Welcome to my big list of 2020 favorites! Usually, I do this award show style and give out different awards in a variety of categories I made up. This year is a little different because it's 2020, and I'm out of brain power to think of categories. These books appear in no particular order, and I selected them purely based on which books are still in my head months after I read them. I didn't read nearly as many books this year as usual, but I think I managed to read more books that I fell head over heels for than ever. Publishing a book this year is a major accomplishment in itself, so these authors all deserve extra rounds of applause for launching their books into an uncertain world, and even if a book from this year doesn't make a list, it's still incredible for existing. Even though I've already talked everyone's ears off about these books all year long, I'm going to do it one more time because they got me through both a hard and hectic year and proved to be excellent companions.
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by Erin Hahn
This was the first 2020 book I read back in 2019, and it has a super special place in my heart because I was lucky enough to have Erin ask me to host the cover reveal. Of course, I absolutely loved the book too. With a British love interest with a former punk rocker dad and a story set in a dive bar with an aspiring music journalist, I was guaranteed to love this. There's so much music in these pages that you could use it to build an epic playlist. I made my own "More Than Maybe" inspired playlist on YouTube this summer. Watch it here.
by Gabby Noone
If I was giving out awards, this would be the laugh out loud book for sure. The book is darkly funny and sarcastic in a way that made it an automatic favorite. Ever wonder what purgatory is like? Noone's answer is an airport terminal you never get to leave, where every day is Groundhog Day. I loved the concept because I grew up spending a lot of my life in airports, so I could relate to the feeling. Airports are such interesting liminal spaces. The twist is that she falls in love with the boy who caused the car accident that ended in her death in the first place. This book will have you in stitches.
by Phil Stamper
This was a book that grew on me quietly. I enjoyed it while I read it, but I didn't think a ton about it. It was the perfect quiet contemporary book with a cool premise that melded NASA and reality shows. I didn't realize just how great it was until after I got to sit with it for a while and reflect back on it. As the months went on, it was a book I couldn't stop thinking about. That's what earned its place on this list.
by Sarah Watson
I wasn't sure what I'd think of this book in the first chapter, but after zooming out and into a senior year set in a very different 2020, I fell in love with this book. Even though the premise is about which of four girls (all point of view characters) will grow up to become president, it's really just a story of senior year. I loved this book because it so accurately captures what the college admissions process was like. I was just coming out of it when I read this book, and its honesty was soothing. The book crushes the myth that YA loves- "If you work hard and want something enough, it'll happen". I think it's a harmful myth to perpetuate, and I'm glad this book takes it on so well.
by Zan Romanoff
I read this one in the Tiger King phase of lockdown, and I fell in love. Of all of these, I feel like this one has slipped under the radar the most, which is a total tragedy. The book is so well crafted and transports the reader into the strange world of elite LA private schools. Lulu is a fascinating main character dealing with low grade social media fame. She's also navigating her sexuality throughout the book, ending up using the bi label but explores her ideas around just being unlabeled. I loved this arch because it wasn't forced at all, and Lulu never felt like she had to answer to anyone about it, even when a video of her kissing a girl at a party is leaked. The book is well crafted and the characters and romance is great, but the book is also an amazing, fair, even handed inspection of our social media driven culture.
by Jennifer Dugan
Romeo and Juliet + a comic book store. What's not to love. Despite not being into comics in real life, I love books that focus around comic creators and comic cons (this book has both). I think I just love seeing characters be creative in books. Not only is it a realistic love story between two teens in the middle of a feuding indie comic vs big box store rivalry, but it's also a fantastic mental health story and features an unlabeled and a bi teen. All of this rep is so important to have in YA. I also love that *spoiler* true to the book, they don't end up together, but it has its own sort of happy ending with Ridley getting the mental health in-patient treatment he needed, framed in a positive light. It also has a good message so important to teen relationships that you can love someone and still not be right for them.
by Kelly Yang
This book was complicated and intense but pulled off effortlessly. The story is told from two points of view. Claire is a rich girl who ends up in LA because her Chinese parents want to give her a better chance of getting into college in the US. Claire is a parachute. She ends up at Dani's house. Dani and her mom are barely making enough to get by, even with both of them working. While Claire and Dani start out believing they're just too different, they end up coming together. Over the course of the book, both girls face reporting a sexual assault and face the sexism and horrible treatment that tends to come with reporting. They become a strong support system for one another. You definitely need to be in the right place to start reading, but it's a powerful story.
by Lyla Lee
K-Pop books have taken over YA this year, and I'm not complaining. This was my favorite take on the budding sub-genre. It's centered around a K-Pop competition in LA looking for the next rising star in both singing and dance rounds. The book takes on fatphobia in the industry (and the world in general), and also stars two bi love interests. It's one of the most fun books I read this year and that made the list.
by Leah Johnson
Prom. But not just any prom. Prom that is basically a reality television show competition with challenges and competitions all the way to becoming prom king and queen. Liz doesn't want anything to do with it until she realizes that she needs the scholarship money that comes with the grand prize. Stuck in the vapid world she tried to avoid, she ends up falling in love with the new girl and redefining the tradition drenched, stuck in the past prom court. Again, this is a super fun read.
by Kit Frick
I love a good mystery/thriller from time to time, and this unreliable narrator story definitely delivered on giving me a mystery to solve. Set in a posh costal town, this book has all the vibes on top of being an uncertain story unpacking the death of Zoe Spanos and who was responsible. I always love it when I can't guess the ending but it's still super satisfying, and this book definitely gave me that.
by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Rachel has been a favorite author of mine for a long time. Each of her books have just gotten better. This one hit particularly hard for me as I read it at the start of my freshman year of college, and the book is set on the last night of senior year. There's so much grappling with what it means to be an adult and what the world after high school will look like. It's also about being proud of your dreams, allowing your identity to be defined by more than one thing, and there's the twist of academic rivals to lovers. I would happily reread this one.
by Kacen Callender
This book got a ton of hype at the beginning of the year and rightfully so. It's a great emotional contemporary that just picks apart the intricacies of life in the most magnificent way. It's also such a nuanced book about the trans experience. I loved that it was set in New York City, and Kacen's writing makes the city jump off the page so vividly.
by Alice Oseman
There are not enough books out there about the ace/aro-ace experience, and I'm glad Oseman is working to add to the ones that exist with her own voices novel on the topic. Beyond that, the book also delves into all the messy feelings that swirl around moving away to college, and the main character is deep into the world of fan fiction and fandom, which is always fun to read about. I'm always excited to read a book set in the UK too. For people who love slice of life books, this one's for you.
by Marissa Kanter
A YA book about a YA book blogger. Brilliant. And also a little unnerving if you are a YA book blogger who has a very similar life to Halle's. There were a lot of times where I felt like I'd slipped into reading about myself. Marissa was also a book blogger as a teen, so she writes the trials and tribulations incredibly well. There was a clear level of understanding through the book that made it extra interesting. She also played on the trope of double identity very well.
by Tiffany D. Jackson
Tiffany always delivers on gripping, true crime inspired YA that will keep you up at night. Grown might be her best version yet. Loosely based on the R. Kelly case, the book follows an aspiring R&B singer who gets trapped in an inappropriate relationship. Because her mentor is rich and famous, there's little her parents can do to help her escape once she's deep into his world, lured by the promise of a career she always wanted. The book is engrossing and terrifyingly real. Such an important read.
I've talked about this book every chance I got for weeks, so I'm pretty sure everyone is tired of hearing me talk about it. If your not, the short version is that Halsey is as incredible of a poet as she is a lyricist. Check out my review linked in the title to read my most painstaking review of the year (that's probably also my favorite).
by Maria Sherman
If you love pop culture or boy bands, this is the book for you. It's thorough enough to be a real history book, but all the information is presented in a fun, brightly illustrated coffee table book format. I breezed through the pages, and I look forward to looking through it again. It's the most well researched, complete look at the genre, its origin, and its evolution that I've found.
by Hannah Ewens
In a similar vein, I struggled to find a good, well researched book about fandom. I found it in Fangirls. Written by a former fangirl, this book mostly uses first hand fan accounts to delve into the complex world and psychology of music fandom globally, in person, and online. It's well balanced and honest in its portrayal of culture. It's such an important book.