9 Compelling Books To Pick Up in 2020

Claire Handscombe


2020 may have been… less than ideal, but there’s one way in which it has not disappointed: books. Not just their continued existence, which is soothing in itself, but also just how many good ones there have been. I struggled to read for much of this spring, but kudos to many of these for getting me back in the groove.

What You Wish For by Katherine Center

This book drew me straight in with an engaging, warm, witty narrative voice I relate deeply to the main character, Samantha, who had to leave her previous job as a school librarian because her unrequited crush on a teacher there made her life hell. Since then, she’s found a job at a legendary elementary school and a home and family with the community there. But then, her unrequited crush gets hired as the principal of her lovely school. And, horror of horrors, he’s not the lovely, fun-loving, joyful man she fell in love with anymore: instead, he’s a serious rule-enforcer who might destroy everything that’s precious about the school.

Sam is determined to save the school as she knows it, and to find out what happened to Duncan. This is an excellently told, engrossing story about finding hope and love in the midst of tragedy. It teaches us to find joy in the messiness and complications of life. Which is a lesson we could probably all do with in 2020.

Read if you like: a witty, engaging voice on the page, stories about kindness and hope, novels set in small, tight communities

In Five Years by Rebeca Serle

What would you do if you fell asleep, and woke up five years in the future with a man who is not your current boyfriend? That’s what happens to Dannie in this book. She’s a planner, and she’s got everything figured out, but this strange dream upends her two most important relationships — with her fiancé and her best friend. I loved this book’s exploration of friendship, love, and the paths not taken.

Trigger warning, though: a chunk of it takes place in New York City in the 2020 we thought we’d be having, not… this.

Read if you like: One Day In December, a cathartic cry, stories about friendship

Rules For Being a Girl by Katie Cotugno and Candace Bushnell

This is a skilfully told story of what happens when an A-grade student gets drawn too far into the orbit of a charismatic young English teacher. Nobody believes her when she tells them he has kissed her — not her best friend, and not the school principal, who chooses to turn a blind eye. Things unravel further as she struggles to make sense of everything, seek justice, and regain control of her life. This was a quick, unputdownable read that brought high school and adolescence to life really vividly.

Read if you like: books about book clubs, learning about feminism, kick-ass young women

Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein

Published to coincide with the 2020 Olympics, this book will fill the gymnastic-shaped hole in your heart if you’ve been looking forward to watching the tumbling action this summer. Hannah Orenstein is a former gymnast, so she has all the insider knowledge and terminology to really make this world come alive. Be warned, though: there’s a chance that one minute you’ll pause to ask YouTube what a Tkatchev looks like and the next you’ll be falling into a gymternet hole there’s no climbing out of ever.

Read if you like: gymnastics, romance, being hopeful about women empowering themselves to make change in their lives and their wider worlds

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

I’ve been so excited about this book, exploring what might have happened if Hillary hadn’t married Bill, since I heard about it at an author event for Curtis Sittenfeld’s last book, Eligible. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it (aside from cringing at the sex scenes, and apparently I’m not alone in having that reaction!). It’s also not lost on me that it’s in large part the story of a (slight spoiler alert) kick-ass single, childless woman. There are far too few of those.

Read if you like: DC gossip, books that follow one main character over most of their lifetime, imagining how things could have been different

All Adults Here by Emma Straub

Emma Straub writes families so well — I’ve enjoyed both her previous books, The Vacationers and Modern Lovers, which also take multiple points of view within a family and develop each character’s story. NPR says: “Emma Straub’s warm-hearted fourth novel confirms her reign as a patron saint of delayed adolescence.”

Read if you like: redemptive endings, believing family dynamics can change, novels with multiple points of view

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

My book club picked this book to read in mid-March, and then everything closed down. I’m desperate to discuss it with them — it’s such an interesting read about the relationship between an insufferably privileged white family and their Black babysitter, and the world they both inhabit.

Read if you like: thought-provoking fiction, Little Fires Everywhere, eviscerating portraits of white privilege

The Roxy Letters by Mary Pauline Lowry

Set in the simpler time of 2012, this is the story of Roxy, who’s trying to find her way in life while fighting against the gentrification of her beloved Austin, Texas. It’s the perfect book if you want an escape right now — the epistolary format means that you don’t have to concentrate for long (though you’ll probably end up wanting to), plus it’s fun and touching and just a little bonkers.

Read if you like: characters with passion and the drive to stage protests, books with short chapters, Bridget Jones’s Diary

The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons

This was one of the books that got me back into reading, because it was a delightful, easy read in the best way. Eudora Honeysett is old, and done with life. She hasn’t had a particularly happy one, as we learn through the dual timeline of the book. She’s just begun to plot her escape via a trip to Switzerland, where euthanasia is legal. And then ten-year-old Rose moves in next door, and an unlikely friendship begins.

Read if you like: quick and easy reads, heart-warming characters, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC

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