If you’ve resolved to be more well-read in 2020 (or just spend more time focusing on something other than every-freaking-body else), you’re in luck — because we’ve done the leg work and put in the reading time to bring you these 20 must-have books for your reading list.
Whether you’re flipping through a paperback on a park bench, staring wide-eyed through the darkness at your Kindle after everyone else has gone to sleep, or scrolling through the chapters on your phone under the guise of “pooping,” these books will bring you to laughter and tears.
1. Schooled by Stephanie Jankowski
If you’re a teacher, know a teacher, or are just looking for the perfect gift for one, high school English teacher and blogger Stephanie Jankowski nails the rewarding-yet-exhausting nature of the profession through humor and inspiration.
2. Silence is a Scary Sound by Clint Edwards
Parents who have ever endured (or, are in the thick of enduring) the twos and threes know exactly what’s so “terrible” about them. And Clint Edwards can commiserate, with hilarious and — unfortunately — relatable essays like “Threenagers Talk a Lot of Smack for Someone With Crocs on the Wrong Feet,” and “‘I’m Done! Wipe My Butt!'”
3. Just Don’t Be An Asshole by Kara Kinney Cartwright
Kara Kinney Cartwright is a mom on a mission to rid the world of assholes with this handy little guide geared toward young men. With straight-forward, funny, and practical advice and insight, this is a must-read for parents of teens — and the teens too.
4. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
While this isn’t a new book, it has recently been made into a movie — and everybody knows the book is always better than the movie, so it’s worth a read. Especially this real-life story of Walter McMillian, a black man wrongfully jailed for the murder of a white woman, and his lawyer’s fight for justice.
5. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
In small-town Ohio in the 1970s, Chinese-American Lydia Lee is her parents’ favorite child, and they have high hopes for her to do big things. But then she is found dead in a local lake, and the family structure they’ve built begins to collapse.
6. I Brushed My Hair Today: A Mom Journal for Mostly Together Moms by Karen Johnson
Someday you’ll miss this — right? Document it all, and laugh out loud in the process, with the prompts and mom quotes in Karen Johnson’s journal designed specifically for parents in the trenches.
7. The Best Laid Plans by Cameron Lund
With a sex-positive message, this book tackles romance and sex in a teen’s world with refreshing honesty. Perfect for teens and their parents (or anyone who loves who needs a little reminder about what it was like to be a teen).
8. Ordinary Girls: A Memoir by Jaquira Díaz
Set in the housing projects of Puerto Rico and Miami Beach, Jaquira Díaz paints a vivid portrait about coming of age with a family split apart by a mother’s mental illness, her own struggles with depression and sexual assault, and her sexual identity.
9. Parked by Danielle Svetcov
This middle grade book is perfect for parents and tweens/teens to read together. It puts a face on homelessness and is a testament to the power of friendship. You won’t be able to put it down. Trust.
10. Tomorrow I’ll Be Kind by Jessica Hische
A follow-up to Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave, this one is for the littlest readers in your family. With gorgeous photos and a motivating message, you’ll want to add this to your nightly line-up.
11. Small Great Things: A Novel by Jodi Picoult
Soon to be made into a movie, this New York Times bestseller from Jodi Picoult follows the harrowing story of labor and delivery nurse Ruth Jefferson, barred from caring for a child by its white supremacist parents — and the moral dilemma that tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion.
12. How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids by Carla Naumberg, Ph.D.
Parents, we’ve all been there. If you’re tired of feeling snippy and overly-impatient (*raises hand*), this book of realistic tips, framed in the nonjudgmental way we all need, will help even the most stressed out parent to stay calm and recognize their own stressors.
13. The Labor of Lunch: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools (Vol. 70) by Jennifer E. Gaddis
The school lunch program in America needs a major overhaul, and Jennifer E. Gaddis provides a fascinating and feminist look at its history, along with her vision for a radical (and much-needed) school lunch reform.
14. Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks
When author Kim Brooks made a split-second decision to leave her four-year-old in the car while she made a quick dash into the store, someone reported her to the police — and a two-year legal battle ensued. Small Animals is a riveting look at our modern culture of judgmental and competitive parenting.
15. You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
A witty collection of essays from comedian Phoebe Robinson, You Can’t Touch My Hair tackles race, feminism, and pop culture in a fun and conversational way. It’s a hilarious-yet-real look at what it means to be a black woman in America today.
16. Refugee by Alan Gratz
Alan Gratz’s Refugee tells the stories of three children — Josef, fleeing Nazi Germany; Isabel, fleeing 90s-era Cuba; and Mahmoud, fleeing Syria in 2015. Though their journeys span different decades and parts of the world, they all face unthinkable dangers and are bound by one timeless connection: hope.
17. An American Marriage: A Novel by Tayari Jones
An American Marriage tells the tale of a love put to the test like few books can do, while also capturing the struggle of Black Americans and the impact of institutional racism. In the book, newlyweds Celestial and Roy are ripped suddenly and unexpectedly apart when Roy is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. Celestial is unable to hold onto the love she had for Roy — and must deal with the consequences when Roy’s conviction is overturned after five years and he’s ready to move forward together. You will rage and cry and everything in between.
18. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
When 16-year-old Starr Carter witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend by police officers, everyone wants to know what really went on that night. What Starr chooses to say could impact her community — and her life.
19. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
This is a memoir about being big in a fat-phobic world, but beyond that, it’s the story of Roxane Gay’s journey to reclaim the self-love she never should have lost, written in a ferociously honest and candid style that resonates with all of us.
20. All The Days Past, All The Days To Come by Mildred Taylor
This is Taylor’s 10th book and it’s set during the civil rights movement in America of the 20th century. If you’ve read any of Taylor’s previous novels, it carries the story of the Logan family in expert fashion. But even if you haven’t read any of Taylor’s previous books, you can jump into her compelling storytelling.
Editors may receive samples and/or we may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. All opinions are our own.