The end of this stressful – and frankly, shitty year – is finally near, and there’s no better way to celebrate than a list of some of the amazing books that have come out in 2020! Despite the less-than-stellar year we’ve had, it was nice to have a large range of books to choose from, to briefly escape from the chaos of this year.
2020 was the year of some truly incredible books. Although, many books were cancelled and many had their publishing dates postponed, so many other phenomenal books came out this year that have made a place in my heart. From buzzy literary fiction and terrifying, gothic horror to debut masterpieces, and some cozy reads – this is a short list of some of the best book releases of 2020.
It should be noted that this list is very diverse because I made a conscious effort to do so. In an industry where books by non-white and/or non-cishet authors are forgotten and ignored, it’s even more important for readers to seek out stories that center characters other than themselves. Of the 85 books I read in total this year, 43 were 2020 releases, and only 7 of those featured white, cishet main characters. As the publishing industry becomes more diverse, I hope more book lovers would seek out books by Black authors, POC authors and writers from the LGBTQ+ community. You’ll find that your reading experience is made brighter for it.
1. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
In a city where very light-skinned Black people live, twin sisters, Desiree and Stella run away to start a life of their own. Then, they separate. Less than a decade later, Desiree is back, running away from an abusive man who hates her light-skin privilege and Stella is missing, presumably in a new life, passing as a white girl. When people think about racism, they think of it in obvious terms: violence and death. But there’s a more insidious harm that racism causes to Black people: self-hate because of our Black skin. This is a book written with the nuance and empathy only a Black woman could put to the page, and it’s a must-read for everyone.
2. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
Listed as one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2020 is a book that I connect personally with, as a Nigerian living in Nigeria – although I admit to being far more privileged than the main character of this novel. Adunni is a 14-year-old village girl who’s sold off by her father to a marriage she wants no part of. When tragedy strikes, she runs away to Lagos, but there are even more challenges awaiting her there. In Lagos, Adunni is forced to work as a “housegirl” for an abusive Madam, and at the same time, staving off the advances of Madam’s predatory husband. But when an opportunity rises to be more than she is, Adunni rises to the occasion with the help of two friends she makes along the way.
3. The City We Became by N.K Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin strikes again! New York Times and Hugo Awards best-selling author is a master of epic fantasy. The Broken Earth trilogy was an unforgettable experience for me, and The City We Became – despite being a standalone – is almost as good. Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She’s got six. On the surface, The City We Became is a great story about super-humans protecting their city from outside evaders. But as you go deeper in the book, you’ll find out that it’s more than that; this book makes statements about racism, gentrification, conservatism and liberalism, and the different sides of New York. This is a homage to New York that only someone like N.K. Jemisin could have pulled off.
4. I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee
I started this book when I really needed a feel-good book to read, and it delivered so well! Skye is a plus-size girl who dreams of becoming a k-pop star. But first, she has to deal with the fat-phobic Korean industry and judges, and along the way, she falls in love with a fellow competitor. If you’re in need of a fun, wholesome read, I wholeheartedly recommend this one. You’ll be cheering on Skye as she breaks stereotypes to win her crown.
5. Anxious People by Frederik Backman
The author of the NYT bestselling A Man Called Ove – which incidentally is on my list of feel-good books to read – returns with a humorous and charming tale. An apartment open house becomes possibly dangerous when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. What follows is a heart-warming story about these complete strangers brought together by an awful (or is it really?) situation but who find friendship and love with each other.
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7. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Vivek Oji is dead; it’s right there in the book’s title. But, why should we care? This question is immediately answered on the very first page which pulls you in with a single line. In Akwaeke Emezi’s third novel, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colourful fabric, at her feet. As she searches for answers, we uncover the vibrant life of Vivek from birth to death. This is an incredibly moving and thought-provoking story about the LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria, identity, family, friendship and love. It will leave you sobbing but in the best way possible.
8. Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
I’m not much of a nonfiction reader, but this was a book I knew I would read – and love – the instant I heard about it. This is a collection of essays by a writer and public speaker, and it is an essential read now and forever. With deep dives on everything from gun violence and its effect on the Black community to education, housing and beauty standards for Black girls, Hood Feminism seeks to shine a light on the largely-forgotten parts of mainstream, white feminism.
6. You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Another book on my feel-good reading list is this debut novel about Liz, a Black, bisexual girl who enters the prom competition in her conservative high school to win a scholarship to the college of her dreams. To win the crown (and scholarship), she has to work with her former friend-turned-enemy, Jordan, figure out her increasing crush on another opponent, and at the same time, learn to accept herself in all her queer, Black glory. This is a self-love anthem for queer, Black girls and I recommend it to everyone!
9. Beach Read by Emily Henry
A lovely book about book lovers, by a book lover and for book lovers (see what I did there? 😉), Beach Read is a romance novel about two completely opposite writers; Augustus, an acclaimed author of literary fiction, and January, a romance author, who meet in neighboring beach houses while they’re stuck with writer’s block. If you love a good enemies-to-lovers story with heart, this is for you!
10. Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
In a global empire, a love-starved prodigy is coerced by her mother to join a divine Crown Prince’s council. Her mission? Earn his trust. Swear her love. And to her horror… kill him! This is the elevator pitch for a new YA fantasy, Raybearer which is enthralling readers with its impeccable world-building, diverse characters, and thoughtful critiques on autonomy, misogyny, emotional abuse, generational trauma and the choices we make to determine our own future. Fans of YA fantasy will adore this immersive novel. Personally, I can’t wait for the next book!
11. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This gothic suspense/ horror novel is unlike anything I have ever read! In 1950s Mexico, a glamorous socialite, Noemí Taboada receives a hysterical letter from her cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom. So, Noemí heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. What she discovers is a horrifying, yet seductive world that refuses to let her go. But the horrifying parts are not just the fantastical bits; Mexican Gothic also makes important points about eugenics, racism, colourism, gaslighting and sexual abuse that permeate the story so deeply that you’ll want to reach in and save them yourself. TW for graphic sexual abuse.
12. All Boys aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
Another nonfiction book I wholeheartedly loved is this memoir by prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson. This is a series of personal essays that explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. It’s an honest look at the American society, and the challenges that queer, Black people face, as well as a constructive critique of the Black community and changes that must be made for progress. On the overall, All Boys Aren’t Blue is a reassuring testimony for young queer men of colour, as well as a celebration of the complexities of Black magic.
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13. King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender
It took me a while to decide which Kacen Callender book to include on this list; this one, or the even more popular Felix Ever After. I chose this one because I just really really loved it! Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy—that he thinks he might be gay. “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?” This middle-grade, coming-out story is about a boy discovering his sexual identity while dealing with grief over the death of his older brother. It explores grief, racism and homophobia with an unflinching and empathetic style that you won’t soon forget.
14. Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
The author of my favourite romance novel, Get a Life, Chloe Brown – on my list of feel-good books btw (seriously, go check it out) – returns with this charming romantic comedy about a young woman who agrees to fake date her friend after a video of him “rescuing” her from their office building goes viral. If you need a happy story right now, you can’t go wrong with this love story between a Black, bisexual and emotionally-challenged Dani and the romance-loving, Muslim Pakistani-British ex-rugby player. It is sooo freaking cute!
15. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
Good Omens meets Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in this magical, queer story about a lonely, uptight man, Linus Baker whose assignment to a remote island causes him to meet six powerful children – who have been labelled “dangerous” – and their lovely and eccentric caretaker, Arthur who Linus can’t quite take his eyes off. This cozy and charming book examines prejudice caused by the society around us and what it means to find your family when you let go of those biases. It’s found family excellence and the perfect read when you need something that would fill you with warmth and happiness.
16. When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole
Alyssa Cole’s first detour from the romance genre is this gripping thriller in which the gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning… Written in two perspectives, it follows Sydney Green, a Brooklyn-born and raised Black woman, and a white boy, Theo as they gather info for a walking tour, and inadvertently uncover a terrible conspiracy that threatens all Sydney holds dear. What made this book so good is that the fear doesn’t come from any supernatural elements or murderer-y stuff. Instead, it slowly creeps up as we watch several Black and Brown people begin disappearing one after the other, almost as though they were never there. Think Such A Fun Age meets Get Out with a sprinkle of history.
17. Clap When you Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic and is visited by her father every summer while Yahaira Rios lives with him in New York City. The two sisters know nothing about each other… until their father dies. In a dual narrative novel in verse, best-selling author, Elizabeth Acevedo weaves a deeply-moving tale about grief, forgiveness, sisterhood, the bonds of family, friendship and love, and all the ways women stand up for each other. This is a story that will resonate with anyone who picks it up, and if you’re reading this post, you should read this! TW for attempted sexual assault.
18. The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
If you’re in the mood for a shorter read, this wuxia-inspired fantasy novella about a group of bandits and a nun while they journey through a war-torn world, is a must-read. A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with a group of bandits, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined. This short story delivers on so many levels with an action-packed, but thought-provoking story about gender, identity, spirituality and the ordeals of war. The only problem with this book? It’s entirely too short.
So, that’s the list! You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to round this up! I had a wonderful reading year and I’m so excited for the upcoming books of 2021!
What are some of your favourite books of 2020? What 2020 book releases would you recommend to anyone? What books are you looking forward to in 2021?
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