Well friends, we’re *finally* at the end of 2020. In a year full of upheaval, my reading certainly took a beating…but somehow I still managed to read and these are the 10 books that would not let go of my mind- these are the best of the best pals! Without further ado, here are my overall top 10 selections for the year…
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
Summary: Michael is a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London. All his life, he’s navigated what it means to be Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican—but never quite feeling Greek or Black enough.
As he gets older, Michael’s coming out is only the start of learning who he is and where he fits in. When he discovers the Drag Society, he finally finds where he belongs—and the Black Flamingo is born.
Told with raw honesty, insight, and lyricism, this debut explores the layers of identity that make us who we are—and allow us to shine.
Why Did This Make the Top 10: I often don’t read novels in verse- I’ve often thought myself too literal to understand the depths of poetry- but this one snuck under my skin and burrowed into my heart. Though there are obvious differences between our lives and experiences, there were ways in which I felt so seen in this book that it has stuck with me months and months after completing it- it couldn’t not make the list.
Readalikes: Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju, Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh, Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Summary: Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.
When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….
But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.
Why Did This Make the Top 10: If you follow me on bookstagram (shameless self promotion @theromanticace), you know that this is the book I’ve recommended most (maybe besides Ace) to others this year. Truly this book is life-changing and boundary breaking, and its impact will last for many years to come.
Readalikes: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver, The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson
Ace by Angela Chen
Summary: What exactly is sexual attraction and what is it like to go through the world not experiencing it? What does asexuality reveal about consent, about compromise, about the structures of society? This exceedingly accessible guide to asexuality shows that the issues that aces face—confusion around sexual activity, the intersection of sexuality and identity, navigating different needs in relationships—are conflicts that all of us need to address as we move through the world.
Through interviews, cultural criticism, and memoir, Ace invites all readers to consider big-picture issues through the lens of asexuality, because every place that sexuality touches our world, asexuality does too.
Why Did This Make the Top 10: This is the book I want to most gift to friends, family, and even people questioning their place on the asexual-aromantic spectrum. Truly it’s indescribable to see yourself reflected on the page in an academic, informative book- it made me feel like me and my identity are even more valid and respected…and most importantly shared. This is the primer you all need friends.
Readalikes: How to Be Ace by Rebecca Burgess, The Invisible Orientation by Julie Sondra Decker, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
Summary: Marcus Caster-Rupp has a secret. While the world knows him as Aeneas, the star of the biggest show on TV, Gods of the Gates, he’s known to fanfiction readers as Book!AeneasWouldNever, an anonymous and popular poster. Marcus is able to get out his own frustrations with his character through his stories, especially the ones that feature the internet’s favorite couple to ship, Aeneas and Lavinia. But if anyone ever found out about his online persona, he’d be fired. Immediately.
April Whittier has secrets of her own. A hardcore Lavinia fan, she’s hidden her fanfiction and cosplay hobby from her “real life” for years—but not anymore. When she decides to post her latest Lavinia creation on Twitter, her photo goes viral. Trolls and supporters alike are commenting on her plus-size take, but when Marcus, one half of her OTP, sees her pic and asks her out on a date to spite her critics, she realizes life is really stranger than fanfiction.
Even though their first date is a disaster, Marcus quickly realizes that he wants much more from April than a one-time publicity stunt. And when he discovers she’s actually Unapologetic Lavinia Stan, his closest fandom friend, he has one more huge secret to hide from her.
With love and Marcus’s career on the line, can the two of them stop hiding once and for all, or will a match made in fandom end up prematurely cancelled?
Why Did This Make the Top 10: I read this one in one sitting, it was that good. As a plus-sized woman, seeing another plus-sized woman find love and embrace herself is inspiring. It gives me hope that that is possible for me, even in the darkest of times. Plus it’s too fucking cute not to make the list.
Readalikes: Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert, Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert, One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
Grass by Keum Seuk Gendry-Kim
Summary: Grass is a powerful antiwar graphic novel, telling the life story of a Korean girl named Okseon Lee who was forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War—a disputed chapter in twentieth-century Asian history.
Beginning in Lee’s childhood, Grass shows the lead-up to the war from a child’s vulnerable perspective, detailing how one person experienced the Japanese occupation and the widespread suffering it entailed for ordinary Koreans. Keum Suk Gendry-Kim emphasizes Lee’s strength in overcoming the many forms of adversity she experienced. Grass is painted in a black ink that flows with lavish details of the beautiful fields and farmland of Korea and uses heavy brushwork on the somber interiors of Lee’s memories.
The cartoonist Gendry-Kim’s interviews with Lee become an integral part of Grass, forming the heart and architecture of this powerful nonfiction graphic novel and offering a holistic view of how Lee’s wartime suffering changed her. Grass is a landmark graphic novel that makes personal the desperate cost of war and the importance of peace.
Why Did This Make the Top 10: Months and months later, the subject of this graphic novel and its art have stuck in my brain and made me continue to think about this topic and look into it more. In part, I think that’s the very essence of reading- to open our minds and encourage curiosity. For that reason alone, it had to be here.
Readalikes: A Game for Swallows: to Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached, Fax from Sarajevo by Joe Kubert, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Summary: Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.
When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?
Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs.
Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?
Why Did This Make the Top 10: Come on pals, it’s Talia Hibbert. Ever since I read Get a Life, Chloe Brown last year I’ve simped her so hard and then she gave us the best book boyfriend ever in Zaf so like… leaving this one of the list would have been criminal.
Readalikes: A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole, Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade, Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh
Summary: Snap’s town had a witch.
At least, that’s how the rumor goes. But in reality, Jacks is just a Crocs-wearing, internet-savvy old lady who sells roadkill skeletons online. It’s creepy, sure, but Snap thinks it’s kind of cool, too.
Snap needs a favor from this old woman, though, so she begins helping Jacks with her strange work. Snap gets to know her and realizes that Jacks may in fact have real magic–and an unlikely connection to Snap’s family’s past.
Why Did This Make the Top 10: Snapdragon has easily got to be one of my favorite characters this year, if not my most favorite. Her spunk, her curiosity for the world around her, and her fierce loyalty stamped her into my heart 5ever and I can’t wait to pick up whatever Kat Leyh comes out with next!
Readalikes: The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag, Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, & Grace Ellis, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker & Wendy Xu
In the Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado & Dani
Summary: When your memories are stolen, what would you give to remember? Follow El and Vee as they search for answers to the questions everyone else forgot.
Shudder-to-Think, Pennsylvania, is plagued by a mysterious illness that eats away at the memories of those affected by it. El and Octavia are two best friends who find themselves the newest victims of this disease after waking up in a movie theater with no memory of the past few hours.
As El and Vee dive deeper into the mystery behind their lost memories, they realize the stories of their town hold more dark truth than they could’ve imagined. It’s up to El and Vee to keep their town from falling apart…to keep the world safe from Shudder-to-Think’s monsters.
Why Did This Make the Top 10: I mean, it was a given that a Carmen Maria Machado title was going to make the overall Top 10, but why I selected this over In the Dream House might have to do with content, but more importantly it had to do with storytelling. The layers within In the Low, Low Woods unravel both surprisingly and beautifully, and the ending has stuck with me the past few months. Truly this title is a master class in contemporary horror and I sincerely hope she comes out with more comics.
Readalikes: Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, & Dave Stewart, The Memory Collectors by Menton3, Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, & Matt Wilson
Here the Whole Time by Vitor Martins
Summary: What would you do if you had to spend the next 15 days with your lifelong crush?
Felipe gets it — he’s fat. Not chubby. Not big-boned. Fat. And he doesn’t need anyone to remind him, which is, of course, what everyone does. That’s why he’s been waiting for this moment ever since the school year began: school break. Finally, he’ll be able to spend some time far away from school and the classmates who tease him incessantly. His plans include catching up on his favorite TV shows, finishing his to-be-read pile, and watching YouTube tutorials on skills he’ll never actually put into practice.
But things get a little out of hand when Felipe’s mom informs him that Caio, the neighbor kid from apartment 57, will be spending the next 15 days with them while his parents are on vacation. Felipe is distraught because A) he’s had a crush on Caio since, well, forever, and B) Felipe has a list of body image insecurities and absolutely NO idea how he’s going to entertain his neighbor for two full weeks.
Suddenly, the days ahead of him that once promised rest and relaxation (not to mention some epic Netflix bingeing) end up bringing a whirlwind of feelings, forcing Felipe to dive head-first into every unresolved issue he has had with himself — but maybe, just maybe, he’ll manage to win over Caio, too.
Why Did This Make the Top 10: Sure, I just read this in December, but it packed a PUNCH. I fell so easily in love with Felipe because I saw so much of myself as a teen in him. This is the love story that I wish could have happened to me at that age (what would have happened if it did?!), and I sincerely hope that more of Vitor’s work is translated into English ASAP (also pls take this as a plea for more plus-sized dudes in romance okay).
Readalikes: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli, Where We Go From Here by Lucas Rocha, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Summary: With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.
A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.
Why Did This Make the Top 10: I know what you’re thinking- “Quinn including a high fantasy on her top 10 of 2020?!”- and trust me, I can’t believe it either. But here we are. The world-building executed in this one’s less than 200 pages surpasses anything in larger fantasy volumes I’ve read. At times I found myself slowing my reading down so I could savor the story and its characters, which I rarely do. This is the most underrated book of 2020 in my opinion.
Readalikes: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang
What was in your top 10 this year? Share them in the comments below!
Until next year…please for the love of god, make it better than this one!