Best YA Books of 2020!

With much fanfare, here it is — CA Library’s Best YA Books of 2020! With so many great books out there, it can be a daunting task to pick out the best of the best. After spending a few weeks compiling titles from various sources, I came up with the books that appear on the most lists (check out the spreadsheet here).

This year, I again tried to include as many reputable best books lists as I could find. I go to my usual sources of book reviews (School Library Journal, Booklist, etc.), then check out a few other media outlets that have year-end reviews as well. Here are my Top 23 Best Books List sources of 2020…

Each list is a little different — some include just fiction or nonfiction, some include both, and some include books for all ages, from which I pick the ones written for teens and young adults (again, it’s a daunting task!)

This year, of the 23 lists I drew from, one title showed up on 12 of them: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, making it the CA Library Best Book of the Year!

One book was on 11 best-of lists: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning ‘Stamped from the Beginning’ by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.

Three books appeared on 9 lists: Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang, Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, and Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko.

Three books were on 8 best-of lists: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, and You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson.

Dear Justyce by Nic Stone, Mike Curato’s Flamer, and We Are Not Free by Traci Chee appeared on 7 year-end lists.

Six books were on 6 best-of lists: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles, Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon, The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour, and Jenny Torres Sachez’s We Are Not From Here — rounding out the 17 books that make up the CA Library Best YA Books of 2020 Superlist!

Check out the full list below. Click on the Title to see a description in the CA Library catalog. Plus, if there’s an eBook and/or audiobook available in the Sora Digital Reading App, there’s a link to that, too — just sign in using ClassLink!

The Best of the Best…

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo — In this novel told in verse in two voices, sixteen-year-olds Camino Rios, of the Dominican Republic, and Yahaira Rios, of New York City, are devastated to learn of their father’s death in a plane crash and stunned to learn of each other’s existence. “Every line is laced with betrayal and longing as the teens struggle with loving someone despite his imperfections. A standing ovation” (Kirkus starred review). Sora eBook / Audiobook

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi — This remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi explores the history of racist and antiracist ideas in America, from their roots in Europe until today. “Told impressively economically, loaded with historical details that connect clearly to current experiences, and bolstered with suggested reading and listening selected specifically for young readers, Kendi and Reynolds’s volume is essential, meaningfully accessible reading” (Publishers Weekly starred review). Sora eBook / Audiobook

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang — In his latest graphic novel, New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang turns the spotlight on his life, his family, and the high school where he teaches. “As Yang taps into subjects as varied as assimilation and discrimination in America, internecine violence in India, and China’s century-long quest for athletic recognition, readers learn how this low-cost, indoor game leveled racial, gender, and international boundaries to attain global prominence” (School Library Journal starred review).

Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam — From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo. “[Zoboi and Salaam] accurately depict the justice system as an engine fine-tuned to crush the urban poor and young Black men in particular. Prescient and sobering, Zoboi’s book is a vital story for young readers in a tumultuous time” (Booklist starred review). Sora eBook / Audiobook

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko — Raised in isolation, Tarisai yearns for the closeness she could have as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11, but her mother, The Lady, has magically compelled Tarisai to kill the Crown Prince. “[Ifueko] whisks readers into a lush story that instantly gives one chills with its sweeping fantasy setting, arresting landscapes, extraordinary magic, and wondrous beings” (Booklist starred review). Sora Audiobook

…and The Rest of the Best!

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas — Yadriel, a trans boy, summons the angry spirit of his high school’s bad boy, and agrees to help him learn how he died, thereby proving himself a brujo, not a bruja, to his conservative family. Sora eBook / Audiobook

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender — Felix Love, a transgender seventeen-year-old, attempts to get revenge by catfishing his anonymous bully, but lands in a quasi-love triangle with his former enemy and his best friend. Sora eBook

You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson — Liz Lighty has always done her best to avoid the spotlight in her small, wealthy, and prom-obsessed midwestern high school — instead she has concentrated on her grades and her musical ability in the hopes that it will win her a scholarship to elite Pennington College. But when she is forced to turn to her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen, she is plunged into the gauntlet of social media (which she hates), leading her to discoveries about her own identity and the value of true friendships. Sora eBook

Dear Justyce by Nic Stone — Incarcerated teen Quan Banks writes letters to Justyce McCallister, with whom he bonded years before over family issues, about his experiences in the American juvenile justice system. Sora eBook / Audiobook

Flamer by Mike Curato — It’s the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone’s going through changes–but for Aiden, the stakes feel higher. As he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and spends time with Elias (a boy he can’t stop thinking about), he finds himself on a path of self-discovery and acceptance.

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee — For fourteen-year-old budding artist Minoru Ito, her two brothers, her friends, and the other members of the Japanese-American community in southern California, the three months since the attack on Pearl Harbor have become a waking nightmare — attacked, spat on, and abused with no way to retaliate. Now things are about to get worse, their lives forever changed by the mass incarcerations in the relocation camps. Sora eBook / Audiobook

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn — To discover the truth behind her mother’s mysterious death, a teen girl infiltrates a magical secret society claiming to be the descendants of King Arthur and his knights. Sora eBook / Audiobook

Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles — High school junior Del Rainey unwittingly joins a Purity Pledge class at church, hoping to get closer to his long-term crush, Kiera.

Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon — When new-girl Cirrus mistakes self-described nerd Sunny Dae as the lead in a rock band, Sunny rolls with it forming a fake band with his friends, but as the lies continue he risks losing both Cirrus and his friends. Sora eBook / Audiobook

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta — Michael is a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London — all his life, he’s navigated what it means to be Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican. As he gets older, Michael’s coming out is only the start of learning who he is and where he fits in. When he discovers the Drag Society, he finally finds where he belongs — and the Black Flamingo is born. Sora eBook

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour — Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster care system. So when she’s offered a teaching job and a place to live on an isolated part of the Northern California coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home — a real home. The farm is a refuge, but it’s also haunted by the past. And Mila’s own memories are starting to rise to the surface. Sora eBook / Audiobook

We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez — Three Guatemalan teens escape through Mexico and attempt to reach the U.S. border. Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico, they follow the route of La Bestia, the perilous train system that might deliver them to a better life – -if they are lucky enough to survive the journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs, they know there is no turning back, despite the unknown that awaits them — and the darkness that seems to follow wherever they go.


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