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Welcome, readers, to our guide to the best books of 2020! Whether they were buzzy or lost in the shuffle, prize-winners or under the radar, we’ve assembled the books from 2020 you must not miss. Happy reading!

A History of My Brief Body

by Billy-Ray Belcourt
Nonfiction

This book was the most challenging and rewarding read of my 2020, in a year that presented me with so many opportunities for both. It’s a treatise on queer brown futurism and joy in the face of violent colonialism, racism, and homophobia, as well as a deeply personal essay collection about Belcourt’s experiences growing up and living life as someone both Native and queer. Steeped in literary and philosophical theory, as well as in conversation with other works on similar subjects, it’s a call for resistance, love, and happiness in the face of a world that wants to deny Belcourt all of the above. I’m already planning a reread; it’s that good.

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A Neon Darkness

by Lauren Shippen
Young Adult

A Neon Darkness, the second standalone novel in Lauren Shippen’s Bright Sessions series, tells the story of Robert Gorham, a directionless teen searching for belonging. But when he does finally find a community of people who have strange abilities like him, who might actually understand, can he truly belong even then? Can Robert find real acceptance, or is his power—the ability to control others based on his own desires—too intoxicating to stop? It is an intense yet empathetic story of finding oneself at a crossroads between becoming a hero or a villain, and shows off Shippen’s tremendous ability to write with both complexity and warmth.

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Beach Read

by Emily Henry
Fiction

Based on the title, most people likely wrote this off as a ‘fluff’ book. But it was so much more. It was about January coming to terms with unpleasant truths about her father, which can be difficult when you’re grieving the person. While I did enjoy the slow burn romance between January and August and thought it was very sweet, I more appreciated January’s grieving process. I lost a good number of family members in the months leading up to when I read this, so that raw grief was something I identified with. This was the first book in a while, if ever, that I wanted to reread almost as soon as I finished the last page.

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Blacktop Wasteland

by S.A. Cosby
Mystery/Thriller

Having one of the best car chase scenes I’ve ever read in a book is a feat in itself. Add to that Cosby’s deeply layered characters that toe the line between what is right and what they believe is necessary and you have a rich, page-turning crime novel where you’re rooting for a heist to go well. It does not, so strap in for a hell of a ride because Beauregard “Bug” Montage may no longer officially be the best getaway driver, but he’s about to find out retiring from that life doesn’t necessarily mean he’s done with it. If you enjoy heists, crime, and action reads/film, this one is not to be missed.

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Catherine House

by Elisabeth Thomas
horror

Admissions to Catherine House are highly competitive, and its demands are intense: once students arrive, they must disconnect from the outside world and remain on campus for their full three-year tenure, dedicating themselves wholly to Catherine House’s immersive and singular educational approach. Amid a cast of enigmatic and striking characters, this strange, labyrinthine novel taps into traditional gothic vibes with dark secrets, haunting figures, and a gorgeously tragic old house. Yet the story revolves around a set of experiments the school seems determined to keep hidden at any cost, tying in a fresh and unusual science fiction element.

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Cemetery Boys

by Aiden Thomas
FantasyMystery/ThrillerromanceYoung Adult

Aiden Thomas combines mystery, romance and the supernatural in a debut novel that I tore through in a couple of nights. Young brujo Yadriel is an earnest and lovable hero, and when he accidentally summons the spirit of his school’s bad boy Julian, their search for Julian’s killer soon turns to a deeper connection. This beautiful story kept me guessing, and had me rooting for my new favourite fictional couple to get their happily ever after.

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Chainsaw Man (Vol. 1)

by Tatsuki Fujimoto, Translated by Amanda Haley
ComicsFantasy

I can’t think of a better book that got me through this year! Not only is this brand new horror manga full of action and gorgeous visuals that keep you turning bizarre page after bloody page, but it will also hook you with its unique cast of characters and a surprisingly heartwrenching tale of the struggle for agency. In a year dominated by conversations on the topic of control and power, permeated with growing apathy, I found that this manga leapt right out of my quarantine brain with its relevant themes and all-too-relatable ‘heroes’. A stunning volume and an impressive start to my new favourite series.

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Clap When You Land

by Elizabeth Acevedo
Young Adult

Elizabeth Acevedo has done it again, and by that I mean she’s created another poignant, breathtaking novel told in her signature brilliant verse. In dueling narrations, two young women—one living in New York City, the other in the Dominican Republic—find their paths intertwine after an unspeakable tragedy. Acevedo’s language soars as each narrator has her own particular style with a unique perspective and voice. I highly recommend checking out the audiobook, which Acevedo co-narrates, to really feel the flow and energy of the beautiful poetic verse.

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Conjure Women

by Afia Atakora
Fiction

Miss May Belle is a healing woman on a plantation near the end of the Civil War, passing on her art to her daughter Rue, who grows close to the owner’s daughter, Varina. When the plantation is abandoned, Rue becomes its healer while mobilizing in secret to protect their community’s independence. Atakora’s prose is vivid and surreal, and her stunning debut is an emotional, twisting story of women’s health, ghosts, and survival. Its details are visceral, from the stitched dolls to the beaded belts to cooling water and herbs. From beginning to end, I couldn’t put this book down. Afia Atakora should be on your list of authors to watch.

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Deacon King Kong

by James McBride
Fiction

Pulitzer prize winner James McBride’s most recent novel is a lyrical, constantly twisting exploration of community in Brooklyn in 1969. The shooting of neighborhood staple Sportcoat kicks up the drama between all of the interweaving communities of the housing project and the church where Sportcoat was a deacon. From the NYPD to the residents who witnessed the shooting to the Italians running neighborhood businesses, everyone is affected by this random act of violence. McBride understands all of the tension that comes out from communities stacked on top of each other, like they are in New York. It’s a truly masterful work from a brilliant writer.

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Even As We Breathe

by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle
Fiction

Establishing herself as one of the most promising new Appalachian voices, Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle broke onto the literary scene this year with her debut Even As We Breathe, which is the first published novel from an enrolled member of the Eastern Band Cherokee Indians. Clapsaddle’s writing evokes a deep sense of place, drawing readers into the mountains of North Carolina. Set in 1942, this historic novel captures the feel of another time, giving a look back into the peak of WWII, while still providing a unique perspective on a much written about time period. Don’t miss this must-read novel of 2020.

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Grown

by Tiffany D. Jackson
Young Adult

Tiffany D. Jackson hits a story home run with this cautionary thriller. In Grown, Jackson weaves an intricate whodunit with realistic lessons, as it follows a teenage aspiring songstress by the name of Enchanted Jones. Living with dreams of being in the spotlight, Enchanted is lured into a tempting and dangerous celebrity-filled world, when she meets and falls for R&B singer Korey Fields at an audition. At the start of the novel, there’s his dead body and all signs point to Enchanted. But, as the tale weaves along and we dive into the book, we realize she was living a nightmare through controlling Korey. This book had me thinking about it way after it was over and its lessons hauntingly stay with you past the last chapter.

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Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow

by Jessica Townsend
children'sFantasy

In the third installment of Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series, Morrigan and Unit 919 are back in action as they continue on their journeys as scholars of the Wundrous Society. As Morrigan and her friends begin their separate classes (Morrigan is studying the wretched arts), they begin to hear exceedingly frightening news about a mysterious plague that is turning friendly Wunimals into dangerous Unnimals. Morrigan begins to suspect that she alone can cure the Hollowpox. And she needs to figure out how before the government uses the Unnimals for their own personal gain. This series is just darling and I cannot wait for more. 

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Homie: Poems

by Danez Smith
poetry

Smith’s latest poetry collection was my most anticipated read of 2020, and it held up as my favorite of the year. Homie is an homage to friendship, and the people who keep us from despair in a world where there is so much to despair about—and 2020 has certainly been such a year, one that needed the poem “my president.” Smith dives headfirst into issues of inequity and violence yet comes up for air with bursts of joy and warmth in celebration of their Blackness and queerness. There is much to be said about their playful use of form and mastery of language, but what I love most about Homie is the singular voice that rings true throughout.  

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Hood Feminism is essential reading, especially for feminists more concerned about mommy wars and last names than about prison reform, fair housing, and abolishing the police—life-altering realities impacting communities of color. This essay collection is not easy reading and it’s not “nice,” nor should it be. It lays out the ways white feminism has failed in working toward equality for all and highlights the most pressing needs for the most vulnerable among us. Hood Feminism defines intersectionality and begs for more accomplices in the fight, as opposed to more allies on the sidelines. Read it, then read it again.

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Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness

by Catherine Cho
Nonfiction

Catherine Cho has a loving husband, a new baby son, and a wonderful life in London. Life is good. So good that they decide to take an extended trip abroad to introduce their two-month-old son to their families. But as the trip progresses, Catherine begins to grow paranoid. She’s convinced her in-laws are watching her on cameras. She’s on edge all the time, and she can’t sleep. Her agitation grows until one morning when she reaches for her son, he looks back at her with devil eyes. That’s when she knows she has to leave. Cho’s experience with postpartum psychosis is harrowing, and her writing is impeccable. I could not put it down.

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Intimations

by Zadie Smith
Nonfiction

The best book to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is Zadie Smith’s Intimations. It’s a short collection of essays about living in New York City during the early months of lockdown, witnessing the changes in her neighborhood every day. This collection is sharp, witty, observant, and yet also very soft. Smith shares things about her days—like passing by the nail salon where she used to get massages—alongside the big, poignant moments like the response to the murder of George Floyd, and how systemic racism itself is a virus plaguing America and the world. It’s a moving and comforting work about this weird time we’re living through together. 

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Mexican Gothic

by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
horror

In Mexican Gothic, stylish debutante Noemí travels to High Place, an estate in the Mexican countryside, to investigate whether her newlywed cousin is truly in danger there. This novel bleeds with love for its genre. The narrative makes plain the sinister, cultish forces that link colonialism, white supremacy, eugenics, capitalism, and families. Lest that sound overly didactic, the novel does this while delivering atmospheric chills. It hits beats deliciously familiar to gothic literature enthusiasts. The twist in this story, however, makes it one for the ages. Mexican Gothic shows how a very old genre can still be very fresh.

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Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning

by Cathy Park Hong
Nonfiction

Minor feelings are the emotions built from everyday racial experiences and the “irritant of having one’s perception of reality constantly questioned or dismissed.” This definition sets the tone for this collection of essays that blew me away with its perceptiveness and honesty. Hong’s essays offer a refreshing take on topics like the model minority myth, the history of Asians in America, and reckoning with identity. This book made me feel so seen, articulating feelings and concepts I have never found the words for. More than that, it starts an essential conversation about what it is to be an Asian American in the 21st century.

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Network Effect

by Martha Wells
Science Fiction

I didn’t know I could fall any more in love with Murderbot, but then I read this book. In full novel length, Wells is able to really expand on the brilliant characters and worlds she’s created, giving us a rip-roaring story of action and adventure with even more space to flesh out every single nerve-wracking beat. And if you’ve been missing a certain Asshole Research Transport, then I have great news for you about one of the main players in Network Effect. If you loved the novellas, prepare yourself for a Murderbot tale that goes above and beyond, building on those first four stories in the best way. Risk assessment: zero. Fun assessment: absolute certainty.

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Now That I’ve Found You

by Kristina Forest
romanceYoung Adult

In a genre full of trope and predictability, the unique premise of this own voices YA romcom stands out. Evie Jones is an aspiring actress who comes from a Black Hollywood family dynasty. But after a fall from grace right before her first big break, she requires the help of her movie star grandma, Gigi, to get her career back on track. But Gigi disappears right when Evie needs her most. Enter the swoon-worthy, cinnamon roll here Milo, a young musician who happens to deliver her grandma’s groceries. Together they look for Gigi on a New York City adventure that rivals the romance and suspense from any of Evie’s grandmother iconic films.

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OBIT

by Victoria Chang
poetry

Victoria Chang’s newest poetry collection centers around grief. Grief over the death of her mother and grief over her father’s downward spiral after a stroke. Most of the poems are in a nonce format, taking on the shape and style of newspaper obituaries. These poems look at Chang’s parents as well as friendships, writing, and all the other aspects of life that these dueling losses affect. Sprinkled throughout, though, are tankas focusing on Chang’s children, bringing light and joy and hope for something after the sadness. “Hope, hope, hope,” Chang writes, the hope for light at the end of our tunneling grief.

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Plain Bad Heroines

by Emily M. Danforth and Sara Lautman
horror

Danforth’s adult fiction debut is a spooky, witty, queer ghost story that splits across two parallel timelines. In one, set at a remote school for girls in 1902, principal Libbie and her lover Alex are trying to determine why a book seems to be causing a number of mysterious deaths amongst their students. In the other, over a century later, actresses Harper Harper and Audrey Wells are filming at the school with stubborn writer Merritt Emmons, a volatile crew, and Victorian ghosts. Genuinely eerie, the story spills out across the pages with dozens of characters, multiple plot twists, and a mix of footnotes, book excerpts and script pages. If you like your fiction mischievous and super queer (almost every character is LGBTQ+), get this immediately.

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Ring Shout

by P. Djèlí Clark
horror

The minute I turned the final page of this novella, I knew it would be my favorite book of the year. Clark has crafted an actually perfect cosmic horror. This book won’t be for everyone. For every scene of eldritch horror, there is body horror to match. But for those who can stomach gore and violence, this story of literal monsters and racist sorcery is compelling. Even with its early 20th century setting, it is also unfortunately timely, manifesting our societal ills in grotesque physical form: actual Black Girl Magic is pitted against an otherworldly conspiracy. Clark weaves a can’t-miss horror read with precision and dark humor.

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Saving Ruby King

by Catherine Adel West
Mystery/Thriller

Set on the South Side of Chicago, Ruby King finds her mother murdered. Ruby is now stuck with her abusive father, and the only person she trusts is her best friend Layla, the daughter of a preacher who is close to Ruby’s father. Layla makes it her mission to save her friend, and her journey leads her to discover decades of lies, trauma, racism, and family secrets. It’s the perfect unsuspecting mystery that leans on family drama. If you’re from Chicago or grew up in a religious household, this is a book you won’t want to put down. Saving Ruby King is a heavy yet necessary read.

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Sharks in the Time of Saviors

by Kawai Strong Washburn
Fiction

There are so many layers of beauty in this extraordinary novel. It’s a multigenerational epic about a Hawaiian family whose lives are forever changed when their middle son develops strange healing powers. The story sprawls out over many years as these five people make mistakes and make amends, as they struggle, grow, and change. The characters leap off the page, messy and alive. Washburn infuses the book with Hawaiian mythology and just a touch of magic. The setting is so vivid you can smell it. The prose is incandescent. You don’t want to miss this one. And if you listen to books, you’re in for a rare treat—the audiobook is astonishing.

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Solutions and Other Problems

by Allie Brosh
ComicsNonfiction

If you’ve spent any time on the internet over the last decade, you’ve likely seen Allie Brosh’s work, especially the “Do ALL The Things” meme taken from her last book, Hyperbole and A Half. Since then she’s gone a bit silent, not being as online as she once was. A lot of us have been worried about her. This new book goes into why she went so silent. Yes, there’s the standard Allie Brosh stories that we love, the ones about how ridiculous she was as a child and what her crazy pets are up to. But there’s also stories about her sister dying by suicide, her parents’ divorce, her mental health after her own divorce, and just why these last few years she’s been so quiet, but with that same Allie Brosh humor. And don’t worry, there’s still plenty of MS Paint illustrations with each essay.

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Spoiler Alert

by Olivia Dade
romance

There are so many reasons to love Spoiler Alert. The fandom. The fat positivity. The friendship. The Feelings. (Theirs. Mine. I have so many feelings about this book. Gushy, squishy, huggy kissy feelings.) When April takes a leap and posts a cosplay photo on Twitter, she catches the eye of the star of her favorite show. When Marcus realizes that April is his online friend of two years, but he can’t tell her—writing fanfiction for his own show is a breach of contract. The secret is a core conflict, which can turn some off, but that doesn’t stop Olivia Dade from approaching other key themes and making us laugh and cry out loud in the process.

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Take A Hint, Dani Brown

by Talia Hibbert
romance

Talia Hibbert’s books have an easy familiarity. Her dialogue has the feel of a story one of your favorite people would tell you, and the characters immediately seem like people you’ve known—and liked—for ages. Dani Brown is a career-driven academic who ends up in a fake relationship with a romance novel–loving former rugby player struggling with past trauma. Unsurprisingly, that has never happened to me, but for 350 pages it felt very much like Dani and Zaf’s world was one I’d lived in for ages. Hibbert doesn’t just immerse readers in her story, though—she also makes us feel completely welcome there.

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That Time of Year

by Marie NDiaye, Translated by Jordan Stump
Fiction

That Time of Year is a literary horror novel, a nightmarish depiction of a community stultified by convention. Herman and his family have always left the French countryside for their Paris home at the end of August, but this time they are still there on September 1, and nothing is the same. The weather turns rainy and cold and then Herman can’t find his wife and child. People in the local village promise to help, but tell Herman he needs to be patient. They suggest he integrate into village life to have the best chance of finding his family. What happens next is weird, terrifying, and utterly original.

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The Boyfriend Project

by Farrah Rochon
romance

Playful banter, steamy romance, AND a strong female friendship circle? The Boyfriend Project has all of these things! Farrah Rochon writes about three women becoming close after a viral catfishing incident. Along the way fiery interactions blossom between Samiah and a handsome co-worker. It’s certainly a contemporary romance that you don’t want to miss!

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The City We Became

by N.K Jemisin
Fantasy

I have been a fan of N.K Jemisin for a little while now, so I was thrilled when her new book The City We Became was announced. Even with all the hype I was building for myself towards this book, I was still blown away. The City We Became imagines that when a city has reached its peak, a citizen becomes the human embodiment of the soul of the city, and now it’s New York City’s turn, only this time instead of one person, there are six. I adore this book with my whole being. The plot, character development, and execution all were near flawless. I think about this book at least every other day. I can’t wait for the rest of the trilogy.

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The Death of Vivek Oji

by Akwaeke Emezi
Fiction

Akwaeke Emezi’s 2018 novel Freshwater was a stunning debut and a fabulous introduction to this talented author. But nothing could have prepared me for The Death of Vivek Oji. This novel wrecked me in the most wonderful way. The story starts with a mother opening her front door to find her son’s dead body, wrapped in colorful fabric, lying on her doorstep. What follows Vivek Oji’s death is a family trying to come to terms with a loss that makes no sense. But this book is also a celebration of Vivek’s life, the people who loved him, and the lives he touched. I cried several times while reading this, and I won’t soon forget this beautiful story.

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The Empire of Gold

by S. A. Chakraborty
Fantasy

This conclusion to the Daevabad trilogy was very satisfying to read. I am always wary of last books since they have a tendency to either omit some of the most interesting side plots or be so crammed full of events that it feels a bit like you’re ticking off a list rather than reading a story. The Empire of Gold thankfully did not suffer from this problem. It had all the things that made the first two books good – intrigue, angst and really good worldbuilding. I’d definitely recommend giving this trilogy a try (perhaps with some tissues handy).

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The Henna Artist

by Alka Joshi
Fiction

The Henna Artist takes place in 1950s Jaipur, or the pink city. Joshi transports readers to this beautiful city and introduces us to Lakshmi, a talented henna artist who escaped from an abusive marriage years before. Lakshmi’s life is beginning to look up after she purchases her dream house. Unfortunately, everything starts to unravel when her ex shows up with her younger sister. Relatable and engaging, The Henna Artist explores the necessity of grit and ambition while showing their limitations, especially when it comes to family.

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The House in the Cerulean Sea

by TJ Klune
Fantasy

With this novel, Klune achieves something singularly remarkable. It’s unapologetically wholehearted and joyous, yet it never flinches away from the bad in the world. The novel follows weary case worker Linus as he travels to inspect a magical children’s orphanage. He finds something even more magical there: a home built with care and love and attention for the children, which drives him to re-examine his role in the system. You’ll be incredibly hard-pressed not to fall in love with this band of misfits, from gardening gnomes to bellhop-aspiring green blobs, and the family they build. Definitely listen to this one on audio. It’s a treat.

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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

by V.E. Schwab
Fantasy

This is a book about struggle and stubborn hope. It’s a story that tells you that it’s okay if you don’t know what path you’re on, but that you will find it. Addie LaRue is a beautifully written book that follows a woman who made a deal with the devil to live forever; the cost is that no one can remember her. She’s alive and free, but a ghost. Schwab wrote a story that burrowed itself close to my heart and refuses to let go. Full of mystery, love, and art, it’s the kind of book that will leave your life tilted after you’ve finished it.

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The Only Good Indians

by Stephen Graham Jones
horror

Master of horror Stephen Graham Jones is at the top of his form in this novel. Four teenage boys go elk hunting in a zone reserved for tribal elders one fateful late-autumn day. The disastrous trip ends in bloodshed, but it’s only the beginning. A decade later, the wrong they committed stalks them. Ruthlessly. In the form of Elk Head Woman. With his trademark dark humor, Jones delivers on suspense and action. There’s revenge, there’s fear, and somehow there’s basketball (and it makes sense). Not to mention the blood. In The Only Good Indians, history marches right into the present and reminds readers that the past isn’t so distant after all.

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The Orchard

by David Hopen
Fiction

I’ve been throwing this book at your brain-wall for months, hoping it would stick, because it’s the most brilliant novel I read this year. It’s a wildly engrossing bildungsroman about a devout Jewish high schooler, Ari Eden, and the monumental changes in his life when his family moves from ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn to a glamorous Miami suburb. Ari begins hanging with the richest kids in town, partying, meeting girls, and blowing off school and prayer. Suddenly, his faith in God and his presumed path in life no longer feel certain, and he must decide what to do as his new life gets more dangerous and out of control. And, WOW, that ending!

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The Sound Of Stars

by Alechia Dow
Science FictionYoung Adult

Set in our world after it has been invaded by an alien race called the Ilori, The Sound of Stars follows Ellie, a human, and Morris, an Ilori, as they go on a road trip to try and save the world. This book has everything – from two charming and endearing characters who are impossible not to root for, an adorable romance, all the way to a grand adventure that is as high stakes as you can possibly get. It’s also filled with the love that Morris and Ellie have for music and literature, and deftly examines the nuances of colonisation in a sci-fi setting. It’s an absolute must-read for everyone.

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The Space Between Worlds

by Micaiah Johnson
Science Fiction

In The Space Between Worlds, Micaiah Johnson builds a story around parallel universes and multiverse travel like I’ve never read before, and she does it on a foundation of social critique and beautiful, crunchy prose. Cara is a transplant in a walled-off city, only brought in to work because her life on the other Earths her employer can access has been so terrible, she’s dead in almost all of them—so Cara can travel there. It’s a book about secrets, about the layers within people like the layers of universes, about how identity is shaped and how people transform themselves. It’s a combination of tightly paced science fiction storytelling and deep look into the humanity of its characters that I find absolutely irresistible.

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The Subtweet

by Vivek Shraya
Fiction

When I first finished reading The Subtweet, I put off reviewing it because I felt like my words were inadequate in the face of what an incredible piece of art it is and how thought-provoking and readable it was. Neela and Rukmini are two South Asian Canadian women musicians (one trans, one unspecified) who form a friendship when Rukmini, an emerging artist, covers one of the more established artist Neela’s songs. The story investigates brown female friendship, professional jealousy, the pleasure and price of making art, social media and call-out culture, the way systemic racism and sexism pits women of colour against each other, and more. It’s also very much a love letter to women (mostly of colour) artists. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

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The Undocumented Americans

by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
Nonfiction

I think this book should be required reading for everyone in the United States. It’s Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s memoir about growing up undocumented in the United States. After the 2016 election Karla, who was then a Harvard graduate, knew she had to write this book. In it, she challenges the standard narrative about what it means to be undocumented in America by telling her own story and including personal reporting with other undocumented people about their lives, work, experience with the healthcare system, bringing up their children, and more. Karla’s careful hand renders everyone as rounded individuals, and the narrative is never one-note.

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The Vanishing Half

by Brit Bennett
Fiction

The Vanishing Half is a modern story about the age-old practice of racial passing. But it is not just a story about passing. This is a beautiful, confounding, heartbreaking and totally addictive inter-generational saga about love, loss, and identity; about twins who grow up in a small town but end up on opposite sides of the color line. I thought I was ready for it, but the racism and almost unrelenting colorism that run through this story struck me hard. But then again, Bennett’s treatment of these subjects is no harsher than the reality. Reading this novel felt like being knocked down and kicked all around. And yet, when I came to the end, I still wanted to go back and start all over again. It’s that good.

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The Year of the Witching

by Alexis Henderson
Fantasy

When I got my hands on an early copy of Alexis Henderson’s debut horror novel, I read it through the night, and am still recommending this macabre fantasy to absolutely everyone. After encountering a coven of witches in the woods, Immanuelle, an outcast in her puritanical village, inadvertently triggers a series of deadly plagues. As she looks for a way to stop them, she uncovers dark secrets about her village and its revered Prophet. This is a rebellious tale of witchcraft, puritanism, and an underestimated girl coming into great power.

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Transcendent Kingdom

by Yaa Gyasi
Fiction

Gifty is a young woman torn between two worlds: between her parents’ homeland of Ghana and her childhood home in Alabama; between her religious upbringing and scientific PhD research; and between her brother’s addiction and her mother’s depression. Since losing her brother to opioid addiction, Gifty has focused her studies on reward-seeking behavior in mice. But can her research open a window to her lost brother or her depressed mother? We saw Yaa Gyasi’s incredible talent in Homegoing, but her sophomore novel shows even more depth and range. Transcendent Kingdom is heartbreaking, perspective-changing, and completely unforgettable.

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We Are Not Free

by Traci Chee
Young Adult

This is an ambitious work of historical YA about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. It is told from the perspectives of 14 different friends and siblings from Japantown in San Francisco, all of whom handle this trauma in their own way. Fourteen point of view characters sounds overwhelming, but because it’s told chronologically, the stories all slot together. This way, we get to see the many different aspects of this historical moment: the characters who turn away from the U.S. after having their rights taken away, the ones who pledge patriotism regardless, and those who sign up to fight. This is an emotional and enlightening read.

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We Ride Upon Sticks

by Quan Barry
Fiction

In the great chasm that is 2020, this book was a huge bright spot for me. Full of nostalgia, unbeatable perms, and one Emilio Estevez poster, the field hockey team and their unbeatable season was exactly what I needed. Even better, this strange, third-person plural narration (the girls were treated like a collective “we”) still allowed for incredibly up-close stories about the individual athletes as they each grappled with challenges and changes. This was the shake-up and downright weird and nerdy book that put my reading back on track while quarantined.

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When No One is Watching

by Alyssa Cole
Mystery/Thriller

It seems that Alyssa Cole can knock it out of the park in any genre. A fan of her romances, I was already excited to read her thriller debut. Did I ultimately find myself well and truly terrified? I sure did. Sydney Green adores her Brooklyn neighborhood, but its rapid gentrification gives her pause. When Sydney and her new neighbor, Theo, dig a little deeper, they begin to wonder if the influx of “FOR SALE” signs is part of something more nefarious. Tightly paced with Hitchcockian levels of tension, When No is is Watching belongs at the top of every TBR pile.

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When You Were Everything

by Ashley Woodfolk
Young Adult

Ashley Woodfolk’s When You Were Everything offers up a beautifully heartbreaking contemporary story about a friendship breakup, shifting back and forth in time to reveal the why and the aftermath. The result is a staggering story that’s quiet and explosive, revealing one of the most devastating kinds of endings: the ending of a friendship. The prose carries such weight, with the promise that yes, you too can get through this. Cleo’s story will stick with you long after you’ve said goodbye.

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Whoa.

by Alexandra Warren
romance

After reading Oops!, I was very excited to get to know Mali and Walt more. Whoa. is a spinoff novella where Mali’s intern arranges a blind date for her, only to find out her brother’s friend Walt is the one waiting for her at the restaurant. This is the story of two very busy people who manage to make time for each other and fall in love in the process. A feel-good romance that instantly became a comfort read for me. Wonderful and low on angst, this novella will make you believe in the magic of love.

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Wow, No Thank You.

by Samantha Irby
Nonfiction

This book is obscene, crass, gross, and I laughed so hard that I wheezed until I used my inhaler. Irby’s essays are so amusingly honest and shameless that you can’t help but adore such a blatant curmudgeon. She is an absolute delight and I found many of the essays in this book to be so incredibly relatable. In one essay she writes about how getting ready for a night out when you’re in your 40s starts in the morning because it’s a process mostly involving wondering why you said yes to going out in the first place. Even the dedication made me laugh out loud. The humor in this book is relentless and brilliant.

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