On November 19, Amazon announced 2020’s Best Books of the Year, selecting Brittany K. Barnett’s “A Knock at Midnight” as the top pick. The inspiring true story is a brilliant memoir of Barnett’s own journey navigating the criminal justice system, which also chronicles the stories of three of her clients. Their lives—including their crimes, their families, and their jail time—are rendered with such care and compassion that the Amazon Books Editors found it impossible to put down.
The process of choosing the Best Books of the Year begins the year prior, as the Amazon Books Editors begin debating the list for January’s Best Books of the Month. The editors collectively read thousands of books each year in service of creating an editorially curated list and reviews each month. These monthly lists culminate in the Best Books of the Year, which includes an overall Top 100 for 2020 as well as top lists for individual genres like literature & fiction, mystery and thriller, children’s books, cookbooks, food & wine, and young adult—all to help customers find their next favorite book or thoughtful holiday gift pick.
“It’s been a year, and the editorial team set out to create a list that reflected what we’ve collectively been experiencing, hearing and seeing in 2020, and also the books that gave us a welcome respite from the anxieties of the world,” said Sarah Gelman, Editorial Director, Amazon Books. “Our number one book practically chose itself. Brittany K. Barnett’s empathetic and genre-bending ‘A Knock at Midnight’ provides a glimpse into the criminal justice system and the seemingly impossible path to freedom. This book is timely and powerful.”
Brittany K. Barnett adds, “I am deeply grateful and honored that ‘A Knock at Midnight’ was chosen Best of the Year. This life has taken me on a remarkable journey – one that continues to transform my understanding of justice and the very definition of freedom itself. There are hundreds of thousands of Americans buried alive under unjust laws, and I hope this book draws attention to their plight and inspires people to take action to push for impactful change.”
For Kindle readers, the most highlighted passage echoed Brittany’s sentiment on how race and class impact our societal norms: “On the very first day of class, this dynamic, poised Black professor – my very first – laid out in the first moments as an inarguable premise something that by now I knew in my very bones: that race shaped all of our lives, brown, white, or Black, in both visible and invisible ways, and that our legal systems were inseparable from our sordid racial past.”
“A Knock At Midnight” joins other incredible titles from the last few years to receive the Best of the Year accolade, including Margaret Atwood’s “The Testaments,” David Grann’s “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” and Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad.”
The Amazon Books Editors Top 10 picks of 2020 are:
- A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom by Brittany K. Barnett: At times, Barnett’s memoir reads like page-turning crime fiction; at others, a galvanizing and redemptive portrait of a lawyer trying to defend Black lives that were never protected in the first place. Urgent, necessary, hopeful—and a knockout read.
- Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy: Teeming with adventure, darkness, love, and loss, Migrations is a novel that’s impossible to put down as you learn about the life of Franny Stone—a sharp, flawed, and determined woman who will stop at nothing to regain what she’s lost.
- Blacktop Wasteland: A Novel by S.A. Cosby: A pedal to the metal thriller about a retired getaway driver, caught between the rock of poverty and the hard place of Southern racism, who gambles on one last heist to get him ahead. Toggling between high-stakes action, and quiet—even tender—family scenes, this is Southern noir with heart.
- Group by Christie Tate: Tate was a summer intern at a law firm and top of her class, and yet her memoir opens with her sitting in her car alone, wishing someone would shoot her. Written with the gift of hindsight, Group is an honest, heart-breaking and hilarious look at reaching rock bottom and climbing your way back to life.
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: Ideal for book clubs, The Vanishing Half examines sisterhood, personal identity, starting fresh, and what it means to be Black (and white) in America. Bennett is known for creating taut family dramas, and like her brilliant debut, The Mothers, this novel shows just how strong the bonds of sisters are, even at their weakest.
- Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie: Set in post WWII Japan, this sweeping story about a love child left with her scandalized, and brutal, grandparents will have you rooting for its resilient heroine, Nori, who must summon the courage to assert her own identity and live life on her own terms. This is a debut you don’t want to miss.
- Caste by Isabel Wilkerson: Ten years after her award-winning The Warmth of Other Suns, Wilkerson argues that our entire social structure is built upon an unrecognized caste system. White people—whether their ancestors were slave owners or abolitionists—have been able to live and thrive under these set assumptions of inequality. This is a mind-expanding book.
- The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré: In this rousing tale of courage and pluck, a 14-year-old Nigerian girl is sold into servitude by her father when her mother—a proponent of education—passes away. You will root for Adunni as she endeavors to escape her sorry—and often harrowing—lot, and applaud the kind strangers who buoy her efforts, and her spirits.
- Memorial by Bryan Washington: Memorial unfolds with depth, humor, and telling detail. Mike is a Japanese-American chef. His partner, Benson, is a Black daycare teacher. When Mike leaves Houston to visit his ailing father in Osaka, his mother comes to live with Benson. You will laugh, cry, and ask yourself: What makes a family?
- Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker: A medical mystery story—with twists and reveals to rival any thriller—that shows how an all-American family was ravaged as an elusive, centuries-old mental illness caught and kept them in its crosshairs for decades.
For more information on the books featured on the Best Books of the Year list, as well as insightful reviews on new books, author interviews, and hand-curated roundups in popular categories, visit the Amazon Book Review at www.amazon.com/amazonbookreview, and subscribe to the Amazon Book Review Podcast on Amazon Music, Apple or TuneIn. You can also follow the Books Editors recommendations and conversations @amazonbooks on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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