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  • Writer's picturemelindabrasher

Highlights of my 2020 Reading List

Here are the best books I read in 2020, based purely on my enjoyment:

1) Extraordinary Birds, by Sandy Stark McGinnis—A beautiful middle grade novel about a troubled young girl and the power of love. Plus…lots of interesting bird facts.

2) Opposite of Always, by Justin A. Reynolds—A extremely well-executed Groundhog Day premise with great YA characters.

3) The Way I Heard it, by Mike Rowe—A non-fiction collection of stories in the spirit of Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story, written by the likeable TV host Mike Rowe, who has now got me hooked on The Deadliest Catch.

4) New Kid, by Jerry Craft—about a new kid in a school where few people look like him. I admit I'm not a big fan of graphic novels, but I'd heard this one recommended, and I really enjoyed it. By turns funny and thought-provoking, this story really fits the format.

5) Girl, Stolen, by April Henry—I heard a high school teacher say that she recommends April Henry to students who claim not to like to read, and soon they're hooked. I understand. The kidnapping story is fast-paced and engaging, the characters relatable.

6) The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold—Exemplary first line. The rest of the story is heartbreaking, told from the point of view of young girl who was murdered. The main characters are really well developed, even the bad guy.

7) Long May She Reign, by Rhiannon Thomas—A YA novel in that rare and beautiful genre that feels like fantasy, with a new world and culture, but without any magic. Plus…the unlikely heroine saves the day with science and without much violence. Yay!

8) Dear Sweet Pea—A middle-grade novel about a girl who starts answering an advice column her neighbor is supposed to be writing. Imperfect but lovable characters.

9) The Truth About Animals, by Lucy Cooke—Utterly fascinating studies of interesting aspects of various animals and how these facts were discovered—or covered up—by scientists and explorers throughout history. The writing is humorous and accessible, and I wished it were far longer.

10) All American Muslim Girl, by Nadine Jolie—A contemporary YA novel about a Muslim American girl trying to get closer to her roots.

11) Will my Cat Eat my Eyeballs? By Caitlin Doughty—A cleverly structured non-fiction book written by a mortician who is really fascinated by death and what happens to bodies afterwards. Sounds morbid, but…well…yeah, it's a little morbid. But so interesting and well written.

12) The Photo Ark, by Joel Sartore—A book mostly of photos. And wow! What photos! The author's point is to make people care about obscure animals, so we'll work to save them. And if those pictures don't make you love all Earth's denizens a little more, there's no hope for you.

13) The Story the Cannot be Told, by J Kasper Kramer—Taking place in the communist 80s in Romania, this is a beautiful middle-grade story, interwoven masterfully with twisted fairy tales.

14) Prairie Lotus, by Linda Sue Park—Another middle-grade novel, this one about an Asian-American pioneer girl. It's a beautiful story, heartbreaking yet hopeful, with great historical detail.

15) The Deal of a Lifetime, by Fredrik Backman—A little Christmas tale that's an actual well-written story instead of a shallow holiday cash grab. Did I say well-written? I meant exquisitely written.

16) The List of Things that Will Not Change, by Rebecca Stead—Another beautiful middle-grade novel about a girl dealing with her parents' divorce and various other upheavals in her life.

Looking back, the majority of the novels here are middle-grade. At my library job, I work a lot with the children's collection, so I've read more of these novels than usual this year, but I've always liked middle-grade fiction. The writing is not dumbed down, as many people think. It's just a little less pretentious and a little more streamlined. The stories can deal with difficult subjects, but they often do it in a more hopeful way than adult fiction. There's less violence, a lot less sex and profanity, and more of a sense of wonder. It's a great joy to read.

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