Favorite Books of 2020

I realize that it is now the end of February but what better way to start off a new blog than with a list of some of my favorite books from last year! This will give you an idea of the kinds of books I tend to gravitate towards and a little insight into my ✨impeccable taste✨. 2020 was a shit year all around but I somehow managed to read 99 books. My all time personal best 🤓

In no particular order, I present to you my favorite books of 2020:

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi

I know I just said these are in no particular order but if I had to choose, this would probably be my favorite book of the year. We follow Jayne, a young Korean-American woman living a not-so-glamorous life in New York City. She’s stuck in a rut, barely making ends meet, and struggles with an eating disorder. Her sister June lives nearby in a posh apartment with a high paying job and the two almost never interact despite living mere miles from each other. They are thrown back together when June becomes ill and has a very big ask of her sister.

I saw so much of myself in Jayne: her struggle with herself and her body and her feelings of home and family. I think these are feelings a lot of young people grapple with and variations of these themes are explored in all of Choi’s books, which is why she’s one of my favorite contemporary writers. She has an exquisite, sardonic self-awareness in her writing that balances perfectly between the subtly humorous and serious.

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi

This is a collection of short stories by Black authors about being a young Black person in America. There are 17 stories about “teens examining, rebelling against, embracing, or simply existing within their own idea of Blackness” (from Ibi Zoboi’s introduction).

My favorite stories were:
Warning: Color May Fade by Leah Henderson
Black. Nerd. Problems. by Lamar Giles
Out of the Silence by Kekla Magoon
Samson and the Delilahs by Tochi Onyebuchi
Stop Playing by Liara Tamani
Gravity by Tracey Baptiste
The Trouble with Drowning by Dhonielle Clayton (this one was my absolute favorite and I think about it at least weekly.

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Who hasn’t read and fallen in love with the Brown sisters? This second installment of the Brown Sisters trilogy follows Dani, a jaded academic who just wants a friends-with-benefits situation, and Zaf, a hopeless romantic, as they fake date for a publicity stunt. Dani and Zaf have great chemistry and their banter is top notch. It’s very sexy but still manages to tackle heavier topics such as anxiety and grief in a sensitive and real way.

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

W O W. This was a masterful piece of YA fantasy. A Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920’s Shanghai. The writing is dark and creepy. The characters are *chefs kiss*. I would literally die for Roma and I respect Juliette more than I respect my own damn self. You really get into their heads as the book progresses and I still find myself thinking about them often. Roma and Juliette are expertly fleshed out into multidimensional characters and the side characters are as equally well written and entertaining and provide a lot of diversity in their race, sexuality, background, as well as just general personality type.

AND THE PLOT? It blew my mind. You might think you know the story of Romeo and Juliet, but you have no idea. I would sell my soul for an early copy of the sequel.

The Poppy War Trilogy by R.F. Kuang

I’m lumping these together out of sheer laziness but each book deserves a spot on this list. This epic historical fantasy follows Rin as she enters Sinegard Academy, an elite military school in the country of Nikan, where she studies the art of Shamanism and the dark powers that live inside her. Each book progresses further into war and Rin’s struggle with power within herself and her country. The second book The Dragon Republic is one of the best books I have ever read and the epic finale in The Burning God is the most brilliantly crafted piece of writing and it absolutely ruined me. I will forever be in awe of Kuang’s storytelling talent.

I highly, highly recommend reading this incredible blog post by Tiffany, “Everything You Need to Know Before You Read The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang”. She goes into the historical events the book is based on, character parallels, colorism and the treatment of ethnic minorities, content warnings, and just about everything else you really do need to know to fully appreciate the book. (Also while you’re here go follow Tiffany’s blog. She’s incredible).

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

For this one, I shall leave you with a link to the GoodReads page and the full text of my review. I couldn’t explain this to you if I tried (and I’ve tried).

All I can say is what the fuck just happened.

my GoodReads review for Middlegame

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

This is another super weird book that is difficult to explain. It follows two siblings: Kev, who is imprisoned, and Ella, who visits him in ways both mundane and supernatural. In less than 200 pages it manages to examine systemic racism, mass incarceration, and police brutality while having a tender sibling relationship through its core. I honestly think I need to reread this at least once to fully grasp everything it has to say.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

What is there to say about Normal People? This is the book of my soul. I think about Marianne and Connell every single day. There is something so beautiful in the normalcy of their love story. I felt it in my bones. To write a book that so poignantly speaks to the complexity of human nature and mundanities of life is an absolute marvel. Plus the Hulu mini series is one of the best adaptations I have ever seen. I’ve watched it five times. Connell’s chain for life (iykyk).

Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

This is a book that will absolutely destroy you. We follow three teens in 1989 living through the AIDS crisis in New York City. Reza is an Iranian boy struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. Judy is an aspiring designer who is enthralled by her uncle Stephen, a gay man living with AIDS. Art is the only out and proud boy at their school. There is a bit of a love triangle which normally isn’t my jam but what really stood out to me about this book is Stephen’s impact on the people in his life. I cried, I laughed, and then I cried some more.

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab

As this was one of the biggest books of the year I don’t think it needs much of an introduction. I had originally heard it described as a love story between a woman and the devil and while that sounds dope as hell, that is not what this book is. And I was totally okay with it! I did enjoy the dynamic between Addie and Luc (the demon-like entity) and I would read 100 books about just the two of them, but this was more of a character study about wanting more from life and exploring the legacy we leave behind us. As someone who personally struggles with these things, this book hit me like a bag of bricks right in the feels. AND THAT ENDING! Absolutely iconic.

But! This book received a lot of backlash for how unbelievably white it is. Which,  yes, it is. Addie lives for over 300 years and only ever travels around Western Europe before settling in America, only learns western languages, and only interacts with other white people. There is no commentary on any of the social or civil rights causes that have happened globally in the last 300 years, of which there are many in any time period. I recommend watching Cindy’s video, “Should white authors write non-white characters? *A closer look at the Whiteness of Addie Larue.*” (She starts that specific topic around the 6 minute mark). Cindy dives deeper into the issues in this book specifically with more eloquence and insight than I ever could.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

This was one of those instances where I read a library copy and then went out and bought my own because I love it so much. It’s devastating and heartbreaking but still has a hint of hopefulness and was just incredibly beautiful. We follow four young women navigating life, love, and impossible beauty standards in contemporary Seoul. Cha has that rare narrative talent that makes you love each of the four perspectives equally. I’d have happily read 200 more pages about these women but I think it’s shortness was an asset and was executed perfectly.

The Gilded Wolves and The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi

In the first installment of this historical fantasy trilogy, we find ourselves in 1889 France with a ragtag group of misfits going head to head with a mysterious secret society. Séverin enlists the help of 5 gifted individuals to help him hunt down a magical artifact that will restore his stolen inheritance. The second book takes us to Russia for more mystery, haunted mansions, and deadly secrets.

The characters are what truly shine in these books. To be honest I’m not sure I could accurately tell you how the magic system works or what the mysterious artifact even does, but I could write essays about how much I love and cherish Séverin, Laila, Tristan, Enrique, Zofia, and Hypnos. There is so much diversity and depth and trauma and love in these characters that it twists your heart up into a big knot and you have no choice but to live and breathe them. The final book comes out this fall and I am 100% certain Roshani will come for my throat.

Well, that’s all folks! I really enjoyed doing this little retrospective of my reading year. Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these books or if I’ve inspired you to pick any of them up. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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