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Updated by Jen Blair on Feb 17, 2021
Headline for Top 20 of 2020 - Young Adult
Jen Blair Jen Blair
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Top 20 of 2020 - Young Adult

These are the best books that I read this last year. It was hard to narrow it down to only twenty! You will note that I cheated by adding some additional titles in the Honorable Mentions section. and I split Young Adult with Middle Grade. Because there are so many great ones this year!


Honorable Mentions:

Admission - Julie Buxbaum
Because it’s like reading the long version of the best, deepest, most thoughtful People Magazine article that you will ever read. Really helps you understand the perspective of all the players in the recent college admissions scandal.

All These Monsters - Amy Tintera
Because you need to read exciting sci-fi that is filled with battles, adventure, female empowerment and lots of hilarious moments.

Breathless - Jennifer Niven
Because no one writes angsty romances better than Niven. No one. How can you trust? How can you risk falling in love when you know you might lose everything? Will it be worth it?

Clap When You Land - Elizabeth Acevedo
Because no one writes verse like Acevedo. And the story of this plane crash’s aftermath was fascinating.

Crownchasers - Rebecca Coffindaffer
Because I didn’t expect to love this one as much as I did. Everyone needs an action-packed science fiction adventure with royal intrigue and romance. Everyone.

Darius the Great Deserves Better - Adib Khorram
Because I loved this one more than the first. Darius deserves better and now knows he can demand it. Because he is worth it.

Fable - Adrienne Young
Because I have been hearing about how great a story-teller Young is, and then after reading this? I can confirm. I have now made it my mission to read ALL of her books. This one has magic, pirates, betrayals, and ROMANCE.

Havenfall - Sara Holland
Because I love fantasy that combines a modern day world with a truly engrossing fantasy world. And a murder mystery? I can’t wait for book 2!

Rules for Being a Girl - Candace Bushnell
Because I think there are lessons in this one for all of us. Who makes the rules? And why is it so important for girls to always follow them?

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

You Should See Me in a Crown - Leah Johnson

Liz breaks free and writes her own story. All she has to to is pick up her own crown. Crying and laughing. All the things, this book.

From the publisher:
Liz Lighty has always believed she's too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor. But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz's plans come crashing down...until she's reminded of her school's scholarship for prom queen. Despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she's willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

Be Not Far from Me by Mindy McGinnis

*Be Not Far From Me - Mindy McGinnis *

Like a YA Hatchet. We don’t have many YA survival stories, but this one makes up for it because it’s so GREAT. I wouldn’t have made it through the first night on my own, but the temerity and the FIGHT of Ashley will blow you away. I think I held my breath for the entire length of this book.

From the publisher:
Ashley goes hiking in the Smokies with her friends for a night of partying 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 with the red streak of infection creeping up her leg.

Dear Justyce (Dear Martin, #2) by Nic Stone

Dear Justyce - Nic Stone

A companion to Dear Martin, but you don’t have to read Dear Martin to understand this story. This is the story of Justyce’s friend, Quan. Quan lives in the same neighborhood as Justyce and is also extremely bright, but without the same support system that Justyce has. Although it seems as though Quan continues to make bad choices, it really is more about how the system is set up for him to fail. Heartbreaking and powerful, I think this is Stone’s best novel yet.

From the publisher:
Vernell LaQuan Banks and Justyce McAllister grew up a block apart in the Southwest Atlanta neighborhood of Wynwood Heights. Years later, though, Justyce walks the illustrious halls of Yale University . . . and Quan sits behind bars at the Fulton Regional Youth Detention Center. Through a series of flashbacks, vignettes, and letters to Justyce--the protagonist of Dear Martin--Quan's story takes form.

Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds

Early Departures - Justin A. Reynolds

No one can write scenes of such emotional resonance and angst that make me cry, and then make me laugh out loud on the same page like Justin Reynolds. This book has it all.

From the publisher:
Jamal's best friend, Q, doesn't know that he died, and that he's about to die . . . again. He doesn't know that Jamal tried to save him. A new technology allows Q to be reanimated for a few weeks before he dies . . . permanently. And Q's mom is not about to let anyone ruin this miracle by telling Q about his impending death. So how can Jamal fix everything if he can't tell Q the truth?

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

Every Body Looking - Candice Iloh

The story of a daughter of immigrants trying to find her way in college. Written in verse, each poem is a powerful expression of Ada’s discovery of herself and consequently her independence.

From the publisher:
Candice Iloh weaves the key moments of Ada's young life--her mother's descent into addiction, her father's attempts to create a home for his American daughter more like the one he knew in Nigeria, her first year at a historically black college--into a luminous and inspiring verse novel.

Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez

Furia - Yamile Saied Mendez

A teen who is an amazing soccer player but is overlooked because she’s a girl. This is one of my favorites from this summer. An uplifting and powerful story of one young woman’s fight to be seen against all odds.

From the publisher:
In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life. At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother's narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother's shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father.On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she'd get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Grown - Tiffany D. Jackson

You might think you know the story. But you don’t. This is Enchanted’s story of getting in over her head with an older, very successful man and all that goes wrong when she tries to find her way out.

From the publisher:
When legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots Enchanted at an audition, her dreams of being a famous singer take flight. Until Enchanted wakes up with blood on her hands & zero memory of the previous night. Who killed Korey Fields? Before there was a dead body, Enchanted's dreams had turned into a nightmare. Because behind Korey's charm & star power was a controlling dark side. Now he's dead, the police are at the door, & all signs point to Enchanted.

How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi

How It All Blew Up - Arvin Ahmadi

How can you resist a story of a young man coming of age in Rome? With amazing food and friends? You can’t. Emotional resonance and good food is a combination that is impossible to resist.

From the publisher:
Amir Azadi always knew coming out to his Muslim family would be messy--he just didn't think it would end in an airport interrogation room. But when faced with bullies, and blackmail, running away to Rome is his only option. Right? Soon, late nights with new friends and dates in the Sistine Chapel start to feel like second nature... until his old life comes knocking on his door. Now, Amir has to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth to a US Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom.

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, #1)

The Inheritance Games - Jennifer Lynn Barnes

This book is F.U.N. fun. Avery is the sole beneficiary of billions of dollars. None of his immediate family is pleased. Puzzles upon puzzles. This has been called the YA version of Knives Out. All the snark. All the nasty family fights. All the betrayals. It’s all here. AND, it’s the first in a series!

From the publisher:
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. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.

Legendborn (Legendborn, #1) by Tracy Deonn

Legendborn - Tracy Deonn

A retelling of the King Arthur legend, but so much better than that. Come for the magic, romance, and epic battle scenes. Stay for the story of Bree’s grief and fierce resilience in the face of centuries-old institutional racism. A powerful, many-layered fantasy that you NEED to read.

From the publisher:
Bree knows there's more to her mother's death than what's on the police report, & she is determined to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as an initiate. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur & his knights & explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she'll go for the truth & whether she should use her magic to take the society down or join the fight.

My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmermann

My Eyes Are Up Here - Laura Zimmerman

Greer is fighting to live in a world that forces you to choose between being respected or adored. But to really come into her own, Greer needs to stop hiding and see herself as the strong young woman that she is. I laughed aloud on every page of this book. And cried. Cried hard.

From the publisher:
Ever since her chest size changed the summer before ninth grade, Greer has felt out of control. The best she can do is put on her faithful XXL sweatshirt and let her posture - and her expectations for other people - slump. Greer finds an unexpected community on the volleyball squad, the team that hugs between every point and wears a uniform "so tight it can squeeze out tears." And then there's Jackson Oates, newly arrived at her school and maybe actually more interested in her banter than her breasts.

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi

Punching the Air - Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Amal is a good student at an exclusive art school, but makes one bad choice and ends up in prison. The system tries to break Amal, but Amal fights back. One of the most powerful books I’ve read this year. In a year of FANTASTIC books.

From the publisher:
Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he's seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. "Boys just being boys" turns out to be true only when those boys are white. Suddenly, at just 16, Amal's bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn't commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf (Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf, #1)

Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf - Hayley Krischer

An excellent companion to Speak, this book blew me away. A compelling, necessary read that explores themes of survivors, drug abuse, friendship, loyalty, mother-daughter relationships, and finding your own voice.

From the publisher:
After Ali is raped, Blythe sees her run away. But Blythe is Sean’s best friend, so she agrees to help him. Blythe befriends Ali in her attempt to make things right with Sean, bringing Ali into a circle of ruthless popular girls, and sharing her own dark secrets. Despite the betrayal at the heart of their relationship, they see each other, in a way no one ever has before.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You - Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Our country’s racist history told in clear, accessible language. Like Jason Reynolds speaking in your ear.

From the publisher:
This is NOT a history book.
This is a book about the here and now.
A book to help us better understand why we are where we are.
A book about race.

Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas--and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.

This Is My America by Kim Johnson

This Is My America - Kim Johnson

I keep thinking about this book. This is the story of institutional racism in our country. A book that Black Americans are not able to close and make the story go away like I could. They are living this. Every day. This is about generational trauma and white Americans need to listen.

From the publisher:
Every week Tracy Beaumont writes to Innocence X, asking them to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After 7 years, Tracy is running out of time. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy's brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a "thug" on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town's racist history that still haunt the present?

Three Things I Know Are True by Betty Culley

Three Things I Know Are True - Betty Culley

I hope this book finds you. I want everyone to read it. A novel in verse about siblings in the aftermath of an accidental shooting. The most vivid characters and beautiful writing. Let this one break your heart.

From the publisher:
Life changes forever for Liv when her older brother, Jonah, accidentally shoots himself with his best friend Clay's father's gun. Now Jonah needs round-the-clock care just to stay alive, and Liv feels like she's the only person who can see that her brother is still there inside his broken body.
With Liv's mom suing Clay's family, there are divisions in the community that Liv knows she's not supposed to cross. But Clay is her friend, too, and she refuses to turn away from him--just like she refuses to give up on Jonah.

The Truth Project by Dante Medema

The Truth Project - Dante Medema

When a DNA text ends up exposing family secrets you were never meant to know. Another novel in verse that just destroyed me this year. I love Cordelia and her best friend Sana sooooo much.

From the publisher:
Cordelia Koenig intended to breeze through her senior project. While her peers stressed, Cordelia planned to use the same trace-your-roots genealogy idea her older sister used years prior. But when Cordelia's GeneQuest results reveal that her father is not the person she thought he was, but a stranger who lives thousands of miles away, her entire world shatters. If your life began with a lie, how can you ever be sure of what's true?

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

We Are Not Free - Traci Chee

I’m a sucker for any book that tells the story using different formats: diaries, letters, photographs, newspaper articles. And then to tell the story from multiple perspectives and each one is so clear? Perfection.

From the publisher:
14 teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco. 14 teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted. 14 teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps. In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart.


Wicked As You Wish (A Hundred Names for Magic, #1) by Rin Chupeco

Wicked As You Wish - Rin Chupeco

A fantastic mash-up of every fairy tale/folklore/classic story complete with snarky dialogue, adventure, amazing food, and butt-kicking teenagers that may possibly save the world. Why doesn’t this book get more love?

From the publisher:
Years after the evil Snow Queen desolated the magical kingdom of Avalon, Prince Alexei, his friend Tala, and a ragtag band, inspired by the appearance of the Firebird, try to reclaim their land. An unforgettable alternative history fairytale series about found family, modern day magic, and finding the place you belong.

You Know I'm No Good by Jessie Ann Foley

You Know I’m No Good - Jessie Ann Foley

Mia is angry. And is acting out. Which has landed her in a home for “troubled teens.” For the first time she might come to understand why she is so angry and finally begin to heal. Funny and real, this is an unforgettable read.

From the publisher:
Mia is officially a Troubled Teen(tm). But she doesn't realize how out of control she seems until she is taken from her home in the middle of the night and sent away to Red Oak Academy, a therapeutic girls' boarding school in the middle of nowhere. While there, Mia is forced to confront her painful past at the same time she questions why she's at Red Oak. If she were a boy, would her behavior be considered wild enough to get sent away?