Take 5: Five of the Best YA Books I’ve Read in 2020
Thankfully, 2020 is coming to an end. I can not wait for this trash fire of a year to be over! Every Monday in December I will share with you 5 of my favorite MG and YA books for 2020, which will give us a total list of Top 20 Books for 2020. It’s not a ranked order list or countdown, just a general list of books that I loved and think teens will love as well. These aren’t all the books that I read this year, but I am keeping the list to books that were published in 2020.
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson
Publisher’s Book Description: 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.
Karen’s Thoughts: Tiffany Jackson is one of the best authors out there today writing thrillers for teens, hands down. This book is obviously inspired by the R. Kelly trials, giving it that added layer of realism. It’s such a hard read because there is so much truth in it. Grown highlights how we objectify female bodies, particularly Black female bodies, and how dismissive we are of sexual violence committed against young girls. Grown also clearly illustrates how grooming takes place. And in a time where corruption seems rampant, Grown clearly illustrates how many people know and look away at this type of abuse because of the amount of money someone is making. It’s a seeringly heartwrenching but honest look at real world problems. Well written and honest, but so very hard to read. Read it any way.
Be Not Far from Me by Mindy McGinnis
Publisher’s Book Description: The world is not tame.
Ashley knows this truth deep in her bones, more at home with trees overhead than a roof. So when she goes hiking in the Smokies with her friends for a night of partying, the falling dark and creaking trees are second nature to her. But people are not tame either. And when Ashley catches her boyfriend with another girl, drunken rage sends her running into the night, stopped only by a nasty fall into a ravine. Morning brings the realization that she’s alone – and far off trail. Lost in undisturbed forest and with nothing but the clothes on her back, Ashley must figure out how to survive despite the red streak of infection creeping up her leg.
Karen’s Thoughts: This book makes my list because it has a truly badass female main character who survives days in the wilderness while on her freaking period. It’s like Hatchett, but cooler and updated. Plus, did I mention she talks candidly about being on her period? And as always, Mindy McGinnis gives voice to poor rural teens like the very teens she used to work with in her schools.
Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone
Publisher’s Book Description: In this debut middle-grade girl-power friendship story, an eighth grader starts a podcast to protest the unfair dress code enforcement at her middle school and sparks a rebellion.
Molly Frost is FED UP…
Because Olivia was yelled at for wearing a tank top when she had to keep her sweatshirt wrapped around her waist.
Because Liza got dress coded and Molly didn’t, even though they were wearing the exact same outfit.
Because when Jessica was pulled over by the principal and missed a math quiz, her teacher gave her an F.
Because it’s impossible to find shorts that are longer than her fingertips.
Because girls’ bodies are not a distraction.
Because middle school is hard enough.
And so Molly starts a podcast where girls can tell their stories, and soon her small rebellion swells into a revolution. Because now the girls are standing up for what’s right, and they’re not backing down.
Karen’s Thoughts: From the moment you find out that one of our main characters got dress coded because she had a sweatshirt wrapped around her waist and her tank top exposed, any former pre-teen girl will know exactly what happened. This is an empowering and moving story about a group of girls who come together to fight an unjust dress code and stand up for a friend who was simply trying to keep the fact that she had just started her period a secret. It’s fun, powerful, and so incredibly relatable.
Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles
Publisher’s Book Description: Del has had a crush on Kiera Westing since kindergarten. And now, during their junior year, she’s finally available. So when Kiera volunteers for an opportunity at their church, Del’s right behind her. Though he quickly realizes he’s inadvertently signed up for a Purity Pledge.
His dad thinks his wires are crossed, and his best friend, Qwan, doesn’t believe any girl is worth the long game. But Del’s not about to lose his dream girl, and that’s where fellow pledger Jameer comes in. He can put in the good word. In exchange, Del just has to get answers to the Pledgers’ questions…about sex ed.
With other boys circling Kiera like sharks, Del needs to make his move fast. But as he plots and plans, he neglects to ask the most important question: What does Kiera want? He can’t think about that too much, though, because once he gets the girl, it’ll all sort itself out. Right?
Karen’s Thoughts: I’m going all the way back to the beginning of the year for this one. This was a great story that stars a Black male lead and explores crushes, faith and family. I appreciated the thoughtful exploration of this young man’s journey and also really appreciated how it explores his faith.
The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Publisher’s Book Description: A Cinderella story with deadly stakes and thrilling twists, perfect for fans of One of Us is Lying and Knives Out.
Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes.
Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.
Karen’s Thoughts: This book was a fun breath of fresh air in a year that really needed exactly that. Jennifer Lynne Barnes almost never fails and I loved how this book was a combination of The Westing Game meets One of Us is Lying. It was a joyful romp through a mystery and exactly what I needed for 2020.
So here are 5 of my Top 20 books for 2020. I’ll share a new five with you every Monday for the month of December. What books are on your list?
Filed under: YA Fiction
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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