Best Young Adult Books 2020 | SLJ Best Books

Nineteen novels made SLJ's list of the most exemplary young adult books published in 2020. 


Young Adult

by Elizabeth Acevedo. HarperTeen. ISBN 9780062882769.
Gr 9 Up–Camino and Yahaira, two teenagers in different countries who have never met, are suddenly thrust into each other’s lives when their biological father dies in a plane crash. They piece together their Papi’s life in New York and the Dominican Republic, joining their partial memories to finally see the whole person. Told in alternate narratives, this novel in verse is a cathartic exploration of grief, love, and family secrets.


How It All Blew Up

by Arvin Ahmadi. Viking. ISBN 9780593202876.
Gr 9 Up–When Amir is blackmailed with being outed to his Iranian Muslim family, he hops on a plane to Rome and falls in with a group of friends who help him discover what it means to be a gay man. With realistic characters, a lovely setting, and an innovative narrative style (Amir and his family tell the story while being questioned at the airport), this book exists at the intersections of sexuality and culture, as well as humor and pain.


The Black Flamingo

by Dean Atta. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780062990297.
Gr 9 Up–Biracial Michael works through his identity, race, and sexuality as he finds himself through his drag persona, the Black Flamingo, in this novel in verse. Michael’s story reminds readers that being true to who you are is what makes you truly fabulous.


Black Girl Unlimited coverBlack Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard

by Echo Brown. Holt/Christy Ottaviano. ISBN 9781250309853.
Gr 9 Up–Echo is a poor Black teenage wizard in a world that is not set up for her success. She narrates her story of harnessing her powers and carving out space for herself in the world. This novel is packed with magical realism, sharp observations, and revelations about addiction, depression, race, sexual abuse, and class that unfurl slowly and complicate one another. Readers will be gutted, then changed.


We Are Not Free

by Traci Chee. HMH. ISBN 9780358131434.
Gr 7 Up–Fourteen narrators, all born in the United States and of Japanese descent, provide viewpoints after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They and their families are no longer trusted, and the Exclusion Orders mean forced relocation. This novel is moving, personal, and well researched, with abundant curricular tie-ins and a realistic range of authentic character reactions, from “Don’t make trouble” to “How dare they require this of us?”



by Tracy Deonn. S. & S./Simon Pulse. ISBN 9781534441606.
Gr 8 Up–Bree is driven to find the truth about her mother’s death and its connection to a college secret society rooted in the centuries-old legends of King Arthur, and she will need to call on her own magic to find answers. The detailed world-building, fast-paced plot, and richly drawn diverse characters successfully bring to life a world where medieval magic meets African American root work.


Not So Pure and Simple

by Lamar Giles. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. ISBN 9780062349194.
Gr 8 Up–Del attends church to get his crush Kiera’s attention. When she and other teens approach the altar during a service, Del joins them to get close to Kiera, then realizes he just became a Purity Pledger, promising to stay sexually pure until marriage. With humor and honesty, this novel addresses the impact of sexism, social media, religion, and adults’ fears of teen sexuality, adeptly showing how even “good guys” indulge in toxic masculinity.



by Jordan Ifueko. Abrams/Amulet. ISBN 9781419739828.
Gr 7 Up–When Tarisai successfully earns a place on the Council of 11, she is happy to be one among others, with little interest in the higher honor of being bonded to the Crown Prince through the Ray and carrying out her mother’s plan of assassination. Blending fantasy, Nigerian folklore, and a complex and engaging set of relationships, debut author Ifueko pits loyalty to self against family obligations, newfound friendships, and love.


Tigers, Not Daughters

by Samantha Mabry. Algonquin. ISBN 9781616208967.
Gr 7 Up–A year after the death of their eldest sister, the three remaining Torres girls still long to escape their hometown and the problematic men in their lives—their father, a boyfriend, and the neighborhood boys who obsess over them—as Ana’s ghost returns. Inspired in part by Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides, this beautiful story of the love among sisters gives the girls agency and turns the male gaze on its head.


Stay Gold

by Tobly McSmith. HarperTeen. ISBN 9780062943170.
Gr 9 Up–Pony moves to a new school hoping to lead a normal life without being known as the “trans kid.” Romance, self-discovery, strong secondary characters, and references to The Outsiders make this a great read for anyone who has ever felt different.



by Paola Mendoza & Abby Sher. Putnam. ISBN 9781984815712.
Gr 7 Up–Undocumented siblings Valentina and Ernesto confront life-threatening dangers as they try to get from the East Coast to California, a sanctuary state. Set in the near future, many elements of the story—border walls, raids, abusive human smugglers—already exist today. Rooted in Mendoza’s work with undocumented people, this chilling narrative is a realistic exploration of the diversity and trauma of undocumented immigrant experiences.



by Jennifer Niven. Knopf. ISBN 9781524701963.
Gr 9 Up–After Claudine’s parents announce their separation, she and her mother spend the summer after high school on a remote island, where Claude meets Jeremiah and rediscovers herself and her feelings about love. The discussions of sex are refreshingly frank and positive, and Niven expertly examines common YA themes—the desire for independence, evolving friendship, new romance, family tensions—with standout authenticity and heart.


Charming as a Verb

by Ben Philippe. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780062824141.
Gr 9 Up–Haitian American Henri will do just about anything to achieve his dream of going to Columbia, even if it means betraying the girl he loves. A diverse cast of characters, racial tensions, and ethical dilemmas make this so much more than just a simple romance.


The Black Kids

by Christina Hammonds Reed. S. & S. ISBN 9781534462724.
Gr 9 Up–Los Angeles, 1992: While the city is consumed with protests after the beating of Rodney King, wealthy Black high school senior Ashley contemplates her own perceptions of her race and those of her classmates as she attends a predominantly white school—a realistic journey to action filled with detours and new discoveries. This is a nuanced and authentic coming-of-age story with pitch-perfect historical details and timeless themes.



by L.C. Rosen. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316537759.
Gr 9 Up–Campy humor and self-discovery collide as Randy trades his dramatic flare for straight-acting masculinity to win the heart of his crush at a camp for queer-identifying teens. This LGBTQIA+ book goes beyond queer coming-out stories, instead showing teens a world where everyone is accepted for who they are and where sexuality can be discussed freely and honestly.


We Are Not from Here

by Jenny Torres Sanchez. Philomel. ISBN 9781984812261.
Gr 9 Up–Concluding that there is no future for them in Guatemala, Pequeña and brothers Pulga and Chico take off north, following the tracks of La Bestia and risking everything, including their lives, to reach the U.S. border. Desperation permeates the pages, as Sanchez’s richly drawn characters confront the lack of legal options and the undaunted hope of those compelled to attempt the journey.


The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea

by Maggie Tokuda-Hall. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536204315.
Gr 9 Up–A sea voyage turns violent for Evelyn, Lady Hasegawa, on her reluctant way to meet her betrothed. Her escape with crew member Florian, along with a mermaid they plan to release, creates as many problems as it solves. Though dark at times, Tokuda-Hall’s lyrical writing balances harsh passages with themes of rescue, retribution, and the healing power of accepting and loving yourself.


Super Fake Love Song

by David Yoon. Putnam. ISBN 9781984812230.
Gr 7 Up–Live action role-play aficionado Sunny maintains a case of mistaken identity so that the beautiful new girl Cirrus will think that he is a rock star. Sunny studies and imitates his big brother in an attempt to woo Cirrus, but ultimately has to figure out who he really is and what he values. This romantic comedy explores identity, familial relationships, high school politics, and first loves with wit and emotional honesty.


Punching the Air

by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780062996480.
Gr 8 Up–Amal is a Black teen incarcerated for assaulting a white teen. With spare but forceful words, this novel in verse examines the dehumanization of young people caught in the school-to-prison pipeline. Through Amal’s experience, readers see how young people are left at the mercy of racist, broken educational and criminal justice systems that stifle talents and silence voices.

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Xan Lasko

This is a great resource for school librarians. The frank book reviews are much appreciated!!

Posted : Dec 14, 2020 03:48



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