Teen Talk with Renée: NPR’s best YA books of 2020

Say Goodbye” to 2020 by saying Hello” to one of these great books!

Each fall, NPR reaches out to their staff and critics to nominate their favorite books of the year. After much deliberation, they put them all together in a nifty, interactive guide they call NPR’s Book Concierge. If you are struggling with picking out your next best read, check it out – you won’t be disappointed!

Here are just a few of my favorites from the list:

“Super Fake Love Song” by David Yoon

Sunny Dae is a self-described total nerd who loves cosplay and his two best friends. He’s definitely not the front man of a rock band, at least not until Cirrus Soh mistakes him for one. What could go wrong? And while this is the classic (YA at its best) story of a boy and his first high school relationship, at its heart Super Fake Love Song is also the story of an even more important relationship: the one you have with yourself. Because before anything else can fall into place, Sunny has to figure out which version of himself he likes the best. It’s a big-hearted novel full of delightful, funny, empathetic characters.

— Samantha Balaban, associate producer, Weekend Edition

“Raybearer” by Jordan Ifueko

This is Jordan Ifueko’s debut novel, but it reads like the work of a seasoned world-builder. Tarisai, raised in isolation by a mother she knows only as The Lady, goes to the capital city to compete with children from all over the country for a chance at being one of the crown prince’s magically bonded councilors. But The Lady has put a curse on Tarisai: She must gain the prince’s love, then kill him. (Fantasy can fall flat when the Big Bad is evil for pure evil’s sake – luckily, The Lady has a backstory that will punch you right in the feels.) Ifueko has created a rich, fresh, fully rounded world and a cast of characters to match; you’ll be on tenterhooks as Tarisai figures out how to balance destiny and compulsion, but her prince and her palace companions command equal attention.

— Petra Mayer, editor, NPR Books

“Every Reason We Shouldn’t” by Sara Fujimura

Olivia Kennedy is 15 going on 16 and the prodigal daughter of two Olympic figure skating darlings. A gold medal pairs skater at the junior level, Olivia no longer competes due to lack of funds and a crash-and-burn performance when she was 13. But things start looking up when short track speed skater Jonah Choi comes to town. The two bond immediately over mild teenage rebellions, workouts and the concept of being “normal.” They challenge each other because they know no other way – second best is not an option in the life of champions.

— Alethea Kontis, author and book critic

“Dear Justyce” by Nic Stone

Quan and Justyce are both smart, they grew up in the same area and they went to the same schools. So how did Justyce end up at Yale University while Quan is in jail on a murder charge? Dear Justyce is a story about the many flaws of the American juvenile justice system, and it somehow simultaneously broke my heart and gave me hope. It’s heartbreaking because while Quan has a shot at a happy ending, it’s because of Justyce, social workers and lawyers, and the reality is that most kids like him never will get that kind of support. And it’s hopeful because I imagine a generation of young adults reading this book and seeing the potential for a better, more just system. Fans of Nic Stone’s previous book, Dear Martin, will love being reunited with Justyce McAllister in thissequel.

— Samantha Balaban, associate producer, Weekend Edition

“Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas

In Yadriel’s family, men guide the spirits of the dead, while women heal the living. So how can this young trans man prove himself to his traditionally minded relatives? Summon a ghost, of course. Except that when Yadriel tries to find and free the ghost of his murdered cousin, he ends up with the spirit of snarky, troubled bad boy Julian. Yadriel can’t get rid of him – Julian is somehow bound to this world – but does Yadriel even want to? Cemetery Boys grapples with serious issues of identity and acceptance (and it has a couple of real scares), but at heart it’s a sweet, hopeful story of a tightknit family, a first love – and a hot ghost.

— Petra Mayer, editor, NPR Books

“Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir” by Robin Ha

In this eye-opening graphic memoir, author Robin Ha tells the story of how she and her mother moved to the U.S. from South Korea when she was a young girl. Honest, funny and at times painful, Ha chronicles her earnest efforts to understand American culture, fit in with her Korean American cousins and make sense of her mother’s deep desire to live and work in the U.S. The book sheds light on what life is like in America through the lens of a new immigrant family – and the powerful bond between mom and daughter.

— Malaka Gharib, deputy editor, Goats and Soda, author of I Was Their American Dream

Until next time,

All the best,


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