2020 has never made us more grateful for books. It’s hard to sum up the past year in a short introduction for a top 10 books list, so we won’t exactly do that. What we will say is that during all of this years’ events, books helped us not only escape from—but also deal with—reality.
Great storytelling, no matter the genre, imparts new knowledge and experiences through different perspectives. Through those perspectives, we have learned a lot about ourselves, our communities, and our world. That has never felt more important than it has this year.
For our year-end list, we considered all new books published in the U.S. from Jan. 1, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2020. Our books section staff nominated over 50 books and then voted to create the following ranked list of our top 10 favorite books with five honorable mentions.
Chloe Gong’s historical fantasy is a loose approximation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, if Verona was Shanghai and Juliette had more of a tendency to stab first and ask questions later. There are plenty of subtler nods to the original work that might be missed if not given a careful eye. These Violent Delights is masterfully wrought and filled to the brim with tension that makes it one of the best books I’ve read this year. —Isabelle Philip
Bronx Native and best-selling author, Lilliam Rivera, reimagines the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice, centering Black Latinxs of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent as well as the Bronx. Never Look Back crash-landed into my heart as the story tackled painful truths, mental health, and just how far two people will go to fight for their love. As the story unfolds we follow Eury and Pheus—both dealing with their own struggles—and yet they still fight for what they believe is right. —Saraciea Fennell
Who doesn’t love a book about ghosts, best friends and cats named Chunk? This book is the best type of nostalgia, reminding readers of the magic of riding bikes with your best friend, an adventure ahead of you. Ghost Squad is sweet and charming, a fun read to enjoy during a cozy evening. While this book should be required reading during the Halloween season, you can definitely enjoy it any time of the year. —Brianna Robinson
Atmospheric, tense and deliciously creepy—Mexican Gothic is the type of book that stays in your head (and your dreams) long after its final pages. The crawling tension throughout the book makes for a truly spectacular third act that explodes with gore, twists, and much more. The themes that this gothic horror book deals with feel especially relevant in today’s world. Plus, it’ll change the way you think of mushrooms forever! —Andrea Gomez
Tiffany D. Jackson’s young adult mystery novel, Grown, opens with the protagonist, Enchanted Jones, waking up at at the murder scene of renowned R&B singer: Korey Jones. Alternating between now and then, Jackson weaves together a compelling plot that draws readers into a fast-paced and heartbreaking narrative that recalls the stories of R. Kelly’s victims. Grown is incredibly difficult to put down, while also powerfully articulating the abuse of power surrounding the grooming of minors and its impact on young women of color. —Sabrien Abdelrahman
The Cemetery Boys is everything a top tier—dare I say, magical—fantasy novel should be. Aiden Thomas’ #ownvoices YA paranormal novel is set in East Los Angeles and immerses the reader in a world that is at once gorgeous, yet painful for anyone who doesn’t fit into the strict traditions of the past. Full of heart and humor, Yadriel and Julian’s story is one of friends, family, love, culture, and forging your own path rather than accepting the one set before you. —Isabelle Philip
2020 has been a landlocked year. Fortunately, the incredible Adrienne Young blessed us with the start of a new duology set on the high seas. Fable delivers everything you could want in a nautical YA fantasy: dangerous pirate islands, diving for underwater treasure, shipwrecks, and characters with absurdly-cool names (Fable, Saint, West, to just name a few). Not to mention, there’s a romance that isn’t instant love, and a moving, nuanced portrayal of a father and daughter attempting to connect and understand each other after past trauma. Dive into this treasure trove of adventure! —Meagan Stanley
Over ten years ago, Suzanne Collins made the world fall in love with dystopia, while slyly slipping in stinging social commentary, with The Hunger Games. In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, she delivers a manifesto on the dark side of human nature and control vs. chaos, all wrapped up in a fascinating story that shows us the history of the Games, and the origin story of Coriolanus Snow: a villain you will love to hate. —Abby Petree
Elizabeth Acevedo is a master of verse. The way she blends characters, stories and emotions all together in poetic language is beautiful and utterly engaging. Therefore, it’s little surprise that her latest novel, Clap When You Land, tops our list of best books of the year.
The novel-in-verse follows two sisters, Camino and Yahaira, as they come to terms with their father’s untimely death in a plane crash and the life-changing secrets he left behind. It’s a powerful story that unravels the pains of losing someone, the hurt caused by secrets, and the unanswered questions that we must learn to live with. At its heart, Clap When You Land is a story of sisterhood and the love and hope that can grow from new and lost connections. —Gabrielle Bondi