Written by Natalie C.
As we transition into the New Year, it is important that readers reflect on their 2020 in terms of what books they read, so that they can get a better sense of their favorite genres and series to pick up in 2021!
Here, I will be breaking down my absolute top 5 favorite reads of 2020 (in addition to some honorable mentions that I couldn’t bear to leave out!) If any of these books intrigue you, let this serve as a recommendation to (safely) pick up these books at your local library/bookstore!
Note: Please keep in mind that these are not necessarily books published in 2020, but rather books that I read for the first time and enjoyed in 2020. Additionally, these books aren’t ranked in any particular order. Without further ado, let’s begin!
35 – Pet – Cover provided by Goodreads
#1: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
“The truth does not change whether it is seen or unseen…”
This 2019 young-adult novel by acclaimed Nigerian author, Akwaeke Emezi, tells the story of a young girl, Jam, whose quiet life in the utopian city of Lucille is disrupted when a creature emerges from one of her mother’s paintings, informing Jam that it has come to hunt the thing that Lucille is known for being free of: monsters.
Poignant story-telling, lovable characters and creative world-building create this unique, timely story of the choices children can make when the adults around them are in denial of the truth.
This book served as a warm hug for me as its short-but-sweet plot, gorgeous prose and diverse cast crafts a meaningful story with a heartfelt message!
36 – Sadness is a White Bird – Cover provided by Goodreads
#2: Sadness is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher
“I am waiting for this starving land to open up and swallow me.”
This 2018 debut novel by Israeli author, Moriel Rothman-Zecher, is a coming-of-age story of a 19-year-old boy, Jonathan, who – in the midst of being drafted into the Israeli military – is torn between his loyalty to his Salonican Jewish ancestry and his love for his two Palestinian friends, twin siblings Nimreen and Laith.
Duel timelines, stunning writing and complex characters weave this realistic, unforgettable story of loss, love and identity.
While I would’ve preferred this novel be a bit longer, this story allowed me to close out 2020 with a bang (literally – I finished this book an hour before the clock struck midnight on New Years Eve!)
37 – This is How You Lose the Time War – Cover provided by Goodreads
#3: This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
“Books are letters in bottles, cast into the waves of time, from one person trying to save the world to another.”
This 2019 science-fiction novella by award-winning authors, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, tells the story of two time-traveling agents from opposing sides of an eternal war who – through letters sent to one another in spite of distance, space and time – fall in love with each other, threatening not only their stakes in this never-ending battle, but also their lives.
Ingenious world-building, duel perspectives and insanely-beautiful prose forms the foundation of this quick, yet powerful story of how love transcends time.
While it seems like all a story needs to have is flowery language, a creative premise and a passionate romance for me to love it, this book truly opened my eyes to the beauty of literary fiction (and time-traveling…Back to the Future can’t compete!)
38 – The Deep – Cover provided by Goodreads
#4: The Deep by Rivers Solomon
“Forgetting was not the same as healing.”
This 2019 science-fiction novella by renowned author, Rivers Solomon, tells the story of Yetu, a water-dwelling descendent of pregnant African slaves whose job as the sole memory-keeper of her people’s trauma-filled past causes her to flee the pain of her responsibilities and discover the world her people left behind so long ago above the surface.
Inspired by the song “The Deep” from the rap group, Clipping (whose lead member – Daveed Diggs – narrates this story’s audiobook!), Solomon crafts a heart-wrenching tale of intergenerational trauma, reclaimed narratives and unearthed identities.
The fact that I ate up this story in less than a day (and got a free trial for Audible just to listen to Daveed Diggs’s narration!) shows just how accessible and enjoyable this brilliantly-told tale is.
39 – The Astonishing Color of After – Cover provided by Goodreads
#5: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan
“Once you figure out what matters, you’ll figure out how to be brave.”
This 2018 young-adult debut novel by award-winning Taiwanese author, Emily X. R. Pan, tells the story of a teenage girl, Leigh, and her reconciliation with her mother’s death as she connects with her maternal grandparents – and her heritage – for the very first time, uncovering long-kept family secrets and an unspoken magical presence.
Flowery language, duel timelines and a sprinkle of incredibly-unique magic comes together in this profound contemporary novel of family, grief, mental health and love.
If the fact that I broke down in tears (which, believe it or not, doesn’t happen all that often!) at this story’s ending doesn’t convince you of this story’s emotional impact, I don’t know what will!
The Color Purple (1982) by Alice Walker
A transformative piece of historical fiction told through a series of heartfelt letters written over several decades of two sisters’ lives about an African-American woman’s trials and tribulations in early-twentieth-century rural Georgia as she struggles to reconnect with her faith and her long-lost sister.
I have my AP English Literature class to thank for giving me the opportunity to read, annotate and analyze this iconic classic!
Severance (2018) by Ling Ma
A satirical science-fiction novel about a millennial workaholic who finds herself trapped in New York City in the midst of a plague-induced zombie apocalypse.
While the premise is bizarre (and may or may not hit a little too close to home in our COVID-19-filled reality), this novel actually serves as a profound commentary on society’s obsession with hustle-culture.
Felix Ever After (2020) by Kacen Callender
A young-adult coming-of-age novel centered around a soon-to-be art student as he grapples with his gender identity and self-confidence.
Despite this story’s strange pacing, the oh-so-important themes shine through this passionately-written book!
Little Universes (2020) by Heather Demetrios
A young-adult novel surrounding two sisters’ senior year of high school as they are forced to move across the country after their parents’ tragic death.
The realistic characters combined with the heavy subject-matter made this book tough to get through, but the impactful, hopeful message definitely made it all worth it in the end.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2016) by Ian Reid
A suspenseful psychological thriller about a woman who is “thinking of ending things” with her boyfriend as they travel to his parents’ secluded farmhouse.
Fair warning: while the plot may seem straightforward, this book is anything but. If you’re new to stories told by unreliable narrators, you might want to have Google open after you finish this haunting thriller. I also highly recommend the film adaptation on Netflix!
Are You Listening? (2019) by Tillie Walden
A young-adult graphic novel about two women who connect with one another after sharing their individual stories of heartbreak, pain and loss…with a sprinkle of magic as the cherry on top!
This was probably my favorite of the several graphic novels I read at the beginning of 2020 and I recommend it simply for its breathtaking artwork (but also for its complex storytelling and gripping emotional themes!)