In the first year of the pandemic, our Best of Indie list favored transportive fiction. We wanted an escape, and novels that took us to other eras and places ruled. This year, what resonated with Indieland reviewers and editors were books about discovery, imaginative works that explore identity or culture via great storylines. Some of 2021’s notables: tales of the recently fledged having lots of sex and feelings, an essay collection that fizzes with observations about Jewish artists and thinkers, and a memoirist who unearths her family’s skeletons. Here are a few exemplary titles; you’ll find the complete list of 100 Best Indie Books of 2021 here.

In William Young’s Blue and Other Stories, a cast of 20-somethings is“adrift and dissatisfied, full of ruminations about their lives and larger political and racial tensions, and they’re usually pretty horny and avid for sex as a transformative or at least edifying experience.” These well-told tales reveal the numinous in the everyday: “She laid out the bedroll, opened the wine, and watched as the light from the sunset curved and spread throughout the valley, like the hand of a god.” Overall, Indieland calls this one “a richly textured, engrossing collection of tales about people discovering who and why they love.”

Stargazing in the Atomic Age by Anne Goldman is one of the best of the best. “Goldman’s essays effervesce with unexpected discursions into everything from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to the art of emergency auto repairs; from this erudition, she retrieves unexpected but insightful relationships, wrapping it all in gorgeously evocative prose.” Our reviewer also notes that the work “is an absorbing excavation of the Jewish experience.”

In Leora Krygier’s latest, Do Not Disclose, she recounts the discovery of a document that led her to unearth family secrets involving infidelity and surviving the Holocaust. While Krygier’s book is a work of nonfiction, it “has all the suspense of a detective novel,” says our reviewer. “This richly detailed memoir will particularly appeal to those whose imaginations are fired by genealogy and historical research.”

Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie.