2020 Staff Picks: Fiction

By Skokie Staff Advisory Services

Our expert staff members look back at the year and share their favorite titles.

  • Transcendent Kingdom

    2020 by Gyasi, Yaa

    The first words that come to mind about this book are heartbreaking, thought-provoking, and emotional. A powerful story about a young woman trying to understand her brother's addiction and her mother's mental illness through the lens of neuroscience and religion. So much to identify with and so much to appreciate through the power of transcendent storytelling. Recommended by Megan and Maridsa.

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  • The Only Good Indians

    2020 by Jones, Stephen Graham

    Lyrical, super scary, and just plain terrific, this was the horror novel to read this year. Dread kept mounting as characters who deserved better fell to an unstoppable supernatural vengeance on Montana's Blackfeet Reservation, seemingly regardless of what choices they made (pretty sure there was a metaphor in there). Recommended by Lynnanne and Andrew.

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  • Interior Chinatown

    2020 by Yu, Charles

    One of the funniest, most creative, and deliciously clever books I read this year. Its own brand of metafiction (it’s written as a screenplay), its tightrope work of conceptualism never falters. It is also a trenchant exploration of what it means (and doesn’t mean) to be Asian-American. One you want to share with others. Recommended by Chris.

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  • A Children's Bible

    2020 by Millet, Lydia

    It's the perfect collision of allegory and harsh reality. Recommended by Adam.

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  • Saving Ruby King

    2020 by West, Catherine Adel

    A beautiful book that expertly balances complicated themes of secrets, family, love, and forgiveness as well as the weight of generational pain and suffering. I loved the multiple points of view, including one from the Calvary Hope Christian Church, and thought this unique structure added layers of nuance and richness to an already incredible narrative. Recommended by Lynnanne.

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  • Afterlife

    2020 by Alvarez, Julia

    Dominican-American Antonia is grieving the recent death of her husband when other challenges come her way. Falling back on her years of teaching literature, she references the wisdom of poets as she tries to figure out how to be a responsible, compassionate person in the world and care for herself at the same time. The story really resonated with me. Alvarez’s writing is emotional and engrossing, but with a measured tone that allowed me to absorb its profundity. Recommended by Lukie.

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  • The Girl with the Louding Voice

    2020 by Daré, Abi

    I loved everything about this book, especially the main character Adunni, who is a light in the darkness. This was written in her dialect of English that, to a native speaker, would not sound correct, but it shows how much she has learned already as a young Nigerian girl with high hopes to continue her education, despite the forces that are blocking her. In a tale that was both powerful and moving, this story and the complex characters still resonate with me. Recommended by Maridsa.

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  • The Night Watchman

    2020 by Erdrich, Louise

    From the first page, I was totally immersed in this beautiful book. The fact that the author based this moving story on her grandfather’s letters to thwart Congress' effort to remove Native Americans from their reservation on Turtle Mountain is a tribute to her imagination and her incomparable writing skills. Recommended by Terry.

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  • Migrations

    2020 by McConaghy, Charlotte

    Could we deal, emotionally, with a story that takes place in the future when 80% of the earth's creatures are extinct? It is melancholy, for sure, but a powerful, adventurous story that ends with a glimmer of hope. We found it hard to put down this poignant and gripping commentary on current events. Recommended by Lukie and Terry.

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  • Enter the Aardvark

    2020 by Anthony, Jessica

    This story jumps between two stories in two time periods: a modern Republican congressman and a Victorian taxidermist. It is political satire unlike anything I've read before. I think Kirkus described this title perfectly when they wrote, "Weirdly compelling and compellingly weird." Recommended by Becca.

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  • Mercy House

    2020 by Dillon, Alena

    As Catholic, I loved this story that featured a very unconventional nun, Sister Eleanor. Sister Eleanor is a one-of-a-kind creation, achingly real, funny, and flawed. I found Mercy House to be a stirring indictment of the Catholic Church, a respective portrayal of faith as well as a beautifully written story of women recovering from great trauma. Recommended by Lynnanne.

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  • Rodham

    2020 by Sittenfeld, Curtis

    Loved this. I’m always curious about alternate timelines and which decisions change our life trajectory, and this book was a fascinating consideration of what Hillary Rodham’s life would’ve been like if she hadn’t married Bill. Cool mix of actual events with fictionalized ones, and the ultimate ending made my heart hurt. Recommended by Tiffany.

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  • Such a Fun Age

    2019 by Reid, Kiley

    Okay. This one is a little bit of a cheat because it came out on 12/31/19 but you'll let that slide, right? I really loved this book. It was one of the first books I read in 2020 and I'm still thinking about it. Reid is a master of dialogue and character-building as well as the slow burn. Recommended by Becca.

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  • The Great Concert of the Night

    2020 by Buckley, Jonathan

    Jonathan Buckley’s memory novel is an elegant, perfectly polished work of art. Written by a man of high culture with a well-stocked mind, it gives pleasure and provokes admiration on every page as its storyline gently advances through a series of brief vignettes, each worth lingering over. A truly uncanny novel. It pairs remarkably well with another 2020 title, Weather by Jenny Offill. Recommended by Steven and Adam.

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  • Weather

    2020 by Offill, Jenny

    A staff favorite (mostly). This one touched me so profoundly that I read it twice this year. Recommended by Becca.

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  • The Vanishing Half

    2020 by Bennett, Brit

    This is easily the best book I've read all year, and it will forever be the book that made me realize that my favorite kind of story is an intergenerational family saga involving characters with deeply held secrets. Recommended by Laurel.

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  • The Pull of the Stars

    2020 by Donoghue, Emma

    Dark, yes. But for me, this was a phenomenal story of women and of one woman in particular. Julia is a tenacious character, vividly written and brought to life on the page. The detail and the specifics of her work and patients boggled my mind and, at times, caused to me lose sleep as I stayed up finishing her story. Recommended by Cecilia.

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  • The Regrets

    2020 by Bonnaffons, Amy

    This is everything I love in a book. Literary but still readable. Kind of bananas. A little dark and a little bit of romance. Judge this book by its cover because that's great too. Recommended by Becca.

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  • The Silence

    2020 by DeLillo, Don

    DeLillo has once again handed us the future. Recommended by Adam.

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  • What Are You Going Through

    2020 by Nunez, Sigrid

    A novel of ideas. Wisdom distilled into 200 pages. A story about death that’s funny. Or was it a story about friendship and euthanasia that’s funny? What sounds bleak is anything but. The protagonist is outlandishly curious, intelligent, and fully alive to the trials and tribulations of living. Coy and clear-eyed and it rang me like a bell. Recommended by Chris.

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  • Writers & Lovers

    2020 by King, Lily

    There's nothing extraordinary about the plot of this novel, yet it felt extraordinary. The day-to-day details and strong emotions made it feel very alive and present. I can't remember being so submerged in a novel in a long time. Recommended by Lukie.

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  • Gun Island

    2019 by Ghosh, Amitav

    Amitav Ghosh is one of my favorite writers; this may be his masterpiece. A fussy rare book dealer encounters people and events somehow connected to a Bengali folktale. This premise is the cornerstone of an epic that moves from India's Sundarbans to an increasingly apocalyptic California to a Venice on the verge of being swallowed by rising seas. People are on the move, and nature is out of balance. Reminiscent of Salman Rushdie, Mohsin Hamid, and Umberto Eco, yet original. Another title that is from late 2019 but worth noting. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • Temporary

    2020 by Leichter, Hilary

    "Eighteen boyfriends, twenty-three jobs, and one ghost who occasionally pops in to give advice: Temporary casts a hilarious and tender eye toward the struggle for happiness under late capitalism." The back of the book sums it up better than I ever could. Great for fans of My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Recommended by Becca.

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