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32 Impressive Indie Press Books from 2020

"32 Impressive Indie Press Books from 2020" by Joe Walters is a book list of some of the most impressive independent press books from the year. It includes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and books for younger readers.

“32 Impressive Indie Press Books from 2020”

Curated by Joe Walters

Make room on your bookshelves. It’s time for our list of impressive indie press books from 2020!

Every year, independent presses put out acclaimed and award-winning work. More often than not, they are doing this with a lower budget and fewer staff members than many of the big five publishers and their imprints.

So I think it’s about time we celebrate these awesome indies–with a big old end-of-the-year book list!

I’ve seen a whole lot of great books flash across my inbox and social-feeds this year, and I’ve flown through my fair share of pages, too, so I decided to stop being so stingy and curate this year’s list of impressive indie press books. I hope you enjoy it.

I’ve chosen my list with care, almost like a book-nerd mixtape. There are stories in here that’ll send you somewhere new, that’ll amaze you, thrill you, make you sad and make you happy at the same time; by my including these books out of the thousands in indie press lit, I’m saying they’re worth a shot. If you think the cover and the description sound awesome, make sure to head on over to Bookshop and support your indie bookseller in the process.

In no particular order, here’s our list of 32 Impressive Indie Press Books from 2020!


Fiction

#1. Virtuoso

by Yelena Moskovich

book cover for virtuoso by yelena moskovich, for indie press book list

Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Genre: LGBTQ Literary

About the Book:

As Communism begins to crumble in Prague in the 1980s, Jana’s unremarkable life becomes all at once remarkable when a precocious young girl named Zorka moves into the apartment building with her mother and sick father. With Zorka’s signature two-finger salute and abrasive wit, she brings flair to the girls’ days despite her mother’s protestations to not “be weird.” But after scorching her mother’s prized fur coat and stealing from a nefarious teacher, Zorka suddenly disappears.

Meanwhile in Paris, Aimée de Saint-Pé married young to an older woman, Dominique, an actress whose star has crested and is in decline. A quixotic journey of self-discovery, Virtuoso follows Zorka as she comes of age in Prague, Wisconsin, and then Boston, amidst a backdrop of clothing logos, MTV, computer coders, and other outcast youth. But it isn’t till a Parisian conference hall brimming with orthopedic mattresses and therapeutic appendages when Jana first encounters Aimée, their fates steering them both to a cryptic bar on the Rue de Prague, and, perhaps, to Zorka.

With a distinctive prose flair and spellbinding vision, Virtuoso is a story of love, loss, and self-discovery that heralds Yelena Moskovich as a brilliant and one-of-a-kind visionary.

#2. A Girl Is a Body of Water

by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

Publisher: Tin House

Genre: Coming of Age & Womanhood

About the Book:

In her thirteenth year, Kirabo confronts a piercing question that has haunted her childhood: who is my mother? Kirabo has been raised by women in the small Ugandan village of Nattetta―her grandmother, her best friend, and her many aunts―but the absence of her mother follows her like a shadow. Complicating these feelings of abandonment, as Kirabo comes of age she feels the emergence of a mysterious second self, a headstrong and confusing force inside her at odds with her sweet and obedient nature.

Seeking answers, Kirabo begins spending afternoons with Nsuuta, the local witch, trading stories and learning not only about this force inside her, but about the woman who birthed her, who she learns is alive but not ready to meet. Nsuuta also explains that Kirabo has a streak of the “first woman”―an independent, original state that has been all but lost to women.

Kirabo’s journey to reconcile her rebellious origins, alongside her desire to reconnect with her mother and to honor her family’s expectations, is rich in the folklore of Uganda and an arresting exploration of what it means to be a modern girl in a world that seems determined to silence women. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s unforgettable novel is a sweeping testament to the true and lasting connections between history, tradition, family, friends, and the promise of a different future.

#3. Anthropica

by David Hollander

Publisher: Animal Riot Press

Genre: Literary Science Fiction

About the Book:

A Hungarian fatalist convinced that the human race is a blemish on God’s otherwise beautiful universe; a statistician who has determined that we completely exhaust the earth’s resources every 30 days; a failing novelist whose nihilistic fiction has doomed her halfhearted quest for tenure; an Ultimate Frisbee-playing man-child who has discovered a fractal pattern contained within all matter, but is nevertheless obsessed with the chase for a National Championship; a banished race of mole people preparing for a violent uprising; a factory filled with human heads being mined for information; a former philosophy professor with ALS who has discovered, as he becomes “locked in,” that he can make things happen simply by wanting them badly enough; and a trio of vengeful, superintelligent robots secretly imprisoned in an underground hangar in Iksan, South Korea, patiently waiting for some gullible human(s) to release them.

This is a partial cast of Anthropica, a novel that puts Laszlow Katasztrófa’s beautiful vision of a universe without us to the test. Because even if Laszlow believes that he is merely an agent of fate, a cog in God’s inscrutable machine, he’s nevertheless the one driving this crazy machine. And once he has his team assembled, it turns out that he might-against all odds and his own expectations-actually have the tools to see his apocalyptic plan to fruition.

#4. Fiebre Tropical

by Juliana Delgado Lopera

Publisher: Feminist Press

Genre: Hispanic American Literature & Fiction

About the Book:

Lit by the hormonal neon glow of Miami, this heady, multilingual debut novel follows a Colombian teenager’s coming-of-age and coming out as she plunges headfirst into lust and evangelism.

Uprooted from her comfortable life in Bogotá, Colombia, into an ant-infested Miami townhouse, fifteen-year-old Francisca is miserable and friendless in her strange new city. Her alienation grows when her mother is swept up into an evangelical church, replete with Christian salsa, abstinent young dancers, and baptisms for the dead.

But there, Francisca also meets the magnetic Carmen: opinionated and charismatic, head of the youth group, and the pastor’s daughter. As her mother’s mental health deteriorates and her grandmother descends into alcoholism, Francisca falls more and more intensely in love with Carmen. To get closer to her, Francisca turns to Jesus to be saved, even as their relationship hurtles toward a shattering conclusion.

#5. Temporary

by Hilary Leichter

Publisher: Coffee House Press

Genre: Magical realism

About the Book:

In Temporary, a young woman’s workplace is the size of the world. She fills increasingly bizarre placements in search of steadiness, connection, and something, at last, to call her own. Whether it’s shining an endless closet of shoes, swabbing the deck of a pirate ship, assisting an assassin, or filling in for the Chairman of the Board, for the mythical Temporary, “there is nothing more personal than doing your job.” 

This riveting quest, at once hilarious and profound, will resonate with anyone who has ever done their best at work, even when the work is only temporary.

#6. The Enlightenment of Greengage Tree

by Shokoofeh Azar

The enlightenment of the greengage tree is in our impressive indies.

Publisher: Europa Editions

Genre: Family life

About the Book:

FINALIST for the 2020 INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE

From the pen of one of Iran’s rising literary stars, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is a family story about the unbreakable connection between the living and the dead.

Set in Iran in the decade following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, this moving, richly imagined novel is narrated by the ghost of Bahar, a thirteen-year-old girl, whose family is compelled to flee their home in Tehran for a new life in a small village, hoping in this way to preserve both their intellectual freedom and their lives. But they soon find themselves caught up in the post-revolutionary chaos that sweeps across their ancient land. Bahar’s mother, after a tragic loss, will embark on a long, eventful journey in search of meaning in a world swept up in the post-revolutionary madness.

Told from the wise yet innocent gaze of a young girl, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree speaks of the power of imagination when confronted with cruelty, and of our human need to make sense of trauma through the ritual of storytelling itself. Through her unforgettable characters, Azar weaves a timely and timeless story that juxtaposes the beauty of an ancient, vibrant culture with the brutality of an oppressive political regime.

#7. Little Feasts

by Jules Archer

Publisher: Thirty West Publishing

Genre: Feminist short fiction

About the Book:

Following her successes from All the Ghosts We’ve Always Had, critically-acclaimed flash fiction writer, Jules Archer, returns to the dinner table with Little Feasts, her debut short story collection. The stories are a table-long buffet of femininity, a lying tree, childhood innocence, toxic masculinity, and a 20-pound cast-iron skillet. Works within have been featured in Five:2: One, SmokeLong Quarterly, Maudlin House, PANK, and more.

#8. The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing

by Joseph Fasano

Publisher: Platypus Press

Genre: Literary

About the Book:

Deep in the mountains of British Columbia, across an unforgiving landscape, one man’s pursuit of a fabled mountain lion leads him into the furthest reaches of himself. As he struggles to confront the wilderness surrounding him–from the baying hounds to the relentless northern snows–he journeys into his own haunted memories: a life of wild horses and ballet, fishing skiffs and blizzards, tropical seas and dolphins. Through wind, snow, and the depths of grief, he asks what price he is willing to exact on a world that ravages what we love, and whether redemption awaits those who learn to forgive. A tender story of love and a modern-day parable, The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing, the debut novel from acclaimed poet Joseph Fasano, guides us into the deepest territories of the human heart.

#9. She Is a Beast

by Christina Rosso

Publisher: Apep Publications

Genre: Feminist fairy tales

About the Book:

She is a Beast is an illustrated collection of feminist fairy tales published by APEP Publications in May 2020. Some are re-imaginings of the classic tales we know, such as Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, while others are completely original. This collection is about women reclaiming their stories and finding agency by embracing their beastly natures and adopting monstrous appetites deemed inappropriate by society. In their wildness they find freedom. 

#10. Collective Gravities

by Chloe N. Clark

Publisher: Word West

Genre: Genre-bending short fiction

About the Book:

In Collective Gravities, something magical is always just beneath the surface–the zombie apocalypse happens, but the world stays relatively the same; a woman begins to feel the earth moving beneath her feet. In this fantastical, genre-bending collection, Chloe N. Clark launches readers from Iowa, to outer space, and back again. Lyrical, funny, and full of transcendent beauty, Collective Gravities is a cause for celebration: an astronomically gifted writer, who, in twenty-six stories, shows us an entire world (and beyond) full of heartbreak, hope, redemption, and wonder.

#11. Elegy for the Undead

by Matthew Vesely

Publisher: Lanternfish Press

Genre: Literary Science Fiction

About the Book:

Jude and Lyle’s newlywed life is shattered when a vicious attack leaves Lyle infected with a disease that transforms him into a violent and often incomprehensible person. With no cure for the “zombie” virus in sight, the young husbands begin to face the last months they have together before Lyle loses himself completely. Fond remembrances of young love meet the challenges of navigating a partner’s terminal illness in this bittersweet tale that explores both how we fall in love and how we say goodbye when the time comes far too soon.

#12. The Hole

by Hiroko Oyamada

Publisher: New Directions Publishing

Genre: Absurdism

About the Book:

Asa’s husband is transferring jobs, and his new office is located near his family’s home in the countryside. During an exceptionally hot summer, the young married couple move in, and Asa does her best to quickly adjust to their new rural lives, to their remoteness, to the constant presence of her in-laws and the incessant buzz of cicadas. While her husband is consumed with his job, Asa is left to explore her surroundings on her own: she makes trips to the supermarket, halfheartedly looks for work, and tries to find interesting ways of killing time.

One day, while running an errand for her mother-in-law, she comes across a strange creature, follows it to the embankment of a river, and ends up falling into a hole―a hole that seems to have been made specifically for her. This is the first in a series of bizarre experiences that drive Asa deeper into the mysteries of this rural landscape filled with eccentric characters and unidentifiable creatures, leading her to question her role in this world, and eventually, her sanity.

#13. The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment

by Therese Doucet

Publisher: DX Varos, Ltd

Genre: Historical fantasy

About the Book:

Violaine, a devotee of books and learning, is sold by her father to a mysterious nobleman to become his companion. Fearing herself at the mercy of a monster, Violaine instead succumbs to the seductive spell of her magical new home, and the love of a man she has never seen, who comes to her only in the darkness of night.

The Château de Boisaulne is a place of many mysteries, but also a refuge for children of the Enlightenment in a time when Europe still languishes under the repressive chains of monarchy and superstition. But modern thought meets ancient lore, as the castle borders the forest lair of the roi des aulnes, an ogre said to be the ancestor of Violaine’s unseen lover … or are they one and the same?

#14. What Shines from It

by Sara Rauch

what shines from it by sara rauch

Publisher: Alternating Current Press

Genre: Literary Short Fiction

About the Book:

The eleven stories in Sara Rauch’s What Shines from It are rife with the physical and psychic wounds of everyday life. In “Beholden,” girl meets boy meets the unsettled spirits of post-9/11 New York City, but her future can’t hold them all. In “Kitten,” a struggling veteran and his wife argue over adopting an abandoned kitten, deepening their financial and emotional rifts. In “Abandon,” a ghost-baby ravages a woman’s body following a late-term miscarriage, marring her chances for new love. And in “Kintsukuroi,” a married potter falls for a married geologist and discovers the luminosity of being broken.

What Shines from It is populated by women on the verge of transcendence—brimming with anger and love—and working-class artists haunted by the ghosts of their desires. Abiding by a distinctly guarded New England sensibility, these stories inhabit the borderlands of long-established cities, where humans are still learning to embrace the natural world. Subtly exploring sexualities, relationships, birth and rebirth, identity, ghosts, and longing, Rauch searches for the places where our protective shells are cracked and, in spare, poetic language, limns those edges of loneliness and loss with light.

Nonfiction

#15. The Magical Language of Others

by E.J. Koh

Publisher: Tin House

Genre: Memoir, Mothers & Daughters

About the Book:

A tale of deep bonds to family, place, language―of hard-won selfhood told by a singular, incandescent voice.

The Magical Language of Others is a powerful and aching love story in letters, from mother to daughter. After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh’s parents return to South Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in California. Overnight, Eun Ji finds herself abandoned and adrift in a world made strange by her mother’s absence. Her mother writes letters, in Korean, over the years seeking forgiveness and love―letters Eun Ji cannot fully understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box.

As Eun Ji translates the letters, she looks to history―her grandmother Jun’s years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, the horrors her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre―and to poetry, as well as her own lived experience to answer questions inside all of us. Where do the stories of our mothers and grandmothers end and ours begin? How do we find words―in Korean, Japanese, English, or any language―to articulate the profound ways that distance can shape love? Eun Ji Koh fearlessly grapples with forgiveness, reconciliation, legacy, and intergenerational trauma, arriving at insights that are essential reading for anyone who has ever had to balance love, longing, heartbreak, and joy.

#16. The Names of All the Flowers

by Melissa Valentine

Publisher: Feminist Press

Genre: Race & Loss

About the Book:

Set in rapidly gentrifying 1990s Oakland, this memoir—”poignant, painful, and gorgeous” (Alicia Garza)—explores siblinghood, adolescence, and grief in a family shattered by loss.

Melissa and her older brother Junior grow up running around the disparate neighborhoods of 1990s Oakland, two of six children to a white Quaker father and a black Southern mother. But as Junior approaches adolescence, a bullying incident and later a violent attack in school leave him searching for power and a sense of self in all the wrong places; he develops a hard front and falls into drug dealing. Right before Junior’s twentieth birthday, the family is torn apart when he is murdered as a result of gun violence.

The Names of All the Flowers connects one tragic death to a collective grief for all black people who die too young. A lyrical recounting of a life lost, Melissa Valentine’s debut memoir is an intimate portrait of a family fractured by the school-to-prison pipeline and an enduring love letter to an adored older brother. It is a call for justice amid endless cycles of violence, grief, and trauma, declaring: “We are all witness and therefore no one is spared from this loss.”

#17. A History of My Brief Body

by Billy-Ray Belcourt

a history of my brief body from indie press list from independent book review

Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Genre: Sexuality, Race, & Colonial Canada

About the Book:

The youngest ever winner of the Griffin Prize mines his personal history in a brilliant new essay collection seeking to reconcile the world he was born into with the world that could be.

For readers of Ocean Vuong and Maggie Nelson and fans of Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot, A History of My Brief Body is a brave, raw, and fiercely intelligent collection of essays and vignettes on grief, colonial violence, joy, love, and queerness.

Billy-Ray Belcourt’s debut memoir opens with a tender letter to his kokum and memories of his early life in the hamlet of Joussard, Alberta, and on the Driftpile First Nation. Piece by piece, Billy-Ray’s writings invite us to unpack and explore the big and broken world he inhabits every day, in all its complexity and contradiction: a legacy of colonial violence and the joy that flourishes in spite of it; first loves and first loves lost; sexual exploration and intimacy; the act of writing as a survival instinct and a way to grieve. What emerges is not only a profound meditation on memory, gender, anger, shame, and ecstasy, but also the outline of a way forward. With startling honesty, and in a voice distinctly and assuredly his own, Belcourt situates his life experiences within a constellation of seminal queer texts, among which this book is sure to earn its place. Eye-opening, intensely emotional, and excessively quotable, A History of My Brief Body demonstrates over and over again the power of words to both devastate and console us.

#18. The Incredible Shrinking Woman

by Athena Dixon

Publisher: Split/Lip Press

Genre: Memoir in Essays

About the Book:

A quiet retelling of a life in the background, Athena Dixon’s debut essay collection, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, is a gentle unpacking of the roles she learned to inhabit, growing up as a Black woman in a small Midwestern town, to avoid disruption. But after the implosion of the life she’d always wanted, Dixon must explore the implications of her desire to hide as she rebuilds herself in a world that expects freedom to look boisterous. As Dixon presses the bruises of her invisibility, these essays glide between the pages of fan fiction, the rush of new panties, down the rabbit hole of depression, and reemerge on the other side, speaking with the lived authority of a voice that, even when shaking, is always crystal clear.

#19. Before and After the Book Deal

by Courtney Maum

Publisher: Catapult

Genre: Writing & Publishing

About the Book:

Like sharing a coffee with a kind and witty mentor, Before and After the Book Deal is an ideally conversational guide to traditional publishing.” – Independent Book Review

There are countless books on the market about how to write better but very few books on how to break into the marketplace with your first book. Cutting through the noise (and very mixed advice) online, while both dispelling rumors and remaining positive, Courtney Maum’s Before and After the Book Deal is a one-of-a-kind resource that can help you get your book published.

Are MFA programs worth the time and money? How do people actually sit down and finish a novel? Did you get a good advance? What do you do when you feel envious of other writers? And why the heck aren’t your friends saying anything about your book? Covering questions ranging from the logistical to the existential (and everything in between), Before and After the Book Deal is the definitive guide for anyone who has ever wanted to know what it’s really like to be an author.

#20. Suppose Muscle, Suppose Night, Suppose This in August

by Danielle Zaccagnino

suppose muscle suppose night suppose this in august book cover

Publisher: Mason Jar Press

Genre: Poetic memoir

About the Book:

SUPPOSE MUSCLE, SUPPOSE NIGHT, SUPPOSE THIS IN AUGUST explores how anxiety and escape can shape a life from childhood to adulthood. This hybrid of lyrical essays and poetry weaves a delicate thread across the country, through dreams and nightmares, euphoria and fear, and intimacy and distance, always with particular attention to form and language. With dreamlike imagery, a unique inventiveness, and emotional clarity, the collection dissects that which we are too afraid to touch in our waking hours.

#21. High Cotton

by Kristie Robin Johnson

Publisher: Raised Voice Press

Genre: Race, Family, & Womanhood

About the Book:

Kristie Robin Johnson has lived nearly her whole life in small town Georgia, as did five generations of African American women before her beginning with a slave, her oldest known ancestor. In High Cotton, Johnson explores the social and economic consequences of her lineage, drawing on pivotal moments from her own experience to illuminate the lived reality of a daughter of the Deep South.

Johnson unapologetically describes a life that falls below the standards of black respectability, that of an unmarried young mother, an addict’s daughter, a college dropout, welfare recipient, and willful sinner. The voice in High Cotton is a cry from within the masses. Johnson stretches out long brown fingers as far as they will reach to barely skim the first, crucial rung of the ladder to success, that so-called American dream. She exposes the soft underbelly of black girl magic, celebrating black life in all its glorious vulnerability.

The essays in High Cotton contain all the complication of a post-civil rights era, post-women’s liberation, pre-millennial black woman living in the modern South, conjuring universal truths every reader will recognize.

#22. An Ambiguous Grief

by Dominique Hunter

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Genre: Grief & Loss

About the Book:

“An Ambiguous Grief is a beautiful, unflinchingly honest, poignant and wistful memoir, written with humor, and a graceful sangfroid that is admirable. One thing Dominique Hunter has done extremely well is to reveal her son Dylan’s story in the exact right way: readers know upfront that she has lost him, but they don’t know how. By the time we find out what happened to him, we know enough about his struggles and hers to understand how he came to that point in his life. Although the story is about Dylan, in the end, it tells the story of a mother’s journey through coping with a devastating loss and moving forward – not “getting over it,” but facing it by using her intelligence, humor, honesty, and humanity to deal with it in all its messy, sad, loving, ironic, despairing, hopeful, ambivalent ways. And to survive that journey, she takes us into an imaginative realm where past, present and future align to give her the space to heal.”

— Susan Edwards

#23. A Fish Growing Lungs

by Alysia Li Ying Sawchyn

Publisher: Burrow Press

Genre: Mood Disorders & Health

About the Book:

At age 18 Alysia Sawchyn was diagnosed with bipolar I. Seven years later she learned she had been misdiagnosed. A Fish Growing Lungs takes the form of linked essays that reflect on Sawchyn’s diagnosis and its unraveling, the process of withdrawal and recovery, and the search for identity as she emerges from a difficult past into a cautiously hopeful present.

Sawchyn captures the precariousness of life under the watchful eye of doctors, friends, and family, in which saying or doing the wrong thing could lead to involuntary confinement. This scrutiny is compounded by the stigmas of mental illness and the societal expectations placed on the bodies of women and women of color. And yet, amid juggling medications, doubting her diagnosis, and struggling with addiction and cutting, there is also joy, friendship, love, and Slayer concerts.

Funny, intelligent, and unflinchingly honest, Sawchyn explores how we can come to know ourselves when our bodies betray us. Drawing from life experience, literature, music, medical journals, films, and recovery communities, each essay illuminates the richness of self-knowledge that comes from the act of writing itself.

Poetry

#24. $50,000

by Andrew Whitehead

Publisher: Publishing Genius

About the Book:

$50,000 is a long poem that allows Andrew Weatherhead the space to search everything–his cubicle, his relationships with coworkers and friends, and the worlds found in literature, sports, economics, and history–for something more meaningful than mere facts. What arises in these 116 pages is the pure drama of life: the unrelenting passage of time, the inevitable need to make a living, and the foreboding beauty of numbers, names, and friendship. In hundreds of standalone lines that align with Mike Tyson’s peek-a-boo style, this long poem moves like prose but sticks with all the weight and heft of poetry.

#25. When My Body Was a Clinched Fist

by Enzo Silon Surin

Publisher: Black Lawrence Press

About the Book:

“Back in the day when KRS-One intoned–The Bridge is over!–he did not prefigure a poet from Queens of the fierce attitude and intellectual magnitude of Enzo Silon Surin. WHEN MY BODY WAS A CLINCHED FIST gives the Heisman to such a refrain with lyrical power-packing poetics that settles the score with a succinct–Not! No the Bridge is not over, for Surin’s Queens is alive and well and under the gaze of a master observer who eulogizes lives that though at times are battered have always mattered. Enzo Silon Surin’s poems get you caught up in the deeply personal experiences of growing and visceral all-encompassing knowing from an acute witness of every breath and follicle of Black life from palm trees, sand and sea to street corner projects, suburban houses and fistfuls of black water.

“Surin writes about the confused and disconnected, trigger happy wannabes trapped by outdated notions of masculinity, the cracked head crackheads all held in the clutch of society’s clinched fist through which the trauma that comes with being of color, addicted, broke, lost and tossed, is itself a clinched fist of black bodies caught in the Russian nesting doll America’s clinched fists make. WHEN MY BODY WAS A CLINCHED FIST is an elegy for ‘the premature exits.’ It is a blues for the black-on-black black and blue. Surin yields his pen like a microscopic scalpel whereby an autopsy of possibility is performed to un-clinch the remarkable bone gristle poetry in these unflinching heart-wrenching pages.”

— Tony Medina

#26. Ways We Vanish

by Todd Dillard

one of the indie press books in this listicle is ways we vanish by todd dillard

Publisher: Okay Donkey Press

About the Book:

WAYS WE VANISH, Todd Dillard’s debut poetry collection, navigates the grief following the loss of a loved one while also starting a new life and becoming a parent. It peels back the layers of everyday living to reveal the impossible landscape flourishing underneath—one fraught with sorrow, want, and pain, but also filled with hope, joy, and flight.

#27. Travelers Leaving for the City

by Ed Skoog

Publisher: Copper Canyon Press

About the Book:

Travelers Leaving for the City is a long song of arrivals and departures, centered around the murder of the poet’s grandfather in 1955 in a Pittsburgh hotel, exploring how such events frame memory, history and language for those they touch. The poems probe the anonymity of cities, and the crucible of travel. The historical impact of arousal, rage, regret, and forgiveness is seen in visions of interrogations and hotels. These poems explore how family bonds, and disruptions shape, the mind and language, all the while urging the reader to listen for traces of ancestors in one’s own mind and body.

#28. Praise Song for My Children

by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Publisher: Autumn House Press

About the Book:

Praise Song for My Children celebrates twenty-one years of poetry by one of the most significant African poets of this century. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley guides us through the complex and intertwined highs and lows of motherhood and all the roles that it encompasses: parent, woman, wife, sister, friend. Her work is deeply personal, drawing from her own life and surroundings to convey grief, the bleakness of war, humor, deep devotion, and the hope of possibility. These poems lend an international voice to the tales of motherhood, as Wesley speaks both to the African and to the Western experience of motherhood, particularly black motherhood. She pulls from African motifs and proverbs, utilizing the poetics of both the West and Africa to enrich her striking emotional range. Leading us to the depths of mourning and the heights of tender love, she responds to American police brutality, writing “To be a black woman is to be a woman, / ready to mourn,” and remembers a dear friend who is at once “mother and wife and friend and pillar / and warrior woman all in one.”

Wesley writes poetry that moves with her through life, land, and love, seeing with eyes that have witnessed both national and personal tragedy and redemption. Born in Tugbakeh, Liberia and raised in Monrovia, Wesley immigrated to the United States in 1991 to escape the Liberian civil war. In this moving collection, she invites us to join her as she buries loved ones, explores long-distance connections through social media, and sings bittersweet praises of the women around her, of mothers, and of Africa.

Younger Readers

#29. Surrender Your Sons

by Adam Sass

Publisher: Flux

Genre: YA Mystery/Thriller

About the Book:

Connor Major’s summer break is turning into a nightmare.

His SAT scores bombed, the old man he delivers meals to died, and when he came out to his religious zealot mother, she had him kidnapped and shipped off to a secluded island. His final destination: Nightlight Ministries, a conversion therapy camp that will be his new home until he “changes.”

But Connor’s troubles are only beginning. At Nightlight, everyone has something to hide—from the campers to the “converted” staff and cagey camp director—and it quickly becomes clear that no one is safe. Connor plans to escape and bring the other kidnapped teens with him. But first, he’s exposing the camp’s horrible truths for what they are—and taking this place down.

#30. Camper Girl

by Glenn Erick Miller

Publisher: Fitzroy Books

Genre: YA road trip

About the Book:

While her friends head off to college, Shannon Burke is stuck with a dead-end job and the responsibility of saving her mother’s business. The only bright spot is her upcoming birthday and a visit from her eccentric Aunt Rebecca. But before Shannon can blow out her candles, she receives devastating news: Rebecca is dead. When she learns that her aunt has gifted her a beat-up camper, Shannon decides to sell it for cold, hard cash.

Then she loses her job and finds a mysterious map in the glove box, and in a moment of desperation, she jumps behind the wheel and hits the road. Following Rebecca’s maps, Shannon journeys deep into New York’s Adirondack Mountains where she faces her greatest fears and navigates a new reality that is as unpredictable as the wilderness itself. During her scavenger hunt of self-discovery, Shannon experiences the healing power of nature, uncovers a stunning family secret, and comes to realize that a person’s path through life is never clearly marked.

#31. David Tung Can’t Have a Girlfriend Until He Gets Into an Ivy League College

by Ed Lin

Publisher: Kaya Press

Genre: YA coming of age

About the Book:

In David Tung Can’t Have a Girlfriend Until He Gets Into an Ivy League College, novelist Ed Lin conjures up “a fast-paced, acid-tongued, hilarious teen drama for our age,” says Marie Myung-Ok Lee, acclaimed author of Somebody’s Daughter and Finding My Voice. Both playful and wryly observant, Ed Lin’s YA-debut explores coming-of-age in the Asian diaspora while navigating relationships through race, class, and young love.

David Tung, our nerd-hero, is a Chinese American high-school student who works in his family’s restaurant, competes for top grades at his regular high school located in an upscale, Asian-majority New Jersey suburb, and attends weekend Chinese school in NYC’s working-class Chinatown. While David faces parental pressures to get As and conform to cultural norms and expectations, he’s caught up in the complicated world of high school love triangles―and amid these external pressures is the fear he will die alone, whether he gets into Harvard or not!

#32. The Candy Mafia

by Lavie Tidhar

Publisher: Peachtree Publishing

Genre: Middle Grade Mystery

About the Book:

When notorious candy gangster Eddie de Menthe asks for her help to find a missing teddy bear, Nelle Faulkner is on the case. But as soon as the teddy turns up, Eddie himself goes missing! As a seemingly innocent investigation unravels into something more ominous, Nelle and her friends quickly find themselves swept up in a shady underworld of sweets smugglers, back alley deals, and storefront firebombs.

If Nelle has any hope of tracking down her missing client, first she’ll have to unmask the true faces behind the smuggling ring. Can Nelle and her friends find a way to take the cake? Or will they come to a sticky end…?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Bugsy Malone in this page-turning mystery from World Fantasy Award-winning author Lavie Tidhar. With moody illustrations by Daniel Duncan, readers will be sucked into the action-packed narrative as Nelle pulls the curtain back on black-market candy rings.


And that’s all you’re getting out of me this year. Which books from indie presses were your favorite this year?


About the Curator

Joe Walters is the editor-in-chief of Independent Book Review and a book marketing specialist at Sunbury Press. When he’s not doing editorial, promoting, or reviewing work, he’s working on his novel and trusting the process.


Thank you for reading “32 Impressive Indie Press Books from 2020” by Joe Walters! If you liked what you read, please spend some more time with us at the links below.

5 comments on “32 Impressive Indie Press Books from 2020

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