Top 20 Books of 2020

Well, what a year it’s been. In a time of much confusion and misery, books have become a safe haven for many, including myself. This year I’ve read so many excellent books and the extra time at home helped me actually dedicate some time to reading and creating content. Therefore, when it came to picking my top books of 2020, I had some really tough decisions to make.

Eventually I managed to narrow it down to twenty outstanding titles that demand to be on your TBR immediately. I’ll add a quick thought or two as to why I love the book so much.

So, in no particular order, here are my top 20 books of 2020:


Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Our story begins in 1902, at The Brookhants School for Girls. Flo and Clara, two impressionable students, are obsessed with each other and with a daring young writer named Mary MacLane, the author of a scandalous bestselling memoir. To show their devotion to Mary, the girls establish their own private club and call it The Plain Bad Heroine Society. They meet in secret in a nearby apple orchard, the setting of their wildest happiness and, ultimately, of their macabre deaths. This is where their bodies are later discovered with a copy of Mary’s book splayed beside them, the victims of a swarm of stinging, angry yellow jackets. Less than five years later, The Brookhants School for Girls closes its doors forever—but not before three more people mysteriously die on the property, each in a most troubling way.

Over a century later, the now abandoned and crumbling Brookhants is back in the news when wunderkind writer, Merritt Emmons, publishes a breakout book celebrating the queer, feminist history surrounding the “haunted and cursed” Gilded-Age institution. Her bestselling book inspires a controversial horror film adaptation starring celebrity actor and lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing the ill-fated heroine Flo, opposite B-list actress and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants opens its gates once again, and our three modern heroines arrive on set to begin filming, past and present become grimly entangled—or perhaps just grimly exploited—and soon it’s impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins.


If like me, you need something to fill the Haunting of Bly Manor hole in your life, you need to pick up this Gothic, sapphic and entrancingly beautiful tale.

Danforth does not make it easy for you, with a complex web of characters and story-lines that slowly connect. The whole way through, the story is tinged with acerbic wit and a hauntingly spooky touch to events. Obviously, I’ve fallen in love.


The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.


You are not ready for what Forna has in store for you.

This is an empowering, feminist and rich YA fantasy unlike any other. It’s beautifully written but also steeped in so much blood and violence. Forna is unflinching in her graphic depiction of this twisted world.


Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

There are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson all her life. But when she meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question — How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?


This is a story that demands to be read and everyone should answer that call. It’s so impactful and discusses morality. Monsters hide behind appearances and social status; they cannot always be easily recognised and Emezi explores how we must examine our heroes. This holds a mirror to our society and forces conversations to happen in such a beautiful, thought-provoking way.


Who I Was With Her by Nita Tyndall

There are two things that Corinne Parker knows to be true: that she is in love with Maggie Bailey, the captain of the rival high school’s cross-country team and her secret girlfriend of a year, and that she isn’t ready for anyone to know she’s bisexual.

But then Maggie dies, and Corinne quickly learns that the only thing worse than losing Maggie is being left heartbroken over a relationship no one knows existed. And to make things even more complicated, the only person she can turn to is Elissa — Maggie’s ex and the single person who understands how Corinne is feeling. 

As Corinne struggles to make sense of her grief and what she truly wants out of life, she begins to have feelings for the last person she should fall for. But to move forward after losing Maggie, Corinne will have to learn to be honest with the people in her life…starting with herself.


Who I Was With Her is, simply put, a stunningly emotional exploration of grief and identity. 

Tyndall has crafted a raw, beautiful story that entranced me with its sheer poignancy and beauty. Every word feels heartbreakingly crafted for maximum impact on the reader. It’s a sad tale, but it’s quiet and understated in its nuanced portrayal of grief. Full review here.


Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood

Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.

Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible. 


 Girl, Woman, Other was such an exquisite book. Evaristo’s writing was so immersive and expansive, deftly playing with syntax and form to create an outstanding novel. The attention to detail and then the sheer scope was just brilliant to see, fleshing out the Black British experience across generations.


The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson

Ellingham Academy must be cursed. Three people are now dead. One, a victim of either a prank gone wrong or a murder. Another, dead by misadventure. And now, an accident in Burlington has claimed another life. All three in the wrong place at the wrong time. All at the exact moment of Stevie’s greatest triumph . . .

She knows who Truly Devious is. She’s solved it. The greatest case of the century.

At least, she thinks she has. With this latest tragedy, it’s hard to concentrate on the past. Not only has someone died in town, but David disappeared of his own free will and is up to something. Stevie is sure that somehow—somehow—all these things connect. The three deaths in the present. The deaths in the past. The missing Alice Ellingham and the missing David Eastman. Somewhere in this place of riddles and puzzles there must be answers.

Then another accident occurs as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm—and a murderer


This was just the perfect ending to a phenomenally crafted, clever and inventive mystery trilogy that I will hold close to my heart. I’m so excited to see where Stevie and the rest of the group end up in The Box in the Woods next year.


And The Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando

When fifteen-year-old Nathan discovers that his older brother Al has taken his own life, his whole world is torn apart.
Al was special.
Al was talented.
Al was full of passion and light…so why did he do it?
Convinced that his brother was in trouble, Nathan begins to retrace his footsteps. And along the way, he meets Megan. Al’s former classmate, who burns with the same fire and hope, who is determined to keep Al’s memory alive. But when Nathan learns the horrifying truth behind his brother’s suicide, one question remains – how do you survive, when you’re growing up in the age of social media?


I very rarely cry in general in my life, but this book brought me damn near close to tears several times throughout the story.

From the author’s note, I immediately knew that this book would not pull its punches. It was instantly heart-wrenching, relevant and required reading. This was my first book of 2020 and boy, was it a good way to start the year. I knew right then it had to end up on this list. Full review here.


Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson

Pip Fitz-Amobi is not a detective any more.

With the help of Ravi Singh, she released a true-crime podcast about the murder case they solved together last year. The podcast has gone viral, yet Pip insists her investigating days are behind her.

But she will have to break that promise when someone she knows goes missing. Jamie Reynolds has disappeared but the police won’t do anything about it. And if they won’t look for Jamie then Pip will, uncovering more of her town’s dark secrets along the way… and this time everyone is listening. But will she find him before it’s too late?


Jackson has a razor-sharp focus and immense skill for crafting meticulously plotted, overwhelmingly engaging mysteries. This particular one kept me up until the early hours of the morning, nervously racing through the pages to reach that brilliant conclusion.

The writing in this series is stellar. From an incredible opening line, to a clever and deft summary of the events of the previous book, Jackson instantly drew me back into Pip’s story. Full review and Q & A here.


Hideous Beauty by William Hussey

When Dylan and Ellis’s secret relationship is exposed on social media, Dylan is forced to come out. To Dylan’s surprise they are met with support and congratulations, and an amazing reception at their highschool dance. Perhaps people aren’t as narrow-minded as he thought?

But Dylan’s happiness is short-lived. Ellis suddenly becomes angry, withdrawn, and as they drive home from the dance, he loses control of the car, sending it plunging into Hunter’s Lake. Barely conscious, Dylan is pulled free of the wreck, while Ellis is left to drown.

Grief-stricken, Dylan vows to discover what happened to Ellis that night and piece together the last months of his boyfriend’s life – and realises just how little he knew about the boy he loved.


Hideous Beauty is, simply put, absolutely phenomenal. I just fell in love with the entire story and these wonderful characters so much. It moved me to genuine sobs several times; something which I do not do. Full review here.


Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.

A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.


Legendborn is a must-read YA fantasy of 2020. If this book isn’t already on your radar, I’m telling you that you need to rectify that immediately. 

Deonn has crafted such an epic tale, with expansive mythology and scale that combines an expert interrogation of societal issues and a tale of reclaiming your own identity in a world that wants to bury it. Full review here.


Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.


I just loved absolutely everything about this book. Thomas weaves an utterly compelling story about identity, infused with so many wonderful elements of Latinx culture. It grows out of this concoction of fantasy, mystery and romance that just works so well, every element is perfectly balanced. 


One of the Good Ones by Maika and Maritza Moulite

ISN’T BEING HUMAN ENOUGH?

When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic.

One of the good ones.

Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind—why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?—Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there’s a twist to Kezi’s story that no one could’ve ever expected—one that will change everything all over again.


This is an emotional, impactful and brilliant story that weaves the horrific realities of systematic and structural racism in both past and present with a compelling mystery. In particular, it interrogates the idea of legacy and family. You simply must read this.


Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Korey Fields is dead.

When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.

Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.

Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields?

All signs point to Enchanted.


Jackson has such a distinctive voice in every one of her novels, tackling topical issues through a raw and unfiltered lens. Grown draws on famous cases in the media but provides an original narrative that asks uncomfortable questions about the sexualisation of Black girls and the overarching narrative of victim-blaming. Full review here.


You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?


You Should See Me in a Crown is a joyous ray of sunshine on my shelf, both in its vibrant purple gorgeousness and its heart-warming, necessary content. It’s just a phenomenal book that everyone should pick up. Full review here.


The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.

Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.


The Henna Wars was just a beautiful, soft and warm-hearted sapphic contemporary that delves into cultural appropriation, identity and sisterhood. Jaigirdar writes relationships in such a lovely way, from the strong sister bond between Nishat and Priti to the central romance of the book. Full review here.


Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala

From the first time he was stopped and searched as a child, to the day he realised his mum was white, to his first encounters with racist teachers – race and class have shaped Akala’s life and outlook. In this unique book he takes his own experiences and widens them out to look at the social, historical and political factors that have left us where we are today.

Covering everything from the police, education and identity to politics, sexual objectification and the far right, Natives speaks directly to British denial and squeamishness when it comes to confronting issues of race and class that are at the heart of the legacy of Britain’s racialised empire.

Natives is the searing modern polemic and Sunday Times bestseller from the BAFTA and MOBO award-winning musician and political commentator, Akala.


This is essential reading.

It tears apart the insidious racism within Britain and across the world, often discussing how class and race intersect and influence one another. It dissects the systematic racism prevalent in our country and places it within the historical context of imperialism, fact-checking many of our upheld myths of liberalism along the way.

A fantastic, educational and insightful book that everyone should read.


Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

Divided by their castes. United by their vengeance.

Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom—and vengeance.

Jazmyne is the queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.

Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain—except the lengths they will go to win this game.


This is everything you could want from YA fantasy – it’s incredibly rich and thought-provoking, examining the dichotomy of good and evil through sharply-drawn, nuanced characters. I am never going to shut up about how brilliant this book is. This is pure excellence.

If it’s not already on your TBR, please correct that mistake now.


Wonderland by Juno Dawson

Alice lives in a world of stifling privilege and luxury – but none of it means anything when your own head plays tricks on your reality. When her troubled friend Bunny goes missing, Alice becomes obsessed with finding her. On the trail of her last movements, Alice discovers a mysterious invitation to ‘Wonderland’: the party to end all parties – three days of hedonistic excess to which only the elite are welcome.

Will she find Bunny there? Or is this really a case of finding herself? Because Alice has secrets of her own, and ruthless socialite queen Paisley Hart is determined to uncover them, whatever it takes.

Alice is all alone, miles from home and without her essential medication. She can trust no-one, least of all herself, and now she has a new enemy who wants her head…


This book just proved, yet again, that Dawson is a force to be reckoned with in YA. 

Dawson never fails to tackle tough and demanding issues in an honest and raw way, acknowledging what teenagers of today are facing. She is unflinching in her honesty, offering an insightful interrogation of society. Wonderland is no different in this sense with a gritty and trippy dissection of mental health, sexuality, gender, privilege, trauma and corruption. Full review here.


This Is My America by Kim Johnson

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike.

But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?


At its core This Is My America delves into pressing societal issues and the racist history & present of the US, but also the extent to which society as a whole tries to bury its darker past and reimagine itself as a utopia instead. It’s powerful, impactful and incredibly gripping, while also delving into some of the most important issues of our time. The way Johnson gives such an incisive, educational and insightful dissection of the injustices handed down by the justice system makes for essential reading. 

Full review here.


These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.


These Violent Delights is officially a new obsession of mine. 

It’s easily one of the best YA books I’ve read this year and there’s been some strong competition. Gong’s writing just oozes this stylish, suave and spell-binding quality that will utterly entrance and bewilder you. 

Full review here.


There you have it, those are my top twenty books of 2020. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading and I’d love to hear what your top picks of the year were.

5 thoughts on “Top 20 Books of 2020

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