It’s the end of another calendar year — and time to share my top 20 books of 2019! But before I get into the meat of things, I’d like to say a massive “thank you” to everyone who’s been along for the ride this year. I’ve gotten to read and review so many wonderful titles and interview talented authors and freelancers.
My Best Books of 2019
For this list, I’ve included all of my favorite books read in 2019, whether or not they were first published in 2019. So, if you’re a fan of backlist titles (as you should be), it’s time to add some more to your TBR. You’ll also find a few anticipated 2020 titles which I’ve already read as ARCs. Hopefully, these will whet your appetite for my list of anticipated 2020 books coming soon!
Fish in a Tree
Published: February 5, 2015
This is one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long time. Fish in a Tree addresses the issues of a young girl with dyslexia, and highlights the importance of teachers who truly care. Excellent writing, characterization and great audiobook narration. Would recommend.
Related: 7 Books Like Fish in a Tree
Where the Crawdads Sing
Published: August 14, 2018
I don’t know what Delia Owens did to make this book so achingly beautiful. I think it’s the ode to nature and an incredibly resilient protagonist. But it’s also Tate’s fierce, enduring love. I’ve never read nature so lovingly described, and so much pain and loneliness in one person’s life.
ALSO, the audiobook is FANTASTIC. The narrator is extraordinary, and this book may not have come alive to me as much had I read the words myself. I am forever changed and will never view nature the same.
The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise
Also featured in this list of top 20 middle-grade books published in 2019.
Published: January 8, 2019
This was one of the first books I read this year and I still remember it vividly. So many things about this story squeezed my heart so tight. From Coyote’s relationship with her dad, the misfits aboard their house bus, and of course, Coyote’s southern sass and humor, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Be prepared for all the feels though — this book also tackles grief.
On Writing Well
Also featured in this list of 20 best books about writing and editing.
Published: September 11, 2012
This book changed the way I write and approach writing as editor. If you write non-fiction or just want to craft better office memos, I would highly recommend.
After the Fall
Yes, a picture book! As an editor, I’ve learned that picture books — as short as sweet as they can be — require a deftness that other books may do okay without. This book is a delightful surprise! It’s hard to be surprised by picture books, especially one so short, but this one is incredible.
Greetings from Witness Protection
Also featured in this list of middle-grade books set in New York City.
This middle-grade book about a clever girl with kleptomania joining a family in witness protection is simultaneously brilliant, funny, and moving.
Cheryl Klein’s prowess as an editor of children’s books saved me more times than I can count this year. This book is a must-read.
More to the Story
Just thinking about this book warms my heart. Very few books and characters have spoken as deeply to me as Jameelah and her sisters. I adore Hena Khan’s writing and still have heart eyes for that cover. Cherry on top? It’s a contemporary Little Women retelling.
More to the Story is a heartwarming, charming middle-grade novel about sisterhood, family, and following your passion. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a wholesome, riveting middle-grade book.
Annie’s Life in Lists
I LOVED this book! Annie’s Life in Lists is a uniquely written, sweet portrayal of a young girl finding her voice and loving it. With an endearing protagonist, this book tackles coping with a move, handling the evolution of friendships, and finding home in a new place. If you like quirky books — like books written entirely in list format — about family and friendships in a small town, Annie’s Life in Lists is for you.
This Side of Home
Also featured in this list of best Black YA books.
This Side of Home is a celebration of culture, Portland, and the importance of love and respect despite racial differences. This impressive young adult debut from Renée Watson is thought-provoking, riveting, and full of vivid descriptions of a well-loved Portland neighborhood. If you’re looking for a realistic, contemporary young adult novel that celebrates Black history and features twins, This Side of Home is a winner!
I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying
I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying follows Bassey’s life from early childhood in Nigeria, moving to join her father in the States, and being an anxious child in the US. However, things begin to cycle out of control on tour with Def Jam Poetry. Prolonged insomnia, an inability to focus, desperate depression, and other symptoms eventually lead to a Bipolar II diagnosis.
This book is a vital addition to the league of creative non-fiction about mental illness. Bassey Ikpi’s I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying is a candid look at the life of a woman finding her way in the world with the burden of mental illness. You can read my interview with author Bassey Ikpi here.
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is a moving tribute to the power of a teacher who truly sees her students and advocates for them. It tackles everything from bullying to sibling rivalry to parental neglect. This one is not to be missed.
Truly Madly Royally
Truly Madly Royally is a charming young adult novel featuring a positive representation of Black teens. There are also strong undercurrents of community outreach, strong female friendships, and being true to oneself. If you’re a sucker for royal romances, this one will steal your heart.
The Line Tender
The Line Tender is an achingly beautiful middle-grade novel (more suited to adults). This book portrays death and grieving realistically, spotlights awe-inspiring marine life, and features an unforgettable female protagonist. If you enjoy reading about sharks, are on the hunt for a book about grief, or love books set in the summer, you’ll enjoy The Line Tender.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington
I LOVED this unique, moving 2020 debut and can’t wait to share my review and interview with author Janae Marks soon. Just know it’s worth your pennies.
This picture book and its stunning, moody illustrations stole my heart.
Stand Up, Yumi Chung
This is another 2020 debut that I read and enjoyed. Jessica Kim’s debut features a spunky Asian-American protagonist with a love for stand up comedy. It’s a surprisingly poignant middle-grade book.
A Place at the Table
I adored this dual perspective novel by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan. A Place at the Table follows two girls forming an unlikely friendship — one Jewish English-American and the other Pakistani. Plus, there are a ton of mouthwatering recipes. You’re in for a treat.
The First to Know
Abigail Johnson stole my heart in 2019. She has a knack for writing intriguing young adult novels and this was no exception.
Searching for Sylvie Lee
This was on the bestseller list for weeks — and for good reason. If you’re looking for an atmospheric, character-driven mystery, you’ll enjoy Sylvie Lee.
There they are, better late than never, my top 20 reads of 2019. Next up, the books I’ve got my eyes on in 2020. Let’s hope I can get that up before January ends! Which of these books did you enjoy last year? What were your favorite reads of 2019?
Great list! I loved More to the Story! Thanks for the rec!
Afoma Umesi says
My pleasure, Carol! 🙂
Jenna @ Falling Letters says
Ah, I remember reading Ms. Bixby’s Last Day a few years ago. I think I cried at the end, which I rarely do, haha. I’m looking forward to reading A Place at the Table.
Afoma Umesi says
Oh yeah, a tearjerker for sure, haha! A Place at the Table is excellent!