2020 is finally drawing to a close! I think we can all agree that this year has all been a bit much.
But at least there were some great books and lockdown provided us with some much needed dedicated reading time. Over the year I've asked library staff to send in reviews of the YA books they've been reading and now we can bring you their favourite books of 2020! If you're wondering what to read over the summer holidays, choosing something from this blog post is a safe bet. If there isn't a book here you like the sound of, how about requesting a personal reading recommendation from a librarian?
Alicia - Tūranga
When I looked back over my year's reading, the books which I loved the most were surprisingly manga! 2020 has left me wanting reads which are cosy, magical, and will transport me away. Witch Hat Atelier is a fantastically drawn series about a young witch looking to develop her powers and save her mother. It's filled with gorgeous landscapes, awesome costumes, and an original spell-casting system. I loved waiting for each volume to arrive and learn about each character and their journeys to overcome fear, low self-esteem, or family expectations to become great witches.
Meanwhile Kakuriyo immersed me in Japanese folklore and cooking. It's the story of a young woman called Aoi who can see spirits. She's been kidnapped by an ogre lord and taken to the Hidden Realm; her grandfather had promised him that she would be his bride. Aoi refuses of course and decides to work off her grandfather's debt by running a restaurant at the ogre's famous inn. I loved the drama of the inn staff, the scenes of Aoi developing new meals, and learning about the different demons and spirits of the Hidden Realm. There's a bit of romantic tension between Aoi and the ogre lord which keeps things interesting!
Ky – Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre
Favourite memoir. A beautifully written memoir of the author's life growing up queer in the 80s and 90s. I finished it and immediately wanted to start re-reading it again right away!
Favourite fiction. When I see a new book by Elizabeth Acevedo, I know it is going to contain a beautiful story. Written in verse, and focussing on the two main characters' different relationships, this is a fabulous story of two sisters who find each other after their father dies in a plane crash.
Favourite audiobook. 2020 has provided many opportunities for us to think about how we related to the people around us, including people of different ethnicities, cultures, and religions. This audiobook (read by the author, and written especially for teens based on Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning) is an informative, interesting, and well-presented introduction to the racial unrest in America, both in the past and in the present, and what we can do to try and make things better.
Favourite graphic novel series. This is a super-cute series about the fencing team at a boy's high school. Get to know the team and their admirers (and competitors!) and follow their ups and downs both on the fencing piste and in their private lives.
Favourite non-fiction. Sometimes you just want to read some little sayings to get you through the day. And that's what this book is - sweet words and beautiful illustrations to make you think about the positive things in life.
Stacey - Matuku Takotako: Sumner Centre
An interesting twist on the classic mystery of the pretty teenage girl who has gone missing. Told backwards from day 61 after Sophie Abercrombie went missing, Sophie MacKenzie retells the aftermath from her point of view, including all the secrets that she hasn’t yet shared with the police. I enjoyed this book so much that I finished it within a couple of days. Merriman sets the pace well and holds back just enough information so you can’t help but keep turning the pages. I would recommend this book for anyone who would like a fast, yet entertaining read.
Alicia says: Check out my review of Eileen Merriman's talk about this novel at WORD fest! It's an interesting look at how complicated YA books can be.
Nicole - Linwood Library
This book was written before the controversial bestseller American Dirt hit our shelves. They are both about people who take the most unimaginable personal risks to move away from the danger and obstacles they face in their own countries - Mexico and Honduras – and who try and find a way to create a new life out of that sad situation into something else in the United States. Enrique’s Journey is a true story, written by a journalist who retraced the journey Enrique took to get to his mother. He attempted the journey eight times before he finally made it. And then it was not over, he had to deal with living in the United States after not having seen his mother for many years, with being separated from his whānau in Honduras and the huge cultural variances he has experienced, all before he turned 18. This book is of one migration story from Central America to the United States but his is the result of a much bigger story where there are many more players, possibly even you and me.
Ray – Tūranga
This gorgeous graphic novel was so wonderful that I started it again as soon as I finished – it’s definitely my favourite read of 2020. It’s about a young outcast, Snapdragon, who accidently becomes friends with the town witch, who is actually a croc-wearing, animal-rescuing, motorbike-riding recluse. It featured magic and a very good dog and queer elders and intergenerational friendship, and it was a fast-paced delight to read. I cried and gasped and laughed out loud.
Amy - Linwood Library
Avery lives with her older sister and her sister’s drop-kick boyfriend. She has a decent brain in her head and plans to keep her head down so she can get out of town ASAP. One day she is whisked from school to a mansion where she learns that a billionaire has left his entire inheritance to her. His family, including 4 brothers, have been left with pittance and are pissed about it. The old man was a fan of puzzles and to figure out why she was chosen, Avery must play his game and try and keep one step ahead of the brothers, who can be quite compelling.
This book is a super fast-paced YA mystery and has a very minimal romance plot line which is a nice change. Avery is a fantastic protagonist and we do get some answers, along with a huge cliff-hanger for the next book (due to be published next year) so you will all have to wait impatiently with me once you read this book!
Seneca’s older sister disappeared 5 years ago and her body was found months later in a neighbouring district. With no answers, she turns to a true crime investigation website where a group of 3 others give up their summer breaks to investigate. Leads are discovered, the group is threatened when they get too close and they work hard to find answers. But how well do they know the group of people they are working with? Do some of them hide some deep dark secrets?
This is a trilogy that only gets better with each book. It’s a ‘keep you up at night with the lights on’ type YA thriller mystery with plenty of twists and threads woven cleverly through each book. For fans of Pretty Little Liars and One Of Us Is Lying, get your hands on these books, preferably all at once so you don’t have to wait!
Louise - Spreydon
So good to read a novel with an aromantic main character. It follows her bewilderment at her peers obsession with romance. A coming of age story about a girl who wonders if there's something wrong with her. She keeps waiting to feel something "more than friendship" for others. Great aromantic asexual read for all ages.