Best Books of 2020

Dec 21, 2020 10:53:32 AM Sarah Rymer

Books change lives. Several years ago, I was visiting a library here in Jordan. As the librarian and I talked, a high-school student approached us and showed us a book, saying, “This book changed my life.” The book was "Quiet Power" by Susan Cain. In a very extroverted culture, this student had always thought something was wrong with him. The book helped him find joy in how he was created as an introvert.

Best Books of 2020

Books have the power to bring transformation, and Christmas is a time to give powerful books. Or, in this pandemic year, where our holiday celebrations might be more limited, it may also be the time to gather a stack of books from the library and read.

Here are some of my favorite books from 2020 – some serious and some just for fun. I hope you find at least one recommendation for yourself or for someone you know. Happy Holiday reading!

Young Readers (up to age 9)

  • Too Small Tola by Atinuke – The Nigerian setting infuses this universal story of a girl seeking to prove that she is not too small for an important job.
  • Sydney and Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World by Jacqueline Davis – This is the year of skunks pairing up with unusual roommates, in this case, a hedgehog. Fun!
  • Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake – A second skunk appears in this delightful, odd couple story.

Middle Grade Books (ages 9 and up)

  • Crossing the Farak River by Michelle Aung Thin – A Rohingya girl must figure out how to survive and take care of her brother after their village is destroyed. Harrowing but not graphic and ultimately hopeful.
  • Wishes and Wellingtons by Julie Berry – A spunky Victorian girl, her roommate, and the orphan boy she befriends meet a genie and must stop his power from being used to take over the world.
  • Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce – Myrtle, a young detective in the making, is only one of the memorable characters in this humorous mystery, set in the late 1800s. The sequel, "How to Get Away with Myrtle," is even better than the first!
  • A Thousand Questions by Sadia Farouqi – Told from the dual viewpoints of a Pakistani-American girl and a Pakistani servant, this interesting novel presents culture from both an insider and outsider perspective.
  • The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz – Heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny.
  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty – A wonderful, sweet middle-school friendship story with a main character who has OCD.
  • The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock – A delightful story of relics, angels, heaven, and hell.
  • Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor – A 12-year-old Nigerian boy turns into a shadowy superhero as he tracks his father’s killer.
  • Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park – A perfect book to pair with the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories to present a fuller view of frontier life.
  • The Monster in the Hollows and The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson – Numbers three and four in a series. Beautifully written but full of action. A series that needs to be better known.
  • City of the Plague God by Chadda Sarwat – The Babylonian gods of Gilgamesh bring their battles to modern New York City, and Sikander Aziz needs to find a way to stop them and save his family.
  • A Wish in the Dark by Christine Soontornvat – A fantasy set in a Thai-influenced world where a young boy born in prison must find a way to change his fate.
  • The Colossus of Roads by Christina Uss – A quirky main character with a hidden illness, as well as a strong sense of right and wrong, shows people working out problems and being willing to apologize. Fun but with so much depth.
  • Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson – A hopeful, positive slice of life book about a girl dealing with change as her family faces economic issues and must downsize. Timely!
  • Alice’s Farm: A Rabbit’s Tale by Maryrose Wood – Move over Charlotte’s Web. This could become a new classic. A delightful, lyrical book about a boy and the rabbits who help him save a farm.
  • Three Keys by Kelly Yang – This sequel to ­"Front Desk" deals with hard issues like poverty, racism, and immigration, and still manages to be fun.
  • Pippa Park Raises Her Game by Erin Yun– A Korean girl living with her sister in America balances her love of basketball with family expectations and culture. A great book for TCKs.

Teen Books (ages 12 and up)

  • Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts by Nancy Campbell Allen – A steampunk Cinderella tale with vampires, shifters, and plenty of adventure and romance.
  • Seven Voyages: How China’s Treasure Fleet Conquered the Sea by Laurence Bergreen and Sara Fray – I’d never before heard of Zheng He and his explorations across Asia and Africa decades before Columbus sailed to America.
  • The Silence Between Us­ by Alison Gervais – A cross-cultural romance. The main character and the author are both members of the deaf community. The boy who likes Maya is hearing. The challenges they face are universal, and yet are also unique to those whose language and experiences are different.
  • We Were Beautiful by Heather Hepler – This story set in New York City, filled with cracked, scarred, and very real people, is infused with joy and hope.
  • Fireborne by Rosaria Munda – Sometimes a better regime can still be evil. This excellent fantasy asks challenging questions within a well-told story.
  • Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri – Although written in the voice of middle-school aged Daniel, older readers will appreciate this multi-layered book, so I compromised and put it in the teen section. Daniel retells his family history in the style of traditional Iranian epics. Sometimes I laughed as I read; sometimes I cried.
  • Bloom by Kenneth Oppel – In this riveting horror story, first in a trilogy, killer plants invade our world. The second in the trilogy, "Hatch," lets us know that aliens are following to settle our world. Thrilling reads!
  • A Cloud of Outrageous Blue by Vesper Stamper – Lovely, sad, and grace-filled, this novel shows medieval life during a plague.

Adult Fiction

  • The Well of Ice by Andrea Carter – An atmospheric Irish mystery with a lot of twists and turns. Set around Christmas time, this is recommended for a cold winter night.
  • The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart – Set in 1703, when people are making new discoveries about the world and men are collecting “curiosities.” Lady Cecily Kay tries to find a murderer in this slowly unwinding mystery that invites the reader into another time and place.
  • The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner – Set in England in the 1940s, this satisfying novel is as intricate and character-driven as a story by Austen herself.
  • Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi – This translation from Japanese is magical realism brought to life in four interlocking stories from an unusual café.
  • Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March – Based on a real incident from India in the 1890s, an ex-soldier mimics the newly created Sherlock Holmes to solve a mystery.
  • The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay – A feel-good book with a strong story of redemption.
  • The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan – Set in World War II England, this novel manages to be both realistically gritty and also a soothing read.
  • Murder in Chianti by Camilla Trinchieri – Well-drawn characters and setting in a tense but not violent mystery set in modern Italy.
  • Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T. A. Wilberg – This well-written, engaging historical mystery feels like it should be steampunk. Fun and unique.
  • A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde – In this gentle mystery, set during Jane Austen’s time, Rosalind sees evil in many forms as she searches for a murderer.
  • I Saw Him Die by Andrew Wilson – Agatha Christie is the detective in this story that could easily have been one of her own. A fun book with many suspects and lots of twists and turns.

Adult Nonfiction

  • John Adams Under Fire by Dan Abrams and David Fisher – A detailed look at the trial of the British soldiers who were charged with the Boston Massacre.
  • Elderhood by Louise Arson – As someone whose work often focuses on children, this insightful book about the experiences of a gerontologist gave me a new perspective.
  • Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age by Bob Cutillo – This book looks at health, disease, risk, and fear through God’s eyes.
  • The Courage to See: Daily Inspiration from Great Literature by Greg Garrett and Sabrina Fountain – Wisely chosen pairings of Bible verses and passages from literature. A gem of a devotional book.
  • Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference by Tim Keller and John Inazu, editors – A rare anthology where I liked every selection. They all spoke about the very real challenges of living together and loving well our neighbors who don’t share our worldviews.
  • Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation by Esau McCaulley – One of my favorite books of the year. If for no other reason than his explanation of the imprecatory Psalms, this would be a worthwhile read. There is much here to ponder.
  • Broken Signposts by N. T. Wright – How human desires for beauty, justice, and love always disappoint until they are viewed through the coming of Jesus. A unique framing of John’s gospel.

May the transformational power of one or more of these books bring hope and joy into you and your loved ones' lives this Christmas season!


About the Author: Libby is an IDEAS Associate and professional librarian. She currently resides in Jordan and works with libraries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Enjoy other blogs by Libby, such as 4 Tips for Celebrating Corona Holidays.


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