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Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay – Jennifer Kehlenbeck
If you’d have told me last year that my favourite book of 2020 would be non-fiction, I wouldn’t have believed you. I mean, there’s a lot about 2020 that I wouldn’t have believed this time last year. Like a lot of people, the weirdness of 2020 meant I simply read more non-fiction this year – this book I picked up over summer for the SCAN readathon.
Bad Feminist is a collection of personal essays based on Roxane Gay’s observations. She obviously discusses feminism (and all its complexities), but she also discusses racism, sexuality, body-image, rape-culture and so much more. Her definition of feminism is intersectional and inclusive. Her writing style is fantastic, it has moments that are incredibly sad, but other moments are insanely funny. It’s extraordinarily personal in all senses of the word. She reveals all, whether that be in relation to horrible events she has survived or just her strong emotional connection to The Hunger Games. My favourite chapters were the ones focused on TV, literature, music, and culture – you should pick up this book for its chapter on Fifty Shades of Grey and fairy tales (yes, both of them) alone.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins – Maddy Jeffrey
I am unashamedly nominating Suzanne Collins’ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes as my favourite book of 2020. This prequel to the Hunger Games was everything twelve-year-old me wanted; another Hunger Games, typically edgy young adult characters and more Panem lore! Reading this book during the first lockdown was a healing experience. I’ll admit this book was peak young adult, but its themes, characters, and plot were pure wholesome fun. 2020 has been a living nightmare so we all needed to find an escape – this book was that escape for me.
If you’ve ever thought whilst reading or watching the Hunger Games how the human race could possibly come to a state where we send children to die for the entertainment of the rich, let this past year act as an example as to how nothing is far-fetched! With the year apparently having been written by a young-adult dystopian writer of the early 2010s, Songbirds reminded me as to why I am the person I am today; the revolution captured in Mockingjay helped me first find my political voice and awakened a critical mind. This year has been politically turbulent and this prequel reignited the political voice inside me that I admit to having previously suppressed to cope with the onslaught of disheartening news over the past few years. Although trashy, if you need a light read over the Christmas break, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes ought to be at the top of your list!
House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas – Lauren Banks
I was so excited to hear that Sarah J. Maas was starting a new book series, and she really didn’t disappoint. House of Earth and Blood introduced us to Bryce Quinlan, a half-Fae, half-human woman who helps to investigate a terrible spate of crimes that spring up around Crescent City with a beautiful fallen angel, Hunt Athalar. It’s funny, tragic, and deeply sexy all at the same time, and, as evidenced by Maas’ earlier series, her world-building is impeccable. Rather than being set in a traditional fantasy world, Crescent City has high tech devices and all the modern trimmings, a hard thing to make work when writing high fantasy – but work it does. I was unsure if it was going to be as good as her previous series, as this one was billed as her first novel for adults while her others are aimed at older teens, but it lived up to my very high expectations. Bryce is such an engaging character – talented, messy, and complex, and as a reader you root for her throughout everything, cringing when she does and laughing along with her. If you like fantasy but are tired of reading about teenagers, this book is for you.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – Emma McCabe
Everyone knows the vague details of Greek mythology. Yet not everyone tells it quite like Madeline Miller. The Song of Achilles combines a classical Greek tale with a homoerotic love story which had me blubbering and obsessing upon the first instance. The novel follows the perspective of Patroclus, a shamed prince who is exiled and becomes a servant in the courts of Peleus. It is here that he befriends Achilles, the king’s son. And then the novel begins. The reader witnesses the blossoming of companionship from a unique and privileged angle; being simultaneously captivated by the male gaze and pushed out by the subtlety of detail which can only leave us guessing. Miller’s refined lexis in no way adds to the complicated and daring love story, with its various twists and turns. It is extraordinarily lyrical and manages to turn a tale of the Trojan war, tragedy, and heartache into a transformative ballad. If you’re interested in an easy read or need to have a good cry (which is perfectly healthy for us university students), I definitely recommend this novel.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – Megan Jones
I have had a lot of extra reading time this year and have read a lot of incredible books that could easily claim the top spot but, assuming I read nothing absolutely incredible in December, my favourite book of 2020 has to be The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. This novel is a literary work of art; it is beautiful and captivating and I am utterly in love with it. I am enchanted by Erin Morgenstern’s whimsy and lyrical prose, intricate world-building and complex characters and went on to love The Night Circus by her as well. The Starless Sea is based on the concept of stories within stories, beautifully combining the main narrative with fantastical interludes. Erin Morgenstern possesses a magical ability to create whole worlds in single pages, investing you in characters you experience only glimpses of, before returning to the main story. It is filled with witty and sarcastic humour, utterly dysfunctional college students, and a surprising amount of cats, which combines with her purely magical writing style to create one of the best books I’ve ever read.