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We’re halfway through the year, and if you’re looking for the best books to read in 2020, look no further than these must-read books. These are some of the best new fiction books of the year (so far) and are perfect additions to your 2020 reading list.
If you feel like you’ve been living in a 2020 time warp, allow me to reorient you: we are halfway through the year, and that means it’s time to take a look at the best books of 2020 so far!
I like to take stock every year at this time to see which books from the last six months have endured in my memory as some of the best of the year.
This year is, admittedly, a little different (is that the understatement of the year, or what?).
Because of all the upheaval in the world, my reading habits and tastes have been all over the place. I’ve been listening to more backlist audiobooks and reading fewer of the must-read books of 2020 that I would normally be diving into.
So, as always, this list is based purely on my own reading for the year. It’s filled with some of the best fiction books of 2020, the ones that held my attention even as the world was imploding. These books made me think and took me out of the world and myself for a while.
In 2020, I haven’t given a single new book a five-star rating. This is not to denigrate the books below–most of these have come close, so they are definitely worth reading. But I’m still waiting for that new, blow-me-away, can’t-stop-raving new release of the year.
I don’t know if this is a reflection of my own restlessness, if the books truly haven’t been quite as good, or if I just haven’t yet gotten to the five-star reads yet (and if you have, please let me know which 2020 books have risen to the top for you!).
Whatever it is, I still have high hopes for the books yet to come in 2020. My end of the year list is often quite different from the mid-year list, so there is still time for great reading!
I should also note that I did not include audiobooks on this list. I’ve learned that my listening taste is quite different from my print reading taste–it tends to be lighter and faster-moving. I also listen to more backlist than new books.
If this sounds like you, be sure to check out the smart-but-light audiobooks that have kept me riveted this year.
10 of the Best Fiction Books of 2020 (So Far)
Author: Emily Gould
In her early 20s, Laura moves to New York to pursue her songwriting dreams. A heady but toxic relationship with a musician sidelines her and takes her life in a direction she never expected.
Fifteen years in the future, Laura is torn between the family life she’s built and the dreams that still tug at her. This is a fast and thoughtful read, perfect for anyone who misses their more carefree and creative days, or who looks back and wonders, what if?
Author: Ishmael Beah
Ishmael Beah’s first fiction effort after his heartbreaking A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier takes us back to what he knows–children in Africa (the country is unnamed) struggling to get by on only their wits.
The “little family” in the title is composed of five children living together in an abandoned airplane. The children are forced into wisdom and street smarts beyond their years, and every leg-up has trade-offs for these children on the fringes.
Lovely, and strangely uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time.
Author: Mary Adkins
The lives of three very different young women intersect at an elite southern university, after one of them accuses a rich fraternity member and legacy student of sexual assault.
This is a good fictional followup to Chanel Miller’s sensational memoir Know My Name. Universities often play by their own rules when it comes to sexual assault cases, and Privilege is a deft examination of the fallout of the self-preservationist policies of the institutions.
Author: Therese Anne Fowler
Neighbors are suspicious when an affluent family moves into an established neighborhood and tears down the existing house to build a McMansion. Their renovations destroy Valerie Alston-Holt’s beloved old tree, and that’s the last straw. The stakes rise and are complicated by the budding romance between Valerie’s son and the new neighbors’ daughter, until they reach their tipping point.
A compelling story that examines issues of race, class, and how people with different values can live alongside one another.
Author: Kimmery Martin
Georgia is a urologist in South Carolina, and she and her best friend, Jonah–a doctor at the same clinic–have become family. Just as she leaves the country for a conference, a crisis: the clinic bans Jonah’s transgender patients, and Jonah himself is in danger of losing his job because of his sexual orientation.
I expected a much darker story but was treated to a delightful friendship, funny quips, and intelligent medical writing (Martin is a doctor). Martin covers the serious topics with sensitivity, without overtaking the characters. Smart but light writing at its best.
Author: Alison McGhee
After 18 months in a coma, Mallie Williams has woken up, only to learn several shocking things: 1) She was attacked. 2) She was pregnant and had a child. 3) The world and family she knew is no longer the same.
Mallie and her loved ones come to grips with what happened to her, the decisions made on her behalf, and the choices they couldn’t prevent.
Quiet and lyrical, with a perfectly created small cast of characters who cope in an awful situation.
Author: Kate Weinberg
Jess is looking forward to only one thing in her first year at a British university: being taught by Lorna Clay. The charismatic professor teaches a course on Agatha Christie, and Jess is in her thrall.
Outside the classroom, she falls in with impulsive Georgie, Georgie’s worldly boyfriend Alec, and Jess’s devoted new boyfriend Nick. When a betrayal breaks up the group of friends, Jess turns to Lorna.
Fans of Agatha Christie, will appreciate the references and parallels with Christie’s stories and biography. A little less highbrow than Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but fans of that book will like this one
Author: Paul Yoon
In the 1960s, Laos was embroiled in a conflict that would lead to nine years of relentless bombings. Three orphaned children serve as runners for a makeshift hospital, navigating their motor bikes through treacherous fields of unexploded bombs. After years of insecurity, they are about to evacuate on a helicopter when they are separated. Multiple narratives walk the reader through their fates.
Yoon’s spare style can take a bit to get used to, but the horror of this story and the strength of the characters drew me in. I knew almost nothing about these events in Laos and this book brought them–and the people who suffered–to life.
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
This ambitious and daring novel imagines the life of Ana, the fictional wife of Jesus. Kidd creates a compelling narrative for this woman, casting her at the center of her own story and granting her a feminism and independence that someone like Jesus would have appreciated.
There is no evidence that Jesus ever married, but also none that he didn’t. Kidd’s focus on Ana’s and Jesus’ lives while he was in his 20s–10 years before he began his preaching–brings the life of Jesus the human into sharper focus, and makes a good case for why he would have married.
A fascinating historical fiction novel–I learned so much about life in this time–and perfect for fans of The Red Tent.
Such a Fun Age
Author: Kiley Reid
When Emira–who is black–is accused of kidnapping her young babysitting charge, her white employer, Alix, tries too hard to make it up to her. Emira just wants the whole thing to go away while she figures out her life, but it was caught on video.
Emira runs into the man who recorded it and the two start a relationship–but his interest in her may not be what it seems. Alix nurses an unhealthy fascination with Emira and her active social life, while Emira’s friends struggle with how to help her find her footing.
This debut is a lot of things: quarter-life crisis novel, social commentary on race and privilege, and a subtle takedown of microaggressions that’s worth the read and reflection.
What are your best books of 2020 so far?