As the year 2020 finally comes to a close, I choose to reflect on the silver linings of such a difficult year. This year, many of my bright moments involved books and stories shared with friends, my daughters, or just a welcome escape for myself from the outside world.
In my list, I am including ten books I read as part of my book club or on my own, as well as a list of five young adult novels that I enjoyed reading with my two daughters:
1. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi: I found this to be a compelling read for many reasons, but primarily because of the complex characters. I also learned a lot about Indian culture in the 1950s, which I found fascinating. The relationships and difficult situations the main characters face in the story draw you in and bring forth a wide array of emotions—a must-read, in my opinion.
2. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell: A controversial subject matter based on a relationship between a teacher and a student, this is a difficult read but a powerful one. It is complex, well-written, and leaves you thinking long after the book ends.
3. The Guest List by Lucy Foley: A fun and classic mystery novel that was a welcome escape from reality. An exciting murder mystery during a wedding off the coast of Ireland. It is a page-turner and keeps you guessing.
4. Writers and Lovers by Lily King: A light read with a lot of humor and a bright light during these times. It is a story of a struggling author during a difficult time in her life. Through her struggles come many heartfelt emotions and funny situations that keep you emotionally connected to the main character.
5. The Searcher by Tana French: I am a big fan of the Dublin Murder series by this author, and this is a break away from that but found it to be an engrossing novel from a very talented mystery writer.
6. A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende: A beautifully written historical novel set during the civil war in Spain in the 1930s. The story centers around refugees and their adventure and escape to Chile.
7. The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larsen: Another historical novel set during the Second World War and provides a deep and intimate story of Winston Churchill, his family, and his courage and leadership. It is inspiring and thoughtful and gives the reader a closer understanding of an important historical figure.
8. Beneficence by Meredith Hall: A beautiful story about grief, love, and family. An all-around strong novel about what it means to come through true hardship and a family’s journey to overcome their sadness together.
9. The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donaghue: A bit of a difficult subject matter centering around war and The Great Flu, it is also very relevant and provides hope and compassion for the heroic women at the center of the novel.
10. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: A family story as it follows twin sisters and their different paths as they grow into adulthood. It is well written and provides relevant themes such as love for family, race, acceptance, and tough life decisions.
The following books are young adult novels that I read along with my daughters, ages ten and eight. While most of them were not published in 2020, they were great reads during a tough year and touched on many pertinent and relevant subjects such as race, education, courage, and friendship.
1. Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool: I read this with my 10-year-old daughter, and we both loved this book. The main character is a young girl set off on a journey alone by train to a small town. It is part mystery as it delves into the past of a small town and intertwines themes of family secrets and courage. A strong and independent girl as the main character is inspiring.
2. Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine: This story centers around a strong friendship between a white girl and a black girl during school integration in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958. This book is a great lesson about bravery and friendship and is an excellent opportunity to teach about an important time in American history.
3. Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein: Part of a series. This story is a fun and upbeat mystery and puzzle-solving game for kids and exciting to read together as a family.
4. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech: A great book for a parent to read with a child as both will enjoy and find great meaning. The story involves the adventure of a thirteen-year-old girl who travels out West with her grandparents. There is rich character development, and while a little sad, it is a beautiful story.
5. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: This book is part of a two-book series about a young and brave girl who escapes her mother and home during the Second World War and follows her brother to start a new life. The main character is strong and independent and faces struggles during wartime but creates lasting bonds with her new family.