Last year was a tough year for authors with books coming out — it was a tough year all round — and I don’t know about you but I’m constantly behind on all the amazing books that are constantly coming out. The books on this list are all books that I think sound interesting and I haven’t heard many other people (at least in my own circle) talk about! Most, if not all of these books, have under 10,000 ratings on Goodreads so I think it’s fair to say they’re underrated! Unless I’ve expressly mentioned it below, I don’t have the capacity to recommend these personally as I haven’t read them (yet)!
Without further ado, here’s a list of twenty 2020 releases that you might have missed!
1. WE ARE NOT FROM HERE by Jenny Torres Sanchez
notes: i have no idea how i missed this one (i think it was published just before i started reading + blogging again so that’s probably why) but it follows three Guatemalan young people trying to cross the U.S. border. it’s inspired by and reflects current, real life struggles for asylum seekers. i’m including trigger warnings for this one: rape, sexual assault, death, dismemberment, violence against children, gang violence, racism
summary excerpt: Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña have no false illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Though their families–both biological and found–create a warm community for them, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the three teens know they have no choice but to run: for the border, for the hope of freedom, and for their very lives. With nothing but the bags on their backs and desperation drumming through their hearts, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know there is no turning back, despite the unknown that awaits them. And the darkness that seems to follow wherever they go. In this powerful story inspired by current events, the plight of migrants at the U.S. southern border is brought to painful, poignant, vivid life. An epic journey of danger, resilience, heartache, and hope.
2. MAD, BAD & DANGEROUS TO KNOW by Samira Ahmed
notes: This is the only book on the list that I have read! Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know is a novel that has stuck with me long after finishing. Ahmed really captured me with her writing. I adored Khayyam as a character – her monologues, her way of looking at the world, the constant acknowledgment of her (our shared) culture. I really related to Khayyam’s struggles with being ‘othered’ a lot and the former part of the book dealt with that consistently. The heart of this story is a great feat. Overall, highly enjoyable!
summary excerpt: Two hundred years before Khayyam’s summer of discontent, Leila is struggling to survive and keep her true love hidden from the Pasha who has “gifted” her with favoured status in his harem. In the present day—and with the company of a descendant of Alexandre Dumas—Khayyam begins to connect allusions to an enigmatic 19th-century Muslim woman whose path may have intersected with Alexandre Dumas, Eugène Delacroix, and Lord Byron. Echoing across centuries, Leila and Khayyam’s lives intertwine, and as one woman’s long-forgotten life is uncovered, another’s is transformed.
3. ALL THE THINGS WE NEVER KNEW by Liara Tamani
notes: last year i discovered that i actually like romance [ok i LOVE it] and this one sounds so so good!! it follows two Black main characters who are both basketball players (more sport romances pls!!) but on top of the romance it deals with some tough topics like parental death, parental separation and cheating.
summary excerpt: From the moment Carli and Rex first locked eyes on a Texas high school basketball court, they both knew it was destiny. But can you truly love someone else if you don’t love yourself? A glance was all it took. That kind of connection, the immediate and raw understanding of another person, just doesn’t come along very often. And as rising stars on their Texas high schools’ respective basketball teams, destined for bright futures in college and beyond, it seems like a match made in heaven. But Carli and Rex have secrets. As do their families.
4. TIGERS, NOT DAUGHTERS by Samantha Mabry
notes: this is a book about grief, which is always something i’m wary about because (and this is a very subjective thing) there are very specific portrayals of grief that hit a sweet spot for me and most others don’t really work for me (for specific personal reasons) — featuring Latinx main characters by a Latinx author, this magical realism novel has the potential to be incredibly powerful and poignant.
summary excerpt: The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.
5. JUST BREATHE by Cammie McGovern
notes: i’m always looking for more YA books with disability and mental illness rep to add to my shelves, the MC David has CF and is in need of new lungs – both MCs meet while Jamie is volunteering at the hospital. i’ve made no secret that i love and think we need more messy characters in YA — i think falling in love with people while you’re struggling/dealing with trauma and illness (mental and/or physical) is something that is inherently complex and messy and these discussions are important!
summary excerpt: David Sheinman is the popular president of his senior class, battling cystic fibrosis. Jamie Turner is a quiet sophomore, struggling with depression. The pair soon realizes that they can be their true selves with each other, and their unlikely friendship develops into something so much more. But neither Jamie nor David can bring themselves to reveal the secrets that weigh most heavily on their hearts—and their time for honesty may be running out.
6. THE NEW DAVID ESPINOZA by Fred Aceves
notes: a book dealing with steroid abuse and male body image!! feat an OV Latinx (Mexican-American) MC!! confronting toxic masculinity!!
summary excerpt: David Espinoza is tired of being messed with. When a video of him getting knocked down by a bully’s slap goes viral at the end of junior year, David vows to use the summer to bulk up— do what it takes to become a man—and wow everyone when school starts again the fall. Soon David is spending all his time and money at Iron Life, a nearby gym that’s full of bodybuilders. Frustrated with his slow progress, his life eventually becomes all about his muscle gains. As it says on the Iron Life wall, What does not kill me makes me stronger. As David falls into the dark side of the bodybuilding world, pursuing his ideal body at all costs, he’ll have to grapple with the fact that it could actually cost him everything.
7. WHEN YOU WERE EVERYTHING by Ashley Woodfolk
notes: you know how much i love enemies to lovers? well, this is friends to enemies which is a dynamic i love *almost* as much. (also there’s a side f/f relationship!)
summary excerpt: It’s been twenty-seven days since Cleo and Layla’s friendship imploded. Nearly a month since Cleo realized they’ll never be besties again. Now, Cleo wants to erase every memory, good or bad, that tethers her to her ex–best friend. But pretending Layla doesn’t exist isn’t as easy as Cleo hoped, especially after she’s assigned to be Layla’s tutor. Despite budding new friendships with other classmates—and a raging crush on a gorgeous boy named Dom—Cleo’s turbulent past with Layla comes back to haunt them both.
8. WHEN WE WERE MAGIC by Sarah Gailey
notes: hello?? queer found family?? a queer found family of witches?? i need!!
summary excerpt: Alexis has always been able to rely on two things: her best friends, and the magic powers they all share. Their secret is what brought them together, and their love for each other is unshakeable—even when that love is complicated. Complicated by problems like jealousy, or insecurity, or lust. Or love. That unshakeable, complicated love is one of the only things that doesn’t change on prom night. When accidental magic goes sideways and a boy winds up dead, Alexis and her friends come together to try to right a terrible wrong.
9. ELYSIUM GIRLS by Kate Pentecost
notes: this was 98.5% a cover add but also!! another gang of queer witches!! sure, dystopia kinda got oversaturated but like vampires, i am HERE for a renaissance, especially because of the mechanical horsies
summary excerpt: In this sweeping Dust Bowl-inspired fantasy, a game between Life and Death pits the walled Oklahoma city of Elysium-including a girl gang of witches and a demon who longs for humanity-against the supernatural in order to judge mankind. Face-to-face with a brutal, unforgiving landscape, Sal and Asa join a gang of girls headed by another Elysium exile-and young witch herself-Olivia Rosales. In order to atone for their mistake, they create a cavalry of magic powered, scrap metal horses to save Elysium from the coming apocalypse. But Sal, Asa, and Olivia must do more than simply tip the scales in Elysium’s favor-only by reinventing the rules can they beat the Life and Death at their own game.
10. I KISSED ALICE by Anna Birch
Illustrated by Victoria Ying
notes: a sapphic YA rivals-to-lovers romance with fat representation [insert simp emoji here]
summary excerpt: Rhodes and Iliana couldn’t be more different, but that’s not why they hate each other. Hyper-gifted artist Rhodes has always excelled at Alabama’s Conservatory of the Arts despite a secret bout of creator’s block, while transfer student Iliana tries to outshine everyone with her intense, competitive work ethic. Since only one of them can get the coveted Capstone scholarship, the competition between them is fierce. They both escape the pressure on a fanfic site where they are unknowingly collaborating on a graphic novel. And despite being worst enemies in real life, their anonymous online identities I-Kissed-Alice and Curious-in-Cheshire are starting to like each other…a lot.
11. THE ARCHER AT DAWN by Swati Teerdhala
notes: this is actually a sequel but wow i hadn’t heard of the first book either and they both sound amazing?? it’s a YA fantasy inspired by Indian history and Hindu mythology, there’s a hate to love romance (you know i love!!) and it just generally sounds like the combination of political intrigue, romance and action that i love
summary excerpt: The Sun Mela is many things: a call for peace, a cause for celebration, and, above all, a deadly competition. For Kunal and Esha, finally working together as rebel spies, it provides the perfect guise to infiltrate King Vardaan’s vicious court. A radical plan is underfoot to rescue Jansa’s long-lost Princess Reha—the key to the stolen throne. But amid the Mela games and glittering festivities, much more dangerous forces lie in wait. With the rebel Blades’ entry into Vardaan’s court, a match has been lit, and long-held secrets will force Kunal and Esha to reconsider their loyalties—to their country and to each other.
12. THE ORACLE CODE by Marieke Nijkamp
Illustrated by Manuel Preitano
notes: ok so i know very little (nothing) about the history/canon that this graphic novel is based on but despite that i’ve really been enjoying superhero comics/graphic novels and this one has disability representation and has the v important discussion that disabled people don’t need to be fixed
summary excerpt: After a gunshot leaves her paralyzed, Barbara Gordon enters the Arkham Center for Independence, where Gotham’s teens undergo physical and mental rehabilitation. Now using a wheelchair, Barbara must adapt to a new normal, but she cannot shake the feeling that something is dangerously amiss. Within these walls, strange sounds escape at night; patients go missing; and Barbara begins to put together pieces of what she believes to be a larger puzzle. But is this suspicion simply a result of her trauma? Fellow patients try to connect with Barbara, but she pushes them away, and she’d rather spend time with ghost stories than participate in her daily exercises.
13. THE GOOD FOR NOTHINGS by Danielle Banas
notes: this has been described as Guardians of the Galaxy meets YA and ngl i fell asleep while watching GOTG but i loved what it was trying to do so this sounds super up my alley!! any kind of found family makes me soft
summary excerpt: Cora Saros is just trying her best to join the family business of theft and intergalactic smuggling. Unfortunately, she’s a total disaster. After landing herself in prison following an attempted heist gone very wrong, she strikes a bargain with the prison warden: He’ll expunge her record if she brings back a long-lost treasure rumored to grant immortality. Cora is skeptical, but with no other way out of prison (and back in her family’s good graces), she has no choice but to assemble a crew from her collection of misfit cellmates—a disgraced warrior from an alien planet; a cocky pirate who claims to have the largest ship in the galaxy; and a glitch-prone robot with a penchant for baking—and take off after the fabled prize.
14. YOU BROUGHT ME THE OCEAN by Alex Sanchez
Illustrated by Julie Maroh
notes: another graphic novel!! this time its a v gay superhero story!!
summary excerpt: Jake Hyde doesn’t swim—not since his father drowned. Luckily, he lives in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, which is in the middle of the desert, yet he yearns for the ocean and is determined to leave his hometown for a college on the coast. But his best friend, Maria, wants nothing more than to make a home in the desert, and Jake’s mother encourages him to always play it safe. There’s nothing “safe” about Jake’s future—not when he’s attracted to Kenny Liu, swim team captain and rebel against conformity. And certainly not when he secretly applies to Miami University. Jake’s life begins to outpace his small town’s namesake, which doesn’t make it any easier to come out to his mom, or Maria, or the world.
15. THE FELL OF DARK by Caleb Roehrig
notes: i mentioned last year that i feel like 2020 was a vampire renaissance year and i am NOT mad about it so what’s even better than fun vampire romps? fun QUEER vampire romps!!
summary excerpt: The only thing August Pfeiffer hates more than algebra is living in a vampire town. Located at a nexus of mystical energy fields, Fulton Heights is practically an electromagnet for supernatural drama. And when a mysterious (and annoyingly hot) vampire boy arrives with a cryptic warning, Auggie suddenly finds himself at the center of it. An ancient and terrible power is returning to the earthly realm, and somehow Auggie seems to be the only one who can stop it.
16. ROGUE PRINCESS by B.R. Myers
notes: one of my favourite books from last year was Cinderella Is Dead and this book is basically sci-fi genderbent cinderella? i am HERE FOR IT.
summary excerpt: Princess Delia knows her duty: She must choose a prince to marry in order to secure an alliance and save her failing planet. Yet she secretly dreams of true love, and feels there must be a better way. Determined to chart her own course, she steals a spaceship to avoid the marriage, only to discover a handsome stowaway. All Aidan wanted was to “borrow” a few palace trinkets to help him get off the planet. Okay, so maybe escaping on a royal ship wasn’t the smartest plan, but he never expected to be kidnapped by a runaway princess! Sparks fly as this headstrong princess and clever thief battle wits, but everything changes when they inadvertently uncover a rebel conspiracy that could destroy their planet forever.
17. RUNNING by Natalia Sylvester
notes: finding a really good book that deals with politics, power and family dynamics is something that i consider a gem — it’s something that i think in a broad sense we can all relate to. this idea of growing up (esp. as a queer person) and having to confront who your parents are and the fact that your ideals might not align and what that means.
summary excerpt: Senator Anthony Ruiz is running for president. Throughout his successful political career he has always had his daughter’s vote, but a presidential campaign brings a whole new level of scrutiny to sheltered fifteen-year-old Mariana and the rest of her Cuban American family, from a 60 Minutes–style tour of their house to tabloids doctoring photos and inventing scandals. As tensions rise within the Ruiz family, Mari begins to learn about the details of her father’s political positions, and she realizes that her father is not the man she thought he was. But how do you find your voice when everyone’s watching? When it means disagreeing with your father—publicly? What do you do when your dad stops being your hero? Will Mari get a chance to confront her father? If she does, will she have the courage to seize it?
18. THE LUCKY ONES by Liz Lawson
notes: good mental health representation is something i’m always looking for — this book deals with the aftermath of a school shooting which is a plot point that i don’t know how i feel about in all honesty! but PTSD rep and important discussions about school shootings and survivor’s guilt definitely need to be had!
summary excerpt: May is a survivor. But she doesn’t feel like one. She feels angry. And lost. And alone. Eleven months after the school shooting that killed her twin brother, May still doesn’t know why she was the only one to walk out of the band room that day. No one gets what she went through–no one saw and heard what she did. No one can possibly understand how it feels to be her. Zach lost his old life when his mother decided to defend the shooter. His girlfriend dumped him, his friends bailed, and now he spends his time hanging out with his little sister…and the one faithful friend who stuck around. His best friend is needy and demanding, but he won’t let Zach disappear into himself. Which is how Zach ends up at band practice that night. The same night May goes with her best friend to audition for a new band. Which is how May meets Zach. And how Zach meets May. And how both might figure out that surviving could be an option after all.
19. YOU DON’T LIVE HERE by Robyn Schneider
notes: bisexual rep!! i’ve heard this be described as rory gilmore if she liked photography and if jess was a girl and as a selling point, i am already in love (i was totally team jess so that’s may be 100% of the reason why)
summary excerpt: With her mother now dead and father out of the picture, Sasha moves in with her estranged grandparents. Living in her mom’s old bedroom, Sasha has no idea who she is anymore. Luckily, her grandparents are certain they know who she should be: A lawyer in the making. Ten pounds skinnier. In a socially advantageous relationship with a boy from a good family—a boy like Cole Edwards. And Cole has ideas for who Sasha should be, too. His plus one at lunch. His girlfriend. His. Sasha tries to make everything work, but that means folding away her love of photography, her grief for her mother, and her growing interest in the magnificently clever Lily Chen. Sasha wants to follow Lily off the beaten path, to discover hidden beaches, secret menus, and the truth about dinosaur pee.
20. THE TRUTH PROJECT by Dante Medema
notes: written in verse!! queer side character!! multimedia storytelling!!
summary excerpt: Seventeen-year-old Cordelia Koenig was sure of many things going into her last year of high school. For one, she wasn’t going to stress over the senior project all her peers were dreading—she’d just use the same find-your-roots genealogy idea that her older sister used for hers. All she has to do is mail in her DNA sample, write about her ancestry results and breeze through the rest of senior year. Done, done and done. But when Cordelia’s GeneQuest results reveal that her father is not the man she thought he was but a stranger who lives thousands of miles away, Cordelia realizes she isn’t sure of anything anymore—not the mother who lied, the life she was born into or the girl staring back at her in the mirror.