2020 Reading Highlights

In 2019, I read fifteen books. The year before that, I may have read five books. But in 2020, I read 74 books, and I think we all know why.

Of those 74 books, I would like to highlight some of the best, worst, and in between, that I think are worth recommending or warning others about. So, behold! The Slanted Spines Reading Awards!

This article is not intended to offend anyone! All opinions are my own and subject to my own biases, and all the books were judged against other books that I read in the year 2020. Hope you find something you like!

Favorite Audiobook

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

  • Memoir/autobiography about Trevor Noah’s life growing up in South Africa
  • Heartfelt, hilarious story told by Trevor Noah’s amazing voice

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

  • Contemporary YA novel about a high school senior who has to juggle her baby girl, her finances, her family and friends, and her love of cooking
  • Emotional, thoughtful writing beautifully narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo

Favorite Young Adult

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

  • Contemporary YA novel written in verse about early adolescent Xiomara who is struggling to gain some independence in her strictly Catholic household and uses writing poetry to express her feelings
  • Really well written; Acevedo excellently characterizes X as a young and good-hearted girl

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

  • Contemporary YA about 17-year-old transmasc Felix who is participating in an art summer school course with his best friend Ezra in New York City, and throughout the novel Felix grapples with his identity, relationships, and his future
  • The characters are believably 17-year-olds; they have lots of important conversations about gender identity, nuanced prejudice, and social privilege
  • A really sweet coming-of-age story with a diverse cast of characters
  • I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed the experience

Book That Made me Cry the Most

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

  • Fiction about a pregnant 19-year-old Tish and her fiancé Fonny who was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit
  • Exquisitely written, heartbreaking story that is all too real

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

  • Fiction about a grieving older man who just wants to be left alone, however his friendly neighbors are constantly popping in on him
  • Touching story of true love, loss, and found family

Best Memoir/Autobiography

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

  • Best Audiobook as well!
  • Memoir/autobiography about Trevor Noah’s life growing up in South Africa
  • Heartfelt, hilarious story told by Trevor Noah’s amazing voice

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

  • YA Graphic memoir about George Takei’s childhood spent in a Japanese interment camp in the U.S. during WWII
  • Incredible historical insights told and illustrated in a direct yet meaningful way

Here for It by R. Eric Thomas

  • Nonfiction essays (not technically a memoir) about R. Eric Thomas’s life growing up in Baltimore and his experiences navigating Black gay Christian identity during young adult years
  • Emotional and hilarious, a perfect blend of honesty and hope

Best Romance

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

  • Adult romance about Chloe Brown, a British woman with fibromyalgia, who has a near-death experience, thus realizing her life is dull and resolving to change that through a “Get a Life” list; tensions are high between her and her apartment handyman Redford Morgan yet sparks soon fly
  • Playful banter, amazing characters, witty writing, super steamy love scenes, healthy relationship!
  • I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed the experience

Best Writing

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

  • Literary fiction framed by a letter from a son to mother, in which narration often slips into first person account; a blend of memories, his mother and grandmother’s Vietnamese heritage, exploration of his sexuality, and loss
  • Absolutely extraordinary writing, detailed vignettes not necessarily plot-driven but focused on creating a vivid portrait
  • Watch this interview of author Ocean Vuong

Best Story

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

  • Historical fiction about twin sisters whose paths diverge when one decides to pass for white and the other embraces her Black identity
  • Incredible story, amazing writing
  • Family saga with themes of identity, transformation, and expression

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

  • Fiction about a retired actress Evelyn Hugo who does a tell-all with writer Monique, revealing the juicy details of her secretive life and her seven husbands
  • Romance, grief/loss, friendships, drama—a sensational story with LGB rep

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

  • Historical fiction following two characters, middle-aged Thomas and young woman Patrice, the former who is trying to fight a government ordinance which would negatively impact their Chippewa community and the latter who is in search for her missing older sister
  • Descriptive writing, vivid characterizations, powerful story

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

  • Historical fiction about two sisters Lakshmi and Radha, who meet for the first time when the younger is orphaned and seeks out the elder who is working as a henna artist in the city
  • Descriptive writing, strong setting
  • Many great characters, compelling story

Most Disappointing Book

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

  • Adult romance about Lucy and Josh who are workplace rivals with lots of sexual tension
  • The writing is atrocious and the novel reads like a first draft
  • Main characters’ relationship is toxic

Normal People by Sally Rooney

  • Fiction about two young friends who have an off/on relationship over the years
  • Writing is kind of weak
  • Story is rather depressing and unsatisfying
  • Not really worth the hype; I hear the TV show is better

In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

  • Mystery which takes place in a cabin during a bachelorette getaway
  • I thought it would be a thriller but it ended up being a soft mystery that did not impress me

Favorite Graphic Novel

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

  • Best Memoir/autobiography as well!
  • YA Graphic memoir about George Takei’s childhood spent in a Japanese interment camp in the U.S. during WWII
  • Incredible historical insights told and illustrated in a direct yet meaningful way

Favorite Non-fiction Book

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

  • Nonfiction about the United States’ history of suppressing Black Americans through illegal and legal avenues; begins with abolition of slavery and Jim Crow and works its way chronologically to the present, including a large section on voter suppression
  • Extremely informative and well-researched, skillful writing
  • Essentially the unflattering U.S. history that school textbooks leave out

White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color by Ruby Hamad

  • Nonfiction which discusses how, while white women are disadvantaged by sexism, they have historically benefitted from their white privilege and have both subconsciously and intentionally marginalized women of color on a global scale
  • Highly enlightening, well-researched, strong writing
  • If you consider yourself a feminist, I especially recommend this book

The Other Shore by Thich Nhat Hanh

  • Nonfiction which elaborates upon the Heart Sutra
  • This is a little advanced in terms of discussing the Buddha dharma, so I don’t recommend this as an introductory piece to Buddhism, but rather a more in-depth exploration for those who already have a semi-established understanding of the philosophy
  • Lovingly written in typical Thich Nhat Hanh fashion, very interesting

Favorite Fiction Book

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

  • Historical fiction about twin sisters whose paths diverge when one decides to pass for white and the other embraces her Black identity
  • Incredible story, amazing writing
  • Family saga with themes of identity, transformation, and expression

Parakeet by Marie-Helene Bertino

  • Literary fiction narrated by “the Bride” who is staying at a hotel the week leading up to her wedding, when she is visited by her deceased grandmother in the form of a parakeet
  • Kind of surreal, captivating imagery
  • Weird in a good way, excellent writing, beautiful sibling bond amidst a ‘dysfunctional’ family dynamic

Honorable Mentions

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

  • Fiction about a high school girl Nadia who is grieving the suicide of her mother and dealing with adult decisions, such as aborting her pregnancy and choosing where to go to college
  • Compelling narration from the point of view of “the mothers”–a group of church ladies–which slides into a more omniscient third-person view for the bulk of the book
  • A really interesting coming-of-age story written well!

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

  • Fiction published in 1915 which describes three American explorers who discover an all-female utopia
  • Very interesting modernist work which contains a lot of feminist and socialist commentary
  • A short read exploring the innerworkings of the civilization Herland

Severance by Ling Ma

  • Speculative fiction about Candace, who works at a publishing company in NYC, amidst a global pandemic and during her survival in the consequent deserted landscape
  • Really interesting story, especially reading it during an actual pandemic
  • The writing is fresh
  • There are no quotation marks around the dialogue, if this is something that bothers you

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

  • Literary fiction about Melody, who is celebrating her sixteenth birthday, and her family, including her mother who gave birth to her at age fifteen, her father, and her grandparents
  • Beautifully written; short, concise
  • Not meaty in terms of plot but a lovely exploration of the family

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

  • Nonfiction personal essays from the hilarious Samantha Irby about her misadventures being a semi-famous writer/blogger, getting older, and having a female human body
  • Ridiculous stories written in a hysterical voice
  • Absolutely love her

Thanks for reading! For more Book Reviews, check out this page.

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