2021 Top Checkouts Read-Alikes for Adults

By Emily Pullen, Manager, Reader Services and Engagement
December 20, 2021

If you’re gearing up for a big year of reading in 2022, our Top Checkouts of the Year may inspire you to discover some popular titles. But there's much more to discover than just the top 10. Maybe you’ve already read (and loved) them. Or maybe you’re looking for some other titles, both popular and lesser known, that will scratch the same literary itch. Our goal, as always, is to serve every reader and to help them find the right book at the right moment. Read on to find titles similar to our top checkouts of 2021.

The Vanishing Half

#1. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vignes sisters, identical twins, flee their small, southern Black community at age sixteen. Ten years later, one sister lives with her Black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past.

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World Languages: español | portuguese | française

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For more historical fiction about passing as a different race or gender, try these:

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict
This novel tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths she must go to protect her family, her legacy, and to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

Passing by Nella Larson
Clare Kendry, a beautiful light-skinned African American woman married to a white man who is unaware of her heritage, long ago cut all ties to her past, but a reunion with a childhood friend forces her to confront her lies.

Neverhome by Laird Hunt
This spare novel follows the experiences of Ash Thompson, who becomes a folk hero after she abandons her farmer husband and disguises herself as a man to fight as a Union soldier in the Civil War.


Mexican Gothic

#2: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A reimagining of the classic gothic suspense novel follows the experiences of a courageous socialite in 1950s Mexico who is drawn into the treacherous secrets of an isolated mansion.

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World Languages: español 

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 For more literary horror, try these: 

Queen of the Cicadas by V. Castro
A young woman returns to the site of an urban legend for her friend’s wedding. Little does she know that a woman murdered decades ago has returned to exact her revenge, and the young woman has a role to play in it. 

Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
An atmospheric and creepy haunted house story that draws upon mythology and folklore and features a ghost bride. 

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
A creepy, genre-bending Lovecraftian horror novel that also features twenty-somethings in the 1950s. A young man sets out to save family members from the clutches of racist adversaries and the heir of an estate that owned one of his ancestors. 


Klara and the Sun

#3: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

From her place in the store that sells artificial friends, Klara carefully watches the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass in the street outside. She hopes someone will choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change forever, she is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.

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World Languages: español

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 For more literary fiction that tackles technology and AI, try these:

The Humans by Matt Haig
Regarding humans unfavorably upon arriving on Earth, a reluctant extraterrestrial assumes the identity of a Cambridge mathematician before realizing that there is more to the human race than he suspected.

Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax
In a near-future Tokyo, a nurse worries she will lose her job to a robot caretaker that draws out the secrets of her elderly employer, revealing a saga of forbidden love, hidden identities, and the horrific legacy of WWII and Japanese colonialism.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Written in 1932, this is a prophetic, searching vision of an unequal, technologically-advanced future where humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order at the cost of our freedom, full humanity, and perhaps also our souls.


A Promised Land

#4: A Promised Land by Barack Obama

A riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy.

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World Languages: español | Polish

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For more on Barack Obama and folks influenced by him, try these: 

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A collection of incisive, thought-provoking essays written during and following the Obama Era. 

The Deeper the Roots by Michael Tubbs
The youngest and first Black mayor of Stockton, CA shares with us the city that raised him, his family of badass women, his life-changing encounters with Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama, the challenges of governing in the 21st century and everything in between—en route to unveiling his compelling vision for America rooted in his experiences in his hometown.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
The former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama presents an intimate, whimsical and admiring portrait of the 44th commander-in-chief while sharing candid advice for today's young women professionals.


 The Origins of our Discontents

#5: Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Wilkerson identifies the qualifying characteristics of historical caste systems to reveal how a rigid hierarchy of human rankings, enforced by religious views, heritage and stigma, impact everyday American lives.

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For more thought-provoking writing on race and hierarchies in America and farther afield, try these:

Say It Loud: On Race, Law, History, and Culture by Randall Kennedy
A gathering of essays by the acclaimed Harvard legal scholar and public intellectual, that explores all the relevant cultural and historical issues of the past quarter century having to do with race and race relations in America.

Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire by Sujit Sivasundaram
Sivasundaram opens the door to new and necessary conversations about environmental history in addition to the consequences of historical violence, the extraction of resources, and the indigenous futures that Western imperialism cut short. He offers a bold new way of understanding our global past, one that also helps us think afresh about our shared future.

The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter
Traces the invention of the idea of a white race, showing how the origins of the American identity were tied to the elevation of white skin as the embodiment of beauty, power, and intelligence.


The Guest List

#6: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

An expertly planned celebrity wedding between a rising television star and an ambitious magazine publisher is thrown into turmoil by petty jealousies, a college drinking game, the bride's ruined dress, and an untimely murder.

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 For more intricately-plotted, menacing suspense books, try these:

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
When reclusive writer Leonora is invited to the English countryside for a weekend away, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. But as the first night falls, revelations unfold among friends old and new, an unnerving memory shatters her reserve, and a haunting realization creeps in: the party is not alone in the woods.

An Unwanted Guest by Shari LaPena
Weathering a storm that has cut them off from the outside world, the guests at a Catskills skiing lodge panic as an unknown assailant starts killing them off one by one. 

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka
Lady Bird, an unlucky assassin, is tasked with grabbing a suitcase from a bullet train from Tokyo to Morioka and exiting at the next stop, but doesn't realize other dangerous passengers are trying to do the same.


Where the Crawdads Sing

#7: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

At once a heart-breaking coming-of-age story, a murder mystery, and an ode to the natural world.

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World Languages: español | Deutsch | Korean | Hebrew | Polish

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For more coming-of-age stories with nature as a central theme, try these:

Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff
Fleeing into the woods believing that they have accidentally murdered an abusive parent, two young boys, unaware that they have become the focus of a desperate search, navigate dangerous natural threats in their effort to survive.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carole Rifka Brunt
Her world upended by the death of a beloved artist uncle who was the only person who understood her, fourteen-year-old June is mailed a teapot by her uncle's grieving friend, with whom June forges a poignant relationship.

Heaven and Earth by Paolo Giordano
Forging close ties with three brothers from a neighboring farm in Italy, Teresa discovers a dark secret when the brother she secretly loves commits a brutal act of revenge.


Maybe You Should Talk To Someone

#8: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

The national advice columnist presents a behind-the-scenes tour of a therapist's world from the perspective of both a patient and a psychotherapist.

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World Languages: español | Arabic

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For more candid, moving, autobiographies and memoirs, try these:

Group: How One Therapist and A Circle of Strangers Saved My Life by Christie Tate
A top law school graduate struggling with suicidal thoughts and an eating disorder describes her reluctant participation in a therapeutic support group that taught her the meaning of human connection and intimacy.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
A collection of postings on life and relationships from The Rumpus' popular "Dear Sugar" online advice column, sharing recommendations on everything from infidelity and grief to marital boredom and financial hardships.

The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper
A female, African American ER physician describes how her own life and encounters with her patients led her to realize that every human is broken and recognizing that and moving towards a place of healing can bring peace and happiness.


The Other Black Girl

#9: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books, 26-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel is hired until she, after a string of uncomfortable events, is elevated to Office Darling, leaving Nella in the dust.

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For more workplace satirical fiction, try these: 

Temporary by Hilary Leichter
Eighteen boyfriends, twenty-three jobs, and one ghost who occasionally pops in to give advice: Temporary casts a hilarious and tender eye toward the struggle for happiness under late capitalism.

New Waves by Kevin Nguyen
Fed up with discriminating bosses, an Asian American customer service representative and a talented African American programmer conspire to steal their employer’s user database before an unexpected setback exposes a secret double life. 

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour
For fans of Sorry to Bother You and Wolf of Wall Street: a crackling, satirical debut novel about a young Black man who accidentally impresses a CEO while serving his Starbucks order, catapulting him into the opportunity of a lifetime-a shot at stardom as the lone Black salesman at an eccentric, mysterious, and wildly successful startup where, he will soon learn, nothing is as it seems. 


Malibu Rising

#10: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Four famous siblings throw an epic end-of-summer party that goes dangerously out of control and secrets that shaped this family’s generations come to light.

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 For more character-driven literary fiction with a strong sense of place and families as a focal point, try these: 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Fighting an ugly custody battle with an artistic tenant who has little regard for the strict rules of their progressive Cleveland suburb, a straitlaced family woman who is seeking to adopt a baby becomes obsessed with exposing the tenant's past, only to trigger devastating consequences for both of their families.

The Five Wounds by Kristin Valdez Quade
Thirty-three-year-old unemployed Amadeo Padilla has been given the part of Jesus in his New Mexico town’s Good Friday procession. He is preparing feverishly for this role when his fifteen-year-old daughter Angel shows up pregnant on his doorstep and disrupts his plans for personal redemption. 

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
Across one bittersweet weekend in their San Diego neighborhood, revelers mingle among the palm trees and cacti, celebrating the birthday of family patriarch Miguel "Big Angel" De La Cruz and his mother who died days before, recounting the many tales that have passed into family lore.

Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.