Novel Approach: The best books we escaped into during 2020

Escapism was very important to many of us in 2020. Given the strains of the pandemic, who could really blame anyone for wanting to slip away into a fictional world? This year has offered plenty of wonderful titles, but here are a few of our favorite titles that captivated us during the past year.

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

Emezi gradually offers up each devastating puzzle piece to Vivek’s story as the past and present come together to reveal the snapshot moment of Vivek’s life and death. Emezi’s charismatic depiction of the dazzling Vivek glows brighter with each page, breathing fresh life into a character who was dead from the very first sentence. Instead of allowing death to dull the vivacious titular character, Emezi’s writing illuminates Vivek, allowing his story to resonate much farther than the reader could anticipate.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Turton’s sophomore novel is an inventive and brilliantly crafted novel as his rich characters work to understand what is happening aboard their doomed ship. The story is narrated through multiple perspectives allowing readers to sink deeper and deeper into this Sherlockian mystery with an occult twist. As the plot progresses Turton’s novel examines how people don’t need the meddling of a devil to conduct evil acts.

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

If you were to throw Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo and Juliet” into a blender with 1920’s debauchery and glitzy Shanghai gangsters readers would find themselves with Gong’s delectable page turner, “These Violent Delights.”

Readers are sure to be captivated by the glitz and grime described in Gong’s decadent story as a politically prickling Shanghai sets the backdrop for this powderkeg of a tale about lovers, gangsters and the monster terrorizing the city.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Bestselling author Fredrik Backman’s latest novel takes readers through a charming and funny tale of a botched attempted bank robbery, a puzzling hostage situation and a bridge. From the very first page the reader is taken along a surprising series of twists and turns as a pair of police officers try to locate a bank robber who disappeared after releasing hostages from an apartment viewing.

This beautifully empathetic story explores suicide and the obstacles that can lead people to make poor choices or the complicated systems in place that leave people feeling trapped in negative situations. “Anxious People” is a lighthearted tale that will leave readers now knowing where the next page will take them.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel is a tour de force about a woman coming to terms with the abuse that defined and shaped her life. Vanessa was 15-years-old when she fell in love with her teacher, lots of kids can have a crush on their teacher, but in Vanessa’s case her teacher was in love with her as well. “My Dark Vanessa” is an astounding #MeToo era novel that introduces readers to Vanessa and her story as an adult who is watching the love of her life, Strane, face allegations of sexual assault from his former students. When one of his accusers reaches out to Vanessa, asking if she’ll join their cause the story shifts and reveals how she was a lonely child, groomed by her teacher and manipulated into believing that their relationship was a beautiful and ill fated love story.

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

At 18 the pizza girl feels trapped and untethered all at the same time until she gets a call requesting a pickle and pepperoni pizza. When making that delivery the pizza girl forms an intimate connection with the caller Jenny who begins to occupy the protagonist’s thoughts.

Frazier captures so many aching emotions as she tells the tale of a lonely teenager who finds herself on the cusp of motherhood without a plan while she tries to explore her identity and her feelings. Frazier’s propulsive narrative springs forward with the protagonist’s quirky observations and distinct voice in her distinctly original novel.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

In her latest novel, “Hamnet” Maggie O’Farrell crafts a portrait of a family as they lose one of their own to plague in England during 1580. O’Farrell’s beautiful description palpably conjures the images of bucolic life in Stratford as she weaves her heart rending tale. Her mesmerizing depiction of Shakespeare and his family is not to be missed as she writes about the family’s personal tragedy with delicate care and compassion.

One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London

After a drunken blog post about how the reality matchmaking series “Main Squeeze” (think “The Bachelor”) fails to offer and diversity within the contestants appearance goes viral, the show offers to have body positive blogger Bea be their first plus size contestant. As Kate Stayman-London’s novel unfolds readers will find themselves rooting for Bea to find love and many will relate to Bea’s anxieties about finding love. “One to Watch” is a heartfelt tale about Bea learning how to open herself up to heartbreak in an attempt to find love.

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

“How Much of These Hills is Gold” bursts with an electric energy as the children reach out their hands, not just for survival, but for a home to call their own. Living in a territory where their faces mark them as different, in a harsh place where the children have to live off the land or steal to survive their father’s endlessly optimistic pursuit of gold drives Sam to want more adventure while Lucy dreams of a simple life among other people. As the siblings go about their travels Zhang unveils the events of the children’s childhood as well their family’s origin story. Zhang writes a rich narrative echoing the suffering and hope of a failed prospector’s child in Lucy and Sam’s haunting search for a home.

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

Plunk “Heathers,” “The Craft,” a field hockey stick and a can of Aqua Net into a blender and you’ll get Quan Barry’s clever novel. “We Ride Upon Sticks'' follows the 1989 Danver Falcons varsity field hockey team as they embark on an unconventional team bonding activity, forming a coven, to ensure their team makes it to the state championships. This particular tale of witchcraft goes far beyond the typical teen hocus pocus after the teammates sign their name in the devil’s book, which happens to be a journal plastered with Emilio Estevez’s face. As the team surprisingly improves throughout the season, each of the Varsity teammates comes into their own with the help of their chaos causing rituals and Emilio.