20 Must-Read Novels You May Have Missed Because of the Pandemic

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Mara Franzen

Staff Writer

Mara (They/Them) has accidentally on purpose made their entire life about books and stories. Mara graduated with a B.A in creative writing and theatre and is halfway through an MFA in Creative writing. In addition to writing for Book Riot, Mara also has written for The Independent Book Review, Wargamer, and The Other Half, to name a few. They also work as a fiction editor with The Minison Project. Nearly all of their published articles can be found here.

Honestly, April and May of 2020 was kind of a blur. There was so much new information, canceled events, and disrupted plans, it’s no wonder things got lost along the way. One of those things that got lost was book releases. Between tours getting canceled and author talks moving online, new books also got lost in the shuffle. Here I have compiled a list of spring 2020 novels that were published at the top of the pandemic. I decided to leave out books published that were a continuation of a series, and there are even more books than the ones I’ve listed here!

Spring 2020 Novels

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Seventeen years ago, Vanessa had an affair with her teacher Mr. Strane. She was 15 he was 42.

Now years later, a student has come forward with allegations against Strane. When she contacts Vanessa, asking her to speak out as well, Vanessa must rediscover if the relationship was consensual, as she interprets it to be, or will she come to terms with a past that she does not want to accept.

The Exhibition of Persephone Q cover

The Exhibition of Persephone Q by Jessi Jezewska Stevens

Percy is pregnant and has not told a soul. Not even her husband, who she no longer even recognizes. As she feels estranged from her life, her family, and even her own body she receives a package. In it are photographs that she knows are of her, but no one else seems to see the resemblance.

Percy begins to question and doubt herself and begins to wonder — do we even own our own image?

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Enter the Aardvark by Jessica Anthony

Alexander Paine is getting ready to run his reelection campaign when a mysterious package containing a stuffed aardvark shows up at his door. As he scrambles to figure out what it could mean, we switch to and from Alexander and Titus Downing, the taxidermist who stuffed the aardvark all the way back in Victorian England.

The Glass Hotel cover

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mendel

From a large-scale Ponzi scheme to a woman disappearing from the deck of a container ship in the middle of its voyage, this story dodges and weaves exactly where you think it’s going next.

Vincent, Jonathan, and a victim of Jonathans’ schemes are all joined together in ways that aren’t revealed until the end, taking us from rags to riches and perhaps back again.

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Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang

Moving was supposed to be a new start for her, a way out of a dead-end job in California, and a new commitment to her boyfriend J.

Even as the move is underway, she faces questions about her role in an interracial relationship, her understanding of her ancestors, and how to simply exist in a world that refuses to recognize her place in it.

Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

Poisons are complicated, life is more so. This is something Nell understands as she works to better understand the detoxification of poisonous plants under the kind eyes of her mentor Joan.

As the women work, their outside lives are tangled, and they seem stuck at the center. Even as Nell fills notebook after notebook with her thoughts and discoveries, Nell begins to realize that her notebooks might be more filled with love for Joan, than actual work.

It’s Not All Downhill From Here by Terry McMillan

Loretha knows that at the age of 67 it’s not all downhill from here. She has a business, friends, and a loving husband. When a tragedy strikes on the eve of her 68th birthday, Loretha has to learn how to move on and keep her head up.

With the help of her friends, Loretha will relearn that the best days are not behind her.

That Hair by Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida, Translated by Eric M.B. Becker

Mila is an outsider and has curly hair. Her father is white Portuguese, and her mother is Black Angolan. When they arrive in Lisbon, even though Mila is only 3, she can tell she is different.

The story follows her and her hair as she grows up and tries to find her place in a world that doesn’t seem to have a place for her.

Whiteout Conditions by Tariq Shah

Ant usually likes funerals. Except this one hit home. The sudden death of a friend from childhood that made national news is a hard pill to swallow.

As Ant and his friend Vince make their way to the funeral through a Chicago snowstorm, Ant reflects on life, toxic masculinity, and friendship.

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Afterlife by Julia Alvarez

Antonia’s life is falling apart. After the sudden death of her husband, she retires from her job as an English professor. Soon after, her older sister vanishes. And on top of all that, one day she comes home to find a pregnant undocumented teenager on her doorstep.

She has always drawn strength from the words of the authors she teaches and adores, but this time she realizes, words might not always be enough.

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The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah

Set in the here and now of Chicago, and the Palestine of the past, Afaf Rahman weaves the narrative of being a child of Palestinian immigrants with the current crisis she is in: an active shooter is at the school where she’s the principal.

The story weaves in and out of the terrifying ordeal of the current, with the bittersweet memories of the past that will leave the reader thinking for days to come.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Four women, all doing what it takes to make it in Seoul, Korea. One a hopeful mother trying to conceive. One a student returning home. Another a woman trying to write a wrong. And another trying to save for a surgery that she thinks will change her life.

This is a story about the power of women, friendship, and community, and how small things can impact lives in a big way.

Lost in Oaxaca by Jessica Winters Mireles

Camille Childs’s promising career as a pianist was ended with a tragic injury to her hand. Now she lives in Santa Barbara, leading a quiet life and teaching piano. At least her star student Graciella is going to make it big. Except there’s a problem: before the big competition, Graciella goes home to Oaxaca.

Determined for her student to succeed, Camille goes after her. She soon ends up lost where she doesn’t speak the language until she meets Alejandro, who helps her navigate the world, and a friendship begins to bloom.

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael by Beth Morrey

Missy’s life did not turn out how she imagined. She’s 79, lives alone, and her daughter won’t speak to her. She spends her day cleaning, drinking, and reliving her past mistakes.

But, one day two strangers and a dog show up, and show Missy that she isn’t done yet, she still has a lot of life and love left in her yet.

The Subtweet- Shraya

The Subtweet by Vivik Shraya

Friendship can be absolutely beautiful, and also painful. After finding a fast friendship, Neela and Rukmini share in the joy of being musicians. But as Rukmini’s fame grows, and Neela’s fame stagnates, a singular subtweet destroys their friendship, and places them both at the center of a media storm neither of them wanted.

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Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud

After Betty’s husband passed, her colleague moved in to help her out. Soon Betty, Mr. Cheetan, and Betty’s son, Solo, become a family of sorts. But when Solo learns a secret that his mom and Mr. Cheetan have kept from him, he flees.

He arrives in New York and lives as an undocumented immigrant. But will the secret follow him, even here? And what is family, really?

Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

The cops say Mina was about to jump, but she denies it. Worried about her mental health, her husband, Oscar, takes her away from New York for a trip to London.

Mina tries to heal and experience her new world. Surrounded by the classics, she draws strength from mythological women. Even as Mina and Oscar try to put the pieces together, they seem to fall apart.

Braised Pork by An Yu

Jia Jia has always felt constrained by her marriage. So when, one morning, she finds her husband dead with a sketch in his hand, she is conflicted. Even more so because of the contents of the sketch and the fact that he was alive not even an hour before.

Jia Jia decides she must embark on a journey to discover the truth behind the sketch. She knows she must dive into her past, to find out what her future holds.

Most Likely by Sarah Watson

Most Likely by Sarah Watson

Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha have been friends forever. But as they grow up, they also grow apart. Except there’s a catch: one of them will be president, they just don’t know who. Each is incredibly talented and educated, so who will the job go to?

These best friends will do what it takes to have each other’s backs, knowing that they are stronger together because, together, women can do anything. Even become president.

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

JL Markham’s life used to be filled with carnivals, warm summers, and her best friend, Aubrey, gossiping the night away.

But now, JL’s father leaves for long-term business, Aubrey and her friendship is dissolving, and her mom has a dissociative disorder. Luckily, JL has Max, her older boyfriend. Except even that will come to an end as Max plans to graduate and leave town. JL is faced with a choice: follow Max and betray her family, or stay and betray Max.

Looking for more books you missed beyond these spring 2020 novels? Stay tuned for more books in different genres that were published at the start of the pandemic, coming soon!