What a difference 12 months makes. This time last year, we were sliding from delta to omicron, and companies—PW included—were hitting pause on the return to office program. Now the world’s basically opened up and proper vacations are a thing again. Could there actually be cause for optimism? Probably, and so allow me to add another spirit lifter: our picks for the best books of 2022. We’ve got 150 selections in total, spread across all the categories we review in. They’re led by our top 10, an especially strong grouping this year that includes a graphic memoir of life on the Canadian oil fields, a sharp reappraisal of the life of J. Edgar Hoover, and the singular and spellbinding latest from Namwali Serpell, our cover author.
Congrats to all the authors whose books appear here, and also hats off to the hardworking publishing folks who edited, published, and brought these books to market. We’re lucky to have you all.
—Jonathan Segura, executive editor
Ain’t Burned All the Bright
Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin (Atheneum/Dlouhy)
A mixed-media collaboration by two longtime friends delves into recent events in America as voiced by an unnamed Black narrator. In spare lines that emphasize the weight of recurrence, Reynolds describes fears around day-to-day safety, while Griffin’s collages capture a constant state of worry, together building to affecting visual moments that invite the reader to find solace in the everyday.
A Career in Books: A Novel About Friends, Money, and the Occasional Duck Bun
Kate Gavino (Plume)
Satire and sass drive this wicked send-up of the publishing industry, which doubles as a satisfying friendship story, informed by Gavino’s own stint as an editorial assistant in New York City. After a trio of young Asian American women embark on entry-level gigs in the book business, Gavino perfectly pencils in all the punch lines—and price tags—along their way.
The Candy House
Jennifer Egan (Scribner)
Once again, as in A Visit from the Goon Squad, Egan stretches the bounds of the novel. The speculative story is about technology—and those who design it and those who elude its pervading connectivity. There’s plenty of dazzling innovation in style and form, but the greatest riches are in the many luminous insights on her characters.
Korean American: Food That Tastes Like Home
Eric Kim (Clarkson Potter)
New York Times food writer Kim embraces his Korean heritage and Atlanta upbringing in this heartfelt debut that marries bold flavors with cherished traditions. The recipes, which include steak dishes finished with a hot coating of gochujang butter, and baked goods bursting with fruit, offer a myriad of must-try delights.
Alte Zachen/Old Things
Ziggy Hanaor, illus. by Benjamin Phillips (Cicada)
Hanaor and Phillips’s expansive, Yiddish-peppered graphic novel centers Benjy and his Bubbe’s mercurial and unshakable bond. Though they're often at odds, Benjy is tender, patient, and conciliatory, and Bubbe takes comfort in his steadfastness when her memories or their surroundings overwhelm. Soft watercolor art portrays a moving narrative that alternates between grayscale present-day spreads and Bubbe’s past in full color.
All That’s Left Unsaid
Tracey Lien (Morrow)
In 1996, journalist Ky Tran investigates the murder of her 17-year-old brother, Denny, who was beaten to death at a restaurant on the night of his high school graduation in the Vietnamese community of Cabramatta, Australia. This scintillating debut dramatizes the cultural gulf between xenophobic whites and Vietnamese suspicions of outsiders.
All That Moves Us: A Pediatric Neurosurgeon, His Young Patients, and Their Stories of Grace and Resilience
Jay Wellons (Random House)
Pediatric neurosurgeon Wellons shares the lessons he learned from his young patients in this powerful account. It’s heartrending, brilliantly written, and can be emotionally difficult to read, but those who do will undoubtedly be moved.
Anne Hunter (Tundra)
The gift of gab proves deeply funny in Hunter’s earnest portrait of early language acquisition. Baby Mouse starts out as a quiet infant, but language soon flows inexorably forth in the form of a repeated “squeak.” When Mama worries about her offspring’s whereabouts, Baby Mouse’s voice proves useful indeed in a picture book that honors the realities of both parent and child.
Alive at the End of the World
Saeed Jones (Coffee House)
With a voice marked by wit, rage, pain, and stark directness, Jones confronts the collective uncertainty of the present age. Plagued by white supremacy and impending ecological collapse, America is revealed as refusing to learn from past mistakes in these vital poems.
Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned
Brian D. McLaren (St. Martin’s Essentials)
This searching critique is as astute and clear-eyed an effort as one is likely to find on whether to stay in the Christian church. Former pastor McLaren’s willingness to take the faith to task for justifying colonialism competes with the author’s admiration for the “uniquely extraordinary” character of Jesus, resulting in an incisive volume that offers no easy answers.
Before I Let Go
Kennedy Ryan (Forever)
This searing, emotional contemporary follows divorced co-parents who share a thorny history—but also a passion that proves impossible to resist. Ryan’s mature take on the second chance at love trope knows that chemistry alone won’t be enough to reunite them, however. The frank, refreshing depiction of the hard work it takes to heal sets this powerhouse romance apart.
The Golden Enclaves
Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Novik’s masterful final Scholomance fantasy functions simultaneously as a satisfying resolution to El and Orion’s story, a page-turning magical adventure in its own right, and a thoughtful homage to Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Engaging deeply with both genre convention and real-world moral quandaries, this brilliant finale elevates the entire series to dazzling heights.
Activities of Daily Living
Lisa Hsiao Chen (Norton)
The premise is deceptively simple: a Taiwanese American woman takes care of her white stepfather, who has dementia, while working on an unspecified project about a Taiwanese performance artist. With these spare components, Chen pulls off an astounding meditation on the nature of art, time, and mortality.
As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow
Zoulfa Katouh (Little, Brown)
Set amid the Syrian Revolution, this powerful debut follows teen Salama’s struggles balancing duty to her country and to herself. The narrative’s speculative trappings—Salama’s trauma manifests as an advice-dispensing, PTSD-induced hallucinatory companion named Khawf—combined with a touching portrayal of first love, unflinchingly depicts both the costs of revolution and the strength it takes to fight for one’s beliefs.
The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere.
James Spooner (Harper)
Afro-Punk filmmaker Spooner makes a mosh pit–style landing into comics with his graphic memoir of growing up as a punk rock–loving biracial teenager in the California desert, where he dodged racist bullies while trying desperately to get the girl (and a band to stick together), told against a raucous 1990s soundtrack. It’s raw, loud, and right-on.
Ali Smith (Pantheon)
Smith follows up her torn-from-the-headlines Seasons Quartet with a sublime narrative involving a London artist named Sandy whose telephone encounter during lockdown with a strange woman sends her into a rabbit hole involving a parallel story of 13th-century English history. There’s a delightful knot of ideas to untangle, and Sandy’s return to human company makes this glorious and life-affirming.
Mission Vegan: Wildly Delicious Food for Everyone
Danny Bowien, with JJ Goode (Ecco)
In this innovative collection of vegan offerings, Bowien, cofounder of New York and San Francisco’s Mission Chinese restaurants, showcases a wide range of flavors, colors, and creative techniques that reflect Asian influences and his culinary curiosity. From spicy dishes such as army stew to sweet desserts, these delectable creations never fail to entice.
Black Bird, Blue Road
Sofiya Pasternack (Versify)
A tender sibling relationship propels Pasternack’s dazzling medieval fantasy. Ziva bat Leah is desperate to keep her beloved twin, Pesah, from dying of leprosy; when their parents plan to send him away, Ziva packs the siblings up and they hit the road, seeking to find a cure. What follows is a richly told, omen-filled journey, shadowed quite literally by the Angel of Death.
Anywhere You Run
Wanda M. Morris (Morrow)
Set against the backdrop of the notorious 1964 murder of three civil rights activists in Mississippi, this stunning novel about the relationship between two Black sisters in the Jim Crow South explores racism, family, and small-town sensibilities. Meticulous research into the period, along with finely sculpted characters and crisp dialogue, help make this a standout.
American Caliph: The True Story of a Muslim Mystic, a Hollywood Epic, and the 1977 Siege of Washington, DC
Shahan Mufti (FSG)
The turbulent politics of 1970s America are brought to vivid life in this scintillating history of the Hanafis, a Sunni Black Muslim group led by former jazz drummer Hamaas Abdul Khaalis. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, and future Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry make cameos in a story that virtuosically explores the causes and consequences of political and religious extremism.
Michaela Goade (Little, Brown)
“On an island at the edge of a wide, wild sea,” a Tlingit child and grandmother celebrate the earth as they forage through the seasons. Together, they express gratitude as they gather seaweed, catch “slippery salmon,” and pick forest berries. Goade’s lushly wrought illustrations paint a serene picture of nature and its many gifts that’s just right for berry season and beyond.
God: An Anatomy
Francesca Stavrakopoulou (Knopf)
Religion professor Stavrakopoulou delivers a deeply researched investigation into the corporeality of the Christian God, examining ancient Hebrew texts that discuss the implications of scriptural references to God’s limbs, organs, head, and genitals. The profound argument and vivid storytelling are not to be missed.
All the Lovers in the Night
Mieko Kawakami, trans. from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd (Europa)
The best of a wondrous, loosely connected trilogy from Kawakami (after Breasts and Eggs and Heaven), this lush ambulatory narrative offers an unsparing examination of the loneliness and alienation of a young proofreader in Tokyo and her gradual emergence into the city’s nightlife. The author’s beautiful descriptions provide a feast for the senses, one that’s merely hinted at by the film Lost in Translation.
Beating Heart Baby
Lio Min (Flatiron)
In Min’s luminous debut, teenage Santi joins an award-winning L.A. marching band and falls for drum major Suwa, a trans boy who finds Santi as annoying as Santi finds him enchanting. This achingly romantic novel, told via personal-feeling prose and split into two parts that mimic sides of an album, is an homage to music, art, and the power of found family.
Smahtguy: The Life and Times of Barney Frank
Eric Orner (Metropolitan)
Leveraging his access as the former aide to groundbreaking gay rights advocate (and formerly closeted gay man) U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, Orner pulls off an exemplar graphic biography, packed with insider anecdotes and high-level insights into the machinations and foibles of a storied (and sometimes sullied) political career. And it’s brilliantly drawn, to boot.
Barbara Kingsolver (Harper)
The hero of Kingsolver’s teeming and masterly social realist epic, an update of Dickens’ David Copperfield, shuttles through foster care as a preteen in rural Virginia before slipping into his own opioid addiction after a high school football injury. The author makes every sentence count and tackles bulky social issues, all while delivering a spectacular story.
Please Wait to Be Tasted: The Lil’ Deb’s Oasis Cookbook
Carla Kaya Perez-Gallardo, Hannah Black, and Wheeler (Princeton Architectural)
There’s no shortage of tantalizing, cross-cultural flavor combinations to fire up the senses in this playful collection from the founders of the acclaimed restaurant in Hudson, N.Y. Provocative photos and cheeky flourishes abound, but the authors always approach their recipes with precision, inspiration, and experimentation.
The Door of No Return
Kwame Alexander (Little, Brown)
Via sensate lines by turns sweet and stinging, Alexander’s gripping historical novel in verse, a trilogy opener rooted in the Asante Kingdom in 1860, centers 11-year-old Kofi Offin, whose dreamlike childhood is upended when the events of an annual festival set off a series of tragedies. It’s a sweeping novel that resounds with a potent message about engaging with the past.
Ausma Zehanat Khan (Minotaur)
When the body of a high school student who’s a Syrian refugee is found nailed to the door of a mosque in Blackwater Falls, Colo., detective Inaya Rahman investigates. Khan brilliantly depicts the complexities of her characters and the tensions of a multicultural American community struggling with bias, fear, and corruption.
Animal Joy: A Book of Laughter and Resuscitation
Nuar Alsadir (Graywolf)
A psychoanalyst goes to clown school in this razor-sharp blend of personal essay and criticism. Alsadir considers how laughter allows one to express their true self, how humor relates to power, and how, as her instructor told the class, “Crying is just laughing larger,” making for a one-of-a-kind outing.
Big Truck Little Island
Chris Van Dusen (Candlewick)
When a jackknifed semi obstructs an island’s lone thoroughfare, four children stuck on either side come up with the solution of having their parents swap cars so they can head to their respective outings. Van Dusen’s crisply rhyming, economic text underscores both the protagonists’ ingenuity and the book's core message: when community and trust run deep, life’s obstacles are easier to work around.
Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Own Head
Warsan Shire (Penguin)
The debut from Shire, a British writer born to Somali parents in Kenya, addresses migration in resonant poems that also consider politics, gender, and love. Her assured language and memorable imagery give light to the impossible decisions faced by many, and the strength required to overcome the hardships of displacement.
The Dead Romantics
Ashley Poston (Berkley)
Poston’s adorable adult debut—the romance between a ghostwriter and her (literal) ghost editor—gleefully subverts rom-com tropes to deliver a supernaturally inflected love story that unites a refreshing irreverence with a core belief in the power of love. The result will win over even the most cynical of readers.
Isabel Cañas (Berkley)
With an ear for lyricism and an eye for historical detail, Cañas puts a fresh spin on the classic haunted house story. In the aftermath of Mexico’s War of Independence, the new wife of a mysterious widower teams up with a Mestizo priest to exorcize a ghost—leading to supernatural thrills, exhilarating romance, and a probing examination of the horrors of colonialism.
Gayl Jones (Beacon)
What a treat to find Jones publishing again, with last year’s massive Palmares ending a two-decade hiatus. This one’s even better, not only because of its wickedly funny premise—an artist keeps trying to kill her husband, and he keeps taking her back—but because of its striking and stubbornly relevant commentary on the racial inequities faced by its Black characters in the 1980s.
Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
Robin Wall Kimmerer, adapted by Monique Gray Smith, illus. by Nicole Neidhardt (Zest)
Smith, who is Cree and Lakota, breaks down myriad Indigenous nations’ relationships with nature in this young readers adaptation of Potawatomi botanist Kimmerer’s 2013 adult bestseller. Crisp pen and ink wash illustrations by Navajo artist Neidhardt both complement and elevate smartly streamlined language that stays true to the narrative’s core concepts, invites collaborative discussion, and acts as a call to action.
Who Will Make the Pancakes: Five Stories
Megan Kelso (Fantagraphics)
The playful, poignant quintet of short stories in Girlhero creator Kelso’s long-awaited new collection show off her nimble cartooning, ear for dialogue, and skill for drawing small moments and gestures that ground the women at the center of these tales, told across decades and genres, as true to life. The stunning “Watergate Sue,” which presents a precisely told Nixon-era family drama, is worth the price of admission alone.
John Darnielle (MCD)
Darnielle, author and musician behind the Mountain Goats, addresses the massive popularity of true crime with a metafictional narrative that simultaneously tells a lurid story of murder and digs into a true crime writer’s reckoning with the conventions of the genre. It works brilliantly on both levels, satisfying readers’ desires while giving them pause.
Turkey and the Wolf: Flavor Trippin’ in New Orleans
Mason Hereford, with JJ Goode (Ten Speed)
Hereford, owner of beloved New Orleans sandwich shop Turkey and the Wolf, serves up a bevy of larger-than-life Southern food in his brassy debut. Gluttonous, butter-soaked bombshells and mouthwatering meat dishes abound, which will appeal to those who like their meals to be as indulgent as they are adventurous.
Gale Galligan (Graphix)
Galligan’s uplifting graphic novel follows eighth grader Cory, who struggles to balance his responsibility to his dance crew and his newfound love of yo-yo throwing. Impeccable comedic and emotional timing render thoughtful portrayals of friendship, growth, and joyful self-expression, while dynamic paneling paired with vibrant technicolor hues artfully complement the flow and energy of Cory’s dance routines and yo-yo prowess.
Sascha Rothchild (Putnam)
In a Miami Beach PD interrogation room, a police detective confronts Ruby Simon with photos of four murder victims, including the seven-year-old boy she drowned when she was five, 25 years earlier, because he bullied her older sister. In this mesmerizing debut, Rothchild pulls off the considerable challenge of engendering sympathy for an unrepentant killer.
Between Us: How Cultures Create Emotions
Batja Mesquita (Norton)
Weaving together insights from anthropology, sociology, and psychology, social psychologist Mesquita makes the novel case that emotions arise from social context. The astute analysis enthralls and the case studies on cultures from Japan, Madagascar, the U.S., and West Sumatra fascinate as they upend conventional wisdom and cast a new light on a fundamental part of the human condition.
Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement
Angela Joy, illus. by Janelle Washington (Roaring Brook)
In a well-contextualized historical volume, Joy’s urgent, cadenced prose and Washington’s dimensional cut-paper artwork relay the biography of Mamie Till-Mobley from childhood to parenthood to seeking justice for the lynching of her son, Emmett Till. Quoting Till-Mobley—“Everybody needs to know what happened to Emmett Till”—the creators pay essential witness to people and events that galvanized the civil rights movement.
Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands
Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly)
Beaton astonishes in this career-making graphic memoir, relaying her time working in remote, male-dominated oil drilling camps in northern Canada. She navigates relentless sexism, isolation, and trauma, and distills the humor and pathos in the antics of hoary fellow crewmembers—all in service of a profound larger story of the social and environmental costs of global reliance on fossil fuel.
Namwali Serpell (Hogarth)
A straightforward description of this inspired and wildly inventive novel is that it’s about grief, as a young woman repeatedly wonders whether she’s seeing her dead brother’s face in the faces of strangers (he drowned when he and the woman were children, his body never recovered). But a breathtaking shift halfway through, in which Serpell riffs on Hitchcock’s Vertigo, makes this one of a kind.
The First to Die at the End
Adam Silvera (Quill Tree)
On the eve of the historic launch of a death-predicting corporation, queer teens Orion and Valentino make the most of the time they have left together in this heart-wrenching standalone prequel to They Both Die at the End. Via vulnerable alternating perspectives interspersed with vignettes that explore varied supporting characters’ relationships with death, Silvera crafts a breathtaking and thought-provoking narrative that explores difficult existential questions without eschewing optimism.
Lydia Millet (Norton)
A middle-aged man, heir to an oil fortune, befriends his new neighbors in Phoenix, Ariz., does volunteer work, and looks out for the bullied boy next door in Millet’s powerful study of toxic masculinity. This will leave readers considering the limits of good intentions.
The Wok: Recipes and Techniques
J. Kenji López-Alt (Norton)
This studious and expansive reassessment of the ways and whys of cooking with a wok from New York Times contributor López-Alt mixes culinary cultural history, instruction, and flat-out delicious recipes. Packed with sage advice, step-by-step photos, and informative asides, it’s the definitive guide to getting the most out of the kitchen stalwart and will enlighten home cooks, whether they want to master basic techniques or turn out restaurant-quality meals.
Claribel A. Ortega, illus. by Rose Bousamra (First Second)
Dominican middle schooler Marlene tackles Eurocentric and anti-Afro-Latinx beauty standards in this empowering graphic novel. Bousamra skillfully employs bright and cheerful coloring in pastel hues to sweetly render touching moments, while Ortega examines themes of colorism, generational trauma, and toxic beauty standards via authentic, heartstring-tugging dialogue and pitch-perfect narration, culminating in a satisfying exploration of self-expression and self-love.
Dear Little Corpses: A Josephine Tey Mystery
Nicola Upson (Crooked Lane)
On the eve of England’s entry into WWII, author Josephine Tey looks into the disappearance of a child transported from London to a Suffolk village in anticipation of German bombing raids. Upson effectively keeps the reader in suspense about the child’s fate while providing a vivid and moving portrait of a small community torn apart by fear and suspicion.
Birds and Us: A 12,000-Year History from Cave Art to Conservation
Tim Birkhead (Princeton Univ.)
Ornithologist Birkhead’s enthusiasm is infectious in this sweeping history of humans’ relationship with birds, in which he poignantly suggests that better understanding the interspecies interplay can benefit humans, birds, and the natural world they both share. It’s spectacular.
A Day for Sandcastles
JonArno Lawson, illus. by Qin Leng (Candlewick)
Lawson and Leng offer a wordless story about a long day at the beach. When three children begin building a sandcastle near the ocean’s edge, various events require the kids to begin again. It’s a gentle vision of the best kind of childhood learning curve—slow, cooperative, independent, and made with little more than water and sand.
Solmaz Sharif (Graywolf)
Sharif contemplates airports (and their checkpoints and intrusions) and other public spaces to ponder systems of power, consumerism, and ideas about freedom. It’s a powerful, timely, and incisive examination that establishes Sharif as one of the most important poets writing today.
A Hole in the World: Finding Hope in Rituals of Grief and Healing
Amanda Held Opelt (Worthy)
After Christian author Rachel Held Evans died in 2019, her sister, Opelt, set out to study bereavement customs across cultures and history. The result is a rending meditation on grief that surveys such rituals as covering up mirrors and “telling the bees” about an individual’s death. It’s at once a touching tribute, an insightful cultural analysis, and a poignant consideration of how acts for the dead serve the needs of the living.
A Lady for a Duke
Alexis Hall (Forever)
With this heart-rending Regency romance between a trans woman and her childhood best friend, Hall turns from rom-com hijinks to hurts-so-good angst while still retaining the sparkling wit that characterizes the best of his prose. He tackles heavy subjects including addiction and grief, but leavens the darkness with tenderness, longing, and the joy of living authentically.
Hiron Ennes (Tordotcom)
It’s the exquisitely realized narrative voice that makes Ennes’s mind-bending debut such a standout: through the eyes of a hive mind of parasitic worms, readers encounter a postapocalyptic mystery replete with inventive twists and squirming body horror. The resulting blend of gothic horror and science fiction is ambitious, atmospheric, and astounding.
G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century
Beverly Gage (Viking)
Drawing on newly released files, this sweeping biography of the long-serving FBI director recounts with equal perceptiveness matters personal (his father’s struggles with depression, his intimate relationships with men) and political (the 1919 Palmer raids, the JFK assassination, COINTELPRO). The nuanced and exhaustive portrait that emerges casts the man and his century in an astonishing new light.
Hell Followed with Us
Andrew Joseph White (Peachtree Teen)
After creating the Flood, a fatal infection responsible for humankind’s decimation, an ecofascist cult forces trans boy Benjy to become the perfected virus’s host in this gripping near-future dystopian debut. Using evocative and visceral language, compact storytelling, and inventive worldbuilding, White delivers a rousing and timely tale of tenacity and a transformative depiction of apocalypse through a queer lens.
Percival Everett (Graywolf)
Everett’s delightfully unhinged James Bond spoof involves a Black billionaire’s plot to hit Fort Knox, which is phase one in his scheme to avenge the murder of his parents at the hands of a white police chief. With satire as sharp as a baddie’s worst weapon and set pieces more bonkers than Moonraker, Everett shows off his formidable powers.
Death and the Conjuror
Tom Mead (Mysterious Press)
In this stellar debut and series launch set in 1936 London, Scotland Yard enlists the aid of magician Joseph Spector in trying to solve the baffling case of an Austrian psychotherapist, who was found with his throat slit in his locked study. This homage to golden age crime fiction rivals the best of John Dickson Carr.
Butts: A Backstory
Heather Radke (Avid Reader)
An ambitious mash-up of pop culture, science, and history, this breakout debut from Radiolab reporter Radke tracks the evolution of attitudes toward women’s butts from the “Hottentot Venus” to Miley Cyrus. Along the way, Radke delves into eugenics, hip-hop aesthetics, the physiology of posteriors, and more. It adds up to one of the year’s most ingenious and eye-opening cultural studies.
Does a Bulldozer Have a Butt?
Derick Wilder, illus. by K-Fai Steele (Chronicle)
As a father and child walk to school, an important question arises: “Which things do and don’t have butts?” Paired with Steele’s renderings of myriad tushes, Wilder’s conceit will doubtless win over young readers. Most important, though, is the book’s perspective: one of a world in which questions serve as a common bond, curiosity is amply rewarded, and variety is the spice of life.
The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family
Kerri K. Greenidge (Liveright)
This scrupulous and often enthralling family history uncovers the complex relationship between white abolitionist sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke and their slaveholding brother’s three sons, who were born to an enslaved woman. In a brilliant account enriched by compassionate character sketches and incisive analyses of the tensions between white privilege and Black freedom, Greenidge plumbs the depths of America’s racial divide.
Ryan La Sala (Push)
Gender-fluid Mars investigates their twin sister’s mysterious death in this gripping summer camp mystery. Featuring deliciously creepy horror scenes and a nuanced, self-assured protagonist consumed by grief and longing for acceptance, La Sala’s tantalizing horror novel is a tribute to the healing and revolutionary power of solidarity.
Elif Batuman (Penguin Press)
With this radiant sequel to The Idiot, Batuman has achieved campus novel perfection. Selin, now in her second year at Harvard in the mid-1990s, is starting to feel disenchanted. Her friends are pairing off, and her crush is elusive. Funny set pieces, like an S&M-themed party, add dimension to the insightful philosophical flights. Batuman’s outdone herself with this one.
Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone
Tae Keller (Random House)
When new kid Jennifer runs away following relentless bullying, neighbor Mal, determined to make up for past mistakes, searches for her in this cleverly layered contemporary novel that examines bullying and its effects. Keller’s vulnerable first-person narrative alternates between past and present to detail the challenges of navigating changing social rules, offering a sincere look into individuals’ desire for acceptance.
Ava Barry (Pegasus Crime)
Melia van Aust asks Hollywood PI Rainey Hall to find out who’s been sending her threatening letters she fears might be coming from her fugitive younger brother, who disappeared four years earlier the night their wealthy parents were murdered. This evocative update of the classic L.A. PI novel demonstrates that both the city and its magic remain very much alive.
By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners
Margaret A. Burnham (Norton)
Drawing on a database of more than 1,000 racially motivated homicides, Burnham documents with searing exactitude the role that racialized terror played in enforcing Jim Crow. Harrowing case studies, including an elderly woman who was beaten to death by a white storekeeper in 1944, brush up against astute legal analysis and inspiring profiles of the nascent civil rights movement.
Sophie Blackall (Little, Brown)
In densely textured multimedia spreads that offer much to pore over, this picture book relays the history of a clapboard farmhouse “where twelve children/ were born and raised,/ where they learned to crawl,/ in the short front hall.” The tale’s spectacular sense of place undergirds Blackall’s take on the way environments change over time and stories survive long after material objects disappear.
Time Is a Mother
Ocean Vuong (Penguin)
Vuong is a master at weaving past and present in striking and evocative poems that explore loss—here, that’s the death of his mother. His elegiac investigation is rife with rich descriptions, while also relying on pithy, colloquial insights and dark humor. This layered work offers a sensitive and unusual portrayal of grief.
The Light We Give: How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life
Simran Jeet Singh (Riverhead)
In this nimble debut, Singh, the executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Religion and Society Program, recounts how practicing Sikhism has impacted his life, from the prejudice he faced growing up in Texas after 9/11 to the life lessons he’s gleaned from the religion. Bolstered by rich dispatches on Sikh theology and history, this deeply personal account of faith moves and enlightens.
Partners in Crime
Alisha Rai (Avon)
A typical rom-com setup gives way to a no-holds-barred caper when a straightlaced Desi American accountant is kidnapped alongside her disastrous blind date by enemies of her mob boss father. Rai balances the genre mash-up perfectly, with plenty of laughs amid the danger and an entirely believable intimacy blossoming between her leads as they band together to survive.
Lonely Castle in the Mirror
Mizuki Tsujimura, trans. from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel (Erewhon)
Lost, friendless middle school dropouts meet in a strange land straight out of a storybook in this breathtaking portal fantasy from Tsujimura. Hopeful and heartbreakingly sweet without ever being saccharine, this character-focused tale of finding unexpected community unfolds remarkably gently, eschewing a typical Western plot structure. Readers will leave with their faith in humanity restored.
An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us
Ed Yong (Random House)
Flip to any page in Pulitzer winner Yong’s stunning work and there’s something remarkable to be found: whale songs can traverse entire oceans, insects send vibrational messages through plant stems, and fish use electricity to communicate. It’s peak pop science, and an awe-inspiring study of the world beyond human senses.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler
Casey McQuiston (Wednesday)
When universally beloved Shara Wheeler suddenly kisses Chloe Green, then disappears, the event kicks off a scavenger hunt and a school-hierarchy-subverting alliance in McQuiston’s YA debut. Crisp writing, humorous asides, and fully fleshed characters and relationships—many queer—keep classic plotlines fresh in this heady novel that centers themes of authenticity and autonomy amid shame culture.
Elisa Albert (Avid Reader)
Albert unfurls a hilarious and profane portrayal of a folk-punk singer-songwriter who’s a bit obsessed with Amy Winehouse and hopes to have a child. Jokes bend into rants—and vice versa—about Jewish guilt, monogamy, and the “industrial fertility” complex, and the whole thing culminates in a consummate and moving ending.
The Last Mapmaker
Christina Soontornvat (Candlewick)
Soontornvat’s imaginative, Thai-inspired fantasy centers 12-year-old Sai, who, obscuring her modest background, sets off on a voyage to visit a fabled continent as assistant to the royal navy’s Master Mapmaker. Employing a well-developed cast, this swashbuckling high-seas adventure maintains a fast-paced clip while deftly exploring class hierarchies and themes of empire.
Her Perfect Twin
Sarah Bonner (Grand Central)
Identical twin sisters Leah and Megan, who have been estranged for five years, attempt to make peace. Then Megan suspects Leah of having an affair with her husband. The ensuing argument between the two turns deadly—but which twin survives? The ingeniously twisty plot and complex characters set this above the psychological thriller pack.
Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century
Dana Stevens (Atria)
Stevens pulls back the curtain on one of Hollywood’s greats in her spellbinding biography of Buster Keaton, who here emerges as a key player in the 20th century. It’s fast-paced and exceedingly smart, and, with its mini-portraits of his peers, reveals much about the actor’s milieu.
Doug Salati (Knopf)
Salati’s remarkable solo debut stars a copper-hued, city-dwelling dachshund melting down on one sizzling summer day, until—a cab, a train, and a ferry later—hound and human companion arrive at “an island... wild and long and low,” where, at last, “a pup can run.” Luxurious scenes of ocean, sand, and reeds culminate in a calming portrait of escape and renewal.
The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness
Meghan O’Rourke (Riverhead)
Poet and Yale Review editor O’Rourke offers a powerful account of living with chronic illness and navigating the labyrinthine path to recovery. She looks beyond her personal experience to shed light on the plight of marginalized patients and the shortcomings of medical professionals. Empathetic and searingly relevant, O’Rourke’s narrative gives hope to those who suffer in silence.
I Must Betray You
Ruta Sepetys (Philomel)
In this ominously suspenseful historical novel by Sepetys, canny aspiring writer Cristian Florescu keeps his true observations secret during the corrupt authoritarian Ceaușescu’s tenure in 1989 Bucharest. As Romania hurtles toward political change in Cristian’s tense first-person prose, the narrative foregrounds stark historical realities and unblinkingly confronts deprivations and cruelty with perseverance and hope.
Ian McEwan (Knopf)
McEwan’s decades-spanning masterpiece tells the story of an Englishman stamped by boyhood trauma in the 1950s. As Roland lives through moments of disaster both historical (the Chernobyl meltdown) and personal (an unfriendly and misleading memoir published by Roland’s ex-wife), McEwan elicits a staggering depth of feeling for the protagonist.
Gary Paulsen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Described with the late Paulsen’s characteristic detail, this captivating saga centers steadfast, solitary child Leif struggling to survive in an apparently Nordic archipelago landscape following a bout of cholera. Spare prose keeps the reader immersed in scenes difficult and wondrous, offering a timeless and irresistible adventure that has resilience at its heart.
Erin E. Adams (Bantam)
Liz Rocher, a Black woman, returns reluctantly home to Johnstown, Pa., for the wedding of her white best friend, Mel Parker. When Mel’s mixed-race daughter, Caroline, disappears in the woods, Liz’s attempts to find Caroline lead her to discover years of police cover-ups of the deaths of Black girls in the woods. It’s an emotionally wrenching gem.
Constructing a Nervous System: A Memoir
Margo Jefferson (Pantheon)
In this moving excavation of Black female identity, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and memoirist Jefferson examines the Black artists, musicians, and writers who have informed her sense of self and influenced American culture. Through autobiographical fragments and sharp cultural commentary, Jefferson delivers an innovative interrogation of the intersections of race and class.
If You’re a Kid Like Gavin: The True Story of a Young Trans Activist
Gavin Grimm and Kyle Lukoff, illus. by J Yang (HarperCollins/Tegen)
Grimm, Lukoff, and Yang’s autobiographical picture book traces how discriminatory practices at school led to Grimm’s advocating for trans rights all the way to the Supreme Court. This call for action, authenticity, and equity invites readers to connect with the text both as people “like Gavin” and people who, “like Gavin,” understand that everyone has the right to be themselves.
[To] the Last [Be] Human
Jorie Graham (Copper Canyon)
One of the greatest living ecopoetic writers, Graham is an essential voice in American poetry. This volume, which compiles her latest four collections, paints a dazzling and often unnerving portrait of environmental contingency in poems that ambitiously and unblinkingly tackle all aspects of the human experience. Graham’s power as a thinker and poet shines in these pages.
Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle
Shannen Dee Williams (Duke Univ.)
The role of American Black Catholic nuns in the civil rights movement of the 1960s takes center stage in history professor Williams’s illuminating chronicle. Detailed accounts of how Black Catholic nuns pushed the church to embrace more egalitarian positions on race and demanded that Catholic universities desegregate offer a vital corrective to an overlooked segment of the movement.
To Catch a Raven
Beverly Jenkins (Avon)
Jenkins closes out her Women Who Dare series on an undeniable high note with a swoony and suspenseful Reconstruction-era romp that sends perfectly matched polar opposites Raven, a con artist, and Braxton, a respectable businessman, undercover to retrieve a stolen copy of the Declaration of Independence. It’s a thoroughly satisfying finale from a true genre great.
Moon Witch, Spider King
Marlon James (Riverhead)
In flipping the narrative of Black Leopard, Red Wolf on its head and immersing readers in the villain’s perspective, James’s outstanding second Dark Star fantasy proves an even more profound exploration of the power and peril of storytelling. This standalone sequel—which runs parallel to (and often contradicts) the first installment—reveals the epic scope and ambition of James’s project.
The Rabbit Hutch
Tess Gunty (Knopf)
Gunty’s titanic debut reads like the assured and focused work of a writer five books deep. The story is about a bunch of semi-feral teens and other residents of a building in a fictional rust belt city, and it centers on a young woman’s horrific stabbing. The excellent character development and harrowing details are conveyed in some of the best prose around.
The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
Isaac Blum (Philomel)
Yehuda “Hoodie” Rosen, who lives in a mostly non-Jewish town, wrestles with forbidden first love while navigating the aftermath of a hate crime against his Orthodox Jewish community in this immersive debut. Blum tackles themes of acceptance and injustice via an intricately detailed Orthodox Jewish cast, a steadily building anticipatory atmosphere, and Hoodie’s complex, sarcastic voice.
Polina Barskova, trans. from the Russian by Catherine Ciepiela (New York Review Books)
In an amazing mixed-genre feat, Barskova compiles and embellishes stories of those who survived the siege of Leningrad during WWII. The author also includes reflections on her own childhood in Leningrad and adulthood in the U.S., with stories that bridge a gulf of understanding between herself and her grandparents’ generation.
The Ogress and the Orphans
Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin)
Though Stone-in-the-Glen was once a “lovely town,” its residents now retreat behind locked doors, goaded on by a mayor who sows a campaign of suspicion and fear. Employing an omniscient narrator who twines tellings of an ogress, an orphanage’s residents, and a history of dragonkind, Barnhill offers up an ambitious sociopolitical allegory about the import of community care.
The Kingdoms of Savannah
George Dawes Green (Celadon)
Attempts to solve crimes against two members of the homeless community in Savannah, Ga.—the stabbing murder of a white kid in his early 20s, and the apparent abduction of his drinking buddy, a 43-year-old Black woman—are resisted by some powerful people. Deeply rooted in Savannah’s at times horrific history, this provocative page-turner is unforgettable.
Easy Beauty: A Memoir
Chloé Cooper Jones (Avid Reader)
“What was my lineage and where was it celebrated?” wonders Jones, a 2020 Pulitzer Prize finalist for feature writing, in this evocative debut. Drawing on the theories of British philosopher Bernard Bosanquet, she considers the role of her physical disability in constructing her identity and society’s perception of beauty. Achingly felt, Jones’s writing is a revelation.
Mac Barnett, illus. by Kate Berube (Candlewick)
After a morning of nerves, John takes the stage with a breathlessly kinetic dance routine—and the audience knows just how to respond. Employing sweet humor and sensory detail, Barnett and Berube convey the unexpected beauty of a school performance in this story of a community staying open and curious, and a child who shares their effort with brave vulnerability.
Man Made Monsters
Andrea L. Rogers, illus. by Jeff Edwards (Levine Querido)
One Cherokee family combats myriad mythical creatures and monsterlike men in a spine-tingling, generation-spanning horror collection. Cherokee author Rogers expertly crafts gripping, grisly horror elements via engaging prose while artfully tackling themes of colonialism and its effects on entire generations for a simultaneously frightening and enthralling read. Striking white line art on black backgrounds by Cherokee artist Edwards add to the haunting atmosphere.
New and Selected Stories
Cristina Rivera Garza, trans. from the Spanish by Sarah Booker et al. (Dorothy)
Mexican author Rivera Garza charts love and danger in Mexico City and beyond in this knockout collection. Whether chronicling a murder investigation, reflecting on migration, or deploying inventive forms such as an anthropologist’s log, the author displays her genius in myriad ways.
The Patron Thief of Bread
Lindsay Eagar (Candlewick)
Sheltering amid the ruins of an unfinished cathedral in a fictional French town, a band of pickpockets schemes to apprentice eight-year-old Duck to the local baker for their own devices. Discovering that she has a knack for baking, Duck settles into her new home, fearing discovery. Boasting vividly wrought characters, including a cantankerous gargoyle, Eagar’s tale brims with medieval-era details.
Targeted: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel
Stephen Hunter (Atria/Bestler)
Bob Lee Swagger, a retired Army sniper, is facing tough questions at a congressional hearing held at a Boise, Idaho, high school auditorium for alleged misdeeds when a prison bus commandeered by five escaped inmates crashes through the wall of the auditorium and mayhem ensues. With this inventive nail-biter, Hunter sets a new bar for both himself and the genre.
For Profit: A History of Corporations
William Magnuson (Basic)
From Roman societates publicanorum to the British East India Company and Facebook, this sweeping survey explores the good, the bad, and the ugly of corporations. Magnuson’s nuanced telling sets astonishing achievements, including the building of the transcontinental railroad and the development of the first affordable automobile, alongside infuriating stories of exploitation and corruption.
Love in the Library
Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illus. by Yas Imamura (Candlewick)
Love blooms at a Japanese prison camp in this compassionate narrative inspired by the experiences of Tokuda-Hall’s grandparents. Employing simple yet evocative language paired with dynamic gouache and watercolor illustrations by Imamura, this picture book—a sensitively told introduction to life in Japanese internment camps—transcends its central romance to encompass love for books, community, and being human.
Katee Robert (Sourcebooks Casablanca)
Readers should take care while handling Robert’s standalone third Dark Olympus romance; it’s that hot. It takes guts to play as fast and loose with one’s source material as Robert does here, but she pulls it off with aplomb as established couple Achilles and Patroclus welcome the beautiful, misunderstood Helen into their relationship against a futuristic dystopian backdrop.
The Mountain in the Sea
Ray Nayler (MCD)
The discovery of a society of intelligent octopuses in Vietnam’s Con Dao archipelago sparks scientific investigation and international competition in Nayler’s wildly impressive debut. Grounded in believable science and tense geopolitics, this speculative thriller manages to be both an immersive, accessible page-turner and a smart, deeply philosophical investigation of the nature of sentience and personhood.
Right Where I Left You
Julian Winters (Viking)
After their grand summer plans are derailed, queer best friends Isaac and Diego navigate first love, evolving relationships, and fear-inspiring change in this bighearted friends-to-lovers romance. Employing a winsome cast and compassionate prose, Winters skillfully explores myriad facets of LGBTQ experiences. The boys’ intimate connection, facilitated by healthy communication and individual vulnerability, is one to be cherished.
Night of the Living Rez
Morgan Talty (Tin House)
Talty’s knockout collection looks at a family on the Penobscot reservation in the 1990s, and at a young man dealing with an opioid addiction in the present day. Throughout, a series of abandoned or spoiled hunting trips establishes a theme of dreams squashed, and the author brings breathtaking focus to his characters.
A Rover’s Story
Jasmine Warga, illus. by Matt Rockefeller (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
Rendered with philosophical internality, Warga’s novel alternates between the perspectives of Mars rover Resilience, who’s gearing up for a high-stakes mission, and Sophie, the child of one of Res’s NASA scientist creators. Res’s fascination with humans leads to his internalizing non-programmed concepts, and on Mars, living up to his name while showing that feelings are as important as logic.
The Wheel of Doll
Jonathan Ames (Mulholland)
L.A. gumshoe Happy Doll revisits his past when a new client, Mary DeAngelo, hires him to find her missing mother, Ines Candle. Last seen in Olympia, Wash., Ines was once briefly Doll’s girlfriend. Hard-boiled PI fiction set in the present doesn’t get much better than this.
Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad
Matthew F. Delmont (Viking)
Black newspapers warned Americans about the dangers of fascism, and Black soldiers were essential to the D-Day invasion and other campaigns, according to this groundbreaking contribution to the history of the Greatest Generation. But the greatest battles were waged at home, as Black veterans returned to confront the legacies of slavery—a fight that continues to this day.
Renée Watson, illus. by Bryan Collier (HarperCollins)
In allusive biographical poems that focus on their subject’s developing voice, Watson recounts the life of activist and author Maya Angelou, beginning with her St. Louis birth and ending with her reading at the 1993 presidential inauguration. Collier’s richly textured collage and watercolor art adds depth to every image, making for a thoughtfully rendered biography of a dazzling figure.
Rust in the Root
Justina Ireland (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
This electrifying, fantastical steampunk take on the Great Depression features queer Black mage Laura and enigmatic Skylark, who uncover dangerous, archaic magic while investigating mysterious disappearances. Ireland mingles an in-depth understanding of human nature with a wildly ambitious reimagining of the era, balancing matters of race, gender, and sexuality in this thoroughly unique historical magical fantasy.
Scattered All Over the Earth
Yoko Tawada, trans. from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani (New Directions)
With Japan obliterated from the map in a postapocalyptic near future, a refugee builds a new life in Denmark, where her interest in languages draws her into a ragtag group of linguists. It turns into a wondrously complex story of cultures colliding, languages morphing, and hidden narratives. Once opened, it’s hard to pull away from.
Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting
Roseanne A. Brown (Disney/Riordan)
Serwa Boateng, 12, has trained her entire life to become a Slayer of an order of warriors charged with defeating dark creatures. When an attack compromises her family’s safety, Serwa is sent to stay with distant family but is soon caught up in a startling hunt of her own. Melding Ghanaian folklore and a healthy dose of tween hijinks, Brown writes an exhilarating series starter.
High-Risk Homosexual: A Memoir
Edgar Gomez (Soft Skull)
Gomez debuts with a crackling exploration of what it means to be a queer Latinx man in this collection of transcendent essays. With wit and conviction, he tells his own empowering story of embracing and eventually rejecting a binary existence, which allows him to claim a self-made definition of queerness that’s free from fear.
Nigel and the Moon
Antwan Eady, illus. by Gracey Zhang (HarperCollins/Tegen)
A Black boy named Nigel struggles to share his aspirations with anyone except the moon, but when his parents attend his classroom’s career week, he finds courage to move beyond comparison. Subtly tackling themes of class, gender expectations, and race, Eady’s tender lines and Zhang’s fluid illustrations offer up a loving exhortation to “dream big... and be proud of who you are.”
Everina Maxwell (Tor)
There’s a catchy hook to Maxwell’s powerful sophomore space opera: it’s a queer, sci-fi take on fake dating wherein two men must fake a neural link to survive within the brutal far future military. This alone would be enough for an enjoyable romp, but Maxwell’s goals are grander. She cleverly subverts and critiques military sci-fi tropes to create an incisive and emotional epic.
Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice
Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes, illus. by Dawud Anyabwile (Norton Young Readers)
With collaborators Barnes and Anyabwile, Smith details his life leading up to his historic Olympic protest, and its aftermath, in this potent graphic memoir. Grayscale art features kinetically illustrated athletic competition, tense racial dynamics, and an intricately detailed Black family. This immediate-feeling story, whose nonlinear chronology highlights prominent events during the civil rights movement, is a stirring celebration of resistance.
Seasons of Purgatory
Shahriar Mandanipour, trans. from the Persian by Sara Khalili (Bellevue Literary)
The exiled Iranian writer brings a timeless quality to these harrowing stories of violence and war, which often bring a sense of human immediacy to strange occurrences. Whether in an account of two soldiers’ frightening encounter with a leopard, or another dissembling after he’s wounded, Mandanipour evokes an unsettling fascination for his nightmarish situations.
The Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck
Matt Phelan (Greenwillow)
Interspersing a third-person narrative and paneled comics sequences, Phelan offers a delightful historical reimagining, centering animals as spies in late-1800s Versailles. When Benjamin Franklin’s drawings fall into evil hands, it’s up to sheep Bernadette, duck Jean-Luc, and masked rooster Pierre to save the day in this amusing, fast-paced tale of land, sky, and espionage featuring cameos of notable historic figures.
His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice
Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa (Viking)
This powerhouse biography, based on hundreds of interviews with those who knew George Floyd, reveals the ambitious, charismatic, and flawed man whose murder by Minneapolis police officers sparked racial justice protests around the world, as well the societal forces—including the war on drugs, redlining, and school segregation—that have shaped Black life in America.
No! Said Custard the Squirrel
Sergio Ruzzier (Abrams Appleseed)
Pointing to a ducklike image in a book, a gray rodent-type animal confronts the eponymous protagonist: “Custard the Squirrel, aren’t you a duck?” “No,” replies Custard, a yellow figure with an orange bill and feet. As the rodent insists on conventional duck behavior, Custard scans as upbeat but firm in a gladly resounding take on confronting bias, labels, and assumptions.
The Weight of Blood
Tiffany D. Jackson (HarperCollins/Tegen)
Biracial high school senior Maddy Washington’s abusive and racist white father forces her to live as white in Jackson’s bone-chilling rendition of Stephen King’s Carrie. This striking horror variation expertly employs true-crime fanaticism to form a socially conscious narrative that skillfully explores internalized and externalized anti-Blackness and structural racism.
The Sleeping Car Porter
Suzette Mayr (Coach House)
Canadian writer Mayr pulls off an achingly good portrait of a Black train porter on a transcontinental trip in 1929. He faces many challenges, not the least of which is the need to stay awake, and Mayr captures the surreal notes of his delirium in stunning prose.
Jose Pimienta (Random House Graphic)
Pimienta’s profound graphic novel chronicles Mexican twins Teresa and Fer’s evolving relationship while attending schools in separate cities divided by the U.S.-Mexico border. The twins’ vastly opposite education experiences and home lives unfold via brightly colored, intricately detailed panoramas and montages, empathetic dialogue, and brilliantly alternating panels, realistically conveying one family’s experience living in a bustling border community.
Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America
Pekka Hämäläinen (Liveright)
Indigenous peoples held sway over North America from 10000 BCE until the end of the 19th century, according to this revelatory account. Stuffed with eye-opening evidence of Indigenous adaptability, determination, and resilience, Hämäläinen’s impressive scholarship is matched by his exquisite storytelling. None of this year’s histories did more to upend received wisdom.
Rick the Rock of Room 214
Julie Falatko, illus. by Ruth Chan (Simon & Schuster)
A science lesson persuades rock Rick, who sits on Room 214’s Nature Finds shelf, that he’s made for adventure in this winning classroom picture book. Mixing humorous narration with comics-style framing, Falatko and Chan earn a gold star for comedy cooperation, showing that adventure is really what you make it—and who you make it with.
Mircea Cartarescu, trans. from the Romanian by Sean Cotter (Deep Vellum)
A failed writer’s diary swells into a marvelous fantastical vision of 1970s and ’80s Bucharest, where he lives on a structure built to tap into the fourth dimension and joins up with a group of anti-death people in hopes of getting there. What follows is a dizzying quest of Kafkaesque proportions.
You Only Live Once, David Bravo
Mark Oshiro (HarperCollins)
In this laugh-out-loud novel with a pick-your-path vibe, David Bravo, a transracial adoptee of Latinx descent, endures a first week of middle school riddled with missteps and disappointments. When he wishes for a do-over, help arrives in the form of a magical hairless hound who leads David to the past, where he makes innumerable mistakes while attempting to repair his timeline.
Inciting Joy: Essays
Ross Gay (Algonquin)
In essays that are lyrical, pensive, and surprising, poet Gay sheds light on all the places joy can lurk: it’s there for him in strangers, in skateboarding, and can be found amid sorrow. Gay’s a remarkable writer, and the collection makes for a spellbinding meditation on the ways joy deepens and grows in the company of grief, fear, and loss.
Sal Boat (A Boat by Sal)
Thyra Heder (Abrams)
When young Sal starts building a boat, word spreads quickly around his harbor town, and soon the project is the recipient of advice and even jokes: “This isn’t a game,” Sal says, “it’s my BOAT.” Heder works in watercolor and sculptural pencil, building to a film-worthy emotional climax in this picture book of resourcefulness and loving community.
The Listeners: A History of Wiretapping in the United States
Brian Hochman (Harvard Univ.)
Today’s “regime of ubiquitous backdoor surveillance” wasn’t inevitable, contends Hochman in this unsettling look at how wiretapping became a standard investigative tactic. Come for the lucid analysis of legal and political matters, stay for the profiles of LAPD wiretapper-turned-Christian evangelist Jim Vaus and other colorful characters.
Lost & Found: A Memoir
Kathryn Schulz (Random House)
“Loss is a kind of external conscience,” Schulz writes in this searing meditation about her father’s death, which coincided with a blossoming relationship with her future wife. Interweaving ruminations on philosophy, art, poetry, and literature, Schulz’s sobering narrative illuminates the necessity of transience and the utility and limits of grief and grieving.
The Milky Way: An Autobiography of Our Galaxy
Moiya McTier (Grand Central)
“I am space; I am made of space; and I am surrounded by space. I am the greatest galaxy who has ever lived.” So says the Milky Way, the narrator of McTier’s sui generis guide to the galaxy, from its beginnings to how it may end. It’s fun, sure, but it’s also deeply insightful.
Read Dangerously: The Subversive Power of Literature in Troubled Times
Azar Nafisi (Dey Street)
Nafisi’s personal and profound survey of the power of books comes in the form of letters to her late father in which she reflects on the work of 11 writers. It’s a masterful blend of criticism and memoir, and a rewarding look at why reading matters.
Julie Otsuka (Knopf)
When a pool beloved by lap swimmers must close after a crack is discovered in it, the stage is set for a transcendent meditation on the nature of habit, community, and memory. And after one of the swimmers gets dementia and moves into a nursing home, Otsuka delivers an account of life’s final phase that will touch even the stoniest reader.
Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth
Elizabeth Williamson (Dutton)
Through years of extensive research and interviews with survivors of the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre, New York Times reporter Williamson shows how the January 6 attack on the Capitol had its roots in conspiracy theories that claimed Sandy Hook was a hoax. This is the definitive account of this dark chapter of American history.
A Seed Grows
Antoinette Portis (Holiday House/Porter)
Employing spare language and sunny, stippled multimedia spreads that belie their quiet complexity, Portis gracefully traces a sunflower’s cycle from seed to sprout to plant—and back again. Almost as jam-packed as a seed itself, this vibrant offering details a seedling’s early needs and maturation phases with text and images that hint at the plant’s place as participant in the natural world.
Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop
Danyel Smith (Roc Lit 101)
In this sweeping blend of memoir, criticism, and biography, Smith celebrates the Black women trailblazers who “connected to everything” in her life and shaped American pop music, from enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley to Whitney Houston. This impassioned tribute to Black women artists is as wise as it is uplifting.
Stay True: A Memoir
Hua Hsu (Doubleday)
Set against the backdrop of 1990s California, New Yorker writer Hsu’s intimate tribute to a college friend who was murdered captures the fleeting possibilities of youth. The author reconstructs frank discussions about the nuances of Asian American identity and late nights devoted to shared infatuations, delivering a striking narrative that will leave an indelible mark.
Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation
Linda Villarosa (Doubleday)
In this heart-wrenching inquiry, Villarosa holds herself to task for once believing that if Black Americans took better care of themselves, they could close the racial health gap. The reality, she reveals, is that racism—more than poverty, poor lifestyle choices, or lack of education—cuts African American lives short.
What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma
Stephanie Foo (Ballantine)
Foo, a radio journalist and former producer of This American Life, recounts how she came to understand and live with a diagnosis of complex PTSD in her early 30s. The astounding narrative, which incorporates expert research and an unflinching investigation into the author’s own trauma, lands as a bracing self-excavation.
The Town of Babylon
Alejandro Varela (Astra)
Varela’s assured debut stands out for its frank and vulnerable account of a gay Latinx man’s return to his suburban hometown for his 20th high school reunion, where run-ins with former classmates send him reeling. Varela’s take on how the town shaped Andres and continues to affect his life is irresistible.
The Year of the Puppy: How Dogs Become Themselves
Alexandra Horowitz (Viking)
Horowitz takes science writing to the next level in this stunning exploration of what the world looks like through the eyes of man’s best friend. It’s a blast to join her as she tracks a puppy’s development week by week for a year. Come for the heartwarming anecdotes about her pandemic pup Quiddity, stay for the constantly surprising takeaways.
Walter Had a Best Friend
Deborah Underwood, illus. by Sergio Ruzzier (Beach Lane)
After Walter’s best friend finds a new companion, the rodent sustains a period of real mourning before things improve. Underwood and Ruzzier pay careful attention to the character’s difficult experience, giving it direct, powerful words before revealing what’s on the other side, and painting a realistic but hopeful arc of change.
Sara Nović (Random House)
Nović’s spiky anthem of teenage rage centers on a school for the Deaf, and a student whose parents just don’t understand: she struggles to learn sign language while her parents refuse, and she has headaches from the cochlear implant forced on her. Along the way, Nović generously and ingeniously conveys the intersection of languages.
Where Is Bina Bear?
Mike Curato (Holt/Godwin)
While at a social gathering, Bina, a large purple bear, camouflages herself as a series of increasingly elaborate objects. When the event's host asks if she’s okay, Bina admits that she doesn’t care for parties. With a gently comic touch, Curato refreshingly acknowledges and appreciates Bina’s needs in this tender tribute to lone wolves (er, bears) and the beings who love them.
The Village Idiot
Steve Stern (Melville House)
Stern, whose genius works of fiction suffuse history with the magic of Jewish folklore, is a writer still awaiting his due. This one, a masterwork of time and memory from the point of view of expressionist painter Chaim Soutine, might just become the sleeper success he deserves.
The World Belonged to Us
Jacqueline Woodson, illus. by Leo Espinosa (Penguin/Paulsen)
Lilting, intimate lines by Woodson capture a delicious sense of autonomy and possibility shared “in Brooklyn/ in the summer/ not so long ago,” when “the minute/ school ended, us kids were free as air.” In Espinosa’s spreads, kids crowd sidewalks and stoops, open hydrants, and play street games. It’s a book about how childhood can engender joy that follows “everywhere I’d ever go.”