Amanda’s Favorites of 2022
Yes, it’s list time. Again. Really, since early 2020, I’ve lost all sense of how linear time is supposed to work. Time both flies and feels somehow forever stuck back in early 2020. I feel like I just made 2021 lists, though I guess, somehow, that must have been a year ago.
Did I get to read everything I had hoped to in 2022? Of course not. But I did read a lot! What follows are my favorite 2022 books that I reviewed here at TLT and excerpts of my reviews.
Guess what? Here’s what I wrote at this time in 2020 and then pasted into the 2021 post, and here we are in 2022 (somehow) and it’s still true, and maybe will always be true, so here you go: This was a ROUGH year (understatement, I know) full of stress and grief and change and despair. Everyone who debuted during this terrible year, congratulations. Everyone who published anything this year, congratulations. Anyone who wrote anything this year, congratulations. Anyone who simply survived this year, congratulations.
I pretty much exclusively read contemporary fiction, which my list may reflect. An interesting thing happened this year: after spending my whole life devouring more YA books than any other age level, I read more middle grade than I usually do. I read more middle grade than YA (or grown up books, for that matter). Perhaps it’s a symptom of working in an elementary school, or even of knowing I can read those books a little faster than books for older audiences, but the real reason, the one that matters, is that there is just so much amazing middle grade out there.
Also, a note: Between working, parenting a teen, surviving needy rescue dogs, being the President of Everything at my house, and then doing all the TLT stuff, I read a lot more books than I had time to review in depth. Some of them only got quick post-it note reviews, because that’s what I had the bandwidth for at the time. So even if it’s a short review, if it’s on my list, I still think you should go read it. Oh, for infinite time to read and talk about that reading!
These are the books that most stuck with me this year. Even though I’m a voracious reader, I’m sure I missed a lot of great 2022 books. I always enjoy reading the many lists that crop up this time of the year, but I also always want more variety and to hear from more people. So here’s my list—will you share yours with us too? Leave us a comment or hit me up on Twitter (assuming it still exists when this posts) where I’m @CiteSomething.
Books appear on this list in order of publication date. These are excerpts of my reviews, with links at the end of each excerpt to the full review.
Overground Railroad (The Young Adult Adaptation): The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy Taylor (ISBN-13: 9781419749490 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 01/25/2022, Ages 12-18)
We not only learn about the Green Book, how it was started, distributed, and used (to make travel safer for Black people and serve as a guide for where to safely stop for a variety of services), but learn so much about everything related to the Green Book. Here are just some of the topics covered: the businesses featured in the book; the rise of the automobile industry and how it affected the lives of Black people; race relations/protests/riots/boycotts of the era; sundown towns; beach and National Park use; Black soldiers in WWII; banking; Black colleges; housing; train travel; music venues; the perils of driving on Route 66; the expansion of freeways destroying Black communities; tourist homes; the Black hair care industry; women-run and women-owned businesses; the KKK and white terrorism; colorism; what the 1964 Civil Rights Act meant for travel; and so much more. That covers a phenomenal amount of ground, right? This is truly a crash course in the politics and race relations of the time. (Full review here.)
Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee (ISBN-13: 9781984830258 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 02/01/2022, Ages 8-12)
POST-IT REVIEW SAYS: One of the best books I’ve read lately. I cried repeatedly. I loved all of it, but especially the parts about Lucky and the paper sons. So full of heart. And now I need some cream cheese wontons.
A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow (ISBN-13: 9780063043435 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 02/08/2022, Ages 8-12)
This is so well plotted, with constant tension, and so imminently readable—the storytelling tradition really came through because it just flows. Despite me reading it, it very much felt like I was sitting down to have someone tell me a story. And I came to love the voice of the hundreds of years old mermaid, Ophida, as much as I loved Kela’s voice.
Ophida makes it clear to Kela that magic has a price, but that doesn’t stop Kela from making a wish that even the most casual reader will understand is probably a bad idea that will have a price that is terrible. But that path between a wish and its consequences isn’t straightforward, nor is it even fully terrible. Like everything and everyone in this wonderful book, it’s complicated. (Full review here.)
Katie the Catsitter Book 2: Best Friends for Never by Colleen AF Venable, Stephanie Yue (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593375464 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 02/15/2022 Series: Katie the Catsitter #2, Ages 8-12)
Here, Katie is wondering when she will ever get to go on a mission, or really start training as a sidekick to the Mousetress, or get to carry out a good PLAN (all caps, of course). Is being a sidekick really just about answering emails and waiting around while a hero binges a baking reality show? Yawn.
The rest of her life is keeping her busy, even if her superhero life isn’t currently the most interesting thing ever. The distance that was already growing with her best friend widens when she gets a boyfriend, making Katie feel left behind. Also, everyone is so obsessed with the Eastern Screech and Stainless Steel, while believing the Mousetress to be evil, which Katie knows she isn’t (since she’s her neighbor—and owner of those 217 cats—and Katie’s mentor). And she’s hanging out with some new skateboarding friends, which is creating further friction with best friend Beth. If only she could just wear some suction cup shoes and help clear the Mousetress’s name! Maybe then things could start to fall into place. But when they actually do, WOW! is Katie in for a surprise reveal. (Full review here.)
The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill (ISBN-13: 9781643750743 Publisher: Workman Publishing Company Publication date: 03/08/2022, Ages 8-12)
Barnhill presents us with a fragmented town and builds her story around an ogress, some orphans, and some crows. Stone-in-the-Glen has a flashy, gaslighting mayor who speaks in circles, leaving his constituents exhausted and dizzy, unable to remember what’s true or what their concerns are. As the people become more cut off from each other, as they are forced to survive with less and less (both materially and in every other sense of the idea), they find an easy scapegoat in the ogress, someone who is different and “not one of us” and very, very easy to blame. Never mind that she’s gentle and loving. Or that she has been providing the town with food (oh, the food! with Redwall-like descriptions of so much amazing food!) and art for years. So when one of the orphans goes missing, even in the face of all evidence otherwise, they choose to believe the ogress is at fault. And as their rage boils, the orphans take action, hoping to stop the tide of hatred and encouraging their fellow townsfolk to look harder and ask questions.
It’s through these orphans, the ogress, and the crows that the townsfolk and the readers are asked to consider what is a neighbor? What happens when people are only concerned with “mine” and not with “ours”? How does a community survive in the face of a manipulative liar bent on control and chaos, determined to keep people ignorant? What happens when we lose empathy? As we are often reminded in this story, facts matter. And if we choose to twist the truth and believe our own new “facts,” we will never see the truth. We will never see what’s right in front of us. Beware anyone who says that they alone can fix your problems. Beware people who speak without listening, who smoothly say “trust me” but never do anything to earn that trust. (Full review here.)
Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves by L. M. Elliott (ISBN-13: 9780063056565 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/22/2022, Ages 8-12)
POST-IT REVIEW SAYS: Wow, am I glad I read this. Louisa June is brave and tenacious as she deals with the loss of her brother, her parents’ grief and guilt, and WW II’s efforts at home. Lots of tension in this completely engrossing story. Also, I want a Cousin Belle in my life.
Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas (ISBN-13: 9780063056770 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/17/2022, Ages 8-12)
POST-IT REVIEW SAYS: Fantastic! Bree has to adjust to a lot after her move to Florida, but swimming is the biggest change and the biggest source of stress and joy. A unique approach to looking at racism and segregation. I just could not love this book more and hope to see a lot more from Christmas.
Hell Followed with Us by Andrew Joseph White (ISBN-13: 9781682633243 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 06/07/2022, Ages 14-17)
I can’t even adequately summarize the twisty, terrifying story of manipulation, truth, action, protection, vengeance, and chaos. The things that you need to know are that this a story of power, of hope, and of guts (and I mean that in more ways than one). It’s a story about controlling the monster inside you, of letting go of what you thought you knew or believed, of resilience. It’s about rot (again, many meanings) and ruin and humanity and inhumanity. It’s about a virus, about Christianity, belief, secrets, devastation, fascism, transformation, revolution, salvation, and about queer kids fighting to survive. It’s about finding a home and being alive. It’s about rage. It’s about love. And it’s the best book about a trans six-winged Seraph bioweapon surviving an apocalyptic hellscape that you’ll read this summer! (Full review here.)
The Clackity by Lora Senf (ISBN-13: 9781665902670 Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers Publication date: 06/28/2022 Series: Blight Harbor, Ages 10-12)
POST-IT REVIEW SAYS: Fantastically creepy! An exceedingly disturbing creature, mysterious houses, and a great main character who is determined and not nearly as alone on her quest as she seems to be. Scary, suspenseful, and delightfully weird.
The Language of Seabirds by Will Taylor (ISBN-13: 9781338753738 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 07/19/2022, Ages 8-12)
This book is so sweet. And I feel totally okay with that being the main point of my review, no matter how basic or unthoughtful that seems. We need this middle grade book with sweet gay boys finding first love and connection. Their friendship is sweet, their story is sweet, and the joy and hope it fills them both with is sweet. They are so kind to each other, so vulnerable, so careful. Jeremy is at a really stressful and strange point in his life. His parents have just gotten divorced and he’s spending a few weeks with his dad and uncle while his mom moves out. He’s 12 and uncertain about everything—where he will live, what his relationship with each parent will look like, what it means to be almost a teenager, and just how much of himself he wants to share with anyone. He isn’t agonizing over being gay, he’s not bullied, and, when he eventually does come out, it’s just such a non-event that he can hardly believe it. And how lucky for him that he meets Evan, a sweet kid who works in his grandma’s thrift store, likes running, and forms an immediate connection with Jeremy. Together, they build a secret language based around all the birds at the beach and spend as much time as they can together before both go back home when vacation ends. (Full review here.)
Inaugural Ballers: The True Story of the First US Women’s Olympic Basketball Team by Andrew Maraniss (ISBN-13: 9780593351246 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/13/2022, Ages 12-15)
A winning look at the creation and legacy of a team that went from underdogs to unstoppable. Maraniss places the 1976 groundbreaking first American women’s Olympic basketball team firmly in historical and political context, following the rise of basketball from its inception to the fluctuations of its popularity for women throughout the 1900s (corresponding to social norms about what was acceptably “ladylike”) to the backlash, detractors, and misogyny that marked the Olympic team’s rise to success. He keeps a close eye on the issues of politics and equity, the work and “whiteness” of second-wave feminism, Title IX, and important moments in civil rights movements. Interspersed throughout are biographies of pioneering women’s players and visionary coaches working with no road map and big dreams. Most of these players, from small towns with struggling and underfunded basketball teams, faced seemingly insurmountable adversity, both as women and, for many of the players, as Black women. (Full review here.)
Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes, Dawud Anyabwile (ISBN-13: 9781324003908 Publisher: Norton Young Readers Publication date: 09/27/2022, Ages 13-18)
This was a phenomenal read. Beyond knowing the iconic photo of Tommie Smith and his teammate John Carlos on the podium, fists raised, I knew little about Smith’s story or what led him to so bravely taking a stand at the 1968 Olympics. The powerful story takes us through Smith’s entire life, from a young child working the fields with his sharecropper father in Texas, to an elite high school athlete in California, to the Olympic games. All along the way, Smith recounts how focused he was, how determined, how inspired by his hardworking parents and their dream for something more for him. Of course, both Smith’s personal story and the story of the 1950s and 1960s (the focus of the bulk of his story) is one of civil rights, activism, racism, and calls for justice and equality. The story isn’t an easy or comfortable read, nor should it be. It’s a hard, honest look at the horrors of the era, the discrimination and outright hatred that Smith faced, and the continued struggles he faced after the Olympics on the long path to him eventually being widely recognized as a courageous and inspiring role model, eventually being invited to the White House by Obama and finally—finally!—being inducted into the Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame. (Full review here.)
Creature: Paintings, Drawings, and Reflections by Shaun Tan (ISBN-13: 9781646142002 Publisher: Levine Querido Publication date: 10/04/2022, Ages 12-18+)
If you don’t know Shaun Tan’s work, the words I’d use to describe it are strange, beautiful, weird, otherworldly, alien. I spent a lot of time marveling over the tiny details in the pictures, wondering where ideas came from, what the story is, wondering about the lives and feelings of these very strange creatures. The art is delightful, moving, intriguing, and, at times, mildly disturbing. In writing about his “lost things,” Tan writes, “Into this world the lost things appear as strange extrusions, wriggling question marks, flowers growing from cracks. They don’t know what they are and have no real meaning or purpose. In short, they are moments of hope, of unconstrained meaning, of something new emerging in a discordant world, a reminder that life—and art—will always find a way” (12). (Full review here.)
The Rat Queen by Pete Hautman (ISBN-13: 9781536218589 Publisher: Candlewick Press Publication date: 10/11/2022, Ages 9-12)
Annie is about to turn 10 and lives in our world—the one we know and understand, that is. But there’s this other place she’s always heard about, Litvania, where her family is from. It’s not on any map or globe other than those her father keeps, but she knows it’s real, because he goes there often. She hears stories and fairy tales from Litvania, and often they star a young girl like her or seem somehow relevant to her life. But Annie has other things to worry about, like her best friend pulling away from her, like being homeschooled when she longs to go to public school, and like the fact that she never seems to grow taller. To complicate things, her father has now given her the odd task of writing down her transgressions on a piece of paper and feeding them into a hole in the floor. When Annie does this, she feels free from regret or guilt or any of the other nasty feelings humans must contend with. But strange things are going on. There are the rats, and the fact that her father comes home from work looking exhausted and old but, after a little quiet time, reemerges young and refreshed. There’s the weird illness the rats cause, and the fact that Annie suddenly grows while in the hospital, and the bits of all of these stories that seem like some kind of truth that Annie just can’t quite see right. And, of course, there’s that hole for the pieces of paper. Where does it go? What’s down there? Why does it work? And, most importantly, is it a good thing? (Full review here.)
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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