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2020 Top 5 Fiction Reads

2020 Top 5 Fiction Reads

I usually review books on this site but for some reason, in 2020, I slacked off. I reviewed books on Instagram originally with the intention of copying them here but didn’t end up doing it. I would like to round up the year with my favourite reads. I’ve decided to split them into adult fiction, YA, and nonfiction. This instalment is my top 5 adult fiction reads for 2020:

Honeybee by Craig Silvey

Honeybee begins with 14-year-old Sam Watson standing on the edge of a bridge, ready to jump. An older man, Vic is also on the bridge for the same purpose. They strike up an unlikely friendship & we gradually find out the reasons behind why both of them were on the bridge that night. Sam is coming to terms with their gender identity & hates the body they are in. Born male, they’re trying to figure out their true self amidst a childhood scarred by bullying, a mother with addiction issues & a violent & domineering stepfather. And yet, it is the kindness of strangers that confuses them the most.

Oh my goodness. This book!! Craig Silvey has written a heartwarming, tender, tear-jerking, goosebump-inducing novel. I finished this in a couple of days. I loved Sam & Vic but also loved other characters like Aggie {adorable AF!}, her family, Peter, and Diane. Early in the book, my eyes prickled several times; as it went on, I ugly-cried a few times, sobbed several other times. Sometimes it was at the horrors Sam had to face, but at other times it was the kindness that made me well up. Sam is a wonderful, sensitive & amazing character. You want to hold them in a tight hug & yell at the world for all the injustices it keeps throwing at them. Then, bit by bit, you realise there is kindness too. Silvey’s writing is exquisite.

I know there have been reviews about Silvey being a cisgender male & what that means to have a trans character, & being cis female, I probably can’t comment much apart from saying that nothing sat uncomfortably with me & he appears to have done really good research & it has been written respectfully. In therapy in the last few years, I’ve seen more young people like Sam battling with their gender identity. And a lot what Sam describes sits true with what I’ve heard. In therapy though, for the most part, the presenting issue is not the gender identity itself but the problems that come from the non-acceptance of it – depression, self-harm, suicidality.

Final words – please pick up this book & read it now. With tissues. It’s one of my favourite reads of 2020

Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng

Meg Hughes is 75 and living alone in suburban Melbourne with her African grey parrot Atticus for company. Andy Chan is 21 and in his second year at uni as an international student. Andy moves into Meg’s family home as part of a house-sharing agreement. On the surface, they couldn’t be more different, not just due to age & culture. But underneath it all, could they be more similar than they realise?

This is a beautiful book about the powerful bond that forms between two very different people. It explores themes of loneliness, of life & death, of expectations & family, & connection & relationships. It spans a period of about four months but gives the reader an insight into the lives & pasts of both characters.

I loved this novel by Melanie Cheng. The empathy with which she describes both characters is heartwarming & it is an absolute delight & privilege to be part of their lives. It hit deeply as it gave voice to some of my fears & anxieties. It is a character-driven novel & perfect for a cosy read. It evoked some tears & a sense of longing I’m struggling to articulate. Do yourself a favour & read this.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

How do you begin to review a book that’s disturbing & compelling all at once? Our protagonist Vanessa is 32 when the book begins & checking in on Jacob Strane, her high school English teacher, as accusations of him sexually abusing other girls at the prestigious school emerge online. Vanessa was 15 when she had a sexual relationship with Strane. But Vanessa refuses to believe she was abused. The novel goes between the past & the present giving insight into the abuse but also, the emotional hold that Strane has over Vanessa.

My Dark Vanessa explores the sexual abuse & manipulation of a 15-year-old girl by her teacher & the damaging impacts of that well into her adulthood. It is disturbing & complex & heartbreaking & powerful all at once.

While the sexual abuse is disturbing, it was expected given the premise of the book. What I found more disturbing was the gaslighting & grooming behaviour by Strane. That shook me to my core & my heart went out to Vanessa who was a still a child & the way in which she believes she wasn’t a victim because Strane makes her believe that. It was harrowing to see just how much a person’s identity can be shattered by such manipulative behaviour. On a more personal note, I’ve been a victim of gaslighting & hadn’t realised until much later. It shattered a lot of my beliefs & that’s as an adult & I still find myself second-guessing things every now & then related to those years. So I can only imagine the amount of damage it would do to a child!

The psychologist in me loved the sessions the adult Vanessa has with her psych. It’s stories I’ve heard where the victims blame themselves but it’s also not something that can be erased by telling them they are not at fault. That they didn’t ask for it.

Read this book to get an insight into how drawn out sexual abuse is for a lot of people. Read it to realise that it’s not a one-size-fits-all response to being abused. Read it to empathise with the (mostly) women who are abused. Read it to experience the anger at how (mostly) men get away with abusing women. And remember, you’ll feel uncomfortable the entire time.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Desiree and Stella Vignes are identical twins born in a rural town, Mallard in Louisiana. Mallard is not just any town. It was one created in a way to ensure that by the forties, Black people were lighter-skinned & with each generation, would get lighter. The twins create an uproar by running away at 16 to New Orleans. But now, 20 years later, Desiree is back, bringing with her her dark-skinned daughter, Jude, who is 8. Desiree’s decision fuels Jude’s fate in this backward place where dark skin is abhorred. During this time, no one knows what has become of Stella who left her twin without warning after tuning ‘white’.

The novel spans from the 40s to the 80s, delving into the lives of the twins & their own daughters. It is a book about identity & who we are, & of course, about race & colour. It depicts how the colour of our skin impacts on how society perceives us. And while the book is set in the days where the n-word was used frequently, it still has an impact today in more subtle ways as we continue to see. The characters are all fascinating. I loved Jude & my heart went out to her. She had no say in the decisions made for her & yet, she bore the brunt of racism from both sides. The twins were interesting too & I found Stella to be more intriguing only because of the mask she wore & the lie she had to live.

As someone who has grown up in a society obsessed with the lightness of skin, I could painfully identify with some of the things mentioned in the book. I remember being told as I was too dark {compared to my sister}, that I shouldn’t play in the sun, that I should carry an umbrella or use milk & turmeric to lighten my skin. And this was all by people known to me. Maybe that’s why I identified with Jude despite not being Black myself. And why I couldn’t put this book down. The hype around this book is real. Go read it! 

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

Jena Lin plays the violin. Once a child prodigy with the world at her feet, she now uses sex to fill a void following a very public meltdown. At 22, her professional life involves rehearsals, concerts, & practice while her personal life is juggling her strict family & creative friends, & hooking up. She meets Mark, an older man, who consumes her in a way no one has. Jena is awarded an internship with the New York Philharmonic which she hopes leads to the life she has dreamed of. But then, Trump is elected & everything changes.

Jessie Tu debut novel explores female desire, having unmet needs, & feeling disconnected & lonely in this fractured world. And how despite all this, we are all still trying hard to be who we want to be. I loved this book! I loved how women’s desire for sex was explored as not something to be ashamed of but also how quite often, we are left wanting. More than the sex though, loneliness has fascinated & impacted me personally & professionally & I could feel Jena’s longing for connection. You can be surrounded by thousands of people in a city like New York & still feel completely & utterly alone.

I’ve always thought my aloneness was some irreparable failure. Maybe it was not a failure to acquire friends, lovers, company, companionship. I had all that. I have some still. But then I see a couple holding each other on the street and I’m reminded of what I’ve failed to accomplish as a woman.” – Tu’s prose is hard-hitting & exquisite. She voices things several of us have thought but not dared to express.

Jena is intelligent, feisty & fucked up. But that’s what is fascinating about her. She is real. She is all of us at some point. We do anything to fill the void – sometimes reckless, sometimes trying to control what we cannot control. She appealed to the psychologist in me & I loved Tu’s exploration of attachment theory to explain Jena’s personality. There are no perfect endings, no morals to the story. Rather, this book is about us – of how we are all flawed, sometimes lonely & just trying our best to get by in this fucked up world. Go read this book now!

I’ve read 75 books so far this year and these were my standout fiction reads. There were lots of other good ones too and you can read reviews on Instagram. Stay tuned for my other instalments for nonfiction and YA reads.

What have been your standout fiction reads this year?

Do share!

***Linking with Leanne for Lovin’ Life Linky***

Until next time,

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  • Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out
    8 December 2020 at 10:34 pm

    I too thought Honeybee was excellent, and I’ve added Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng to my wishlist. Thanks for sharing your favourites

  • Natalie
    10 December 2020 at 11:25 am

    Sanch, Thanks for sharing your fiction favourites. I look forward to your non fiction and YA installments. #lovin’lifelinky
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  • Min @ Write of the Middle
    10 December 2020 at 3:10 pm

    Thank you for your recommendations Sanch! Love your descriptions too. Very helpful! xo

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  • Debbie+Harris
    14 December 2020 at 6:54 pm

    I really must get Honeybee, I’e heard great things about it. I’ve not heard of many of the others so thanks very much for sharing!
    Debbie+Harris recently posted…Happy Beddian Birthday to those of us born in 1960!My Profile

  • Leanne+@+Deep+Fried+Fruit
    17 December 2020 at 8:14 am

    I think I need to get my hands on “A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing”
    Thanks so much for sharing xoxo
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