Bookish List · End of the Year Post

The Best Books We Read In 2020: YA Edition

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:

Sabrina

CONTEMPORARY

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.

FANTASY/SCI-FI

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.

HISTORICAL

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.

PARANORMAL

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!


Vera

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.

CONTEMPORARY

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.

Let’s chat!

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?

51 thoughts on “The Best Books We Read In 2020: YA Edition

  1. I do believe I read Darius the Great Is Not Okay last year but the sequel was certainly one of my favorites this year. I also appreciated the absence of a significant romantic subplot – it was nice to just have a story that focused solely on the character and him figuring out who he is and his mental health struggles.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve both read some great books this year! I really want to read Felix Ever After (just as soon as I can get it in the UK 😭), and Criers War has been on my TBR for ages.

    Cemetery Boys is definitely one of my favourite reads of the year – I was absolutely blown away by how sweet and brilliant it is. Being able to gift it to my partner (who is trans and Latinx) was truly a highlight of my year.

    While I haven’t got to Foolish Hearts yet, your big post of Emma Mills inspired me to finally try out her books this year, and Famous in a Small Town ended up on my favourites list.

    Here’s to a 2021 filled with just as many amazing reads! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahh, I’m so sad you can’t yet access Felix Ever After. 😦 I hope you’ll love it – and Crier’s War, as well! I need to read the sequel to that one.

      Same! I expected Cemetery Boys to be good, but I was so shocked by how sweet and heartwarming it was. Aw, I hope your partner will love / have loved the book. ❤️

      Yay, so glad you found that post helpful. 😀 And hope you’ll love Foolish Hearts.

      Thanks! Hope your reading year – and year in general – will be fantastic. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You have to read The Suffering Sabrina! Though the narrator is Tarquin and not Okiku this time. But it’s a fabulous sequel!

    This year I’ve read 7 adult books, which is a lot for me…all the rest were YA though.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. There’s so many great books on this list! Cemetery Boys, Felix Ever After, Foolish Hearts. I was really happy with myself that I was able to get to a lot of new releases this year. Normally I wait a long time to get to new books. But the good thing is that I discovered a lot of new authors who I know I will want to read from for years to come 🙂 Happy new year, Veronika and Sabrina!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Everyone raves about A Curse So Dark and Lonely (which I also enjoyed), but I think Kemmerer’s contemporary romances are her real strength. She has a gift for characterization, which doesn’t come out quite as strongly when she’s trying to build up a fantasy world and its politics. My favorite is More Than We Can Tell.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I unfortunately haven’t read any of the books on this list, but many of them are books I hope to read at some point in 2021! In particular, Darius the Great is Not Okay and Felix Ever After are two books that I’ve been continually seeing raving reviews for. Aside, I had never heard of The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling Before but it looks wonderful and I’ve added it to my tbr 🙂

    claire @ clairefy

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Sabrina: So happy to see you love The Star-Touched Queen books, I adore them so much, though I also prefer the second book 💕 I still need to finally get around to catching up on more of Jennifer L. Armentrout’s series 😄

    Vera: Cemetery Boys was so good!! Julian and Yadriel own my heart 🥺 I also adored Felix Ever After and was impressed by how realistic and well-written the love triangle was, as I usually don’t like this trope!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. i thought i already commented but i love this post! these are great recommendations for me to read in 2021! i completely agree with cemetery boys, felix, and I hope to read The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling some time soon!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. great post!! you both mentioned such wonderful books in this post 😊 i absolutely love Crier’s War (agreed that the enemies-to-lovers romance is very well-written), Foolish Hearts (this book made me SO happy 💞), and Only Mostly Devastated (i found the protagonist to be super relatable and really enjoyed his narration). i’m really looking forward to reading Cemetery Boys and Felix Ever After sometime next year (hopefully); they both sound like incredible reads 🤩

    Liked by 1 person

  10. i’m so glad that you both enjoyed the surprising power of a good dumpling!! i’ve heard such good things about it, and i’ll definitely be getting to it in 2021 ❤ also i confuse the weight of the stars and the weight of the sky so much too—their titles are so similar 😭 and i agree with vera that the love triangle in felix ever after was so well done. i'm usually good at picking & sticking to one side in a love triangle and predicting who the main character will end up with, but this time i was so unsure bc both had their positives and negatives. but the ending was so satisfying nonetheless!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I really hope you’ll love The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling – it’s such a fantastic contemporary novel. Ah, I actually saw fanart for Felix and Ezra, so I knew who he’d end up with. 😭 (But I also loved them together so I didn’t mind at all.) I do agree with you, Declan and Ezra both had positives and negatives.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. The Weight of the Stars took me by surprise this year and I loved it so much! I definitely want to read more from K. Ancrum. I also want to read The Weight of Our Sky (oh that is confusing) and loved seeing your thoughts on it.

    I definitely agree that Felix Ever After has one of the best-written love triangles I’ve ever read! That one was a favorite for me too this year. I also read Foolish Hearts and Darius the Great for the first time this year and thought they were fantastic ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I’m sorry I’m late to this post but I really need to read a lot of these books !! I’m so excited to try out Wai Chim’s works so to see two (all?) of her books here is so great !! I’m also so glad to see Darius The Great and The Weight of Our Sky (I always get names mixed up too) on this list because those are some of my favourite books ever !! I hope you both find lots of great books in 2021 too !! 💕

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I’m so glad that both of you had so many fantastic reads this year! And I’ve loved a lot of these books as well, so I can’t wait to chat about them with you!

    Letters to the Lost was one of my favorite books the year I read it! I really love how it delves into how people are perceived so differently from a glance versus when you actually get to know them! When A Curse So Dark and Lonely started getting lots of hype I was excited when I realized that it was written by the same author as Letters to the Lost!

    The Star Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes are both so lyrical and beautiful! I happen to love purple prose and those books were some of the first in YA that I found with that flowery writing that I love!

    Felix Ever After was one of my favorite books this year as well! There was something so immersive about the story for me, and like you, I thought the love triangle made a lot of sense and was handled really well. Plus having that kind of fantastic own voices trans rep was just amazing!

    I’m so, so very happy to see Sick Kids in Love on this list! You both probably know how much I adore this book, and it makes me so happy every time I see that someone has read and loved that book! One of my missions in life is to get as many people to read this book as I can, so seeing that another person has read it, even if I wasn’t the reason why, makes me smile!

    As for The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling and Cemetery Boys, they’re both on my immediate TBRs! I’m in middle of way to many books right now, including some ARCs that I need to prioritize, but as soon as I have the time those books are getting priority!

    Whew! I know this comment is long but I just loved so many of the books you mentioned! I hope you somehow have an even better reading year in 2021!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We really discovered so many fantastic books in 2020! Letters to the Lost was Sabrina’s pick, but I just wanted to say that I adore that book too – read it in 2019, I think, and it’s still one of my favorite contemporaries. So good!

      Felix Ever After is worth every bit of hype it’s gotten in the book blogging community. I definitely see what you mean about it being immersive – from the get go, I had a hard time taking breaks from reading because I was super-invested. I think the audiobook narrator added to the book for me, he did a fantastic job.

      Ahh, yes, Sick Kids in Love deserves ALL the love! It’s such a lovely, quick contemporary and I really wish it was more hyped. It deserves all the success books like The Fault in Our Stars have gotten. The world is unfair. :/

      Hope you’ll love The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling and Cemetery Boys! I went into both with high expectations and was still very impressed.

      Haha, no problem!! We love long comments. Hope you’ll find lots of fantastic books this year. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Oh what a wonderful, wonderful list, I love it so much. There are so many books here that are on my TBR and it encourages me to get to them as soon as possible! I can’t wait to read Crier’s War, Sick Kids in Love, The Weight of the Stars and Felix Ever After especially, they sound so lovely ❤
    I loved loved loved Darius and With the Fire on high SO much,I'm so happy to see them on this list! ❤ ❤
    I hope this year will be filled with amazing reads! ❤

    Like

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