It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Goodreads Choice Awards season! It’s far better, in our book, than Oscar season and maybe even on par with the holiday season … maybe. Luckily, the two coincide, so no need to choose. But we do, in the tradition carried over from last year, have to choose our predicted winners in solidarity with all the readers choosing their favorites in a valiant effort to push them to the top of the pile. What a tough, tough job. 

Goodreads on December 9 will announce the picks from readers for their 13th annual Goodreads Choice Awards. If you want to ramp up the hype yourself, join BookTrib editors Chelsea Ciccone and Judy Moreno as they have a friendly debate. By all means, add fuel to the fire by arguing with them in the comments. They’re editors, meaning they’re no strangers to critique; they can take it! Then, once Goodreads rolls out the winners of the popular vote, return to see who was write and who was wrong. Sorry, “right” or wrong. Pun intended. 

FICTION

Chelsea: There are books, and then there are books tailor-made for book lovers. The Reading List falls squarely in the latter category. It’s a love letter to classics like Pride and Prejudice and Little Women as well as that safe haven readers call the library. Sarah Nisha Adams’ debut celebrates community and reminds us just how vital libraries are within it. Above all, it’s the kind of story that makes readers nostalgic for literature while holding a captivating piece of it in their hands — and I don’t have another word for that feat besides magic. (Our Review)

Judy: Everyone has their own personal reading niche (for example, I read more nonfiction books about birds than the average person), but this has to be, generally, the category with the most popular interest. The winner has to really hit a universal nerve. All that to say, no one throws salt in all our wounds like Sally Rooney. Her latest, Beautiful World, Where Are You, has impeccable timing as we all struggle to integrate the past with the present and future after the world-altering events of the past two years. Going into the new year, I think many are going in having read, or reading, Rooney. (Our Review)

MYSTERY AND THRILLER

Chelsea: Do I even have to explain this choice? Colson Whitehead’s previous two novels each won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making him one of only four authors to do so. Harlem Shuffle blends his literary fiction edge with the thrilling world of crime in 1960s Harlem. While its mystery and pace will have readers devouring the story, its substance warrants a reread to savor the complexity Whitehead has crafted. (Our Review)

Judy: My vote’s for Colson Whitehead’s arresting Harlem Shuffle. Like Sally Rooney, Whitehead’s already-brilliant star is only rising. He manages to mix that page-turning thriller element with important societal questions. Again, impeccable timing plays a role in popularity, and I think the reading world is in the right headspace for complexity and nuance alongside crime drama in their thrillers. 

HISTORICAL FICTION

Chelsea: I fell head over heels for Taylor Jenkins Reid when I read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Then, there was Daisy Jones and the Six, which was the 2019 winner in this very category. This year, she returned with the story we’d all been waiting for: that of the famous, or rather infamous, superstar Mick Riva. He has haunted the periphery of her stories for far too long, and I’m happy to report that Malibu Rising, with all its family drama and repeating history playing out over the course of two decades and a single night, did not disappoint. (Our Review)

Judy: I feel kind of basic, but I’m pretty sure that anyone going up against Taylor Jenkins Reid is going to be disappointed. Malibu Rising benefits from a stunning cover, at least to my ocean-loving self, as well as the author’s name carrying significant clout, but beyond these calling-cards is a novel that’s received praise by too many to count. Judging this book by its cover, its author and its writing quality, I think the judges will decree Malibu Rising the winner. The literary trip to a technologically-simpler time helps, too.

FANTASY

Chelsea: This book holds an extra special place in my heart because it came highly recommended by my sister, a casual reader and my favorite human. Usually, I’m pestering her to open some fantastic book, but with Ariadne, she had the opportunity to pester me for a change … and I’m so glad she did! If you liked 2018’s winner Circe, Jennifer Saint’s immersive, woman-powered tale should absolutely be on your shelf. It’s a story that will intrigue any fan of Greek mythology, especially those hungry for the perspective of women that’s too often omitted. And considering who recommended this to me, I’m loath not to mention the authentic portrayal of Ariadne’s relationship to her own sister, Phaedra.

Judy: I’m absolutely biased in choosing Ariadne because I’m a sucker for Greek myths and will happily try a new retelling. This one’s been on my reading list ever since its release. For anyone unaware, this is about Theseus battling the Minotaur monster that lives under the title character’s family palace. She risks everything to help him and help herself escape. It’s dazzling that this is Jennifer Saint’s debut; I’ll be paying close attention to her career from here on out. 

ROMANCE

Chelsea: After falling in love with Casey McQuiston’s debut, Red, White & Royal Blue, I knew I’d read just about anything she wrote. Then, someone pitched One Last Stop to me as “a queer Kate & Leopold,” and I nearly fell over. Time travel, romance, laughter and a cast of side characters who feel just as interesting and fleshed-out as the leads (one of the best things McQuiston has to offer readers in my opinion)? Yes, please! I’ll take 12. (Our Review)

Judy: All we need is love, particularly when things seem dark, dour and uncertain, right? It’s not my go-to genre, but if there’s enough prompting and recommendation I’ll switch over. The Soulmate Equation is quite tempting. With its oblique approach to finding “the one”  — a science-backed DNA test  — and a righteously-skeptical protagonist, I think this is the romance that will appeal to readers who tend to just spend a layover in the genre rather than a whole vacation. The two authors who collectively go by Christina Lauren know what they’re doing.

SCIENCE FICTION

Chelsea: Good Omens meets A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet … where has this book been all my life?! Light From Uncommon Stars is a beautiful and unique blend of sci-fi and fantasy, and everything about it just works. The way Ryka Aoki balances unvarnished, brutal truths with something incredibly tender astounds me. This is a book that will shatter you and then lovingly put the pieces back together.

Judy: I might be very off-base, but Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun seems like the obvious choice. L.A. Times calls it, “Moving and beautiful … an unequivocal return to form, a meditation in the subtlest shades on the subject of whether our species will be able to live with everything it has created.” How can you beat a book whose praise is pretty enough to itself be poetry? (Our Review)

HORROR

Chelsea: 2021 was a year for “final girls” … there are two novels that explore the classic horror trope nominated in this category! I feel genuinely torn between Grady Hendrix and Stephen Graham Jones on this one, but with critics calling My Heart Is a Chainsaw “the definitive final girl novel,” I’m going to have to give it to Jones. (Our Review)

Judy: Talk about genres I don’t lean into! Your expert pick for last year’s winner, Mexican Gothic, was my first in a long time, but I enjoyed it so much that I’m working to expand my horizons. Rachel Harrison’s dangerously delightful Cackle is beckoning. I like that it eschews blood-and-guts and serial killers for eerie witchcraft. This is my kind of horror, though admittedly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not a horror aficionado’s first pick.

HUMOR

Chelsea: The cover of this book alone, Leslie Jordan’s smiling face, fills my heart with so much joy. He’s one of those actors that’s been in at least one episode of everything; you may not be able to place his name, but you know his face and you can absolutely hear him asking, How Y’all Doing? It’s a funny, feel-good collection of stories that will fill you with warmth and get you out of a reading slump. And, yes, he does lend his unmistakable voice to the audiobook!

Judy: Please Don’t Sit On My Bed In Your Outside Clothes. Phoebe Robinson, are you reading my journal? As someone who religiously does not let anything touch my bed unless said bed has a protective cover draped over it — which I shall remove when I’m in my nice clean pajamas and ready for a nice long sleep — I think she’s embodying the hilarious voice we all have in our own minds that’s a little too funny and too sassy to translate aloud. 

NONFICTION

Chelsea: I find language fascinating. As a writer and avid reader, I’m sure that won’t surprise anyone. I have always maintained that words are the most accessible form of magic: they allow us to craft connections, conjure illusions and create entire worlds (be it fantasy or reality, communication is key). So, whether or not words feed you — both metaphorically and literally in my case — they’re an undeniably huge part of how we interact with the world and, more importantly, each other. Cultish explores the English language’s dark side — because all forms of magic have one. Intentionally nefarious or not, Amanda Montell shows us that this specific sorcery is everywhere

Judy: We have already established that I enjoy a good nonfiction about birds. Alas, none of the finalists are that. But one comes with a high recommendation from none other than you yourself, Chelsea: Cultish by Amanda Montell. If the good readers of Goodreads agree with you, this one will reign supreme. 

MEMOIR AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Chelsea: I can honestly say, I’m surprised to find myself torn in naming my pick in the Memoir & Autobiography category. I suppose that’s just a testament to the quality of reads that hit shelves this year. Seriously, I could make a compelling argument for most of these finalists, but Crying in H Mart won’t let me forget it, so that’s my pick. Michelle Zauner’s memoir is undeniably powerful, tender and wise.

Judy: There are a lot of powerful, surprising and altogether worthy picks in this category, and choosing a likely winner is difficult. I wouldn’t die on this hill, but I think that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Notes on Grief is too life-altering to ignore. Her brave yet sensitive perspective on such a currently-all-too-universally-felt emotion is singular and important. 

HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY

Chelsea: Four Hundred Souls feels like a group project done exactly right. Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain have compiled 90 voices from contemporary America to deliver a glimpse at 400 years of Black History — all its tragedies and triumphs. This book is a truly incredible feat.

Judy: History and Biography will always find an avid audience, but Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain’s “epoch-defining” Four Hundred Souls breaks out of the bounds of just “history” and becomes immediately impactful when paired with our contemporary conversations about race, identity and reflection of every kind. I’d be surprised if this one doesn’t rise above its competition. 

GRAPHIC NOVELS AND COMICS

Chelsea: Every year without fail, I find this category the most difficult in which to pick a winner. I would happily read V.E. Schwab’s grocery lists, and yet Extraordinary is sitting right next to the work of both Molly Knox Ostertag and Rachel Smythe. It feels impossible to choose, and I’d be thrilled to hear that any one of them won. (Did I flip a coin? Maybe. But good luck proving it!) Ostertag’s The Girl From the Sea has my vote.

Judy: No one should take my word for this, but I have a feeling that Dune’s winning this category as well as winning the most-discussed movie of the year. But seriously, don’t quote me on this. I fully admit to a gap in my book knowledge when it comes to graphic novels and comics. 

POETRY

Chelsea: No contest in this category. Amanda Gorman moved the nation with The Hill We Climb at President Biden’s inauguration, and I have no doubt her words have moved readers to cast their votes right here.

Judy: While Kate Baer has my heart, and I highly recommend her poems, so does Amanda Gorman; I believe The Hill We Climb touched the hearts of many Americans at the inaugural celebration this year. She’s already accomplished so much at such a young age, and her poetry shows wisdom far beyond her years. I can only hope to express myself with a fraction of her grace. 

DEBUT NOVEL

Chelsea: Even the smartest among us fall victim to the occasional poor decision … and oh boy, drunkenly marrying a stranger in Vegas while celebrating the completion of your PhD is a really poor decision for a really smart person to make. Honey Girl‘s premise is, obviously, attention-grabbing, but it’s Morgan Rogers’ exploration of mental health that sticks with you on top of the gorgeous prose and laugh-out-loud moments.

Judy: This is a crucial win for one lucky author because the writer that pens a great debut opens the door to a lifelong career and a devoted reader base. It’s tight, but I cast my vote for Sarah Penner’s The Lost Apothecary, which only barely lost my vote in the aforementioned fantasy category. It’s a dazzling book, full to bursting with history, mystery and feminine genius. Basically, it’s the perfect tonic for a variety of woes. Watch it take the fantasy cake, too. (Our Review)

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

Chelsea: This book recently nabbed the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and it’s easy to see why. Every single person I know who has read Last Night at the Telegraph Club has nothing but praise to share. I dare your heart not to ache while immersed in Malinda Lo’s tale of first love amid the Red-Scare paranoia in 1950s San Francisco. It’s the exact kind of historical fiction I relish reading.

Judy: This category is close to my heart because I was the very uncool young adult who spent her whole Saturday reading after spending her Friday night in Barnes & Noble, picking up the latest book in my current favorite YA series. I would almost certainly have demolished The Firekeeper’s Daughter after school, at Barnes & Noble, cover to cover on a Friday night unable to wait until the next morning. It’s that good, and I bet that kids these days will agree. Though, being a less-young adult now, I may well be out of touch with the trends (as I am with all trends, really.)

YOUNG ADULT FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION

Chelsea: Somehow, I stumbled across Xiran Jay Zhao on the internet months before Iron Widow was published, and I knew, even then, this book would be a winner. Then, someone told me it was “Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in a polyamorous reimagining of China’s only female emperor,” and I don’t think I’ve ever pre-ordered a book so fast. This read is seriously badass.

Judy: Iron Widow, by the talented Xiran Jay Zhao, turns expectations upside down and sets the bar high for future YA sci-fi/fantasy. The protagonist has a destructive and somewhat horrific superpower that might allow her more power and influence than her misogynistic land knows what to do with, and the rest is history. I suspect, and hope, that it wins. 

MIDDLE GRADE AND CHILDREN’S

Chelsea: I believe it was just five categories ago that I confessed I would read anything V.E. Schwab wrote, including her grocery lists. So, it should come as a surprise to no one that I’ve chosen Bridge of Souls. This paranormal, highly atmospheric read has my full support to win.

Judy: So many good ones! I’m a huge fan of Rick Riordan (recall my proclivity towards Greek myths) and am all about Starfish (it’s a really necessary book!) but my realistic vote for the winner goes to Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston. Magicians, fairies, aliens and other supernatural creatures all make an appearance, but the most magical of all is the fierce protagonist herself. She’s on a mission to save her brother and we’re all rooting for her, all along the way!