who talks funny.”
That’s it? That’s all you have to say?
I regret spending money on this book.
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
You know how I said nothing happened in Nothing But Blackened Teeth? (Looking back, maybe the title was a clue.)
NOTHING HAPPENED IN PLAIN BAD HEROINES EITHER! THE AUDIOBOOK WAS 20 HOURS LONG AND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENED.
This book tapped into a specific frustration I have with some sapphic books.
Some books (e.g., Of Fire and Stars and A Lesson in Vengeance) seem to think that queer characters and cool aesthetics alone make a story work.
Incorrect! You still need a plot!
This book felt really smug to me. I felt like the narrator (God, I could write a novella on this narrator) kept checking in every few paragraphs to ask me, “Aren’t lesbians COOL?”
That’s…not necessarily why I read this book. Where are the scares?
Also, to answer your question: no, these lesbians aren’t cool.
One is a biphobe, another’s entire personality is Leather Jacket, and the main romantic couple in the past storyline consists of two people who keep cheating on each other.
WHO AM I SUPPOSED TO BE ROOTING FOR?
You can’t claim to be developing doomed characters if NO ONE DIES.
After nonstop Cool Lesbian vibes and endless buildup, the book throws an absolute curveball of a “reveal.” I put reveal in quotes because it felt like the book had just remembered it was a horror novel and decided to explain everything at the last second…kind of.
It turns out the rumored curse…was REAL.
It doesn’t have anything to do with our present-day heroines, though…or DOES it?
I feel cursed for having wasted my time on this.
The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling
This was my most anticipated romance of the year.
I preordered this book with hope in my heart.
Fool that I am, I misread the synopsis.
I assumed the book would be about two people teaming up against an ex, not a woman teaming up WITH her ex.
That’s on me.
Because I hate second chance romances, I was basically doomed from the start.
This book read like a Hallmark movie.
I was ready for Witchcraft with a capital W, not Halloweentown.
The two leads dated for like three months in their early twenties, then broke up when the male lead revealed his secret fiancée (or something.)
They had very little emotional connection, so I couldn’t get on board. Frankly, I am still baffled that Vivienne considered the GUY WITH THE SECRET FIANCEÈ her ONE THAT GOT AWAY.
WHAT DID I SAY EARLIER ABOUT PINING?
Also, this book decided at the 85% mark to be about righting familial wrongs.
Absolutely not. You are a silly Halloweentown romance. Stop trying to be about anything. It’s too late. You lost me at the wacky talking skulls.
The Ex Hex turned me against witchy romances and I will never forgive it.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
(CW: death, AIDS, suicide)
People praise this book for asking a Very Big Question: is it better to know or not know when you will die?
I can’t fault the book for not offering an easy answer. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like it truly asked the question to begin with.
This book felt like five disparate novellas with zero parts working in concert.
My biggest beef with this book was the primary beef I have with literary and historical fiction: the narration’s emotional remove made it impossible for me to care about the characters.
Also, said remove made looking back at the past (specifically, the AIDS crisis) feel like voyeurism. I couldn’t help feeling like Simon’s portion of the novel boiled down to, “Everyone look at this sad gay boy. Isn’t his death tragic?”
I really hoped this book wouldn’t go for an AIDS death for the sake of drama…and then it did.
Queer people deserve better narratives.
I also thought the book had some baffling things to say about mental health and suicide. (There was a whole bit about self-fulfilling prophecy that made my brain hurt.)
Later on, it wanted to be a thriller about immigration (?) and xenophobia (??). This was followed up by a segment on…animal testing (???).
In the end, I would like to know what this book accomplished aside from nothing.
I felt nothing, I learned nothing, I gained nothing.
I don’t understand what people see in it.
Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare
(CW: homophobia, racism, xenophobia, murder)
(Also spoilers, I guess.)
(I hate this book.)
This book turned my hair gray and not for the reason you think.
The best descriptor for Clown in a Cornfield is “insulting.”
Was it trying to be a dumb clown book or a social commentary?
Because if the aim was the latter, it shouldn’t have switched up the narrative to say that “fringe” beliefs are the only thing to fear.
How stupid and self-congratulatory to believe that society is doing great and would have progressed further if not for ALL THOSE WILD FRINGE PEOPLE MESSING THINGS UP FOR EVERYBODY ELSE.
First of all, WHAT? Sir, how do you think GOVERNMENT works? Have you watched the news even ONE time?
Secondly, what kind of “fringe” beliefs are you talking about?
Homophobia? Not fringe. Xenophobia? Not fringe. Systemic racism? BY DEFINITION not fringe.
I just…why would someone write a horror novel with “modern themes” (one they felt was so important, they encouraged readers who didn’t like it to read it again in the acknowledgments) if said novel did nothing to criticize existing power structures and instead blamed most of society’s problems on *checks notes* homicidal small-town Republicans?
Although this book would like to pretend Trump was an aberration who appealed to a select number of clown killers, Trump unfortunately voiced the opinions of a large swath of people (including 53% of white women.) THAT’S WHY HE IS (or was) FUCKING SCARY. WRITE A BOOK ABOUT THAT.
A book truly has nothing of value to say if its main takeaway is, “Everything’s going to be fine! The kids are alright! Only adults living in certain parts of the country are affected by dangerous rhetoric!”
Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.
This book won AWARDS and I’m SO MAD ABOUT IT.
Sidebar: the biggest surprise in the entire book was those two boys being gay all along.
Nice touch, but this is not as groundbreaking as you’re making it out to be in the year of Our Lord 2021.
These entries (especially the last one) have been severely edited down.
I didn’t like these books and I am not likely to read these authors again.
(Also, perhaps I should stop reading horror.)
It’s a new year, though, and I am much more comfortable DNFing.
Here’s to better books.