Top Reads of the Year: Joce’s Favorite Books of 2020

Today, Joce will be sharing with you all her top five books of 2020!

SUCH A FUN AGE BY KILEY REID

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

I just read Such a Fun Age for the second time this week and Kiley Reid is a force to be reckoned with, as this is one of the strongest debuts I have read. The book centers around the event at the supermarket, but the prevailing theme is the White characters using Emira, a Black woman, for their benefit, and even in their attempts at advocacy, are self-serving.

A romantic interest of Emira’s has a history of fetishizing Black people in his life, and Alix has a history of only hiring Black women to care for her children, and the way this information is used and delivered to Emira is a topic of conversation. When we speak about listening to Black women, we need to engage in listening to Black women. Such a Fun Age has a propulsion to it that lasts until the final page, in its quick movement and strong impact.

Add Such a Fun Age on Goodreads. (Book review coming soon!)


PARACHUTES BY KELLY YANG

They’re called parachutes: teenagers dropped off to live in private homes and study in the US while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. Claire Wang never thought she’d be one of them, until her parents pluck her from her privileged life in Shanghai and enroll her at a high school in California. Suddenly she finds herself living in a stranger’s house, with no one to tell her what to do for the first time in her life. She soon embraces her newfound freedom, especially when the hottest and most eligible parachute, Jay, asks her out.

Dani De La Cruz, Claire’s new host sister, couldn’t be less thrilled that her mom rented out a room to Claire. An academic and debate-team star, Dani is determined to earn her way into Yale, even if it means competing with privileged kids who are buying their way to the top. When her debate coach starts working with her privately, Dani’s game plan veers unexpectedly off course.

Desperately trying to avoid each other under the same roof, Dani and Claire find themselves on a collision course, intertwining in deeper and more complicated ways, as they grapple with life-altering experiences. 

Parachutes is unlike any book I’ve ever read. I buddy read this with my good friend Emily from Em Likes Books (on Youtube) and we both finished it in two days after a long slump a piece. Kelly Yang is also such a special author to me, but I will get more into that when I post my review of this book!

The story centers around two girls whose paths cross at their school. Claire’s life in Shanghai and students’ focus in China on the gao kao, a culminating entrance exam and academic evaluation at the end of high school, is unlike anything in North America. Her resulting beliefs about academics combined with her wealth inform her experience moving to California. Dani is poor and works cleaning houses with her mother, and has a much different experience than Claire.

The scheming and small mysteries throughout the book, along with the trauma experienced by the teenage girls lends the Gossip Girl comparisons, but this is a book that stands on its own and if you haven’t read this book, you need to.

Add Parachutes on Goodreads. (Book review coming soon!)


THE VANISHING HALF BY BRIT BENNETT

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

The Vanishing Half is on many Top Books of 2020 lists and rightfully so. It is a book unlike any other, and one I won’t soon forget. As a new (-ish) mother, books that speak to the acclimation and loneliness that mothers can feel, and the bevy of emotions surrounding connecting to daughters, are always ones I hold close.

Apart from motherhood, Brit Bennett also addresses colorism, misogyny, racism, and holding multiple identities and life roles over time. Though Stella and Desiree’s lives diverge, they also intersect in the multigenerational structure of the novel, and I am an absolute sucker for a thoughtful multigenerational story. This book is absolutely worth all the hype, and you had best get your hands on it before it’s sold out from being on so many “best of” lists!

Add The Vanishing Half on Goodreads. (Book review coming soon!)


LOBIZONA BY ROMINA GARBER

Some people ARE illegal.

Lobizonas do NOT exist.

Both of these statements are false.

Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.

Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.

Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past–a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.

As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.

Looking for a new magical school to love? Romina Garber has got your back. One of my favorite experiences this year was being transported to Manu’s world. Lobizona addresses the awful treatment of undocumented immigrants, feeling othered in a marginalized identity, and discrimination in athletics.

I was so lucky to have interviewed Romina Garber, and in our interview we talked about intersectionality and celebrated her Argentinian heritage. I cannot wait for the sequel Cazadora, and implore you to pick up (or reread) Lobizona first!

Add Lobizona on Goodreads, read my book review, and my interview with the amazing Romina Garber!


THE HENNA WARS BY ADIBA JAIGIRDAR

When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.

Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.

This YA contemporary novel featuring a F/F romance really does it all. Adiba Jaigirdar is not afraid to have these characters examine and challenge their internalized “-isms”, and what results from that is characters with tremendous growth and arcs across the novel.

Nishat and Flávia’s competitors-to-lovers romance did not waver (well, except in the competitors stage, but you must read to find out what happens!) despite the judgments and discrimination of their peers and some members of their families. The Henna Wars is complex and truthful, and a must-read of 2020.

Add The Henna Wars on Goodreads, and read my book review.

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