So far, 2020 has been a year, but in reality, it’s only been a little over six months. With so many serious, life-changing events taking place this year, it’s difficult to focus and find time for ourselves, and when we did find those rare moments, books were there for us. Whether it’s losing ourselves in a totally different world or experiencing a journey from a perspective that allows us to understand our world better, reading truly made a difference this year.
For our mid-year list, we considered all new books published in the U.S. between the start of 2020 and the end of June. Our Books section staff nominated 40 books and then voted to create the following ranked list of our top 10 favorite books with five honorable mentions.
For any enemies to lovers YA readers, the premise of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is perfect. A crown princess and a refugee fighting feelings as they fight each other? Their dynamic is too good not to recommend as the best of the year so far. And the magic matriarchal world-building is unique and truly stellar. Your only regret after reading this is that you have to wait until the next book! —Brianna Robinson
8. The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
In The Henna Wars, Adiba Jaigirdar masterfully confronts the equally heavy issues of cultural appropriation and teenage romance. High school viewed through the eyes of a mostly closeted lesbian Muslim teenager, who’s dealing with prejudice from all sides with no allies but her sister, Priti. Nishat’s compelling voice steers the reader through both the serious and the light with a reliably funny narration, ensuring a read that’s at once enjoyable and insightful. —Bella Philip
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a masterful accomplishment on multiple levels. First, it expands the world of The Hunger Games series, giving us deeper insight into how the Capitol operates and how the Games were started. Secondly, it succeeds as a villain backstory that doesn’t make us feel sympathetic towards the villain, while still making us understand how his twisted mind works. Thirdly, it’s thoroughly entertaining while still exploring deep ideas like obsession vs. love and human nature. It’s brilliant, and I can’t recommend it enough! —Abby Petree
Love and loss are often two sides of the same coin. In Ghost Squad, Lucely has the ability to communicate with family members that have passed away and have taken the shape of fireflies. Described as Coco meets Ghostbusters, this book deals with grief in an incredibly poignant way, and it feels like much-needed warm hug after a long day. —Andrea Gomez
Silvia Moreno Garcia’s dark and wonderful prose will haunt you in this delightfully terrifying novel! Set in an isolated mansion in 1950’s Mexico, this novel digs deep into themes surrounding colonialism and eugenics. It’s a revamp and ode to the gothic horror genre with truly spine tingling scenes! Read alongside the Spotify Playlist curated by the author for maximum thrills. —Andrea Gomez
Córdova puts her own spin on the classic YA fantasy rebellion plot with a fully-realized magic system and a cast of vivid characters fighting for justice in inquisition-era Spain. Renata, ridden with guilt over her role in the persecution of her own people, is continually confronted by the ethics of her own existence as a Robarí, a memory-stealer. When the rebel leader is captured by the Crown, Ren is thrown into a whirlwind of scheming and betrayal and power-plays, exposing secrets and lies that culminate in a conclusion that has readers lining up for the sequel.. —Bella Philip
3. You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
This lovable, fun and unputdownable debut deserves to be on this list for so many reasons and is a book that I can’t wait to revisit again and again. Liz Lighty is an endearing character, and you’ll find yourself rooting for her from page one. This is one YA that is bound to be a modern classic for its charming premise, beautiful story, and hopefully paves the way for more gloriously queer and uplifting YA to come. —Brianna Robinson
As fellow staff writer, Rebecca Munro, wrote in her review, “Morrow has clearly poured her heart and soul” in A Song Below Water, and I couldn’t agree more. This book took me on an unforgettable journey following siren sisters Tavia and Effie navigating a world in which they must suppress their magic. This book is as much fantasy as it is contemporary, weaving its magical elements so seamlessly into a world that is exactly like our own. As timely as ever, A Song Below Water is pointed in its social commentary, setting its coming age story against the oppressive forces of racism and sexism. —Gabrielle Bondi
If you have read The Poet X or heard Elizabeth Acevedo perform spoken word, you know that she is a master of verse—and bilingually, at that. In Clap When You Land, Camino and Yahaira Rios are left to reckon with the consequences of their father’s secrets when they are brought to light after his death in a plane crash. Through a dual-perspective verse novel, the two sisters learn of each other’s existence as they attempt to cope with their grief. The novel asks: what happens when someone you love is not who you thought they were? And more importantly, what do you do when they are no longer around to ask? A powerful note on love, loss, and sisterhood, Clap When You Land is sure to stay with you long after putting it down. —Sabrien Abdelrahman