Yesterday I gave you my top nonfiction reads, and today it’s time for my fiction reads!
Without further ado, here are some of my top fiction reads of 2020 (please note that this post does NOT include my favorite fictional reads of the year – those are coming tomorrow!)
- The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
- Vivek Oji gave me a new lens to view the world from. People have different sides to them and they chose to show those sides to certain people. Vivek taught me the significance of finding people who celebrate who you are, who give you unconditional love and acceptance without being asked to, and who protect you at all costs. I hope to be that person for the people in my life, and Vivek’s story gives me renewed commitment to that effort. I will never stop thinking of Vivek Oji and the importance of the story they told.
- Shiner by Amy Jo Burns
- A dark and twisted story that takes place in the Appalachian Mountains, Wren is raised by a snake-handling father and a mother that only ever wanted to escape this place with her best friend, Ivy. One day, Ivy walks into a fire and Wren’s father performs a healing on her…thus, setting in motion a series of events that changes everything. Shiner is also atmospheric; at times the descriptions made me feel like I was sitting in those mountains myself. The themes of religion, loyalty, and friendship make this a story that will stick with me for awhile.
- The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver
- When Lydia Bird’s fiancé dies, she is thrown into a grief she’s never known and one that changes her life forever. As she deals with that grief, she also realizes she’s able to visit Freddie if she takes a sleeping pill. As she navigates the real world while also visiting Freddie in an alternate universe, Lydia transforms into a different, stronger person. It did start off a bit slow, but as the story came together, I couldn’t put it down. I loved Lydia and Jonah Jones…and I thought the depiction of grief from the spouse and friend perspectives were realistic and sympathetic, and the message of hope at the end was perfect.
- The Comeback by Ella Berman
- Grace Turner is a childhood actress that hit it big as a young girl. When we meet her, she is coming off a year hiatus where she “disappeared” from the famous life and found refuge in her parent’s house outside of the Hollywood world. As she tries to redefine herself and make amends with her past and all that happened, we see the events that led to her downfall – sexual abuse, gaslighting, drugs, and fame. A lot of the story was reminiscent of the #metoo movement allegations and lent credit to the many Hollywood actors that have recently come forward to talk about the toxic culture that surrounds Hollywood. I also loved how the secondary females of this one stood by and uplifted Grace – even when she was at her nastiest. There was just something about Grace that had the whole world rooting for her, just as I was.
- The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
- I LOVED this book! The perfect amount of mystery and spookiness and pacing. I read this book in less than 24 hours because I couldn’t put it down! This book put St. James on my autobuy author list, as I also loved her first book, The Broken Girls!
- Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
- I’m worried that what I say about this one, I won’t do the book justice and I’ll fail to convince you to read this masterpiece. It’s truly a perfect book for 2020. While Backman has been hit-or-miss for me in the past, but this one is a brilliant study on human character and empathy and listening to each other’s stories to understand why it is we tick the way we do. It looks at how experiences shape us and how we all have something to learn and appreciate and understand about those around us. It’s thought-provoking and complex and deep – and it’s just one of those books you want to hug at the end. You will view the world and the “strangers” around you differently – and by differently, I mean with a little more compassion and wonder and an overall sense that the world is still good. It’s an experience and when you finish, you’re forever changed.
- The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
- This is an incredible coming-of-age (my favorite!) debut novel. Adunni is a 14-year-old girl who her father marries off to an old man who already has two wives, but no sons. Her sole purpose is to bear him a son, but after a tragedy happens, Adunni is forced to run away. She then becomes a housemaid for a wealthy woman in Lagos. There, she meets some of the best (and worst) people and she fights for her dream of furthering her education to become a teacher and to have a “loading voice”. While parts of Adunni’s story is hard to read (trauma, abuse, rape, oppression, etc), the core of who Adunni is and what she stands for is heartwarming. I couldn’t help but cheer her on and hope the best for her. I also loved the secondary characters – Tia and Kofi. The way they took risks and had Adunni’s best interests at heart added so much texture to the story.
- Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
- This has to be the most 2020 book of 2020. Without ever really revealing what is happening, it’s clear that this silent invader would change the world as we know it. While some of the scenes and dialogue didn’t feel necessary, what really struck me was the mundanity of life that we take for granted. The story really highlights our modern-day dependancy on electronics and made me rethink how that looks. Also given our current situation, it was easy to relate to the idea that some unseen force makes it feel safer at home, that travel becomes a thing of the past, and that trust in others is immediately one of the first things to disappear. In the end, you’re left with more questions than answers and, even for me, that aspect is pretty frustrating. This would be a great book club pick because I think the discussion and others’ interpretation would add more to the overall experience.
- Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
- If this had been my first experience with Gyasi, Transcendent Kingdom would have surely landed in my Top 10 list. However, when compared to Homegoing, this one just wasn’t as good, yet deserved to be mentioned as a top book of the year. Transcendent Kingdom explores themes of addiction, depression, and spirituality. Gyasi’s talent shines in her ability to explore large-scale themes such as these in an accessible way to the reader. She creates deep emotional attachments, not only to her characters, but also to the themes of the book. Gyasi is subtle in her style, but the punch it packs by the end of her book is rarely found by other authors.
- Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
- Valentine is the perfect slow burn with descriptions that stand off the pages, and I read it in less than 24 hours. I love a book with such a strong sense of place that the setting becomes a character itself…and Odessa, Texas is certainly a strong character! I could feel the blowing red dust in my throat, making me reach for a cup of water to wash it down. Wetmore shows true promise as a writer and I was so impressed with this debut!
- The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe
- A coming-of-age story with depth and nuance, Thorpe’s writing was spectacular! There was evident angst throughout the book that kept me compelled to keep turning the pages so I could find out what happened. With themes of identity, friendship, and connection, Bunny and Michael leave an imprint on the reader’s heart.
- Majesty by Katherine McGee
- The second installment to the American Royals series, I think I liked this one even more than the first. As Princess Beatrice transitions to Queen, from young woman to woman, from second-in-command to commander, I was quickly immersed back into the alternate history of American Royalty that McGee so masterfully created. Not only is Bee’s transformation a central point of the story, but McGee further develops the other characters in this book: Jefferson, Samantha, Nina, Everett, and Daphne. I’m looking forward to the next book!
- His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
- Afia is a strong, independent, and stubborn protagonist who fights against the patriarchal society of Ghana. When she’s married to a man who doesn’t even show up to the wedding, Afia understands the job before her – turn her new husband back towards his family and away from his girlfriend. Become the only wife, woman of her husband’s heart. The author’s simplistic, but impressionable, writing really caught my attention and I’ll be keeping an eye out for her next book!
- The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
- I was utterly charmed by this book! If you’ve ever found yourself wondering “what would have happened if I had done this instead of that?” or “are there parallel universes where I’m happier/famous/successful?” or just slightly melancholy about your current life/situations, The Midnight Library would be a fun exploration for you!
- Luster by Raven Leilani
- Leilani writes methodically and lyrically…I literally restarted the book with a pen in hand because I wanted to be able to ruminate on individual sentences. She writes with such power and provacation and for that reason alone, Leilani’s debut deserves to be recognized. Truthfully, the momentum the story started off with began to wane and the shine started to dull as I continued to read. The story took a bit of a turn for me about halfway through and the second half just wasn’t as compelling for me. Regardless, the writing stayed strong and I was still underlining sentences like crazy even if the overall story lost its effect. I’ll be curious what her next book is like, and that will really be the test of Leilani’s authorship for me.
What are some fiction books that totally stood out for you this year?