Some of my highlights of the last year were history memes, replaying ‘The Rains of Castamere’, someone drawing my photography (that’s basically fanart, right?) and BOOKS.
I was able to read many books and I loved a lot of them so here are my top 15 reads of 2020. I, as the title suggests, have ranked the books from the bottom to the top. This is new for me so you get a rough idea of what order I would put them in, in terms of love but it is a rough ranking as it is HARD to choose and I change my mind a lot.
15: i was born for this by alice oseman
For Angel Rahimi, life is only about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are currently taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything – her friendships, her dreams, her place in the world.
Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark too. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band is all he’s ever dreamed of doing. It’s just a shame that recently everything in his life seems to have turned into a bit of a nightmare.
Because that’s the problem with dreaming – eventually, inevitably, real life arrives with a wake-up call. And when Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly thrust together, they will discover just how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.
why I loved it?
This book definitely feels like a journey with our two main characters. I think it was effective to use the dual POV with characters who are dealing with the same themes but in different ways. Firstly, I really liked how they wrote anxiety. I felt like it was a really honest, in depth portrayal as we looked at the ways it can be often consuming but the ways in which growth can happen too. I feel like this quote from the comedian, Aparna Nancherla, “if you don’t have anxiety, the way I would describe it is like there’s an edgy improv group in your brain and it it just needs one word suggestion to spin like countless scenarios that no-ones comfortable with.” matched the way the book felt which is why I liked it.
I also really liked the way it examined fan culture. They were able to open up multiple conversations across the novel (honestly the one comment about how things teen girls love are treated in respect to other fandoms made my day). It basically had a discussion across the novel that was honest, complicated and balanced. I thought it was insightful and I haven’t seen anything like that before.
14: love from a to z by s. k. ali
A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.
But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.
When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break. Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister. Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.
why I loved it?
I really struggle to describe why I enjoyed this book so much. However, I recently read a review over on Suniya’s blog, Sunny Side Reviews, which I really felt captured a lot of my thoughts so please check it out whilst I struggle to come up with words.
*the next day* Ok so, I really loved the characters. I felt like they were both able to explore an array of emotions, not always perfectly, but I think seeing them get to deal and grow from it felt very human which I loved. Plus, I loved seeing the romance develop, it felt so soft and sweet. It was just great. I, also, felt like the writing choice of ‘a marvel and an oddity’ was genius and I thoroughly enjoyed that touch. Especially as it was able to highlight the good and bad in life… in a way.
13: 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.
why I loved it?
I really liked the set up for the novel and the different themes it explored, in particular the family side. BUT what made this novel really special was Nishat, our main character. I loved how her narration and thoughts were written, it made it so easy to feel for her. She really felt like a teenager who was sweet and just deserved to be protected at all costs. Of course, I have to mention the sister relationship as well because it was absolutely golden.
12: the sun is also a star by nicola yoon
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?
why I loved it?
A book set across one day which I’m learning might be one of my favourite tropes. I honestly picked this book up on a whim, not really knowing what to expect except two people falling in love, but it was SO much more. We get a scientific vs the dreamer theme, discussions on migration, family, teenage fears for the future and the way we can impact strangers’ lives. It had such a deep, heartfelt level to it, all wrapped up in BEAUTIFUL writing, so it was definitely my kind of contemporary.
11: the female of the species by mandy mcginnis
Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.
Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.
As their senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting these three teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.
why I loved it?
When reading this one, it felt different to the ‘typical feminist’ stories in both the approach and resolution. This book is most definitely a look into rape culture, highlighting it in a high school setting. It looked at the horrendous acts themselves to the failures of legal system, the language around school hallways and how ‘adults’ themselves react to it. It looked at the whole spectrum of this culture and took each bit seriously. Through the use of the morally grey and complex characters, growing relationships and an ever-present discussion it became a really important and compelling story that exceeded my expectations.
10: the black flamingo by dean atta
Fiercely told, this is a timely coming-of-age story, told in verse about the journey to self-acceptance. Perfect for fans of Sarah Crossan, Poet X and Orangeboy.
A boy comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen – then at university he finds his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo. A bold story about the power of embracing your uniqueness. Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers – to show ourselves to the world in bold colour.
*I masquerade in makeup and feathers and I am applauded.*
why I loved it?
This story felt like a very authentic and personal journey as we follow Michael through his teen years. I like that we got to see him at different points in his life as it really emphasised how you are constantly changing and growing. It isn’t always just one identity you come to terms with and then you are settled but more of an ever-evolving journey. Being told in verse, it made the language incredibly beautiful and compact whilst still touching on many things making it a very distinct read.
9: patron saints of nothing by randy ribay
Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.
Hoping to uncover more about Jun and the events that led to his death, Jay is forced to reckon with the many sides of his cousin before he can face the whole horrible truth — and the part he played in it.
As gripping as it is lyrical, Patron Saints of Nothing is a page-turning portrayal of the struggle to reconcile faith, family, and immigrant identity.
why I loved it?
This book was really well written. I loved so many of the choices Ribay took to tell this story. The way the plot developed over time and continually brought new elements to the discussion really helped it to become a thoughtful piece looking at drugs, especially in the Philippines. Plus, Jay being the narrator allowed you to take an educational journey with him in some ways. It really focused on examining his flaws and strengths throughout this journey which I think gave you a lot to think about too. This story was definitely emotional driven as well, so it certainly gave the story a more personal and intimate feel which I thought was extremely well delivered, I cried a lot.
8: darius the great deserves better by adib khorram
Darius Kellner is having a bit of a year. Since his trip to Iran this past spring, a lot has changed. He’s getting along with his dad, and his best friend Sohrab is only a Skype call away. Between his first boyfriend, Landon, his varsity soccer practices, and his internship at his favourite tea shop, Darius is feeling pretty okay. Like he finally knows what it means to be Darius Kellner.
Then, of course, everything changes. Darius’s grandmothers are in town for a long visit while his dad is gone on business, and Darius isn’t sure whether they even like him. The internship isn’t what Darius thought it would be, and now he doesn’t know about turning tea into his career. He was sure he liked Landon, but when he starts hanging out with Chip–soccer teammate and best friend of Trent Bolger, epic bully–well, he’s just not so sure about Landon anymore, either.
Darius thought he knew exactly who he was and what he wanted, but maybe he was wrong. Maybe he deserves better.
why I loved it?
I loved the first book, Darius The Great Is Not Okay, and I was slightly apprehensive about a sequel as contemporary sequels can feel unnecessary and repetitive in my experience BUT it was not the case with this one. It felt like a new chapter in Darius’ life as he handled new situations, revelations and emotions. It shifted to a more school and romance-based plot, so it was interesting to see how Darius handled this and I always love how real his character feels throughout it all. Everything about this book was amazing and whilst I would have liked a little more in a few aspects, I still loved this book a lot. I can’t seem to do it justice in words but, just know, this book did justice to Darius’s character entirely.
6&7: a reaper at the gates & a sky beyond the storm by sabaa tahir
!! as this is a sequel, the synopsis includes spoilers for the beginning of the series so if you haven’t read them, skip this bit. !!
The Blood Shrike, Helene Aquilla, is assailed on all sides. Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable, while the Commandant capitalizes on his madness to bolster her own power. As Helene searches for a way to hold back the approaching darkness, her sister’s life and the lives of all those in the Empire hang in the balance.
Far to the east, Laia of Serra knows the fate of the world lies not in the machinations of the Martial court, but in stopping the Nightbringer. But while hunting for a way to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would aid her, and is drawn into a battle she never thought she’d have to fight.
And in the land between the living and the dead, Elias Veturius has given up his freedom to serve as Soul Catcher. But in doing so, he has vowed himself to an ancient power that will stop at nothing to ensure Elias’s devotion–even at the cost of his humanity.
why I loved it?
These two books I’ve put together as they are the last two in the ember quartet. I read Reaper at the start of the year and Sky just last month, but I loved them both. I really feel this series gets stronger as it goes on and while Reaper is my favourite, I thought Sky was an amazing finale *more thoughts coming soon*. These books were packed with high emotions and high stakes. It is a very fast paced series that grips you straight away. I really loved the characters and their growth we were able to see in these books. Plus, these last two really tackled the topic of war and survival so it is heart wrenching to read, but I think they delivered it really well.
5: king and the dragonflies by kacen callender
Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.
It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy-that he thinks he might be gay. “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?”
But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King’s friendship with Sandy is reignited, he’s forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother’s death.
why I loved it?
I really enjoyed this middle grade story. It had a lot of heart and important topics as it deals with grief and intersectional identities. The way it covers these topics felt so thorough and complex. It pulls back a few layers for each topic to create a muddle of feelings which feels so authentic to read about. Plus, the way it resolves them is able to emphasis hope and growth. I also really appreciated that our characters felt their age and their emotions were taken seriously.
4: black girl unlimited by echo brown
Echo Brown is a wizard from the East Side, where apartments are small and parents suffer addictions to the white rocks. Yet there is magic . . . everywhere. New portals begin to open when Echo transfers to the rich school on the West Side, and an insightful teacher becomes a pivotal mentor. Each day, Echo travels between two worlds, leaving her brothers, her friends, and a piece of herself behind on the East Side. There are dangers to leaving behind the place that made you. Echo soon realizes there is pain flowing through everyone around her, and a black veil of depression threatens to undo everything she’s worked for.
Heavily autobiographical and infused with magical realism, Black Girl Unlimited fearlessly explores the intersections of poverty, sexual violence, depression, racism, and sexism—all through the arc of a transcendent coming-of-age.
why I loved it?
A heavily autobiographical book as we follow Echo growing up, but it uses magic to describe and reflect feelings making this story stand completely on its own. Not only does this demonstrate the power of fantasy/magical realism in showcasing deeper meanings to people and reality but it transports these emotions in such a heart-breaking, raw way making it a powerful read. It is a heavy read with so much truth and pain but, also, heart and hope. This is what made it nothing less than a remarkable read.
3: last night i sang to the monster by benjamin alire sáenz
Zach is eighteen. He is bright and articulate. He’s also an alcoholic and in rehab instead of high school, but he doesn’t remember how he got there. He’s not sure he wants to remember. Something bad must have happened. Something really, really bad. Remembering sucks and being alive – well, what’s up with that?
I have it in my head that when we’re born, God writes things down on our hearts. See, on some people’s hearts he writes Happy and on some people’s hearts he writes Sad and on some people’s hearts he writes Crazy on some people’s hearts he writes Genius and on some people’s hearts he writes Angry and on some people’s hearts he writes Winner and on some people’s hearts he writes Loser. It’s all like a game to him. Him. God. And it’s all pretty much random. He takes out his pen and starts writing on our blank hearts. When it came to my turn, he wrote Sad. I don’t like God very much. Apparently he doesn’t like me very much either.
why I loved it?
I read this at the beginning of the year, but I still remember it really well as it was such an impactful read. It is definitely a ‘quiet’ contemporary as we follow Zach through his process at a rehab centre. It is raw and emotional the entire way through making it quite an intense and open read but matched with Sáenz’s poetic and distinct writing it definitely is an achingly beautiful story as well.
2: the weight of the sky by hanna alkaf
Melati Ahmad looks like your typical moviegoing, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.
But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13th, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames.
With a 24-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.
why I loved it?
I’m so glad I read this one, not only because it was able to educate me on the Malaysian Race Riot, but it also captured so many wonderful characters that made you feel so much. I really connected with our main characters as their emotions transferred off the page effortlessly to create a strong impact on you as a reader. The writing was phenomenal. I, also, loved how it showed kindness and bravery in a time so defined by hate and fear, but didn’t show that everything was okay because of it, just that it all existed together.
1: ink in the blood by kim smejkal
Celia Sand and her best friend, Anya Burtoni, are inklings for the esteemed religion of Profeta. Using magic, they tattoo followers with beautiful images that represent the Divine’s will and guide the actions of the recipients. It’s considered a noble calling, but ten years into their servitude Celia and Anya know the truth: Profeta is built on lies, the tattooed orders strip away freedom, and the revered temple is actually a brutal, torturous prison.
Their opportunity to escape arrives with the Rabble Mob, a traveling theater troupe. Using their inkling abilities for performance instead of propaganda, Celia and Anya are content for the first time . . . until they realize who followed them. The Divine they never believed in is very real, very angry, and determined to use Celia, Anya, and the Rabble Mob’s now-infamous stage to spread her deceitful influence even further.
To protect their new family from the wrath of a malicious deity and the zealots who work in her name, Celia and Anya must unmask the biggest lie of all—Profeta itself.
why I loved it?
The number one spot goes to Ink in the Blood (but it is VERY, VERY close). I think I ended up giving it to this one as it has a very classic YA fantasy feel whilst still feeling fresh. I find YA fantasy with common tropes can be such comforting reads for me especially when the focus is on relationships and themes, like this one.
It is a slower fantasy, but I loved how it was able to focus on the relationships. The way it fleshed them out with small details was really enriching to read about. The romantic details were also really well written. The strong characters set up alongside the atmospheric setting and abundance of whimsical magic made me fall in love with it. I, also, loved how it was able to tackle wider themes through the context of the plot and the challenging of societal structures. It just really hit the nail on the head for me by ticking off so many of the qualities I love. If it sounds like your kind of thing, I 100% recommend it.
I’m actually embarrassed how long this post took me to do *cries* but I do really love ‘favourite books of the year’ posts so I hope you do too. Thank you for reading and I would love to know your favourites in the comments.