Alright folks, I’m calling this year early. Below are the books that got me through 2020.

(If you decide to get any of these, please consider purchasing from your local indie or Barnes & Noble. It’s been an especially tough year for book stores, and I don’t want to live in a world where they don’t exist!)

Juno’s Swans by Tamsen Wolff

This was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of read for me. Every ten years or so, I come across a book I’ve never heard of, that isn’t well-known, but is so brilliant and beautiful that it feels as though the universe has gifted it just to me. (Others include An Invisible Sign of my Own by Aimee Bender and Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan.)

I’ve never read anything that captures both the rush and the pain of first love and first heartbreak as accurately as this does, without trying to force a tidy resolution. And the writing is amazing. I highlighted so many passages, basically the whole thing. Here’s one of them:

I used to babysit for this little boy I adored, named Matthew. He had just turned six years old, and we’d been practicing his letters for a while and then suddenly one afternoon he’d begun to read. Very soon after that we were in the car on the way to his swim lesson, and he burst into tears because, he said, no one had ever told him that once he could read, he would never be able not to read again. He had understood reading to be a consensual, voluntary process, which would mean that he could read whenever he chose, but he didn’t have to read if he didn’t want to. But now and forever when he saw a stop sign, he would have to read Stop. He would have to read Yield and Construction Ahead and Two for One at Wendy’s! and Are You On the Right Road? And that was just the beginning. He had no idea the full scope of what he was going to have to read or the full extent to which he was going to be a prisoner to literacy. But he had an inkling. And he felt furious and betrayed. Which I completely understand… It’s hard when you don’t know something’s irrevocable until it is.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Fun fact: When I find a book I really love, I hardly ever read another book by that author because it rarely lives up to my first experience and mostly results in disappointment. But Curtis Sittenfeld has always been my big exception. I have and will read every book she puts out. And the premise for this one was perfect: a fictional account of Hillary Clinton’s life and career, if she had never married Bill.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

I started reading this because of the title and had no idea what a wild ride I was in for! The dialogue is so well done and thought-provoking—and then the story becomes so creepy and surreal that it’s impossible to stop turning the pages. The movie version is on Netflix, and that’s very cool, too–unlike anything I’ve seen before.

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

I end up reading a Jodi Picoult book every five years or so, and when I do, it completely consumes my thoughts for as long as it takes me to finish it. This was no exception. Plus it had a bunch of the little things I always love in books: a past love returning, dual timelines, and an ending full of twists and turns that keeps me thinking about it long after I’ve stopped reading.

Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson

As this year wound down and I found myself short of energy and the ability to focus, I had no idea that the very thing I needed was a rom-com told entirely through text messages with a catfishing twist—but it was. It very much was. This was a pure delight and read so quickly. It’s gotten harder for me to find YA books I relate to as the genre has become more commercial, but this one felt truly authentic.

Happy reading, and let me know what I should be reading in 2021!