Best Fiction of 2020

Fiction was a welcome escape during this year of crisis for many. While I experienced many of the struggles that others did, I was fortunate to experience far more positives and successes. When the pandemic first hit the United States, I had just come back from Prague and was planning to settle in for a long month and a half in between spring breaks at school. I needed a heavy read to keep me going. I landed on New Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby (2019). And thank goodness the library let me keep the book out longer, because I needed several months to get through this hefty tome. But it was definitely worth it.

New Daughters of Africa

New Daughters of Africa is a fantastic anthology, a book that has it all. Works in translation, fiction, poetry, non-fiction, everything.

Reading this cover to cover was a journey, and one that saw me through the early days of pandemic living. I found so many new authors who I ended up falling in love with. Right after I finished this book, I was able to travel to go visit my new baby cousin.

My partner had passed the bar exam, and gotten a job, so he stayed in Vermont while my dog and I road-tripped down to St. Louis to pick up my parents and up to Wisconsin to spend some time with the family. I didn’t stop to pee in a gas station once, opting instead to pee in the woods with my dog. I fell into a reading slump, and didn’t come out of it until I returned to Vermont, when I finally got some 5 star fiction reads in.

I read Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (2019) around the same time my partner welcomed his first nephew into the world. The tension throughout that book was palpable, and the reason why I couldn’t put it down. The two main characters, one a black babysitter, the other a white mother, begin entwining their lives when Emira begins working for the Chamberlains. Little by little, their worlds draw closer together, all the while swirling around some deep secrets and racism, that can’t help but come rushing to the surface sooner or later.

All Adults Here by Emma Straub (2020) captivated me next, with the family drama. I love a good family drama.

All Adults Here

This was a quick read for me, and I snapped up all the juicy details and turmoil among the family.This is when I started to feel the social isolation building, and I could use some fictional friends.

I dove into five heavy ones at the beginning of fall. School was postponed, to give everyone time to quarantine, and allow educators a little additional time to get classrooms COVID-ready, so I had shorter work days and time to come home to reading. I invested a lot of emotional energy into The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (2020), Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (2012), The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (2011), Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano (2020), and Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (2011). These were full of heartbreak, grief, and the ways we put our lives back together to keep moving forward. These were beautiful, and showed how we build relationships and are resilient despite all kinds of disasters.

I read a five star romance novel, finally. I read a lot of romance this year, and while I enjoyed nearly all of them, I struggled to get sucked into their world enough to develop emotional attachments to the characters. I finally had that break through with Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (2019).

Red, White & Royal Blue

This gay love story was brilliant. Sensual, fun, heartbreaking, endearing.

The alternate timeline, with a female president, gave me a lovely reprieve from the stress that was building leading up the 2020 U.S. election.

Last but not least, I finally jumped on the bandwagon and read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (2007). I have to agree when folks say Rothfuss is a wizard. Kvothe is complicated, dark, and moody. He’s a bit of an asshole, some of which are just from bad habits built from his childhood of trauma, some of which is just him being an asshole, and he always seems to turn up to save the day just at the right moment. He likes to be the knight in shining armor, but his adventures are fun. The side characters are fun. The reading flows, and I love that it’s a story within a story. The Name of the Wind reminded me why I enjoy fantasy so much. Although knowing that Rothfuss may never finish the trilogy, well, that put a damper on things. At least I have one more book and a novella to enjoy before I reach the abrupt end.

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