Read the best books of 2020

Man reading on his mobile device at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

We made it to the end of the year - and what a wild ride it has been! One thing we don't take for granted is all the wonderful reads we enjoyed along the way. Not only did we compile an all-ages Best Books of 2020 list with titles from The New York Times, Esquire, The Atlantic, Goodreads and more, Myers Park Library Leader Harold Escalante also shared the titles with WCNC "Charlotte Today" host Beth Troutman. Watch the segment here.

The titles below will give you a chance to reflect on important topics from 2020. Ready to recap, relax and enjoy good reads? click here to borrow ONE of the "Best books of 2020" from our catalog.


Adult fiction

Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey

Miranda Popkey's first novel is about desire, disgust, motherhood, loneliness, art, pain, feminism, anger, envy, guilt--written in language that sizzles with intelligence and eroticism. The novel is composed almost exclusively of conversations between women--the stories they tell each other, and the stories they tell themselves, about shame and love, infidelity and self-sabotage--and careens through twenty years in the life of an unnamed narrator hungry for experience and bent on upending her life. Edgy, wry, shot through with rage and despair, Topics of Conversation introduces an audacious and immensely gifted new novelist.

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

Orphans Gig and Rye Dolan don't have a penny to their names. The brothers work grueling, odd jobs each day just to secure a meal, and spend nights sleeping wherever they can with other day laborers. Twenty-three-year-old Gig is a passionate union man, fighting for fair pay and calling out the corrupt employers who exploit the working class. Eager to emulate his older brother, Rye follows suit, though he can't quite muster Gig's passion for the cause. But when Rye's turn on the soap box catches the eye of well-known activist and suffragette Elizabeth Gurley, he is swept into the world of labor activism-and dirty business. With his brother's life on the line, Rye must evade the barbaric police force, maneuver his way out of the clutches of a wealthy businessman-and figure out for himself what he truly stands for. The Cold Millions is a stunning portrait of class division and familial bonds. In this masterful historical take on the enduring saga of America's economic divide, Jess Walter delivers nothing less than another "literary miracle"

Adult Nonfiction

Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America by Conor Dougherty

Spacious and affordable homes used to be the hallmark of American prosperity. Today, however, punishing rents and the increasingly prohibitive cost of ownership have turned housing into the foremost symbol of inequality and an economy gone wrong. Nowhere is this more visible than in the San Francisco Bay Area, where fleets of private buses ferry software engineers past the tarp-and-plywood shanties where the homeless make their homes. The adage that California is a glimpse of the nation's future has become a cautionary tale. With propulsive storytelling and ground-level reporting, New York Times journalist Conor Dougherty chronicles America's housing crisis from its West Coast epicenter, peeling back the decades of history and economic forces that brought us here and taking readers inside the activist uprisings that have risen in tandem with housing costs. To tell this new story of housing, Dougherty follows a struggling math teacher who builds a political movement dedicated to ending single-family-house neighborhoods. A teenage girl who leads her apartment complex against their rent-raising landlord. A nun who tries to outmaneuver private equity investors by amassing a multimillion-dollar portfolio of affordable homes. A suburban bureaucrat who roguishly embraces density in response to the threat of climate change. A developer who manufactures housing for the homeless on an assembly line. Sweeping in scope and intimate in detail, Golden Gates captures a vast political realignment during a moment of rapid technological and social change.

American PoisonHow Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise by Eduardo Porter

America's social contract is shattered, and there's likely no putting the pieces back together, according to this fierce, incisive analysis of why we are a deeply divided nation. New York Times journalist Porter (The Price of Everything) describes over a century of mounting resistance to government, and to the safety net it offers, on the part of working-class white citizens (whose own livelihoods would be greatly improved by a stronger welfare system), because of ingrained fear of the other and demographic change. Porter considers racial animus to be the primary driving force of our social dysfunction; the root cause of the polarization that has made bipartisanship and civil discourse all but impossible. Porter brings his own experience as a longtime observer of American economy and society to this sobering study, showing how fear and resentment have been driving forces in politics. In glimmers of hope, he notes that younger generations are accustomed to diversity, and that integrated neighborhoods and schools have proven beneficial to all. But, he notes, many young adults hold similar views as their elders, and several schools have re-segregated. VERDICT Bleak, but perhaps inspirational, this challenging critique is recommended for policymakers and readers concerned about civic engagement.

Young Adults (YA)

They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman

At an exclusive prep school on Long Island, Jill Newman looks forward to her senior year as a member of the school's most elite clique, the Players, until new evidence surfaces about the murder of her close friend Shaila.

Entree into the ruling inner circle of Long Island’s elite Gold Coast Prep gets served up deliciously in this debut YA novel from Cosmopolitan senior editor Jessica Goodman. The chilling murder mystery is an irresistible hook, but it’s the careful building of each character’s fraught, internal conflicts that really digs in, elevating the work from a high society whodunit to a knowing mission to not just uncover one’s own identity, but to build it. 

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnston

Liz Lighty has always done her best to avoid the spotlight in her small, wealthy, and prom-obsessed midwestern high school, after all, her family is black and rather poor, especially since her mother died; instead she has concentrated on her grades and her musical ability in the hopes that it will win her a scholarship to elite Pennington College and their famous orchestra where she plans to study medicine--but when that scholarship falls through she is forced to turn to her school's scholarship for prom king and queen, which plunges her into the gauntlet of social media which she hates and leads her to discoveries about her own identity and the value of true friendships.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people ... In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal's office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash. Separated by distance -- and Papi's secrets -- the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead, and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they've lost everything of their father, they learn of each other



The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

Twelve-year-old surfing fanatic Alberta has lived in Ewing Beach, Calif., with her fathers for much of her life. Her family is one of the only black families in town, until the Whitmans buy the old bed and breakfast across the street. Goth Edie, the same age as Alberta, is nothing like her. She's a proud Brooklyn native; she wears all black, down to the black lipstick she's never without; and she doesn't understand why everyone in Ewing loves the beach. And while Edie's parents are divorcing, Alberta's dads remain deeply in love. Despite their differences, the two become fast friends just as Alberta's lifelong best friend, who is white, begins drifting toward the popular girl who has bullied Alberta with racist taunts for years. When Alberta and Edie find a set of mysterious journals in Edie's new house, they also uncover an enduring secret. Imperfect, vulnerable characters take center stage in Colbert's middle grade debut about growing up on the margins in the past and present. Colbert employs a compulsively readable style to convey the sometimes-difficult experience of young friendship, and the power and peril of claiming one's identity out loud. Ages 8--12.

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Tie on your apron! / Roll up your sleeves!" Every Wednesday, an inclusive pickup team of volunteers--a short Black woman with a commanding presence and a cane, a white parent and small brown-skinned child, and more--gathers in a small community kitchen to prepare a weekly dinner for their neighbors, combining vegetables they harvest from a garden ("Look at these zukes!/ Let's use them up too!"), food bank beans ("Third week in a row!"), and a donation of apples ("Cut off the brown bits,/ they're still good to use") for a simple, filling meal. Clear-line panel artwork by Tamaki (My Best Friend) gives the action superhero-grade visual power with swoops and swirls in swaths of tomato red, avocado green, and beet pink. Smells drift deliciously around the group's noses, the chief cook tumbles through cascades of beans, and speech balloons collide like atoms. By making the collaborative meal preparation visually brilliant, Tamaki injects energy into this life-giving celebration. Then it's go time--"I mean it!" yells the crew's leader--and a parade of food arrives in the dining room, where an equally diverse group of neighbors awaits. Pictures in speech balloons reveal conversations shared over the meal: books, hockey, a sore toe. The cooks can't save the world alone, but by taking care of their neighbors ("Is your body warm? // Is your belly full?") they convey the power of thrift, collective action, and community-building. Recipes for an elastic number of diners are included, too. Ages 4-8.