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160: Unabridged Podcast Book Awards for 2020

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

episode graphic featuring a heart made out of book pages and text Episode 160: Unabridged Awards: Best of 2020

In this episode of the Unabridged Podcast, Ashley, Jen, and Sara offer up their book awards for 2020. After sharing their Bookish Check-ins, they each present their award categories and their book picks, which include adult and young adult titles. They end the episode with Non-Bookish Awards.

What 2020 books have stood out for you?

Bookish Check-in

Ashley - Talia Hibbert’s Take a Hint, Dani Brown

Jen - Lisa Ko’s The Leavers

Sara - Liz Moore’s Long Bright River

Our Book Picks for Our 2020 Unabridged Awards

Ashley -

A Romance Book that Taught Me I Can Love Love Books - Helen Hoang’s The Bride Test

A New to Me Book that is Fascinating and Important - Brittany Morris’s SLAY (YA Lit Pick)

Jen -

Favorite Re-Read that Was a New Discovery - Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible

A New Take on an Old Subject - Traci Chee’s We Are Not Free (YA Lit Pick)

Sara -

Favorite Memoir that Made Me Laugh Out Loud - R. Eric Thomas’s Here For It

Most Important Book of the Year - Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (YA Lit Pick)

Other Mentions

Casey McQuiston's Red, White, and Royal Blue

Farrah Rochon's The Boyfriend Project

Helen Hoang's The Kiss Quotient

Beth Macy's Dopesick

Previous Awards Episodes

Interested in more awards? Here are the Unabridged Podcast Awards episodes from 2019 and 2018.

Give Me One - Non-Bookish Unabridged Awards

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Bookish Check-in

book cover of Liz Moore's Long Bright River

Sara said, "I'm reading Liz Moore's Long Bright River, I'm listening to it on Libro FM, and I am almost finished. It is part mystery, part kind of family drama. The main character of the book name is Michaela, and everybody calls her Mickey for short. She is a police officer in a particular section of Philadelphia that has really been impacted by the opioid epidemic. She has some family connections with that, and she is also trying to solve these murders that are happening to these young women who are, you know, on the streets. There is just kind of a serial killer type thing happening. So she's trying to figure out what is going on with that, and she's also trying to find her sister who has been impacted by drug addiction. She hasn't seen her in several months. So, it's kind of all this stuff intersecting and how they relate to each other. It's very compelling. I am really enjoying it.

"I think that if you like that type of police procedural type thing, and you like reading stories about family dynamics, I think it would be really good for you. I think that it is solid. It's not my most favorite book, but I definitely was compelled to find out the resolution of the story and I think it's well written. And I think having read Dopesick, which is a nonfiction book by Beth Macy, it definitely gave me an appreciation for this particular fictional story. I think that that what Dopesick did for me is when I read these types of books, it gives me a better understanding of where the story is going and how addiction impacts families and gives me compassion for that. So, I really liked it. I thought it was solid. So, that is Liz Moore's Long Bright River and it's excellent on audio, the narrator's great."

book cover of Talia Hibbert's Take a Hint, Dani Brown

Ashley said, "I am reading Talia Hibbert's Take a Hint, Dani Brown, and I have talked on here before I think, at least for a bookish check-in, about Chloe Brown, and I absolutely loved that. And not only did I love that story, but also, I loved her style and her characters, and I just felt like I am here for the style that she has and the voices she creates. And so Dani Brown is Chloe Brown's sister. So it is like separate stories, but there are some connections. I'm not very far into it, because like I said, I'm supposed to be reading these other things on my ereader. But alas, that one has popped up on my Kindle, and so I started it last night. So, far all I know is that Dani Brown is a professor at a university, and she has had a somewhat casual relationship with a colleague. That fell apart, and part of why that fell apart is that she did not want this like romantic commitment. She really wanted to try to keep things casual. She feels like that is her destiny, and that she is not able to have a more romantic relationship. So instead, she wants things to be casual with partners, and so that's kind of the premise of the book, is her reeling from the emotional impact of that, but also wanting to believe that she's not reeling from it.

"Early on, we see that experience for her. Very early in the book, she runs into the colleague, and they have this kind of brusque exchange. You can tell it both of them have feelings for each other, but that it's just not going work out as they move forward, and meanwhile, there is a security guard at the building where she works who definitely has her attention, and she is aware of him, and he's aware of her, and yet he knows that she's had this relationship with a female colleague. So, he is kind of interested but can't tell what her feelings are. Then right at the beginning there is a gas alarm, and she gets stuck in an elevator, so that's where I am right now. She is stuck in an elevator in the building and the security guard, I hope, is going to realize that she is stuck and and then I'm sure that interesting things will ensue. And I am here for it. I love her voice. I love Dani Brown as a character. And like I said, I just felt like with this and the other book that I felt like this right away when I read Chloe Brown. I was like I can read everything this that this author writes. I just really enjoy her characters, and I love the relationships between the women, and the stories were great. In Chloe Brown's story, the sisters had a really great relationship. And so I just think all that is really richly drawn. So again, that is Talia Hibbert's Take a Hint, Dani Brown, and it's number two. They're loosely connected, but I don't think that you have to read one or the other."

book cover of Lisa Ko's The Leavers

Jen said, "So, I am in the middle of Lisa Ko's The Leavers. It's about a boy named Deming who grew up in China until he was about 10, and then his mother brought him to the United States to live with her where she has been, so he'd been raised by his grandfather. He absolutely loves his mom. He thinks she's amazing. They're very close, and they live with her mom's boyfriend, Leon and the boyfriend's sister, Vivian, and the sister's son. So it's this tight-knit kind of found family that is really fun to watch. One day his mom disappears, and they have no idea where she went. They had plans to move to Florida. They live in New York City, and they had plans to move to Florida. But Leon and Vivian, Leon's sister, don't think that she's gone there. They don't know. They just don't know, and so for a while, they're all still there in the apartment, kind of hoping that his mom will come back.

"Leon eventually goes to China himself, leaving Deming with Vivian and her son, Michael. And finally, one day, Vivian takes Deming by the hand, and basically gives him over to foster care, and he ends up being adopted by these two white college professors in this really small town where he is the only student, the only kid of color. He just feels really outside of things. He has major fear that he's going to be abandoned if he does the wrong thing. So it's really, really heartbreaking, and then it flashes forward, and we see him as an adult. And the damage that trauma has caused, like he's okay kind of, but clearly, there are still things he's reeling from. So we're sort of seeing how those experiences when he was so young have impacted him as an adult. So that's where I am right now. And that's actually there's a big spoiler that happens next in the plot after what I just described. So I don't want to go into that. But yeah, it's a brilliant novel. It's really, really well written, but also quite propulsive. It's really compelling. . . . It's one of those issues books without feeling like an issues book. So when I break it down, I can think of all these issues we're going to talk about in the buddy read. But what I'm feeling are compassion for the characters and interest in what's coming next in the plot. So that is Lisa Ko's The Leavers."

Main Discussion—Unabridged Awards 2020

Ashley's Choices

A Romance Book that Taught Me I Can Love Love Books—Helen Hoang’s The Bride Test

book cover of Helen Hoang's The Bride Test

Ashley said, "Esme Tran is one of the main characters, and she is trying to get out of Ho Chi Minh City. Her life situation is really desperate, and she really needs a way to make a better life for herself and her young daughter. The other main character is Khai, and he lives in America, and he believes that he has no feelings, and so he is thinking that he's never going to have a romantic partner, that's just not something that's going to be in his life. Meanwhile, other people in his life see how kind and caring and loyal he is, and they're wanting him to have a relationship. So his mom is doing some meddling and is trying to bring about some romance in his life. All of that leads toward Esme and Khai meeting. I was just absolutely here for the story. I think that I love the romance part."

A New to Me Book that is Fascinating and Important - Brittany Morris’s SLAY (YA Lit Pick)

book cover of Brittney Morris's SLAY

Ashley said, "My next pick is a new to me book that is fascinating and important. And that is Brittany Morris's SLAY, I read this one right at the beginning of 2020. I think why I wanted to share it is because I had not heard a tremendous amount about it prior to reading it. Jen recommended it to me, I believe is how I came across reading it. But I really hadn't seen that many people talking about it, and I was blown away. I just thought it was a brilliant book. So in this one, Kiera is the main character, and she, unbeknownst to everybody in her life, she has created a game that is only for black people. So everybody knows she's a gamer. But what they don't know about her is that she's also created this game, and that that game is a roaring success. So everyone knows about the game, all these people are playing it, but no one realizes that she is the one who is the creator. So, she's protected her identity and created it. But she's created it as a safe space for black gamers, and so it's really a celebration of blackness. It is a remarkable game that gives them a space that the black gamers participating are really enjoying, but because it is exclusive and reserved for black gamers, it causes all this controversy because it becomes a huge phenomenon and all these people are playing. Then, it's all in the news. And it's being really scrutinized. And people are giving it all kinds of negative labels, and saying how dare people do that and you know, exclude other people and all that kind of stuff."

Sara's Choices

My Favorite Memoir that Made Me Laugh Out Loud—R. Eric Thomas's Here For It

book cover of R. Eric Thomas's Here for It

Sara said, "I decided to do my favorite memoir that made me laugh out loud, and that is R Eric Thomas's Here For It. I've actually talked about it in another episode, because that was one of my recommendations for Ashley for our recommendations episode. So, what I loved about this memoir is that normally for me, essays are difficult for me to read. I would rather read a memoir that has a narrative structure as opposed to multiple essays, but R. Eric Thomas's book, this is essays, but they're in chronological order. So, it's kind of like the best of both worlds. And I just found his voice amazing for one thing, I listened to it on audio, and he reads it. So, hearing an author read his own words and also him talking about being Black and being gay and trying to navigate the both of those things and especially being gay in his faith. I just thought it was all very eye opening, but he has this great humor, and he does this really awesome thing in the memoir with mixing some really serious topics and him really, on this path to self discovery with really funny, inconsequential things, but just hilarious kind of, I don't know, these little moments of hilarity for his readers. And I mean, I, this was back, I read this back in the summer when I was walking in the mornings a lot all by myself. And I would be walking, I'm trying to power walk, and trying not to laugh out loud."

Most Important Book of the Year—Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (YA Lit Pick)

book cover of Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped

Sara said, "So my award is the most important book of the year. And that book for me is Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi's, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. And the reason that I chose this one is because I feel like this is such an important book, especially in 2020. I think that it really lays out some foundational things that have happened in our country over time for young adults so that they can understand why things happened in 2020 the way they did. I think, as an adult reading it, I learned so much from it, and I listened to it, and Jason Reynolds reads it. He is phenomenal."

Jen's Choices

A Favorite Reread—Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible

book cover of Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible

So my first pick is a favorite reread that was a new discovery. And this is Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, a. I had read this, oh my gosh, probably 20 years ago, and I will just say I love Barbara Kingsolver. I love all things Barbara Kingsolver. But I have always said, since I read that book, that this is the one book of hers that I did not love. And I don't know what I was thinking before. I don't know why I didn't enjoy it. That book is absolutely brilliant. So it is the story of a family in—it's like the late 1950s, early 1960s. They go to the Congo as missionaries, and it's four daughters, and then their parents, and they are completely unprepared for what they will find there. The chapters are narrated by each of the four daughters and by their mother, and the voices are completely distinct. I would know from sentence one, even if their names weren't in it, who was speaking with each new chapter. Their personalities are unique. Each is approaching, you know, the whole concept of colonialism and of being in this place where they go in. Their dad Nathan thinks that he is going to go in and just save the whole village and just turn everything around and sort of fix these people without any understanding of who they are or what their living situations are, and he doesn't have any interest getting to know the people at all. So you see these girls, you know, initially one of them very much loves her dad and she wants his approval, and so she tries to do all these things. Then she starts getting to know these people and understanding their lives, and it's just about how you react to change, how you react to new information, how much you feel like you can exert your will on the world and other people will follow what you think they should do, and how much you have to accept that situations matter and that how people live matters and that you can go in thinking you know, everything, but you have to be open to the idea that you have things to learn as well. And yeah, I just it has a long scope of time. So it is truly epic, just in scope."

A New Take on an Old Subject—Traci Chee’s We Are Not Free (YA Lit Pick)

book cover of Traci Chee's We Are Not Free

Jen said, "All right, so this one is a new take on an old subject. And I have talked often on the podcast about my World War II book fatigue, and it's not that I don't appreciate the value that those add, but I have read a lot of books about World War II, and often I feel like the perspectives are the same. This year, for whatever reason, I happened to read a lot of books about the incarceration camps that happened in the United States and about Japanese-Americans' experiences in those, and a lot of the books were excellent. But the one I want to shout out now is Traci Chee's We Are Not Free. And this young adult book, I could not love it more. It is about fourteen, second-generation Japanese-Americans who come from the same community, and some of them end up in the same camp for a while, and then end up spread out. It's boys and girls. There is one chapter devoted to each voice. And they are unique both in their perspectives, but also in writing style. She does a lot of experimentation. "


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