What a year 2020 has been. I’m actively resisting the urge to talk and reflect on 2020 as a year, because I am sure that there will be an overabundance of thinkpieces. But all I’ll say that – it’s been a tough year, friends, and I’m so proud and glad that we all made it through together.
With books though, I think this has been one of my favourite reading years. 2017 was my last favourite reading year – that was the year where I made the conscious decision to diversify my reading choices, and I discovered so many wonderful stories. Though the years after were also good, I think 2020 was the year where I just read a series of phenomenal books that now live in a tender place in my heart and memory.
In the last few years, I made an effort to read books by Asian authors – I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do, having read a lot of white literature growing up. This year though, I did my best to read more stories by Black and Latine authors. In fact, of the 101 books that I read this year, I read 25 books by Black authors and 15 books by Latine authors. This isn’t anything to boast about, but having an idea of what I am reading helps check myself on what literature I need to read more of.
I’m so excited, then, to talk about my favourite books of 2020. I won’t lie – I actually discovered and read so many books this year so it was hard to choose a mere ten books for this list. (I labeled 25 books as my favourite books of 2020!) As a note, I haven’t included any books that release in 2021 but I read this year – for those, I’ll add a list at the bottom!
Without further ado, here are my top 10 books of 2020, listed in alphabetical order:
Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett
Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.
Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real–shy kisses escalating into much more–she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.
Simone’s first instinct is to protect her secret at all costs, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on…
I genuinely believe this book is a masterpiece and I will continue recommending this book for as long as I live. I don’t know – I just love every single thing about this book.
From its depiction and exploration of being HIV positive, to a sex positive portrayal of sexuality and curiosity, to the main character, Simone, herself. Full Disclosure is the sort of book that all teenagers should read – it is honest, genuine, and just wonderful in every way. If you haven’t read this yet, please do – you will not regret it.
The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf
I am a dark spirit, the ghost announced grandly. I am your inheritance, your grandmother’s legacy. I am yours to command.
Suraya is delighted when her witch grandmother gifts her a pelesit. She names her ghostly companion Pink, and the two quickly become inseparable.
But Suraya doesn’t know that pelesits have a dark side—and when Pink’s shadows threaten to consume them both, they must find enough light to survive . . . before they are both lost to the darkness.
You know that amazing satisfying feeling when one of your most anticipated books ends up being really really good? That’s how I felt about The Girl and the Ghost.
The Girl and the Ghost is, what I would regard, an example of why middle-grade books are just so good. Though it has its creepy moments, The Girl and the Ghost is ultimately a fantastic story about friendship, the depth of love, loneliness, and jealousy. I loved Pink, the pelesit, and Suraya equally – and both will stay in my heart forever.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.
Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.
In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.
Have you ever read a book where, after reading it, you could just feel it… change you forever? That’s how I felt reading Gods of Jade and Shadow.
Gods of Jade and Shadow is what I wanted from a book, particularly after finishing Final Fantasy XV, which wrecked me emotionally – and I wanted to feel that same heartache again. Luckily for me, Gods of Jade and Shadow wrecked me too. This is a book about powerful gods, a life-changing adventure, an immortal-mortal romance, and told like a fairytale. I loved this immensely.
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere.
But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?
Have you ever read a book that was just so masterful, so magnificent, so mind-blowing… that you felt just a little intimidated by the author’s sheer power and mind? That’s how I feel about Jordan Ifueko and her spectacular debut, Raybearer.
If you haven’t read Raybearer, make sure you read this next year, and then you can revel in its beauty with me. The worldbuilding is out of this world – it is evident that Ifueko has put so much love and hard work into her world and I’d die for the characters too. Please please read Raybearer; it is as radiant and amazing as everyone says it is.
Running by Natalia Sylvester
In this thoughtful, authentic, humorous, and gorgeously written novel about privacy, waking up, and speaking up, Senator Anthony Ruiz is running for president. Throughout his successful political career he has always had his daughter’s vote, but a presidential campaign brings a whole new level of scrutiny to sheltered fifteen-year-old Mariana and the rest of her Cuban American family, from a 60 Minutes–style tour of their house to tabloids doctoring photos and inventing scandals. As tensions rise within the Ruiz family, Mari begins to learn about the details of her father’s political positions, and she realizes that her father is not the man she thought he was.
But how do you find your voice when everyone’s watching? When it means disagreeing with your father—publicly? What do you do when your dad stops being your hero? Will Mari get a chance to confront her father? If she does, will she have the courage to seize it?
Here is an unexpected favourite of 2020 – a good reminder to myself that sometimes picking up a book that you have never heard of before on a whim can lead to the most spectacular surprises
Running is truly spectacular, friends. It’s the sort of book that I want everyone to read – especially readers who are interested in activism and like the idea of a story with a protagonist who is given the room to be ignorant and grow from that. Running blends some great questions about activism, privacy, politics, and family dynamics, and I was blown away by how gorgeous and genuine the teenage voice was.
Please do yourself a favour and read Running.
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
How did a raw chicken get inside Yasmany’s locker?
When Sal Vidon meets Gabi Real for the first time, it isn’t under the best of circumstances. Sal is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days, and it’s still the first week of school. Gabi, student council president and editor of the school paper, is there to support her friend Yasmany, who just picked a fight with Sal. She is determined to prove that somehow, Sal planted a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker, even though nobody saw him do it and the bloody poultry has since mysteriously disappeared.
Sal prides himself on being an excellent magician, but for this sleight of hand, he relied on a talent no one would guess . . . except maybe Gabi, whose sharp eyes never miss a trick. When Gabi learns that he’s capable of conjuring things much bigger than a chicken–including his dead mother–and she takes it all in stride, Sal knows that she is someone he can work with. There’s only one slight problem: their manipulation of time and space could put the entire universe at risk.
A sassy entropy sweeper, a documentary about wedgies, a principal who wears a Venetian bauta mask, and heaping platefuls of Cuban food are just some of the delights that await in this mind-blowing novel gift-wrapped in love and laughter.
The days I spent reading Sal and Gabi Break the Universe were probably some of the most blissful and filled with so much laughter. I read a lot of books that bring me joy, but I think the joy that this book gave me was so needed – and this is definitely one of my favourite books of all time now.
It’s hard to describe what this book is about. All I can say is that I love how wild and funny and witty this book was, and you will be in for such a fun ride if you read this! Both Sal and Gabi are my darling children and I adore them with my whole heart. I cannot wait to read the sequel to this, Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe next year.
Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee
Lora wants to stay a kid forever, and she’ll do anything to make that happen… including befriending Alexa, the ghost who haunts her house.
Growing up sounds terrible.
No one has time to do anything fun, or play outside, or use their imagination. Everything is suddenly so serious. People are more interested in their looks and what others think about them than having fun adventures. Who wants that?
After watching her circle of friends seemingly fade away, Lora is determined to still have fun on her own. A tea party with a twist leaves Lora to re-discovering Alexa, the ghost that haunts her house — and Lora’s old imaginary friend! Lora and Alexa are thrilled to meet kindred spirits and they become best friends . . . but unfortunately, not everything can last forever.
Reimena Yee brings to life a story about growing up, childhood, and what it means to let go. A fantastical story following lovable characters as they each realize what it means to be who you are.
Séance Tea Party was a favourite that I never saw coming, but I am so glad that I read this. I now have a very fond memory of lying on the floor in my sunny living room, reading this with tears streaming down my face.
This middle-grade graphic novel will break you and mend you at the same time. There are so many wonderful moments in this book, and I just really loved that this was a rare story that showed the privilege and beauty of aging, and had such a tender portrayal of friendship and growing up. UGH! I am tearing up just thinking about this book now. Please, read it.
The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow
Can a girl who risks her life for books and an alien who loves forbidden pop music work together to save humanity?
Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population.
Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. Deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, humanity’s emotional transgressions are now grounds for execution. All art, books and creative expression are illegal, but Ellie breaks the rules by keeping a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified that the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her.
Born in a lab, M0Rr1S (Morris) was raised to be emotionless. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does.
Ellie’s—and humanity’s—fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while making a story and a song of their own that just might save them both.
What a book. I distinctly remember, after finishing it, I held my phone (my then-reading device) close to my chest and just wept and wept. I don’t know what it is about this book that resonates with me so much – maybe because the protagonist is demisexual like me, so I really understood and connected with the romance, maybe it was because I just really enjoyed reading this (I’d listen to this book well after midnight because I just could not put it down), or maybe because it’s about the beautiful bonds that define our life, our story, and the ways we touch the world.
I love this book with my whole heart, friends. And I cannot wait to see what Alechia writes next because I know I’ll be absolutely for it.
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.
A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.
But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.
I remember when I finished reading the eARC, I knew that this would be the next big YA – and with These Violent Delights making the NYT Bestselling List, I take immense gratification in being vindicated.
It’s no secret that we are huge fans of These Violent Delights here at the Pond (I mean, look at all the things we did below!) so it should come as no surprise that These Violent Delights is a favourite read of 2020. If you’ve read it, then you’ll understand: what a book. What a book! Thrilling, heart-aching, tender, exciting – this book has the whole package. I cannot wait to read the sequel… I know we’re all going to be in for a ride.
Add These Violent Delights on Goodreads, read my review of the book, read my interview with the author (during our exclusive cover reveal!), and come on a Pond-cation in Shanghai with Xiaolong and the author.
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria
Leading Ladies do not end up on tabloid covers.
After a messy public breakup, soap opera darling Jasmine Lin Rodriguez finds her face splashed across the tabloids. When she returns to her hometown of New York City to film the starring role in a bilingual romantic comedy for the number one streaming service in the country, Jasmine figures her new “Leading Lady Plan” should be easy enough to follow—until a casting shake-up pairs her with telenovela hunk Ashton Suárez.
Leading Ladies don’t need a man to be happy.
After his last telenovela character was killed off, Ashton is worried his career is dead as well. Joining this new cast as a last-minute addition will give him the chance to show off his acting chops to American audiences and ping the radar of Hollywood casting agents. To make it work, he’ll need to generate smoking-hot on-screen chemistry with Jasmine. Easier said than done, especially when a disastrous first impression smothers the embers of whatever sexual heat they might have had.
Leading Ladies do not rebound with their new costars.
With their careers on the line, Jasmine and Ashton agree to rehearse in private. But rehearsal leads to kissing, and kissing leads to a behind-the-scenes romance worthy of a soap opera. While their on-screen performance improves, the media spotlight on Jasmine soon threatens to destroy her new image and expose Ashton’s most closely guarded secret.
It’s funny – I coincidentally read You Had Me at Hola briefly after I wrote and published my piece about Reading While Demisexual – and I think this book came at such a good time. I love a good romance and appreciate their softness and the joy they bring, I always struggled to connect to a romance.
And then came along You Had Me at Hola, which had such a fantastic, funny, and charming story about two telenovela actors who become friends and later fall in love. The romance was wonderful, the stakes had me on edge, and it was wonderfully sexy as well. Such a good romance! Now, I want to read more of Alexis Daria’s work.
Books To Watch Out for in 2021
I had the pleasure of reading some eARCs this year for books coming in 2021, so I thought I’d make a separate list of books I adored reading this year that you absolutely need to read next year!
Clues to the Universe by Christina Li
The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.
Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.
Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?
As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.
Bring some tissues and get yourself ready for a world of heartache, because Clues to the Universe is an absolute must-read for next year. I loved this little book about grief, friendship, and searching for lost fathers. Benji and Ro have my entire heart.
Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles
Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games–is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.
But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are suppposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it . . . before it’s too late?
Exploring community, gentrification, justice, and friendship, Take Back the Block introduces an irresistible 6th grader and asks what it means to belong–to a place and a movement–and to fight for what you believe in.
Okay, I actually love this book with my entire heart and I need everyone to read this stunning book. Though a middle-grade book, Take Back the Block is an amazing story about community, gentrification, friendship, and change. Wes is truly one of the coolest characters I’ve ever read about so – please please please read this book.
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?
Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate.
Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.
With an evil magican threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.
I said it on Twitter but I’ll say it again: I firmly believe that Amari and the Night Brothers has the potential to be the next big middle-grade series. It is that good! A sweeping contemporary fantasy about a magical world hidden from non-magical people, a magic school, and one heck of an awesome young heroine who is determined, headstrong, and powerful. I loved loved loved this and you absolutely must read this next year.
As you can see, I had a wonderful reading year this year! I found some new favourites – some that will stay with me forever. Reflecting on some of my favourite books, I won’t lie – it makes me incredibly excited for 2021 and the books I’ll read – and I cannot wait to read them!
- Do we have any favourite books of 2020 in common?
- What are some of your favourite books of 2020 that I should try and read in 2021?
- Did you share a post/list of your top books of 2020? Share in the comments below!