The Decades Reading Challenge has reached the 21st century and this month we’ll be reading books set after the millennium.
You can read all about the challenge, download your free printable reading tracker, and find book lists for other decades here.
As always, we welcome you to choose any book you like that is set in the decade, but to help you get started, we’ve compiled a great list of books set between 2000 and 2009. Our recommendations include numerous memoirs and non-fiction accounts of major world events of the first decade after the millennium, as well as works of fiction that span drama, comedy, and young adult literature. Other books on our list provide an eye opening look at the stark contrast between life in America and in other parts of the world at the start of the 21st century.
The first decade of the 21st century was largely defined by the 9/11 terrorist attack and the war that followed, and, in the second half of the decade, by the largest recession since the Great Depression. Near the end of the decade, America elected its first Black president, as well as the most diverse Congress in history.
In the 2000s, our daily lives were influenced by the advent of social media, the reality TV craze, and the rapid increase in internet businesses. By the end of the decade, flip phones gave rise to iPhones and allowed us to begin carrying the power of a computer in our pockets.
Major Events of 2000 to 2009
Before recommending books from each decade, we like to provide historical context with an overview of the major events of the time, but if you’d prefer, feel free to scroll straight to our book list.
In 2000, Vermont became the first state in the US to legalize Civil Unions for same-sex couples. Three years later, Massachusetts becomes the first state to legalize gay marriage.
The results of the 2000 US Presidential Election were so close that it triggered an automatic recount in the State of Florida. After a machine recount, just 600 votes separated the two candidates, requiring a manual recount. When the recount was not completed in the required number of days, the case ended up in court. In December of 2000, the US Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Gore, giving the presidency to George W. Bush. Bush was reelected to a second term in 2004.
The first crew to live on the International Space Station – made up of one American and two Russian astronauts – arrived in November of 2000 and stayed aboard the ISS for 136 days.
Following the success of MTV’s The Real World in the 1990s, reality TV achieved prominence and global popularity in the 2000s with the success of shows like Survivor, which premiered in May of 2000, The Amazing Race, Big Brother, and The Bachelor, and The O.C.
Email continued to gain popularity throughout the decade, and began to replace “snail mail” as the primary form of sending letters and communications.
Apple release iTunes in January of 2001, providing an easy way to purchase, store, and organize digital music.
On September 11, 2001, 19 highjackers took control of four US commercial airliners. Planes crashed into the two tallest towers of the World Trade Center in NYC, causing both to collapse within hours. A third plane crashed in the Pentagon in Virgina, and the fourth plane crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania after passengers appeared to resist the hijackers. Nealy 3,000 people died on 9/11 and more than 6,000 were injured.
In response to the 9/11 attacks, the US invaded Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in October of 2001, marking the beginning of the US “War on Terror.” The following year, President Bush created the Department of Homeland Security to fight threats of terrorism.
Following 9/11, and the subsequent Shoe Bomb attempt several months later, much stricter screening measures are put in place at airports, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is put in place to oversee security in all modes of transportation.
After several years of very rapid growth among new tech companies, the “Dot Com Bubble” burst in the early years of the 2000s, leaving many investors with steep losses.
In February of 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry, killing all seven crew members.
In March 2003, the US invaded Iraq, launching the Iraq War that lasted until the end of 2011. The purported basis of the war was the belief that dictator Saddam Hussein possessed or was building weapons of mass destruction, although none were ever found. In 2006, Saddam Hussein was found guilty of crimes against humanity by a Iraqi judge, and sentenced to death by hanging.
The Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, with scientists from around the world identifying over 20,000 individual genes and successfully sequencing 99% of the human genome.
Roy Horn, one half of the Siegfried & Roy illusionist duo that mesmerized Vegas audiences for decades, was mauled by his white tiger on stage in front of an audience of 1,500 at MGM’s Mirage Hotel and Casino, leaving Horn partially paralyzed.
NASA’s Mars Spirit Rover arrived on Mars in 2004 on a mission that included searching for evidence of water on Mars and whether there were ever conditions that could have sustained life on the planet. The mission continued until contact with the Spirit Rover was lost in 2010.
Facebook was launched as a social networking site in 2004, but was initially open only to students at Harvard. By the next year, it had over a million users around the world, which was just the beginning.
Martha Stewart, creator of one of the most successful home and lifestyle brands, was charged with insider trading and convicted of related felonies. She served five months in prison.
On December 26, 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean measuring 9.3 on the Richter Scale stuck near Indonesia. The earthquake triggered tsunami waves that swept across the coastlines of Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, killing at least 290,000.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Levees that separated Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans were breached, causing nearly 80% of the city to be flooded. Nearly 1,600 people died in Hurricane Katrina across the impacted states.
Charles Prince of Wales, the future King of England, remarried in 2005. The Queen of England did not attend the civil ceremony between Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, but did host a reception for the couple.
In 2007, a student went on a killing spree on the Virginia Tech campus killing more than 32 people.
Apple introduced the first iPhone in June of 2007.
The global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 sparked the most severe recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Now referred to as the Great Recession, the crisis was the result of the US housing bubble bursting, combined with excessive risk-taking by banks in the years prior.
In the 2008 US Presidential Election, Barack Obama defeated John McCain to become the 44th president and the first African American to hold the position.
In April 2009, four pirates attempted to hijack a cargo ship off the coast of Somalia. They wee unable to take control of the ship, but took the captain hostage. US Navy SEALs rescued the captain several days later.
Just minutes after taking off from NYC’s La Guardia Airport, a US Airways flight collided with a flock of geese causing the plane to lose both engines. In what is now known as the “Miracle on the Hudson”, the pilot, Captain Sully, was able to successfully crash land the plane in the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew.
The death of Michael Jackson – the King of Pop – brought outpourings of grief from around the world.
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by Richard Russo Setting: 2000/2001 Maine First published 2001
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel takes a deep look at the blue-collar heart of America. For the past 20 years, Miles Roby has been slinging burgers in Empire Falls, Maine - a town filled with abandoned mills and lifelong friends and neighbors.
Miles isn't sure what kept him in his hometown all these years - he didn't intend to end up here. He even left for a short time before being called back and here he two decades later divorcing his high school sweetheart and raising his teenage daughter. This novel is less about the plot and more about the character development as we get to know a wide cast of residents of Empire Falls.
by John Green Setting: 2000-2001, Alabama First published 2005
While this story is fictional, the characters and plot events of John Green's debut young adult novel are based on Green's own early life.
Miles Halter is obsessed with "famous last words." He's also bored with his safe life at home, but when he heads to the anything-but-boring world of boarding school, his life becomes the opposite of safe. Just down the hall, he meets Alaska Young, a girl who is everything.
First drink. First prank. First friends. First love. Last words.
by Ottessa Moshfegh Setting: 2000 Manhattan First published 2018
Imagine taking a year off to just sleep and relax in hopes that it will fix all the problems in your life. That's exactly what our unnamed narrator decides to do. It's the year 2000 in Manhattan and the you twenty-something is a recent Columbia grad with a hip art gallery job and an Upper East Side Apartment funded by her inheritance. She should be happy, but she's not - so she embarks on an "extended hibernation" with the help of a truly terrible psychiatrist who prescribes a crazy combination of medications.
This is a unusual novel based on an absurd premise, but the writing is described as "both tender and blackly funny."
by Ann Brashares Setting: 2000, South Carolina, Maryland, California, Greece First published 2001
It all starts with a pair of jeans purchased at a thrift shop. Four friends gather the night before they each go their separate ways for the summer of their 15th year, and they each decide to try on the jeans to see who they fit best. Somehow the jeans fit everyone perfectly, so the friends decide to form the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Throughout the summer, the pants see all and keep the friends connected as they each experience the most memorable summer of their lives.
The Book Girls Say... Neither of us read this book when it was first popular, but we were of the mistaken impression that this was a fluffy YA book, but in doing research for this list, we were surprised to read review after review that describe this book as "deeper than you expect" and "all the feels."
by Jacqueline Woodson Setting: 2001 Brooklyn, 1921 Tulsa First published 2019
This is the multi-generational tale of two Black families coming together for a coming-of-age party for 16-year-old Melody. The celebration triggers a flood of memories for this middle-class family that takes the reader from 2001 Brooklyn back to the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character. Touching on issues of class, gender and race, this novel provides insight into how and why each person experiences and remembers the past differently.
The Book Girls Say... This book is under 200 pages long, so if you are looking for a quick read with depth, this might be the perfect book for you.
by Jim DeFede Setting: 2001, Gander, Newfoundland First published 2002
While this book takes place around 9/11, it's not the devastating story you would expect. The book walks through the experiences of countless passengers from some of the 38 planes unexpectedly diverted to Gander, Newfoundland when US airspace was closed on 9/11. The small town of only 10,000 received 6,600 passengers from 92 countries with open arms and generous hearts.
Book Girls Say... We've both seen and love the musical Come From Away, so we knew the story of Gander. But when Melissa started this book to read a chapter before bed, she ended up awake until 4 AM because she could not put it down. The selflessness of the residents of Gander and the surrounding towns will warm your heart page after page.
by Garrett M. Graff Setting: September 11, 2001 First published 2019
Compiled by an award-winning journalist and best selling historian, The Only Plane in the Sky paints a human portrait 9/11, telling the story of the day as it was lived and in the words of those who lived it.
This oral history brings together never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, original interviews, and oral histories from nearly 500 people - including government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, family members, and friends.
The Book Girls Say... While you can certainly read this book, this audio book - read by a 45-person cast, is the most powerful way to experience this oral history.
by Jonathon Tropper Setting: Early 2000s, Upstate New York First published 2003
The entire Foxman family is together for the first time in years following the death of their father. At the dying request of their patriarch, they will all spend seven days sitting shiva following the funeral. All together in one house, it doesn't take long before things begin to spin out of control.
This family drama is written from the perspective of Judd Foxman, whose wife's affair with a radio-shock-jock has recently become public, and who announced her pregnancy on the day of his father's death.
The novel is described as fast and smart, "riotously funny," and "emotionally raw."
By Tatiana de Rosnay Setting: 1942 and 2002, Paris First published 2006
Ten-year-old Sarah is arrested with her family in the Vel' d'Hiv' round up - the most notorious act of French collaboration with the Nazis. But before the police come to take them, Sarah locks her younger brother in their favorite hiding spot - a cupboard in the family's apartment and holds onto the key, thinking she'll be back soon.
On the 60th anniversary of the Vel' d'Hiv', an American journalist is asked by her Paris-based magazine to write an article about that day in France's past. Having lived in Paris for 25 years, she realizes her ignorance about the event, and is shocked by the silence that still surrounds it. She begins to follow a trail that connects her to Sarah and forces her to question everything.
by Tahereh Mafi Setting: 2002, a small town in America First published 2018
Shirin is a 16-year-old girl whose family moves to yet another small town where she's forced to start over. But as a hijab wearing teenage in the year after 9/11, it's especially difficult. Daily she faces rude stares, degrading comments, and even physical violence as a result of her race and religion. Her brother, on the other hand, doesn't suffer the same stereotypes because his religion is apparent just by looking at him. Together the siblings share a love of music and break dancing.
Her lab partner, Ocean James, is the one classmate who wants to really get to know her, but she's terrified to let her guard down, fearing what will happen if she does. But as Shirin begins to open up to Ocean, the reader also gets to learn more about her struggles and her culture.
This coming of age novel draws upon some of the real life experiences of Irnaian-American author Tehereh Mafi. Though she clarifies that Ocean is not directly based on her husband, author Ransom Riggs, the real life couple has similarly faced the complications of being in an interracial relationship.
by Lauren Weisberger Setting: Early 2000s Manhattan First published 2003
The author graduated from college in 2009 and backpacked around the world for a year before returning to the US and starting her first real job - as the Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, Anna Wintour.
It's a not-so-well-kept secret that Weisberger's experiences working for Wintour inspired this book about Miranda Priestley, the demanding and impossible to please editor of the fictional "Runway" magazine. In the book, Miranda's new assistant, Andrea, is overworked and struggling to fit with her much more stylish colleagues.
by Elissa R. Sloan Setting: 2002, Hollywood First published 2020
In the early 2000s, Gloss was one of the hottest girl groups, and Cassidy Holmes (aka "Sassy Gloss") is at the pinnacle of her career when the group suddenly imploded in 2002. After years apart, the other three Glossies receive shocking news - Cassidy has committed suicide.
This book has been described as Daisy Jones and the Six meets Britney Spears's infamous 2007 breakdown. Similar to DJ, this story is told from the four narratives - those of each of the members of the pop group, including Cassidy.
Jumping forward and backward in time, this book explores the price of fame and fortune and touches on the very real issues of eating disorders, rape, violence, depression, and more.
The Book Girls Say... This is a new fiction release with mixed initial reviews. Fans describe it as highly entertaining and realistic, while critics say the book is a bit slow to get into and doesn't go quite deep enough. We've both added it to our TBR list, so we'll update you with our thoughts soon.
Jonathon Safran Foer Setting: 2003 NYC First published 2006
Nine-year-old Oskar Schell lost his dad on 9/11, and on top of that grief, he's been carrying around a secret since that day his dad died. Oskar suffers from anxiety, but dreams up wild inventions to help him cope. And now he's upset that his mom is spending time with a new man.
One day, while looking through his dad's closet, he finds an envelope with the name Black on it and an unusual key inside. Oskar embarks on a mission to visit every person in NYC with the last name Black in hopes of learning what the key opens.
The Book Girls Say... There are moments in this book that will make you laugh out loud, and others that will have you reaching for the tissues. One thing to know is that the author uses some interesting writing tactics, including words stacked on top of each other, incorrect punctuation, and even blank pages. However, in the audio version of the book, none of these things are apparent. Depending on your preferences, you may miss a bit with the audio book, or it may allow you to enjoy the story without distraction.
by Emily Gould Setting: Early 2000s, NYC East Village First published 2020
Laura is a talented songwriter working with her best friend, a singer. Her life turns sideways when she meets a musician who has as many troubles as he has talents.
Fifteen years later, Laura has a curious daughter, but she's still not ready to relive that phase of her life through discussion. That doesn't stop her daughter and friend from trying to re-ignite Laura's ambition.
Can she go back to the goals she put off years ago? The book explores music, motherhood, and chasing dreams.
by Michael Lewis Setting: Early 2000s, Memphis, Tennessee First published 2006
This is the true story of NFL football player Michael Oher's teenage years, and the basis of the popular movie by the same name.
Oher was one of thirteen children growing up without his father and with a mother addicted to drugs. By the age of seven her was placed in foster care and bounced between homes with periods of homelessness.
After playing football for a public high school in Memphis during his freshman year, Oher was encourage to apply for admission to a private high school. When the school community realized he was homeless, he ended up living with the wealthy, Evangelical Tuohy family.
This book explores both the evolution of Oher's life as well as the evolution of the game of professional football.
by Camron Wright Setting: 2000s, Cambodia First published 2012
Sang Ly and her husband Ki Lim live in a shantytown built upon the largest municipal waste dump in Cambodia, where they make their living by picking recyclables from the trash. Their poor living conditions are made even more challenging by their struggles to care for their chronically ill son, and to pay their ill-tempered "rent collector" named Sopeap. But when Sang discovers a secret about Sopeap, the two strike a deal that will change both of their lives.
The Book Girls Say... This fictionalized novel is based on the real life struggles of a family living in the Stung Meanchey dump, as chronicled by the author's son in his documentary, River of Victory.
by Elizabeth Gilbert Setting: 2003, Italy, India, an Bali First published 2006
In her early 30s, Elizabeth Gilbert seemingly had it all - she was well educated, with a successful career, a husband, and nice home. But rather than feeling fulfilled, her modern American success left her feeling unhappy and a bit panicked because she wasn't sure why.
After a painful divorce and a failed rebound relationship, she decided to leave it all behind and to set out on a year of solo-travel to three distinct destinations. In each, she immersed herself in the culture while exploring a different side of herself. In Italy, she gave in to pleasure - especially food. In India, she spent four months at an ashram focusing on uninterrupted spiritual exploration. Finally, on the Indonesian island of Bali, Gilbert to sought to find balance between enjoyment and transcendence. Bali is also where she unexpectedly falls in love.
The Book Girls Say... In the years immediately following its publication, this book became too popular for its own good and liking it became almost cliche. Critics call Gilbert self-absorbed and point to the fact that she funded her year of travel with an advance from her editor after pitching the idea for this memoir. Angela read this book early on before all the hype and criticism, and enjoyed every minute of it! If you skipped reading this book the first time around, and especially if you love to travel, or have a case of wanderlust, now might be the perfect time to give this book a chance and form your own opinion.
by Sonali Deraniyagala Setting: 2004 Sri Lanka First published 2013
On the morning of December 26, 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered a tsunami that stuck the coast of Sri Lanka. It was in this terrible event that Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons. In this painfully frank memoir, she describes the tragedy, the struggles that followed, and ultimately revisits all the happy memories that came before.
by Dan Brown Setting: Early 2000s, Paris, London First published 2003
Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is visiting Paris when he learns that an elderly curator of the Louvre museum has been murdered inside, and his body is covered in unexplained symbols. As Langdon tries to solve the riddles, the trail of clues leads him to clues hidden in the works of da Vinci, and then to a shocking historical secret.
The Book Girls Say... This is the first of Dan Brown's novels about Robert Langdon, but his second - Angels and Demons - is actually written as a prequel to The DaVinci Code. This book can absolutely be read as a stand alone, but if you know you'll want to read the whole series (now 5 books in total), you might want to start with Angels and Demons instead.
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh Setting: 2000s San Francisco, CA First published 2011
Abandoned at birth by her mother, Victoria Jones spent her childhood in no fewer than 32 foster homes. At age 9, Victoria wanted nothing more than to be adopted by a woman named Elizabeth, but something went terribly wrong. Nine years later, having aged out of the foster care system at age 18, Victoria finds herself homeless on the streets of San Francisco.
All those years before, Elizabeth instilled in Victoria a love of flowers and their meanings. While Victoria is unable to get close to anyone, she finds that she can communicate through flowers and she is able to get a job working for florist named Renata. When Victoria meets a flower farmer named Grant, her past and present begin to collide and she is forced to confront some painful secrets for a second chance at happiness.
The Book Girls Say... This novel is beautifully written and hard to put down! The book also includes the author's own flower dictionary, modeled one from the Victorian-era.
by David Eggers Setting: 2005 New Orleans, Louisiana First published 2009
Caught between two of the major events of the early 21st century - the war on terror and Hurricane Katrina, this is the true story of one family trying to survive.
Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun operate a house painting business in New Orleans. As the storm approaches, Kathy evacuates with their young children, but Zeitoun - a Syrian-born American citizen - stays to watch over the business. In the aftermath of the storm, he uses his canoe to rescue many neighbors and animals, until he is arrested by the police and National Guardsmen who mistake him for a terrorism suspect.
The Book Girls Say... This is an extremely power book that paints a vivid portrait of the impacts of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in the days during and after the storm.
In recent years, Abdulrahman Zeitoun has since been arrested for, and pleaded guilty to charges of domestic violence against his now ex-wife, which we obviously do not condone! The veracity of David Eggars portrayal of Zeitoun during Hurricane Katrina has not been called into question.
by Nadia Hashimi Setting: 2007 and end of 1800s, Kabul, Afganistan First published 2014
This is the story of a young Afghan girl named Rahima, and the parallel story, a century earlier, of her great, great grand grandmother Shekiba. Side by side, their two stories illustrate how little had improved for women in Afghanistan over the course of a century, but the story is not without hope.
In the 21st century, Rahima's hope for her future lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows her to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a boy, she can attend school and go to the market. A century earlier, her great, great grandmother also adopted this custom to save herself after she was orphaned by an epidemic.
by Liane Moriarty Setting: Late 2008 Sydney, Australia First published 2010
Alice Love is 29, madly in love with her husband, and pregnant with her first child. At least, that's the last thing she remembers. When Alice comes to on the floor of the gym and is whisked off to the hospital, she discovers that it's actually 2008, not 1998, she has 3 kids, and she's getting divorced. As she tries to reconstruct what she's forgotten about the past decade, she also hopes to reconstruct the life she remembers. Ultimately she'll have to decide whether she wants really wants her old life back.
The Book Girls Say... Like Liane Moriarty's other books, this one will have you laughing, but it will also make you think. If you woke up with no memories of the past 10 years, what would surprise you? How have your relationships changed? Would you have any regrets?
John Green Setting: sometime between 2008-2012, Indianapolis & Amsterdam First published 2012
Hazel has known her life would be cut short since she was first diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. She reluctantly attends "Cancer Kid Support Group" at the request of her mom, but what she finds there is the last thing she expected - first love. Hazel and the charming Augustus Waters have many things in common, including their favorite author who they are determined to meet.
The Book Girls Say... This YA novel is full of raw emotions - laughter, love, and sadness. After struggling to put into words how this book will make you feel, we decided this quote from The Atlantic says it best - "a book that breaks your heart - not by wearing it down, but by making it bigger until it bursts."
by Donna Tartt Setting: Mid-2000s* Amsterdam, Las Vegas, NYC First published 2013
At the age of 13, New Yorker Theo Decker survives a bombing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that kills his mother. As he escapes through the debris, he takes with him a small painting of a tiny bird chained to its perch. From that day forward, he clings to the painting as a reminder of his mom.
Having been abandoned by his father, he goes to live with the family of a wealthy friend on Park Avenue until his life is once again upended. Eight years later, and now an adult, the painting of the goldfinch pulls Theo into a dangerous world of crime and drugs.
The Book Girls Say... Many reviews of the 4 star reviews of The Goldfinch say that they would have given it 5 stars but for the length. At nearly 800 pages, some readers feel the story would have benefited from more aggressive editing, while others love the deep dive into the characters that the length affords.
*Additionally, there's a lot of argument about the specific time setting of this book as a result of some inconsistencies, but the general consensus seems to be that the book is primarily set in the mid-2000s.
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