My Favorite Books of 2020

by Rikki Rosenthal on January 5, 2021

My Favorite Books of 2020

by Rikki Rosenthal on January 5, 2021

While 2020 has definitely been rough for everyone, one thing that has kept me grounded throughout the year has been reading. I have managed to read 85 books so far, and hope to hit 100 by the end of the year. My friends always ask me for reading recommendations so I figured I would share my top 5 books of 2020 with you. Let’s get into it!

Rikki Rosenthal's book collection
1. Catherine House by Elizabeth Thomas

We follow Ines as she starts Catherine House, a place of higher learning  isolated in the woods of rural Pennsylvania. Catherine House’s experimental curriculum, selective admissions policy, and cult-like atmosphere has produced some of the best minds known to man. One’s journey at Catherine House requires complete isolation from the outside world for three years, summers included. Family, friends, music, television, and even clothes must be left behind. But for the students of Catherine House, this is worth the price of the promise of a successful future. Catherine House is the closest thing Ines has ever had to a home. She forms an unlikely friendship with her roommate Baby, whose dedication to success at Catherine ends in tragedy. Baby’s demise opens Ines’ eyes to the dangerous and secretive agenda of a tightly-knit group of students studying the most intense and selective program at Catherine. 

I will be the first to say this book is not for everyone. Out of all the books on this list, Catherine House has the lowest average rating. But if you are a fan of atmospheric books that are more character-focused than plot-driven, then I recommend giving Catherine House a shot. I listened to the audiobook and I highly recommend it; the narrator’s voice was perfect for this unsettling narrative. This has definitely been the best book I read in 2020. 

Fitch’s prose is breathtaking, which has a lovely juxtaposition with Astrid’s moving narrative. I found myself underlining something on every page.

- Rikki Rosenthal

2. White Oleander by Janet Fitch

We follow the unique mother/daughter relationship between Ingrid, the brilliant and beloved poet imprisoned for the murder of her boyfriend, and her daughter Astrid, as she bounces around a plethora of Los Angeles foster homes. Each home is accustomed to its own dangers, each one forcing Astrid to remove herself from the identity her mother’s prose has constructed for her. 

Ultimately, White Oleander is about self discovery and separating oneself from the abusive relationships of one’s childhood. Fitch’s prose is breathtaking, which has a lovely juxtaposition with Astrid’s moving narrative. I found myself underlining something on every page. 

3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History is a cult classic in the world of dark academia literature. We follow a group of pretentious misfits at an elite New England college. Studying in the most selective program at the school, this group of students isolate themselves from the rest of the school as well as the world outside of academia. When their studies begin to open their eyes beyond the norms of morality, they begin to blur the lines between corruption, betrayal, and ultimate evil. 

I had heard nothing but rave reviews for The Secret History for years, and I’m so glad I finally found the time to dive into this deliciously dark narrative. The atmosphere of the school, combined with the lack of morality within the characters, creates the perfect dark academia setting. The characters are so realistic and some of the most disliked characters in modern literature.

Barrow somehow manages to tackle difficult topic after difficult topic with ease while still infusing the story with so much joy. I enjoyed every character and found a little bit of myself in each of the girls.

- Rikki Rosenthal

4. This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

I spent the majority of my summer break reading a plethora of queer contemporary novels, and out of the handful I read, this by far was my favorite. We follow a group of estranged best friends who reconcile as a band to win the Sun City Original Contest. After surviving the impossible hurdles life has thrown at them, such as teen pregnancy, alcoholism, and coming to terms with one’s sexuality, the girls decide to enter the contest in hopes of winning the grand-prize of $15k. 

Barrow somehow manages to tackle difficult topic after difficult topic with ease while still infusing the story with so much joy. I enjoyed every character and found a little bit of myself in each of the girls. The story offered unique perspectives that I have never seen before in young adult fiction, and I highly recommend checking it out for yourself. 

5. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Kya has always been the town outcast. With her eternally bare feet and lack of a family, she was never fit for polite society. So when the small town hero turns up dead in the local park, of course the town suspects it’s Kya. While the town has forced her into solitude, she begins to learn from the land. Even though she has the skills to survive in isolation, loneliness creeps up on her. Kya puts her trust in two young men who are intrigued by her wild beauty. When the unthinkable happens, Kya is forced to face the town as her true self. 

“Owens juxtaposes an exquisite ode to the natural world against a profound coming of age story and haunting mystery” (GoodReads). I read this book earlier this year, and not a day goes by where I don’t think about it. I’ve recommended it to family and friends alike, and every one of them have nothing but praise for this brilliantly moving story.