Blood of the Virgin
Sammy Harkham (Pantheon)
The wunderkind creator of Poor Sailor returns with an acrobatic, mature magnum opus in which big themes of ambition and exploitation are screened against a lurid, adroitly drawn vision of grindhouse underground filmmaking in 1970s L.A. Watch out for the capsule histories of how Hollywood destroys people, inset between the main feature.
Age of Vice
Deepti Kapoor (Riverhead)
The year’s great Dickensian novel takes place in 2001 Delhi, where a young man from the lowest caste works as a driver for the flashy son of a crime boss. Kapoor employs a wide and perceptive lens for the story, which involves a fatal car crash and its repercussions. It’s a violent and bitter pill, but an absolutely addictive one.
Zach Weinersmith, illus. by Boulet (First Second)
Taking the source material as a starting point, this lovingly crafted retelling of Beowulf stars bold suburban children for whom mischief and misbehavior are all. Leaning into alliteration and wordplay, Weinersmith creates a joyously lyric, rapid-fire epic that’s dazzlingly illuminated by Boulet’s close-hatched cartooning. It’s a fresh, inventive remix that privileges childhood’s sensibilities.
An American Story
Kwame Alexander, illus. by Dare Coulter (Little, Brown)
“How do you tell a story/ that starts in Africa/ and ends in horror?” Alexander asks, launching this compassionate picture book about communicating difficult truths regarding chattel slavery. Alternating between Coulter’s elaborately sculpted historical scenes and charcoal vignettes of a contemporary classroom, the work converges into a cohesive telling that suggests a route forward: “holding/ history/ in one hand/ and clenching/ hope/ in the other.”
America Redux: Visual Stories from Our Dynamic History
Ariel Aberg-Riger (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
Via nonlinear chronology that covers ground between the late 18th and 21st centuries, debut creator Aberg-Riger depicts America's past in a pictorial stunner that steadfastly explores censorship and revisionist history. Vibrant mixed-media collages combining maps, vintage magazine ads, and photographs culminate in a kaleidoscopic visual accounting that enthralls from start to finish.
Ed Mitchell’s Barbeque
Ed and Ryan Mitchell (Ecco)
Legendary pitmaster Ed Mitchell, in collaboration with his son, Ryan, shares mouthwatering recipes and trade secrets in this definitive barbecue how-to. Celebrating the cuisine’s power to bring people together and foster community, the Mitchells’ rich, multilayered debut combines true expertise with deeply personal recollections and African American history.
All the Sinners Bleed
S.A. Cosby (Flatiron)
This tale of a Black sheriff in rural Virginia facing off against a religiously motivated murderer imbues the standard serial killer thriller with uncommon depth. Rich characters, trenchant social observations, and breakneck pacing combine to make it Cosby’s best yet.
Saskia Hamilton (Graywolf)
Hamilton, who died this year, offers sensitive and layered meditations on memory and motherhood in this beautiful posthumous collection. The book’s lyric sequences masterfully portray the thinking mind as it ruminates on time, illness, and literature. Hamilton poses necessary existential and aesthetic questions in these unforgettable pages.
The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise
Pico Iyer (Riverhead)
Iyer’s dreamlike quest to define earthly paradise takes him to some of the world’s holiest sites, from the Western Wall in Israel to the Imam Reza shrine in Iran. Thorny questions—is paradise possible in a world rife with suffering?—are tempered by elegant prose that at turns stuns and enlightens. Luminous and searching, this explores the global and the spiritual with equal mastery,
The Art of Scandal
Regina Black (Grand Central)
Infidelity is a rare and thorny topic in romancelandia, but Black makes it work in her high-heat, high-emotion debut. Rachel, the Black wife of a cheating white politician, agrees to stay in her marriage so as not to hurt her husband’s election chances. Then she meets smoldering younger artist Nathan. Their doomed attempts to resist each other keep the pages of this passionate romance flying.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Pantheon)
Adjei-Brenyah lands a heavy punch in his full-length debut, a brutal and bracing critique of the prison industrial complex that imagines an alternate present in which inmates of private prisons can earn their freedom by competing in televised, gladiator-style cage matches. The fights themselves make for thrilling reading, and the dystopian world feels far too close for comfort.
Biography of X
Catherine Lacey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Lacey’s audacious narrative takes the form of a biography about a fictional artist written by the artist’s widow. It’s also an alternate history set in an America shaped by the South’s second secession, after WWII. The high-concept structure and dizzyingly warped cultural references push the reader to reconsider what fiction can do.
America’s Black Capital: How African Americans Remade Atlanta in the Shadow of the Confederacy
Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar (Basic)
In an artfully told and richly detailed narrative, Ogbar complicates African American history by highlighting Atlanta’s early emergence as a powerhouse of Black economic and political life despite its location in the heart of a neo-Confederate stronghold. Subject to relentless persecution, Black Atlantans developed a philosophy of self-reliance that, Ogbar shows, interacted in dynamic ways with later civil rights activism.
Impossible People: A Completely Average Recovery Story
Julia Wertz (Black Dog and Leventhal)
In Wertz’s raw and raucous misadventure memoir of getting sober, it’s the friends met along the way who imbue her trademark snarky storytelling with heart—though the results are just as hilarious as ever. Through scenes of binge-drinking, bad boyfriends, and the back of diners where she finds her people in unofficial after-hours support groups, Wertz inspires, in spite of herself.
Deborah Levy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
After Elsa Anderson, a plaintive London pianist and former child prodigy, spectacularly tanks a Rachmaninov piece on stage, she’s reduced to giving private lessons to the rich and privileged. From there, Elsa has a series of encounters with her double, which bring her murky backstory into the light in Levy’s extraordinary and subtle narrative.
Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods
Grace Lin (Little, Brown)
In this expansive graphic novel, Lin employs mouthwatering full-color gouache and pencil illustrations alongside lush prose to chronicle the origins of ubiquitous dishes served in American Chinese restaurants. Folkloric, historical, and personal anecdotal details contextualize the featured foods and their lore, and address their connection to Chinese American culture, as well as troubling periods of strife and discrimination in Chinese history.
Ancestory: The Mystery and Majesty of Ancient Cave Art
Hannah Salyer (Clarion)
“The lives of our ancestors were filled with difficulties and danger,” explains this visually stunning global survey of cave and rock art, “and yet... they took the time to create.” Salyer magnificently reimagines the artistic “time capsules,” detailing symbols used, now-extinct animals depicted, site specifics, and connections to Indigenous communities, making for a fascinating look at a still-unfurling human history.
Terry J. Benton-Walker (Tor Teen)
This scintillating debut follows teenage members of a once-powerful magical family who are determined to uncover the truth of an ancestor’s tragic past. Combining contemporary politics with heady magical lore, Benton-Walker creates a layered world steeped in spiritual customs that take cues from the rich cultural history of the Black diaspora, and paints an evocative picture of an enchanted New Orleans.
The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z
Tamar Adler (Scribner)
In James Beard Award winner Adler’s capable hands, half-used ingredients, scraps, and remainders become both inspiration and opportunity. Through 1,500 recipes organized by ingredient and incorporating everything from “alfalfa sprouts, wilted“ to “toast, burnt,” she delineates an accessible—and tasty—path to reducing food waste. This encyclopedia of leftovers will change the way readers view the contents of their refrigerators.
Bright Young Women
Jessica Knoll (S&S/Rucci)
Inspired by the real-life murders carried out by Ted Bundy, this knockout thriller focuses on two women—one who narrowly escaped the All-American Sex Killer, the other who’s convinced he murdered her best friend—and the bond they share. It’s a moving examination of survivor’s guilt and a scathing critique of the true crime genre that never forgets to be exciting, too.
From From: Poems
Monica Youn (Graywolf)
Weaving personal and social history, Youn’s remarkable exploration of Asian American identity and its effects on consciousness is ambitious in its execution and scope. In commanding poems, Youn exposes the West’s ideas of East Asians and deconstructs the process of deracinations to reveal the disorienting, fragmented experience that Asian Americans face as a result of racial microaggressions and hate.
How Far to the Promised Land: One Black Family’s Story of Hope and Survival in the American South
Esau McCaulley (Convergent)
McCaulley vividly charts his path from a hardscrabble childhood in Alabama to the halls of academia, situating his story within frameworks of Black identity that challenge notions about “overcoming racism.” Interwoven with the author’s struggles with faith and eventual decision to devote his life to putting into words “the varied experiences of God in the souls of Black folks,” it’s the year’s most potent meditation on race and religion.
Every Duke Has His Day
Suzanne Enoch (Griffin)
All the crackling wit of a Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn classic meets all the sparkle of Regency England in Enoch’s historical revamp of Bringing Up Baby. Sparks fly as a science-minded duke and a flighty debutante band together to track down their stolen poodles. Enoch keeps the suspense plot, the love story, and the comedic hijinks in perfect balance throughout.
The Circumference of the World
Lavie Tidhar (Tachyon)
This mind-bending metafictional tale from World Fantasy Award winner Tidhar imagines a lost pulp masterpiece that may or may not hold the secrets of the universe and sends an eclectic cast on a whirlwind quest to track the book down. It’s both a love letter to the genre and a wildly entertaining romp.
The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight
Andrew Leland (Penguin Press)
Masterfully combining memoir and cultural history, Believer editor Leland catalogs his gradual loss of sight due to retinitis pigmentosa and situates his predicament within broader cultural discussions of blindness. Rigorously researched and presented in sparkling prose, it’s an extraordinary account of adapting to change.
The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession
Michael Finkel (Knopf)
French art thief Stéphane Breitwieser pilfered more than 200 artworks from museums across Europe between 1994 and 2001. Finkel recounts those exploits in an account that’s part perceptive psychological exploration (what’s behind the desire to possess beauty?) and part pure fun: a rollicking ride through Breitwieser’s unbelievable stunts, broad-daylight heists, and the cat-and-mouse game with police that culminated in his 2001 arrest.
Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)
The world ends in a fiery apocalypse in Clowes’s uncanny, time-hopping, and genre-bending comics stories, which circle ever more ominously around a striving young woman whose negligent hippie mom left her for a psychedelic cult—and that’s far from the most shocking scene. This Lynchian character study references classic comics through Clowes’s genius deadpan style. It’s a real marvel.
Andrés Neuman, trans. from the Spanish by Robin Myers (Open Letter)
This gritty and surreal tale of two garbagemen in Buenos Aires, originally published in 1999, was a favorite of Roberto Bolaño’s, for reasons made clear by the hypnotic prose and surprising twists. As one of the men deals with insomnia, he remembers a tortured love affair he had as a teen growing up in Patagonia, which troubles him now as he carries on a liaison with his route partner’s wife.
Jessixa Bagley, illus. by Aaron Bagley (Simon & Schuster)
Tween siblings determine to settle their differences via a fencing duel in this anticipatory and emotionally intense sports drama by married collaborators the Bagleys, which explores middle school angst. Incisive discussions about grief and the importance of community support deepen this already rich, cleverly constructed graphic novel of sisterly rivalry that’s also an earnest love letter to fencing.
David Álvarez with David Bowles (Levine Querido)
In this absorbing variation on several Mesoamerican stories, Earth’s firmament is lit every evening by Rabbit, who fills the moon with “precious, glowing nectar” aguamiel. But when crafty Opossum steals the aguamiel, the orb loses its radiance, and Opossum must find a way to illuminate the world. Bowles’s unhurried lines and Álvarez’s saturated digitized paintings make for a luminous telling with an enduring feel.
The Blood Years
Elana K. Arnold (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
Arnold presents a deeply personal telling based on her grandmother’s experience living through the Holocaust in this searing historical novel set in 1939–1945 Romanian Czernowitz. Amid unflinching depictions of war, compassionate renderings of intense familial drama, and somber topics that include genocide, hunger, rape, and suicide, the teenage Jewish protagonist’s persevering narration conveys hope and resilience.
More Is More: Get Loose in the Kitchen
Molly Baz (Clarkson Potter)
With utterly infectious enthusiasm, bestseller Baz encourages a bold, improvisational, and adventurous attitude toward food. “I want you to cook with gumption and personality,” she writes, and provides more than 100 recipes designed to help home cooks of all skill levels do just that. The result is a playful and inspiring collection replete with invaluable techniques and insightful tips.
The Devil’s Playground
Craig Russell (Doubleday)
A fictional horror flick provides the foundation for this stellar mystery, in which a film historian’s 1967 search for the sole surviving print of a notorious silent film frames a 1927 detective yarn about the spate of potentially supernatural mishaps that befell the movie’s production. Russell’s love for Old Hollywood leaps off the page, lending this a degree of authenticity unsurpassed by most of this year’s historical mysteries.
The Shared World
Vievee Francis (TriQuarterly)
Francis delivers a powerful volume of witness, probing the past while charting a path forward in poems that draw from her experience as a Black woman in the U.S. These poetic narratives are lyrical, precise, and deeply affecting, showcasing Francis’s range of poetic gifts as she wrestles with identity, history, and violence.
I Felt the End Before It Came: Memoirs of a Queer Ex-Jehovah’s Witness
Daniel Allen Cox (Viking Canada)
At the outset of this striking collection of essays, Cox comes out as gay via a “breakup letter to Jehovah” sent to his church elders. What follows is no less captivating, whether Cox is offering commentary on his break with the controlling Watch Tower Society, meditations on Y2K in New York City, or reflections on his insecurities about becoming a writer given the “anti-intellectual” religious tradition of his youth. There’s a live-wire intensity running through Cox’s prose that makes this easy to read and difficult to forget.
I Am Ayah: The Way Home
Donna Hill (Sideways)
When photographer Alessandra Flemming returns to her family home in Sag Harbor, she starts seeing ghosts of her ancestors. Local ethnographer Zach Rennard offers to help her investigate and Hill uses their ensuing romance to delve into the history of African American families in the Hamptons. This stirring mix of love story, family drama, and magical realism is a testament to what the romance genre can achieve.
Like Smoke Like Light
Yukimi Ogawa (Mythic Delirium)
The sly, slippery fairy tales of Ogawa’s debut collection wend their way from fascinating speculative setups—a girl bleeds hallucinogens, an eyewear salesman’s own eyes change color—to startling and unexpected conclusions, along the way raising poignant questions about what humans owe to one another. The result is lovely, subtle, and deliciously uncanny.
Flee North: A Forgotten Hero and the Fight for Freedom in Slavery’s Borderland
Scott Shane (Celadon)
This vibrant character study of Black abolitionist Thomas Smallwood and his odd-couple partnership with white abolitionist Charles Torrey uncovers astonishing new information about the history of the Underground Railroad. In an exhilarating narrative that reads like a thriller, Shane reveals Smallwood to have possessed a canny understanding of how to use media to amplify radical activism, an insight that feels remarkably ahead of his time.
August Wilson: A Life
Patti Hartigan (Simon & Schuster)
Hartigan’s magisterial biography is at once a nuanced portrait of a flawed man and an ode to a one-of-a-kind chronicler of Black working-class American life in such works as 1979’s Jitney! and 1987’s Fences. Enriched by scrupulous detail and extensive research, this gives welcome due to one of 20th-century America’s most influential playwrights.
Jillian and Mariko Tamaki (Drawn & Quarterly)
The Caldecott Medal–winning cousins’ new graphic novel enchants, even if readers only come to gawk at the gorgeous art that renders Manhattan in the aughts as seen through the eyes of three Canadian college students on a weekend trip. The city unfolds through evocative blue and pink hued double-page spreads of parks, subway rides, pizza joints, and museums bursting with period details. Alongside these urban scenes emerges a subtly told coming-of-age, friendship-and-flirtation narrative fraught with early adulthood angst.
Beyond the Door of No Return
David Diop, trans. from the French by Sam Taylor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
“Michael Adanson watched himself die under his daughter’s gaze,” begins Diop’s phantasmagorical novel of a dead Frenchman’s daughter who learns about her father’s adventures in 18th-century Senegal from his manuscript. The artful and layered narrative, a finalist for the National Book Award in translation, shows Diop at the top of his game.
The Eyes and the Impossible
Dave Eggers, illus. by Shawn Harris (Knopf and McSweeney’s)
Narrator Johannes is an “unkept and free” dog entrusted to be a park’s Eyes in this exuberant novel. Harris’s full-page landscapes complement Eggers’s high-spirited text, which renders a protagonist who is at once an ebullient braggart, an intrepid operative, and a drolly humorous reporter, and whose narration delivers a rousing tale of community, self-reliance, and the pleasures of running very, very fast.
Daniel Salmieri (Rocky Pond)
Salmieri uses the concept of opposites to follow a young maturing protagonist, initially “a small person in a big chair” who eats “squishy oatmeal in a hard bowl,” in this contemplative picture book. Via a quiet narrative voice and burnished colored pencil illustrations, the pages note patterns as the child grows, building into a moving intergenerational view that considers how moments can echo and recur.
A Door in the Dark
Scott Reintgen (McElderry)
Tense prose and escalating conflict—both environmental and interpersonal—foster constant fear for the fates of six teenage wizards stranded in a desolate, monster-infested wilderness. Reintgen combines intricate plotting, inventive worldbuilding, and a strongly developed, racially diverse cast to craft a twisty tale of classism, redemption, and revenge in this pulse-pounding series launch.
Sofreh: A Contemporary Approach to Classic Persian Cuisine
Nasim Alikhani (Knopf)
Brooklyn restaurateur Alikhani debuts with a lovely guide to traditional and innovative Persian food that doubles as a moving memoir of immigration from Iran to the United States. Recipes for, among other things, homemade yogurt, showstopping jeweled rice, and rich lamb patties in pomegranate sauce are interspersed with poetry, memories, and historical perspectives to create a transportive and enlightening whole.
The Eden Test
Adam Sternbergh (Flatiron)
In this smirking swipe at monogamy, a New York City couple heads to a mysterious weeklong retreat with hopes of repairing their relationship, only for a procession of explosive secrets to blow up in their faces. The result is gripping, unpredictable, and packed with Gone Girl–level twists, but it’s the authenticity of the partnership at its center that gives this its staying power.
Evie Shockley (Wesleyan Univ.)
A collective we carries the reader through Shockley’s generous and dynamic exploration of Black identity and visual art. Shockley dives deep into the theme of connection through an invigorating mix of poetic forms, lyrically capturing the stakes of humanity’s interdependence.
Why the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scripture and its Origins
Jacob L. Wright (Cambridge Univ.)
Why did “the most influential corpus of literature the world has ever known” emerge in a far-flung corner of the ancient world? Wright’s eye-opening answer traverses Israel’s Babylonian exile, rifts between the Northern Kingdom (of Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (of Judah), and the surprising role of scriptural contradictions, making for a lively and astute account that assuredly brings biblical history to life.
A Shot in the Dark
Victoria Lee (Dell)
Bestselling YA author Lee’s heart-tugging adult debut begins with a one-night stand between Eli Cohen, a Jewish bisexual aspiring photographer, and Wyatt Cole, a trans art world wunderkind and—unbeknownst to either of them—Eli’s new professor. Lee gracefully avoids the pitfalls of many student/teacher romances, potently demonstrating how mutual support helps Eli and Wyatt navigate trauma, faith, addiction, and creative blocks.
Our Share of Night
Mariana Enriquez (Hogarth)
A father and son on the run across 1980s and ’90s Argentina form the beating heart of this ambitious gothic novel. Chasing them is a vast network of elite occultists bent on immortality. Enriquez is working at an epic scale, pulling from myth and historical horrors to create an equally chilling and intoxicating descent into darkness.
Benjamin Labatut (Penguin Press)
Labatut’s magnum opus sets a fictionalized oral history of the scientists behind the 1945 nuclear bomb test at Los Alamos, N.Mex., alongside a dramatic account of an advanced AI’s 2016 victory over a South Korean master in the ancient strategy game of go. Through the interplay between these stories, Labatut constructs a persuasive case for what makes us human, and why those qualities are key to our survival.
The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths
Brad Fox (Astra House)
Bizarre creatures of the deep populate Fox’s history of the expeditions undertaken by engineer Otis Barton, ecologist William Beebe, and scientist Gloria Hollister, who plunged thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface in a submersible steel observation tank dubbed the “bathysphere.” Electrified by the awe and excitement of scientific discovery, this astounds.
Shannon Sanders (Graywolf)
Sanders’s revelatory debut collection offers a warts-and-all portrait of a Black extended family, set mainly in Washington, D.C., with stories retold and expanded upon from various family members’ perspectives. Each character feels deeply human as they navigate what it means to be “company” at one another’s homes and parties, and whether to expect a warm embrace or cold scrutiny.
Amber McBride (Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends)
In 2111, Inmate Eleven lives under confinement in service to an oppressive government; meanwhile, in 2022, Imogen grapples with the long-term effects of an unnamed virus. Via this profound read, McBride skillfully explores the consequences of loss, quarantine, and racism on Black youth, and employs inventive storytelling as a tool through which the protagonists process grief and find their people.
Vashti Harrison (Little, Brown)
Deceptively simple text emphasizes the affirming message present throughout Harrison’s empowering ode to self-love, which begins with a smiling baby who has a “big laugh and a big heart/ and very big dreams.” In images set against dreamy pastel-hued backdrops, the happy infant grows into a girl who, when faced with cruelty about her size, reminds herself that “she was good.”
Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam
Thien Pham (First Second)
Pham employs food as a vehicle for depicting his family’s harrowing experiences as Vietnamese refugees and their subsequent life in California in this arresting graphic novel memoir. The debut creator reflects on the push-pull conflict of assimilation and the resultant cultural loss in digitally illustrated panels portraying visual feasts and expressive emotion, making for a vivid and insightful recounting.
Yiayia: Time-Perfected Recipes from Greece’s Grandmothers
Anastasia Miari (Hardie Grant)
To assemble this gorgeous cookbook, Miari took a four-month trek through Greece, interviewing and cooking beside local matriarchs. The poignant stories from these “gutsy” older home cooks, many of whom have lived through poverty and hardship, augment the simple yet delicious recipes. Miari does an admirable job capturing the grandmothers’ intuitive, improvisational style, even as she translates their recipes from oral tradition to the page.
Jordan Harper (Mulholland)
L.A. noir gets a startling facelift from Harper, who follows crisis PR manager Mae Pruett as she joins forces with her ex, a disgraced cop turned fixer, to investigate her boss’s murder. As the pair plunge deep into Tinseltown’s dark heart, Harper transports the hardboiled ethos of Raymond Chandler to today’s era of alternative facts and celebrity obsession. This razor-sharp thriller brilliantly captures the zeitgeist.
Jorie Graham (Copper Canyon)
With a characteristically unflinching eye and formally innovative approach, Graham contemplates extinction and the apocalyptic circumstances of the climate catastrophe. These poems inventively and hauntingly conjure future landscapes, sights, and sounds, offering a gripping and urgent reminder of the future that might await humanity if more isn’t done to change course.
Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair
Christian Wiman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Wiman wrestles with notions of despair in religion, art, and life in a bewitching mix of poetry and prose that bravely courts the destabilizing and the unknown. Tackling mysteries of belief, the limits of art, and the realities of human suffering with equal acuity, this spellbinding meditation lingers powerfully and sometimes painfully in the mind.
To Have and to Heist
Sara Desai (Berkley)
If Ocean’s 11 were recast with a diverse crew of scrappy millennials who only turned to thieving to clear their student loan debt, the result would be something along the lines of this uproarious action adventure/rom-com mash-up from Desai. That master criminal Jack and reluctant criminal Simi find love along the way is just the cherry on top.
Some Desperate Glory
Emily Tesh (Tordotcom)
What does it take to deradicalize someone brought up in a fascist ideology? That’s the question at the core of this virtuosic space opera. Supersoldier Valkyrie has never before thought to question either her orders or her hatred of the mojada aliens. In World Fantasy Award winner Tesh’s steady hands, her path from certainty into doubt is powerfully and empathetically drawn.
Olga Ravn, trans. from the Danish by Sophia Hersi Smith and Jennifer Russell (New Directions)
Ravn takes an ingenious approach to writing about pregnancy and new motherhood, not just by mixing genres (poetry, literary criticism, and autofiction), but by attributing some of the autobiographical narrative to a separate fictional character, one who’s responsible for the darker and more mysterious material. It’s the best novel on the subject in recent memory.
Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation That Saved the Soul of the NBA
Theresa Runstedtler (Bold Type)
Runstedtler’s fleet-footed chronicle examines how Black athletes transformed the NBA in the 1970s, covering Cornelius Hawkins and Spencer Haywood’s policy-changing antitrust suits against the league and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s political activism. Scrupulous research illuminates the contributions of superstars and overlooked game-changers alike, making for a history as nimble as the players profiled.
Everything/Nothing/Someone: A Memoir
Alice Carrière (Spiegel & Grau)
In this shattering memoir, Carrière catalogs the forces—namely her erratic Manhattan childhood—that contributed to her struggles with dissociative disorder and then charts her path to personal wellness. Her brilliant and illuminating account of neglect, illness, and eventual reconciliation reads like a contemporary Girl, Interrupted.
Gray Areas: How the Way We Work Perpetuates Racism and What We Can Do to Fix It
Adia Harvey Wingfield (Amistad)
Wingfield takes a transfixing deep dive into the workplace experiences of seven Black workers in a range of American industries, who give detailed accountings of their feelings and activities across more than a decade. Fascinating in its own right, this meticulous fieldwork is marshalled into a trenchant study of how workplace culture perpetuates racism.
The Great White Bard: How to Love Shakespeare While Talking About Race
Farah Karim-Cooper (Viking)
There are no easy answers in Karim-Cooper’s razor-sharp appraisal of Shakespeare’s treatment of race. Whether taking the Bard to task for racist characters and rhetoric in Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet, crediting him for more nuanced depictions in Othello and Antony and Cleopatra, or tracing how racist scholars have distorted his work, Karim-Cooper is never less than riveting.
How Infrastructure Works: Inside the Systems That Shape Our World
Deb Chachra (Riverhead)
In a deceptively easygoing style, Chachra constructs a complex treatise on the fundamental necessity of infrastructure to human flourishing. These grand systems not only provide the stuff of life, she poignantly observes, but expand our individual abilities. She ruminates on intricacies of design that allow infrastructure to align with natural forces like gravity, speculating with buoyant confidence that this is how humankind will unleash its potential.
How to Say Babylon: A Memoir
Safiya Sinclair (Simon & Schuster)
Poet Sinclair’s bruising account of her restrictive upbringing in Jamaica details how writing provided an escape from her militant Rastafarian father, who was determined to shield the women in their family from “Western influence.” Told with startling complexity and breathtaking prose, it’s a tour de force.
Humanly Possible: Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Inquiry, and Hope
Sarah Bakewell (Penguin Press)
Capturing seven centuries of intellectual history is no small feat, but Bakewell makes it look easy in this surprisingly witty inquiry into humanism’s central questions—Can life be understood without God? What does it mean to be human, anyway?—and the pathbreaking thinkers who tackled them, including Erasmus, Voltaire, and Zora Neale Hurston.
In Levittown’s Shadow: Poverty in America’s Wealthiest Postwar Suburb
Tim Keogh (Univ. of Chicago)
Keogh’s landmark study detonates the myth of mid-century suburban prosperity. Drawing from a deep well of municipal records, he conjures an original and disturbing vision of suburban exploitation and poverty, mostly endured by Black and brown residents, which allowed affluent middle-class whites to achieve their American dream.
An Inconvenient Cop: My Fight to Change Policing in America
Edwin Raymond, with Jon Sternfeld (Viking)
Raymond, a 14-year NYPD veteran, argues in this searing memoir that New York City is “the red-hot-center of the problem” of racially motivated police brutality. From his early life as the child of Haitian immigrants in Brooklyn to his experiences with racism on the force, Raymond delivers a gutting insider’s take on a hot-button issue.
King: A Life
Jonathan Eig (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
In a propulsive narrative rich with emotion, Eig draws on new material to give a full and definitive portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. as a courageous and radical political luminary with a troubled and complex personal life. It’s an electrifying new perspective on an iconic figure.
A Cowardly Woman No More
Ellen Cooney (Coffee House)
An office novel and a fairy tale meet at a banquet hall in rural Massachusetts, with magical and mysterious results. Corporate analyst Trisha, having been passed over for a promotion, has been dreading her firm’s annual luncheon. As Trisha wanders the venue’s corridors and has strange encounters with people from her past, Cooney puts her inner life on glimmering display.
Christina Wyman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Smile meets Wonder in Wyman’s affirming debut, which probes the intersection between bullying and orthodontia through the eyes of 12-year-old Max, an aspiring journalist facing potential surgery for her Class II malocclusion. In Max’s candid, accessible first-person narration, the author perceptively portrays complex social concepts—such as academic inequities, financial precarity, and intergenerational trauma—with nuance and hope.
Can We Please Give the Police Department to the Grandmothers?
Junauda Petrus, illus. by Kristen Uroda (Dutton)
Via jewel-bright illustrations, Uroda winningly interprets Petrus’s poetic vision of grandmothers as peacekeepers who drive “badass” classic cars and play “old-school jams.” Lush and celebratory, this moving depiction of a precinct-free world overseen by elders “comfortable in loving fiercely” offers a radiant meditation on intergenerational bonds and community care.
Luma Mufleh (Penguin/Paulsen)
Clear-eyed prose details refugee advocate Mufleh’s yearslong internal struggle to reconcile her identity as a gay Arab Muslim woman, and how these experiences shaped her advocacy work, in this affecting memoir. The author lovingly and critically portrays her relationship with her family and culture, using matter-of-fact-feeling lines to reflect on issues of choice, mental health, and living one’s truth.
Hannah Michell (One World)
The real-life 1995 collapse of a Seoul department store inspired this gorgeous crime novel from Michell, about a woman who traverses South Korea’s underbelly to track down her engineer husband after the skyscraper he was working on collapses. Robust backstories and potent jabs at capitalism set this above the pack.
We Could Be So Good
Cat Sebastian (Avon)
Two male reporters fall in love in a 1950s news room, carving out a life together despite the dangers of being gay at the time, in this achingly endearing romance. The stakes are by no means low, but the focus stays largely on the men’s sweet bubble of domesticity. Sebastian knows how to get hearts fluttering.
Ann Leckie (Orbit)
Nebula Award winner Leckie returns to her Imperial Radch universe in a mature standalone space opera centered on the Presger Translators, a bizarre alien race genetically engineered to translate for the even stranger Presgers. The scope is narrower than in prior installments, but Leckie’s humane probe into power, identity, and communication is muscular and thought-provoking. This is an author at the height of her powers.
Christina Sharpe (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
This visceral and kaleidoscopic examination of racism, presented in 248 brief “notes,” meditates on memorials, press bias, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, depictions of trauma, and more. Sharpe’s tender remembrances of how her mother’s support helped her endure the cruelties she faced growing up Black in America constitute the volume’s beating heart, bringing to life this formally inventive and analytically brilliant meditation on race and family.
The Last Ships from Hamburg: Business, Rivalry and the Race to Save Russia’s Jews on the Eve of World War I
Steven Ujifusa (Harper)
Ujifusa profiles the industrialists who built the shipping lines that allowed millions of Jewish refugees to emigrate from Europe to America at the turn of the 20th century. This impressively constructed narrative utilizes deep dives into business deals, personal beefs, and engineering networks as a window onto sociopolitics and human geography, demonstrating the interconnectedness of often disparately studied events.
Lesbian Love Story: A Memoir in Archives
Amelia Possanza (Catapult)
Possanza plunders forgotten queer histories for this dazzling debut, in which she seeks to rescue herself from romantic cynicism by “collecting” hopeful stories from her lesbian forebears. Seamlessly combining literary scholarship and intimate self-portrait, it’s a virtuosic volume.
Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma
Claire Dederer (Knopf)
Readers might be forgiven for thinking the issue of whether one can, or should, separate the art from the artist has been discussed to the point of exhaustion. Dederer proves there’s still profound insights to be had as she skillfully interrogates the complicated ways audiences relate to art while probing her own feelings about Roman Polanski, Pablo Picasso, and other problematic artists.
The Parrot and the Igloo: Climate and the Science of Denial
David Lipsky (Norton)
Lipsky’s talent for identifying overlooked angles in well-covered stories serves him well in this unique account of the climate crisis, which puts an enlightening study of how Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison brought about a world beholden to fossil fuels in conversation with a spry investigation of how corporate propaganda has contributed to climate denialism.
A Rome of One’s Own: The Forgotten Women of the Roman Empire
Emma Southon (Abrams)
By turning the spotlight on women who lived in the imperial hinterlands, this witty romp offers an entirely new vision of Roman life. Southon reveals how bias in historiography can result in fundamental misunderstandings of the past while providing an entertaining glimpse of unsung lives.
Sedition Hunters: How January 6th Broke the Justice System
Ryan J. Reilly (PublicAffairs)
Embedding himself in the digital world of online sleuths who took it upon themselves to identify participants in the January 6 Capitol attack, Reilly paints a vivid and urgent portrait of a justice system and a country in disarray. His relationships with his subjects become a riveting window onto the Justice department investigation as well as an insightful look at the lives of the rioters.
Thin Skin: Essays
Jenn Shapland (Pantheon)
This searching collection takes Shapland’s diagnosis of “thin skin” (she’s missing a layer of epidermis) as a metaphor for the complex relationship between the individual and their environment. Shedding light on how pollutants, cultural narratives, and capitalism influence identity, Shapland’s penetrating analysis is filled with insight and lyrical prose, making for a dazzling probe of the blurry line between the self and the greater world.
We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America
Roxanna Asgarian (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
In an investigation meant to restore dignity to the victims of a notorious tragedy rubbernecked by the national news media, Asgarian uncovers a Texas child welfare agency’s disturbing practice of removing children from Black families and placing them with white families out of state. It’s an exemplary piece of reportage that exposes troubling government malfeasance.
What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World’s Most Enigmatic Birds
Jennifer Ackerman (Penguin Press)
The social complexity, playfulness, and impressive hunting abilities of owls are brought into focus in Ackerman’s superb study. Filled with striking research on the nocturnal predators’ abilities and habits (owls use “sophisticated mathematical calculations” to locate prey by sound), this is pop science at its finest.
When Crack Was King: A People’s History of a Misunderstood Era
Donovan X. Ramsey (One World)
Ramsey revisits the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic in this vivid exploration of an understudied moment in American history. Drawing on extensive interviews with four subjects whose experiences were key to the political developments of the era, this authoritative report brings crucial clarity to a troubling time.
Maylis de Kerangal, trans. from the French by Jessica Moore (Archipelago)
De Kerangal’s hypnotic strangers-on-a-train narrative involves a young, disgruntled Russian army conscript and a bored Frenchwoman in Siberia, where she relocated with her toxic lover. As the two scheme to break free from their lives while traveling east on the Trans-Siberian Railway, the reader feels the characters’ crushing oppression and desire for freedom as much as they do.
Pedro Martín (Dial)
Tween Martín is having a tough time overcoming insecurities surrounding his Mexican heritage while on a road trip from California to Mexico in this 1970s-set graphic novel memoir. Equal parts hilarious and tear-jerking moments are rendered in vibrantly hued cartoon-style illustrations, making for an artistically inventive read, teeming with lively characters and emotion, that is a joy to behold.
Do You Remember?
Sydney Smith (Holiday House/Porter)
In a loving familial portrait, an adult and child take refuge in shared remembrances, rendered in crystalline dialogue and light-filled vignettes by Smith. Offering glimpses into the duo’s past en route to a final reveal, this steadily paced exploration of life's change envisions tender intentionality around the process of memory-making.
Houses with a Story: A Dragon’s Den, a Ghostly Mansion, a Library of Lost Books, and 30 More Amazing Places to Explore
Seiji Yoshida, trans. from the Japanese by Jan Mitsuko Cash (Amulet)
Detailed linework renders street-views, cross-sections, and interior floor plans of fictional and sometimes fantastical homes made from train cars, military tanks, cacao nuts, and more in this intricately designed collection of annotated illustrations. Yoshida infuses a sense of childlike wonder and mystery into the dwellings, their inhabitants, and the accompanying lore, which boast a mixture of Japanese and Western influences.
Flags on the Bayou
James Lee Burke (Atlantic Monthly)
Set in 1863 Louisiana, this outstanding Civil War thriller from the author of the Dave Robicheaux mysteries examines the corrosive effects of violence through the intertwined stories of an escaped slave, an abolitionist schoolteacher, and a grief-stricken medical officer. Burke stitches it all together with meticulous historical detail, bracing action, and a thick layer of moral complexity.
The Water Outlaws
S.L. Huang (Tordotcom)
The 14th-century Chinese classic Water Margin gets an action adventure update in this delightfully queer and furiously feminist eat-the-rich historical fantasy about a band of marginalized thieves with magical powers who set out to protect the disenfranchised from imperial forces. It’s rollicking good fun with a blade-sharp edge.
The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History
Ned Blackhawk (Yale Univ)
Blackhawk demonstrates how inextricably linked Indigenous history is with all aspects of American life and politics in this expansive survey, which teases out the deep connection between the aims and attitudes of the developing nation and its dealings with Native peoples. Reorienting the history of America as foremost that of an Indigenous colony, Blackhawk calls for a fundamental change of perspective.
Wild Girls: How the Outdoors Shaped the Women Who Challenged a Nation
Tiya Miles (Norton)
In this intellectual stroll through American history, Miles pieces together a surprising thesis regarding such radical women as Harriet Tubman and Louisa May Alcott and the strong relationships with the outdoors they developed in their youth. In graceful and erudite prose, Miles demonstrates how these pathbreakers were both drawn to the freedom of nature and in turn molded by it.
Womb: The Inside Story of Where We All Began
Leah Hazard (Ecco)
Midwife Hazard’s timely cultural history of the uterus surveys the politics of the “most miraculous and misunderstood organ in the human body.” She presents sharp observations about how such medical terms as “irritable uterus” conflate women with their condition, and the predictably fatal consequences of abortion bans.
Zadie Smith (Penguin Press)
Speaking of Dickens, Smith unceremoniously kills him off in this spectacular and beguiling story about a sensational trial in Victorian London. He’s just a minor character, after all, in a tale of an alleged imposter who’s laid claim to a fortune and an aspiring novelist following the case. For Smith, it’s an inspired and successful reinvention as a historical novelist.
The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity
Nicholas Day, illus. by Brett Helquist (Random House Studio)
Via tightly wrought text, Day traces the story of “how a strange, small portrait became the most famous painting in history.” Moving back and forth in space and time, immediate-feeling chapters discuss the Mona Lisa’s beginnings and its 1911 theft from the Louvre, while Helquist’s stylized portraiture contributes playful period visuals to this wildly entertaining, thoroughly contextualized look at art, history, and fame.
Andy Rash (Scholastic Press)
Rash combines bold cartooning with countdown-style storytelling in this meaningfully starry-eyed view of an eclipse. After a child narrator learns that there will be a total solar eclipse, the narrative details planning steps leading up to the event’s viewing, and beyond. It’s a breathtakingly moment-by-moment work about looking forward to, experiencing, and reminiscing about a singular occasion—and more to come.
Kim Johnson (Random House)
A Black teen returning home after spending two months in a juvenile correctional facility for a crime he didn’t commit reckons with a friend’s disappearance, the impending pandemic, and racial injustice in this February 2020–set novel. Johnson thematically deepens a hard-hitting mystery with socially conscious ruminations on systemic and environmental racism, and imbues this timely read with smooth pacing, chilling atmosphere, and anticipatory tension.
How Can I Help You
Laura Sims (Putnam)
This cat-and-mouse suspense story about a pair of employees at a Midwestern library whose checkered pasts collide generates Patricia Highsmith–style psychological fireworks. The narrative’s multiple reveals and shattering climax hit with maximum impact, delivering a deliciously dark monument to extremity that’s among the year’s most exhilarating.
Same Bed Different Dreams
Ed Park (Random House)
What if Korea’s government-in-exile during the early 20th-century Japanese occupation were still operating today, with the secret mission to reunite the peninsula? Who would be involved? These questions and more are explored in Park’s triumphant postmodern masterpiece, which is also a hilarious send-up of publishing and a moving portrait of the Korean diaspora.
Han Kang, trans. from the Korean by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won (Hogarth)
The author of the smash-hit novel The Vegetarian departs from psychological horror with a story that is subtler but no less powerful. At its center are a grieving woman who’s stopped speaking and the connection she forges with a Greek language teacher who’s losing his sight. The results are exquisite.
I Have Some Questions for You
Rebecca Makkai (Viking)
Somehow, Makkai has managed to pull off a novel that’s simultaneously about the unsettling popularity of true crime, racial inequities in the criminal justice system, post-#MeToo gender politics, 1990s pop nostalgia, and boarding schools, all without ever feeling exploitive or opportunistic. It’s gripping, laugh-out-loud funny, and, most of all, completely honest.
The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store
James McBride (Riverhead)
Several critics have called McBride’s latest the year’s Great American Novel, and it’s easy to agree. His scope is broad and intriguing—a 1972 discovery of human bones in Pottstown, Pa., frames the narrative, which is mostly set in 1925—and his canvas is richly detailed and colorfully peopled. It’s also an excellent reminder of his fine skill for writing about jazz.
Let Us Descend
Jesmyn Ward (Scribner)
A kinetic interplay between the spirit world and the horrors of the antebellum South drives this visceral story of a young enslaved woman struggling to survive on a sugar plantation, after being separated from her mother and the woman she loves. For Ward’s protagonist, the call of comforting spirits is as palpable as the abuses are painfully real.
Daniel Mason (Random House)
Mason’s ambitious, unconventional, and impossible-to-put-down narrative revolves around a colonial farmhouse in western Massachusetts, where the various characters settle from the mid-17th century to the present day. Each section describes the appeal of the land on the new residents and their backstories, while bringing their historical moment to vivid life.
Juana Medina (Candlewick)
Elena, the eager elephant star of this on-the-move early reader, strives to polish her cycling skills. Rhythmic couplets reveal what happens as Elena takes off and meets the first of several disasters. Across boldly rendered scenes of drama and eventually victory, Medina affectionately captures emotional highs and lows, creating an inspiring tale of persistence that’s perfect for anyone tackling a learning curve.
The People Who Report More Stress: Stories
Alejandro Varela (Astra House)
Varela’s superb collection explores the stressors in his Latinx characters’ lives. In one entry, a couple deals with gentrification in Brooklyn and passive-aggressive behavior from the white parents of their child’s classmate. Another couple fences stolen goods to raise money for their kids’ private school tuition. The author’s knack for drama and well-timed insights make these slices of life sing and sting.
Matthew Cordell (Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends)
This action-packed forest marathon, which reads like a rollicking “Little Red Riding Hood” remix, stars oft-terrified squirrel Evergreen, sent by her mother through Buckthorn Forest to take Granny Oak an acorn’s worth of soup. Cordell skillfully conveys Evergreen’s self-doubt and the way she shines under pressure in this droll and adventuresome allegory about confronting both the world outside and one’s own very real fears.
Caleb Azumah Nelson (Grove)
A tight-knit church and a freewheeling night club scene in Southeast London set the stage for Nelson’s searching bildungsroman about a young British Ghanaian man torn between filial duty and his passion for music. Perhaps better than any other writer this year, Nelson captures what it feels like to form an identity.
Jumper: A Day in the Life of a Backyard Jumping Spider
Jessica Lanan (Roaring Brook)
This book's subject, known as Jumper, may be “as small as a bean,” but Lanan’s close-up artwork and lucid text result in a truly immersive exploration of the common jumping spider’s traits and abilities. Combined with often-question-driven narration that puts the reader in Jumper’s shoes, unconventional angles and deep shadows add fresh perspective to this captivating garden investigation.
Hilary Leichter (Ecco)
Leichter proved herself a master of off-kilter fiction with her indie hit Temporary. This one’s about a woman with the power to alter space with her mind—her friend’s cramped closet becomes a sprawling outdoor terrace—and the bargains made by people to reach their aspirations. It’s even more inventive and moving than Leichter’s debut.
Monica Arnaldo (HarperCollins/Tegen)
A dozen fresh-faced kindergartners find, instead of a human teacher behind their classroom’s big desk, “an impressive-looking sandwich” and “Mr. S” scrawled on the chalkboard. Confusion, mystery, and laughs are on the menu as the children guide themselves—under the sandwich’s watchful green-olives-on-a-toothpick eyes—through the day in Arnaldo’s deliciously goofy back-to-school tale.
This Is Salvaged
Vauhini Vara (Norton)
Vara pinpoints the guile of children in her striking and mordantly funny collection. In one story, two 14-year-olds pretend to be old enough to work as phone sex operators. Another follows a spiteful eight-year-old who watches her stepmother paddle a kayak toward an alligator without offering a warning.
Cindy Derby (Knopf)
Tantalized by a fluttering butterfly that heads up a tall, slippery mountain, a young panda is determined to follow the insect to the top, despite the slightly overbearing narrator’s agenda. Tackling persistence and much more via Panda’s considerable tenacity and ingenuity, this wryly empathic story from Derby winningly models an instance of learning to respect free will and offer meaningful support.
This Other Eden
Paul Harding (Norton)
The majestic third outing from Harding, a well-deserved finalist for the Booker Prize and the National Book Award, traces the history of an isolated and diverse community on an early 20th-century Maine island and its disruption by an outsider. The author’s psychological insights and shimmering descriptions are in full effect.
The Probability of Everything
Sarah Everett (Clarion)
After learning that there’s an 84.7% chance that Earth will be destroyed in four days by an asteroid, a sixth grader builds a time capsule to commemorate her community. Everett’s astute narration resonates with a deep love and loyalty for family, and additional ruminations on themes of racism and memory make for a tale that is heartrending and uplifting.
Summer Is for Cousins
Rajani LaRocca, illus. by Abhi Alwar (Abrams)
Three generations of family gather in a water-adjacent home to enjoy summer in this lively work that’s vividly told by LaRocca. Alwar’s expressive, uniquely rendered character designs skillfully portray the brood, while spreads crammed with activity (cousins pile out of cars and descend upon a local ice cream stand) convey the warmth and coziness of a bustling family vacation.
The Isles of the Gods
Amie Kaufman (Knopf)
In Kaufman’s swashbuckling series launch, two teens must outsail a ruthless mercenary to prevent all-out war. Multiple perspectives ferry this high-stakes game of cat and mouse, the protagonists’ illuminating first-person narratives skillfully interlocking to maximize tension and forward momentum, while a sophisticated, organically incorporated mythology heightens the impact of the action-packed plot and the characters’ tangled relationships.
A Most Agreeable Murder
Julia Seales (Random House)
Jane Austen’s ghost hangs over this ridiculously fun Regency-era whodunit about Beatrice Steele, a 25-year-old spinster who loves to solve crimes. After a bachelor dies at a local ball, Beatrice teams up with a private detective to investigate. Seales harnesses her screenwriting experience to stock the ensuing inquiry with delicious dialogue and gasp-worthy twists.
Darrin Bell (Holt)
Pulitzer winner Bell’s accessible yet incisive comics art lends immediacy and humor to this graphic memoir of growing up biracial in 1980s L.A. Though Bell’s Black father evaded his son’s questions about police violence, Bell takes on “the talk” about the risks of being a Black man in America with his own young son, in a powerful and moving portrait of the experiences of racism across generations.
Teju Cole (Random House)
The critic and photographer’s first novel since his Sebaldian debut Open City takes autofiction to the next level. Nested in this brilliant series of a Harvard professor’s meditations on art, colonialism, and education is a story of friendship and grief that zooms out into a polyphonic portrait of contemporary Lagos.
Justine Pucella Winans (Bloomsbury)
Born with the ability to see spirits, the “spiritish,” and monsters, a nonbinary 12-year-old attempts to avoid the otherworldly in this emotionally complex portal fantasy. Winans successfully grounds encounters with gruesome creatures, nightmarish ghouls, and harrowing perils through tenderly depicted interpersonal dynamics, culminating in an empowering meditation on bravery and self-discovery.
There Was a Party for Langston
Jason Reynolds, illus. by Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey (Atheneum/Dlouhy)
The creators’ high-stepping testament to the enduring cultural influence of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes (1901–1967) begins with the promise of a party: “a jam in Harlem to celebrate the word-making man.” Communicating details of Hughes’s life through Reynolds’s laudatory text and the Pumphrey brothers’ kinetic, graphical art, this volume underscores the power of the subject’s poetry to move and to inspire.
The King Is Dead
Benjamin Dean (Little, Brown)
A closeted 17-year-old becomes the U.K.’s first Black monarch following his white father’s death in Dean’s propulsive debut. This multilayered read delivers thrills and romance that excel in their portrayal of James’s struggle to balance vicious social politics, storied palace traditions, and vulnerable interpersonal conflict, all while shouldering the responsibility of a nation.
The Most Secret Memory of Men
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, trans. from the French by Lara Vergnaud (Other Press)
In this captivating literary mystery, a Senegalese expat in Paris discovers the final copy of a book by a forgotten novelist from his home country and becomes obsessed with learning about the dead man’s life. Sarr utilizes multiple formats—letters, diaries, and book reviews among them—to immerse readers in his protagonist’s gripping investigation, shrewdly touching on themes of colonialism and cultural memory with a remarkably light hand. It’s a massive achievement.
Ayana Mathis (Knopf)
Black radical politics in 1980s Philadelphia and a dwindling historically Black town in Alabama frame Mathis’s sprawling epic about attempts to build communities outside of white society. Mathis keenly establishes a sense of place, and the drama builds to an unforgettable climax.
Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin/Paulsen)
When an unexplained fire results in tragedy, a tween struggling with self-image is forced to reckon with her community, her future, and the power of legacy. Drawing on childhood experiences, Woodson crafts a swiftly moving, nostalgic-feeling read boasting organic dialogue and mesmerizing prose that encourage learning to move with the ebbs and flows of life.
Tomfoolery! Randolph Caldecott and the Rambunctious Coming-of-Age of Children’s Books
Michelle Markel, illus. by Barbara McClintock (Chronicle)
Randolph Caldecott (1846–1886) was one of the first artists to illustrate children’s books with an eye toward merriment rather than morality, and this action-oriented biography by Markel and McClintock fittingly portrays “a hero so chipper he can barely hold still on the paper.” With verve and verb-forward flourishes, the creators craft a buoyant work about a seminal figure whose innovative style remains relevant.
Charles Waters and Traci Sorell (Charlesbridge)
Told via seven alternating narratives, this ripped-from-the-headlines collaboration in verse by Waters and Cherokee Nation member Sorell follows a fictional town’s division over a racist sports emblem. Painting an intricate portrait of the differing reactions toward the controversy and its effect on community relationships, the creators present grounded, well-rounded discussions about classism, racism, and effective allyship, with compassion and understanding.
Strange Sally Diamond
Liz Nugent (Scout)
When Sally’s widower father dies just before her 44th birthday, she honors his wish to “put him out with the trash” by burning his corpse, setting off a chain of events that gradually unearths details about her sordid past. One of the year’s boldest and most original offerings, Nugent’s off-kilter latest grabs hold and won’t let go.
Shira & Esther’s Double Dream Debut
Anna E. Jordan (Chronicle)
Mishegas ensues when two Jewish tweens trade places for a shot at pursuing their ambitions in this sprightly three-act telling of found family. Relaying expertly choreographed action via the whimsical style of a Yiddish folktale, Jordan juxtaposes the girls’ yearnings, showing that there are infinite ways to be Jewish—all valid—and creating a sparkling intergenerational homage to chutzpah and Jewish joy.
The Tree and the River
Aaron Becker (Candlewick)
In this spectacular wordless tale that takes a long view of time’s passing, Becker spotlights a single tree’s life cycle against a changing backdrop of human conflicts, natural events, and technological change. Sweeping, carefully detailed work, visually reminiscent of Anno’s Journey, distills a lengthy timeline into bite-size rises and falls whose beats eventually offer hope and solace for the long term.
The Queer Girl Is Going to Be Okay
Dale Walls (Levine Querido)
Art imitates life in this raw and emotionally vulnerable debut, which follows a transgender teen’s endeavor to document queer love. Via an intimately wrought and complexly rendered close-knit friendship, Walls expertly navigates sometimes-overwhelming feelings of grief and internalized self-hatred, highlighting queer platonic love and emphasizing how chosen family can give one a safe port to weather any storm.
Tell Me What I Am
Una Mannion (Harper)
After Nessa Garvey’s sister dies—possibly at the hands of her abusive ex, Lucas—Nessa is denied access to her niece, Ruby, who decamps with Lucas to an island in Vermont’s Lake Champlain in this wrenching sophomore effort from Mannion. Utilizing lyrical prose and unforgettable characters to trace the long shadow of domestic violence, it’s a supremely haunting winner.
Simon Sort of Says
Erin Bow (Disney-Hyperion)
Bow centers a 12-year-old’s recent move to a completely off-the-grid town to deliver a compassionate and refreshingly hopeful novel about a tween navigating the aftermath of a school shooting. Laugh-out-loud first-person narration and madcap plot points offer levity without detracting from the protagonist’s emotional arc about making peace with his past and looking toward a brighter future.
The Truth About Max
Alice and Martin Provensen (Enchanted Lion)
This jewel of a story, a never-before-published work by the late Provensens, follows a rambunctious cat named Max, who previously appeared in Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm. Via a sketchbook-like format, Max’s life unfolds in laugh-out-loud vignettes that depict the maturing protagonist, detail his fraught interactions and “important tail,” and hint at his “real life” heading solo into a moonlit night.
Rebecca Caprara (Atheneum)
Caprara uses Arachne’s mythos as a framework to chronicle one teen’s quest for vengeance and her determination to rail against society’s mores. Sensate verse depicts issues surrounding gender norms, grief, and trauma while accentuating how art and storytelling can serve as acts of healing and advocacy in this captivating rendering of ill-fated competition between mortals and gods.
The Story of Gumluck the Wizard
Adam Rex (Chronicle)
Cheerful-to-a-fault Gumluck the wizard is on a quest to become a helpful hero in this absurdly silly and heartfelt series launch, narrated by a wise, sarcastic raven. Frequent asides to the reader and humorous, insightful commentary deftly convey themes of friendship, honesty, justice, and self-awareness amid Gumluck’s pursuit, and Rex’s b&w illustrations capture poignant moments with an animated vibe.
A Walk in the Woods
Nikki Grimes, illus. by Jerry and Brian Pinkney (Holiday House/Porter)
Throughout an elegantly collaborative picture book about how “there’s always something that remains,” Grimes, the late Jerry Pinkney, and Brian Pinkney center a grieving narrator after his beloved father’s death. Following the child’s map-led woods walk toward a treasure left by his father, it’s a powerful call to creativity and enduring bonds rendered in fluid, dexterously crafted layers.
What Stalks Among Us
Sarah Hollowell (Clarion)
Two queer teens find themselves trapped in an impossibly large, unseasonal corn maze in this atmospheric horror novel. Hollowell skillfully entwines passionately rendered prose and disturbing scenes of body horror with sensitive explorations of neurodivergence, misogyny, internalized anti-fat bias, and emotional abuse, seeding poignant ruminations amid surreal psychological thrills in this twisted ma(i)ze of terror.
The Wren, the Wren
Anne Enright (Norton)
Enright’s supremely crafted story about a young Dublin woman’s adventurous but tortured sex life, her chaste and bitter mother, and the mother’s toxic late father, an acclaimed Irish poet, burns the conventional multigenerational family novel to the ground. The depictions of the characters’ inner lives and the breathtaking language give this the feel of a classic.
The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels
Beth Lincoln, illus. by Claire Powell (Dutton)
Centered on an offbeat family reunion, Lincoln’s manor-set murder mystery maintains a Knives Out feel by way of Lemony Snicket. Initially whimsical plotting takes a dark turn as murder ensues, but crackling puns outpace the body count as the archly told whodunit debut unveils distinct characters, labyrinthine settings, and a puzzle that is as clever and impish as its heroine.
When You Can Swim
Jack Wong (Orchard)
Spanning numerous locales—a local pool, a sandy beach, a winding river—this immersive telling by Wong showcases myriad children encountering the joys of swimming. Each body of water is generously detailed in pastel and watercolor, while sinuous prose provides emotive ambiance throughout. It’s a thoughtful, glimmering work about the way that swimming can offer feelings of autonomy and connection.
Where You See Yourself
Claire Forrest (Scholastic Press)
Forrest employs upbeat and honest prose to adroitly render the experiences of one teen with cerebral palsy combatting ableist school administrators while searching for her ideal college. Pitch-perfect rom-com moments bursting with dry humor balance mature reflections on relationships, personal agency, and disability advocacy in this refreshing and empowering debut.