Hello friends! Today Sabrina and I brought you another end of the year post, this time one about our favorite young adult reads of the year. While 2020 was, by all accounts, a horrible year, we found many new favorites and we can’t wait to share them with you today. So, without further ado, let’s jump into this post.
… Okay, I lied. Before we get into the post, let me softly push you towards the previous installments of our end of the year series:
- a general reflection on our year (ft. reading, blogging and life stuff)
- the best adult books we read during 2020
- the worst books we read during 2020 (adult + ya)
Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
This was my first five star book of the year and I absolutely loved it. It covers a few difficult topics, such as grief and loss, and I felt it explored these in detail and didn’t brush them aside in favour of the romance (because there is a really cute and well-developed romance in this). I loved all the relationships in the book, especially the ones between the adults and the teens – they were all complex and realistic, and some were even pretty wholesome. I found this to be a truly surprising and engaging story!
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim
This book really hit me hard, and had me shedding tears on more than one occasion. The strongest parts of this book, in my opinion, were all the character relationships and the incredible realism to them. I also loved the pacing – the book takes place over about a year, but it didn’t drag on. I felt that the story lingered in just the right parts and swiftly moved on from others. I appreciated the time jumps because they worked well to emphasise the small changes that occurred in each character. I really loved this contemporary YA set in Australia!
With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Emoni is one of my favourite characters I read about in 2020, and was the standout aspect of this book for me. I loved her strength of character and her development throughout the story – all while she was looking after her baby! Her relationship with her grandmother was precious and nuanced, and I loved Emoni’s relationship with food and cooking too! She was so determined but I was made to understand her doubts and internal struggles as well. I think this was a really well written YA contemporary and recommend it to anyone!
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
I unfortunately couldn’t get my hands on the audiobook version of this, but I think the print copy was still fantastic! I loved the main character, Bri, and how we really got to experience her day-to-day life. It was so interesting to read about her raps (particularly the performances and how she came up with the words) as well as her journey over the course of the novel. I also enjoyed the writing style and the themes explored in the story.
The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum
This book has only minor sci-fi elements to it, but I felt it fit in this category anyway, because those elements, though small, are integral to the plot. I absolutely fell in love with this book for so many reasons, but the one that immediately drew me in was the writing style – the book is written beautifully and in short chapters that make every scene feel significant. I also loved the found family aspect of this book and the sapphic relationship. The ending was perfect too and made me so emotional, which solidified this as a 5 star read for me.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
Two characters in this were my favourites – Harper and Grey. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, which I have heard includes chapters from Grey’s perspective. I do typically love Beauty and the Beast retellings, so I wasn’t surprised that I enjoyed this one as well. I was inspired by the knife-throwing and enjoyed the card-playing too. Rhen was a little bit boring, but I’m sure I will become more attached to him over the series. I also loved how the real world was incorporated into this fantasy book and the way Harper was torn between her different responsibilities. She faced some really difficult choices and I think she handled them in a realistic way. Plus, it ended in a way that has me wanting to continue!
The Star-Touched Queen & A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi
The first things that come to mind when I think of these two companion novels are the beautiful writing and incredible worlds they’re set in. There were so many instances of unexpected magic that delighted me and captured my imagination. I also really enjoyed the romances in each book, though I have to say I thought the one in A Crown of Wishes was stronger – the interactions between the characters always made me smile. I’m hoping to read this author’s middle grade series in 2021, because I’m sure I will enjoy it too.
Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton
I was super entranced by this collection of six loosely connected stories speculating about a future that gets further and further away from where we are today. It was so interesting to see the sometimes gradual and sometimes dramatic changes in society from one story to the next. I loved the irony that infused these stories and the YA themes that were explored in unexpected ways. The first four stories were definitely my favourites, with Eight Waded being the one I enjoyed the most – the main characters in these ones were all so different and the writing styles matched so well.
Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim
By the same author as The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling, this book hit me almost as hard. It’s a powerful story inspired by the author’s own family history and you can tell that a lot of love and consideration went into it. I enjoyed the writing style and dual perspectives contained in the novel and I appreciated how the ending tied everything up and didn’t leave any mysteries. It was so interesting to see how the two main characters changed over the story and how their relationship changed with them. I hope more people pick this book up in the future!
Laurinda by Alice Pung
At first glance, this may not seem like historical fiction, but it is set in the 1990s so I’ve put it here. This is a slower, more reflective book that a girl who has received a scholarship to a prestigious all-girls school and is dealing with the transition. It explores themes tied to race and class in an in depth way, and has a very lonely feel to it. I became truly invested in the main character’s story and I appreciated the way things ended.
The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Akalf
I can’t tell you how many times this year I have got the title of this book mixed up with The Weight of The Stars 😅 . This book was so well done that it overwhelmed me at times. It was an intense experience, not only reading about the “race riots” in 1969 Malaysia, but being inside the mind of the main character who is experiencing OCD – and I loved that main character so much. This is a relatively short book, but man, does it pack a punch.
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee
No matter how many times I had to put this down while reading, I was alway itching to pick it up again because I was enjoying it so much. I loved the humour and the dynamic between the two main characters – it was a lot of fun. Genie Lo is a force to be reckoned with, and I appreciated the struggle she faced trying to juggle everything (school, relationships and new superpowers) all at once. I wish we’d seen a bit more of the action, but the book stayed fast paced and enjoyable despite that.
The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco
My favourite part of this book was the pacing. The plot did not stop moving forward! It also took a few turns that I wasn’t expecting, but kept me intrigued. Plus, I liked that my feeling of fear was maintained over the course of the whole book – there were more than just one or two scary scenes in this horror. I also appreciated the interesting writing choices that were made for the narration. All this made for a very memorable book!
The Burning Shadow by Jennifer L. Armentrout
I know I’ve said this a thousand times but the story contained in The Burning Shadow really surprised me with its twists and turns and the complexity it accumulates from The Darkest Star, (the first book in this paranormal romance trilogy). This alone would make it one of my favourites of the year, but I also loved how the characters progressed and the thrilling action scenes that occurred in the second half. I was on edge for the majority of the book, just waiting to see what would happen next. If you’ve enjoyed any JLA books before, you have to try this series!
FANTASY AND PARANORMAL
Crier’s War by Nina Varela
I loved everything about this book, but what made it especially outstanding for me was the slow-burn, enemies to lovers romance between Crier and Ayla. Look, I usually don’t love angsty stories, but all the angst and longing between these two was so well-portrayed. On another note, the world building is also A+; I found myself getting lost in the world – and in the plot – right at the beginning. I actually read Crier’s War twice this year, the second time in preparation for the second book… which, admittedly, I still haven’t read, but I’m so excited for it!
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Cemetery Boys was easily one of my most awaited novels of 2020, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that it lived up to all my expectations. It’s an incredible fantasy novel with a trans main character, an epic best friend, as well as one of my favorite romances of the year. Yadriel and Julien are so wholesome, reading their story and their growing feelings for each other made me so damn happy. Y’all really do not want to miss this engrossing novel.
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Ahh, this is easily one of my top favorite novels of 2020, and one that I’m already looking forward to rereading sometime soon. While it deals with heavy topics – such as transphobia – it is nonetheless a book that warmed my heart at multiple part. It was especially beautiful to see the strong, resilient friendship between Felix and Ezra, and I loved seeing how that relationship changed and evolved throughout the novel. While Felix Ever After includes a love triangle, it is one that felt realistic and well-written, so despite my dislike for the trope, I couldn’t be mad about it.
Call It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer
Brigid Kemmerer’s contemporary novels always hit me right in the feels, likely because her characters feel incredibly realistic, which makes it easy to feel for them. I loved the leads of Call It What You Want, both of whom are disliked and outcast in their high school for different reasons. I loved the way we slowly got to know them as individuals and I enjoyed seeing their relationship blossom, as well. As per usual, Kemmerer did a fantastic job with the supporting cast, who were just as engaging to read about as the main characters.
Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales
Similarly to Felix Ever After, this too deals with some heavy topics, including with a loved one who has cancer, but nonetheless it was a bright spot in my year. I think that is because, despite all the hardships and the heartbreak Ollie goes through, he has a really solid support system in his family, as well as a lovely group of friends he meets and gets close to during the course of the novel. I love Only Mostly Devastated with all my heart, and I seriously cannot recommend it enough.
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim
If you enjoy YA contemporary that focus more on the protagonist, their problems, dreams, and their family, The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is for you. (There is a soft, kind love interest here, but the romance is definitely in the background!) As Sabrina mentioned above, the strongest part of Dumpling are the realistic and imperfect relationships between the characters as well as how these change and evolve throughout the story. I cannot recommend this underrated novel enough, so go! Pick it up!
Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills
The aforementioned contemporary novels (in my section) all deal with harder subjects, even as they have lighter, more hopeful parts. Foolish Hearts, on the other hand, is one of the softest, fluffiest novels I’ve ever read, but it nonetheless left such a mark on me. I especially loved the characters in this! The main ship was lovely – it’s between a sunshine, soft boy and a cautious, shyer girl – but I also loved the side f/f ship, which was about a couple that broke up at the beginning of the book. Ah, these characters made me so happy! If you want that for yourself, give Foolish Hearts a chance.
Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz
I think this is one of those books I talked way too little about, so listen to me now when I say that you should absolutely give it a chance. I loved the characters so much in this one and so seeing their relationship develop was the loveliest thing ever. While Sick Kids in Love never downplays the reality of living with a chronic illness, its atmosphere remains light and fluffy for the most part, which gave me such comfort as I was listening to it.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
2020 has been so long and wretched that I can hardly believe I read Darius this year; in January, to be exact. This is such a heartfelt, beautiful novel about a boy who goes to visit Iran, his mother’s home country, for the first time. I loved to see Darius become more confident during the course of the novel, and I especially loved the way he was able to address the issues he had with his family, particularly with his father. This is a slower, quieter book that doesn’t have a romance – though Darius is interested in another boy – but it nonetheless will punch you in the feels.
Have you read any of these novels? What did you think of them? What were your favorite YA novels of 2020? What were your most read genres?