What’s good 2020???!! We’re moving into a new year and the start of a new decade! The time of reading lists for the brand new year. Now, we’re not going to say we have the best reading lists out there, but if you’re looking for books across the spectrum of genre, character, and writer’s background, you know we got you. We prefer our books filled with complex characters, with folks included from across identities and ethnicities.
We like our non-fiction insightful and challenging. We read poetry, essays, fiction, graphic novels…you name it. We’re here for authors who are under-represented in the mainstream. We’re here for authors that also look like us, talk like us, and have some shared cultural reflections. We’re here for the page-turners, and the books we can’t put down. We’re here for the books that make us feel something. Here are some of the books we’re hitting pre-order on for 2020. The To-Be-Read List never gets shorter, but it should always get better.
From Leslie’s List
by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray) Available February 2020
Ireland’s first book in this setting, Dread Nation, was a hit with me. The story of Jane leaving Miss Preston’s Attendant school outside of Baltimore and ending up “out west” was fast, engaging, and left me wanting more. Well, more is coming. In Deathless Divide, Jane, and friend Kate, leave the ruins of Summerland to travel to California, looking for Jane’s momma. I’m looking forward to watching Jane embrace her truth while becoming a better zombie killer. Jane and Kate are mismatched friends, which makes the tension of their tale all the stronger. I know they won’t get a happily ever after — this tale is based on destroying those kinds of tropes — but I do want to see what they build for themselves in this alternative history, zombie fighting novel.
by Zoraida Córdova (Disney-Hyperion) Available April 2020
I haven’t yet had a chance to read any of Cordova’s other books, but I hear such good things about the Brooklyn Brujas series, that I want to get into her next new book. Set in a magical Inquisition Spain, the book follows spy and Memory Thief, Renata Convida, as she infiltrates the prince’s castle to save a fellow spy (who happens to be the boy she loves, of course). I’m looking forward to some lush historical fantasy with the multiple layers of a terrifying Spain and the deep memories of conquest coming together.
Fiyah Lit Mag, Quarterly
Over everything else, short stories are my heart. The conservation of energy and words required to make an effective short story impresses and engages me. My go-to source for Black Speculative Fiction under 10,000 words is Fiyah Literary Magazine. In their first few years, they’ve already been short-listed to major Spec Fic prizes. The team there has introduced the world to many Black authors who were overlooked by other sci-fi publications. Also, the covers are straight fire. I can’t recommend this magazine highly enough.
From Carrie’s List
by Charlotte Watson Sherman, Illustrated by (Boyd Mills & Kane) Available Feburary 2020
I have a true fondness for children’s books about mommies and babies, more specifically Black mamas and their offspring. It’s a genre in children’s lit that absolutely has my whole heart, and every time I see one I must check it out. Internally, I’ve figured that it is because it was my own moms that read to me and help foster a love of reading–so books about a mom and child with skin like mine make me smile. In Brown Sugar Babe, the creative team of Sherman and Akem (who I’ve followed since first seeing her art on Instagram) gives us the most delightful and heartfelt journey of Blackness through the wonders of everything ordinary and extraordinary in the world.
The poetic wording gives me hope in a world that despises (but constantly copies) Black girls: “Your brown eyes are chocolate drops brown sugar babe, your hair, a crown of brown curls, fierce as a lion’s mane.” Paired with the lovely art with everything from gingerbread men and gardens to outer space, this is the book I want to give my future daughter. We did secure a review copy and the prose is lovely and heartfelt paired with the art that makes my heart soar–look forward to my review!
by Jasmyn Wright Illustrated by Shannon Wright (Simon & Schuster) Available February 2020
I love Shannon’s art, it is perfect for kid lit. I really loved her picture book debut My Mommy Medicine (written by Edwidge Danticat) that was released at the beginning of last year and soon we’ll have I’m Going To Push Through also illustrated by her with words by Jasmyn Wright. Another children’s book with art and words by a team of Black women, come through! Just looking at a few previews pages reveals a diverse bunch of kiddos across the pages: kids with locs, afro puffs, hijabs, in wheelchairs, and more.
Jasmyn Wright, the founder of The Push Through Organization (and a former elementary school teacher) looks to have presented a book that elaborates on such themes such as perseverance and doing so through obstacles and adversity and also affirmation. Shannon’s art also seems to reflect this: with little ones working together with others, being loved, being in poses to suggest standing up for yourself, and more. For young readers ages 4 – 8, this one appears to be all about empowerment and understanding the power of good self-esteem and the wonders it does for a child’s foundation.
This graphic novel from Iron Circus Comics is based on a true story and it is one of my most anticipated comics of the new year. Kim Hyun Sook started college in 1983 in South Korea’s Fifth Republic– a tumultuous time where student protestors choose activism in a charged political climate, she hadn’t thought she would become part of anything big. Well, she hadn’t planned on it, anyway. She was there to help change the minds of her traditional parents on why she, a woman even needed to go to college and plus, she wanted to plot her own path of what she wanted to do in life. Somehow, she ends up very much involved in a movement and thus, her part in the underground banned book club.
This really seems up my alley as a coming of age tale that also seems to be about living, surviving, and rebelling under a totalitarian regime while also highlighting why literacy and the right to it when censorship is involved is necessary. This memoir in comic book form by the writing team of Sook and her husband Estrada along with illustrations by Hyung-Ju Ko has me looking forward to reading about young people refusing to let hope die in dark times and holding on to what they know they should protect. In movements around, the world, across the ages, there have always been amazing, inspiring tales of young people at the front lines, and I’m looking forward to reading about more changemakers in comic form.
So often for Black women, our relationship with feminism is a strained, messy, complicated one in the sense that it ain’t always been for us. And of course, when I say that, I mean we’re often forgotten when demands are brought to the table, our pioneers were told to march in the back as to not stir up trouble and even today it’s not a reach to see us erased, dismissed, and cast aside for someone with more mainstream appeal for the camera, which is usually someone whiter. This may be the first Mikki Kendall book I read as I do own Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists, the graphic novel she created about the fight for women’s rights (with illustrations by A. D’Amico) which I accidentally packed away somewhere, and I just moved.
I’ve been following Kendall on twitter for as probably as long as I’ve been on twitter, and I have always been moved by how transformative her writing is. I know her to be witty, knowledgeable about her shit and sure to touch upon race, class, gender, and everything that advocacy and discourse usually fail to touch bases on when women who look like me are spoken and written about. Hood Feminism is a collection of essays by a Black woman I admire that seems to explore and challenge feminism in the name of a certain group that is often forgotten and erased: Black women. Capital B. No Chaser. Beloved, why wouldn’t I want to read this?!
From Izetta’s List
By Zora Neale Hurston edited by Genevieve West (Harper Collins Publishers) Available January 2020
What else needs to be said other than “NEW ZORA” in my DJ Khaled voice? Zora Neale Hurston is by far, one of the most prolific and understated writers of her time. Had it not been for Alice Walker, we wouldn’t know anything about Their Eyes Were Watching God. To live in an era where unseen work is hitting the streets nearly 100 years later, though? That’s enough to make me stand in a line 5 times as long as those in the early 2000s for the new Harry Potter drops.
by Kehinde Wiley (Hatje Cantz Verlag) Available April 2020
One of the most precious memories I have of my adolescence is going over my grandmother’s house and looking through her coffee table books. I don’t know if this is a trend that still happens today, but if not I’mm about to bring it back with this one. A comprehensive collection of Wiley’s work that mixes oversized classical heroic poses of Black folks with hip-hop and street flair. I want to lay this out all grandiose and let my house guests ooh and ahh over the depictions of Black royalty. I want to have a child who grows up flipping through paintings that show them that they are powerful and soft. This body of artwork is for the hood; for home.
by George M. Johnson (Macmillan) Available April 2020
This is a series of personal essays written by LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson. He talks about being bullied at five years old and having his teeth literally kicked out. His testimonies are sure to shed light on the journey of POC queer men in a very frank and open way. Toxic masculinity is a threat to all of us, the insight gained from Johnson’s perspective should challenge us all to be co-conspirators in the fight to be queer, Black and thriving.
From Ja-Quan’s List
I’ve been patiently waiting for this one to come out, evident by its placement on my most anticipated books on last year’s list. It had a loose release date last year, which clearly never happened, so the anticipation is building. Luckily, the following premise will see a bevy of New Yorkers and non-city folk jumping at the opportunity to devour Jemison’s newest story.
“New York City is about to go through a few changes. Like all great metropolises before it, when a city gets big enough, old enough, it must be born; but there are ancient enemies who cannot tolerate new life. Thus New York will live or die by the efforts of a reluctant midwife…and how well he can learn to sing the city’s mighty song.”
by Brit Bennett (Penguin Random House) Available June 2020
I haven’t read anything by Brit Bennett just yet, but if I go by all the praise that I’ve heard about her book, The Mothers, I’m in for a real treat. Her newest offering is a story about inseparable, young twin sisters who eventually gravitate to very different worlds, one Black and one white. This is so up my alley it’s not even funny. This story resonates with my sibling dynamic more than most I’ve come across in 3 decades of life. Though we are not twins, my brother and I have found ourselves in very different worlds, both economically and socially, so I’m very excited to see how similarly this story parallels my own. This appears to be a novel about siblings: how their lives separate and come back together in unexpected ways, how vulnerability and trauma present themselves and quite possibly how family bonds are defined.
by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic) Available May 2020
What can I say? I’m a completionist, even if it means completing a series that is clearly creating this prequel to cash grab their way back into the hearts of fans. I’m glad this is set so far in the past that we’ll get to see what the early years of the reaping were like. I’m hoping for details of how each district went about their selections before the established dominance of certain districts and cannon fodder of others. After so much success of the original trilogy and accompanying blockbuster movies that made Jennifer Lawrence a household name, I’m interested to see how well they deliver on this prequel.
This YA novel appeals to so many aspects of who I am. The history nerd in me is going bonkers over the fact that Portland had enacted such egregious laws before the emancipation and did everything in their power to set up a pro-slavery free state in the far west. The activist in me is livid that this is such a jarring historical fact is unknown to most outside of the Pacific Northwest. But I’m here for the Black women that this book features, I’m here for the supernatural aspect, and the work of navigating the jarring way of life that young people of color face when racism, sexism, and their cousins come to town. I love a good YA novel that teaches while telling an engaging story.
From Joseph’s List
by Brandon Sanderson (Tom Doherty Associates) Available November 2020
The Stormlight Archive is Sanderson’s magnum opus, it is one of the most daring pieces of fantasy I’ve seen in a while. Not only because of the series itself, but how it lands within Sanderson’s Cosmere, which is his version of the MCU. Sanderson has attempted to connect every book in his armada to a central theme, so while you are reading one series you’re also attempting to figure out where it lands within the larger meta story Sanderson is telling. It’s Inception-esk and I am here for whatever Sanderson is selling at this point. Rhythm of War (clocking in at an impressive 1000+ pages) picks up with the Knights Radiant in the midst of trench warfare and attempting to find new technological/magical advances to help them break through.
by Jim Butcher (Ace Books) Available July 2020
Jim “F’N” Butcher IS BACK! He has long been the standard by which all other urban fantasy is judged. When we last left Harry Dresden, he had gone to hell, literally. We now know that Harry is supposed to be helping secure a site where the world’s supernatural powers are supposed to be coming to a new accord. We’ve been waiting a while on this one, Butcher usually works at a breakneck pace, but those of us who follow his blogs and websites know that life hit the author hard and he had to cut back on his writing. But apparently Butcher found his way to Mac’s Pub and got a chance to rejuvenate himself. I’ve been reading the Dresden Files for 20 years now and at this point it’s not just a book, I feel like I’m catching up with an old friend. Warning to the rest of the urban fantasy writers, The King is back… And he’s coming for his throne, we will see if he can get it back.
by Seanan McGuire (Tor/Forge) Available January 2020
Seanan McGuire is killing everything she touches right now, I’ve been a fan since the October Daye series, and she continued the greatness with the Wayward Children series. Each book stands on its own, while simultaneously fitting within the bigger picture. The genre is portal worlds. It’s like if Narnia flirted with a grimdark, but only let it get to second base. One of the more well written short series that I can’t get enough of.
by Illona Andrews (NYLA) Available January 2020
The Illona Andrews writing team can almost do no wrong. They’ve put out hit, after hit, after hit. Whether it’s the Edge series or Kate Daniels series or Hidden Legacy, they keep writing quality stories with great characters and interesting magic systems. The Innkeeper Chronicles keeps that going with the story of an Innkeeper whose inn is a way station for: aliens, vampires, werewolves, and any/every other type of creature you could imagine. They are the Switzerland of the universe, but of course, the universe doesn’t play fair. But the innkeepers don’t suffer fools or insults lightly, and Illona Andrews always finds a great story to pull you into. The last book in this series involved an intergalactic war between Vampire Houses and if that’s not enough to grab your interest, I don’t know what to tell you.
Cover Photo by César Viteri on Unsplash.
We’ll be reviewing these books over the course of the year, so you can always check the Literature category for these and more book reviews
Let us know what you’re reading or looking forward to reading this year, and be sure to follow along with us on our bookstagram account on Instagram here.