It’s been too long—almost a year in fact—since I added a new post to this blog. I thought about deleting it, but just couldn’t. Much of my teaching life is here, and I still refer back to it. I reread to see how far I’ve come, and I reflect on what I’ve accomplished. There’s so much I’ve learned, and I know I still have more learning to do.
So, instead of forgetting about this blog, I’m making it one of my 2023 resolutions. My teaching life has changed so much in the past 2-3 years, and I have very little to show for it here. Time to change that.
With it being almost 2023, I’ve decided to start with sharing my favorite books of 2022. There’s no particular order. Just my 15 5-star titles I still find myself thinking about today.
We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds
It’s Avery Anderson’s senior year, and she is uprooted from her life in Washington, D.C. and moved to Bardell, Georgia so her parents can care for her dying grandmother, Mama Letty. From the moment they arrive, Avery knows this is going to be one heck of a stay. There’s clear tension between her mother and grandmother, and she can’t find a way to connect with Mama Letty, who has never gotten over the death of her true love and husband, Ray. Thankfully, Avery ends up meeting Simone and Jade, two best friends who introduce her to life in Bardell. Simone captivates Avery from the moment she sees her, and Jade is the daughter of the wealthiest, and racist, family in Bardell. As Avery gets to know the girls better, she learns about Jade’s mother’s murder that’s never been solved, and begins to fall for Simone. One things for sure though: the more Avery stays in Bardell, the more she will learn about her family’s past, as well as witness the racism that is alive and well.
One of my absolute favorites of 2022! There’s just so much to love about this book, from Avery and Mama Letty’s relationship, so Avery’s growing romance with Simone. From the mystery of who killed Amelia Oliver, to the gorgeous vignettes about various aspects—and people—in Bardell. This is Jas Hammonds’s first novel, and I truly hope there are many more to come!
Attack of the Black Rectangles by Amy Sarig King
Mac Delaney is a sixth grader who thinks he doesn’t know much. He’s only 12, after all. But when he opens up a copy of The Devil’s Arithmetic in class one day, he finds a bunch of black rectangles covering up some words. It could be a mistake, but then his friends Marci and Denis find their books to be the same. This—Mac knows in his gut—is wrong.
As Mac and friends set out to find the culprit, they begin telling the adults in their lives. Some, like Mac’s grandad and mother, support him, while his often-absent dad tells him to basically get over it. Mac and his friends aren’t willing to get over it though, so their fight for reading freedom is just beginning.
What an important read. Like Jane Yolen, the author of The Devil’s Arithmetic, says in this book, “That’s my mission in life. To teach the truth of things.” Me too, Jane. Me too.
I love all of Amy’s stories, so I will continue to read and share them. This one, though, is going in my own kids’ 2022 advent book calendar. I can’t wait to read and discuss this story with them.
Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley
17-year-old Kiara and her older brother Marcus live at Regal-Hi, a run-down apartment complex in East Oakland. They are on their own, for their father is dead and their mother was taken away. The only reason they are still together is that Marcus is 18, and the landlord is keeping quiet as long as they pay rent. But that’s getting harder and harder to do. Marcus has hopes of becoming a rap superstar, but while trying to make an album, he’s leaving Kiara to make all the money. Without a high school diploma, and no resume, Kiara can’t make rent, especially since it recently went up, as well as care for nine-year-old Trevor, who’s mother often disappears, leaving him alone. The only answer? Nightcrawling, or prostitution. Kiara doesn’t even realize she’s getting into that life until one night a misunderstanding leads to drunken sex and Kiara getting paid. The money is good, so she does what she has to to survive. Soon, however, cops begin coming around. Not to arrest her, but for sex. It’s then that Kiara gets caught up in a scandal she can’t get out of.
Kiara’s story is one that needs to be shared. Her authentic voice will inspire women—especially queer women and women of color—to put themselves first. To make their voices heard. This book is a triumph.
I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
Cristian Florescu is a 17-year-old Romanian who dreams of becoming a writer. Unfortunately, the freedom to write is against the rules in 1989 Romania. Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu has been in power for over 20 years, and Romanians are suffering from the fear he instills. Everywhere Cristian turns, he wonders whether or not the people he encounters are informers or not. Then one day, Cristian is targeted himself. The secret police say he must work for them, which means betraying his family and others he loves. But Cristian has a better idea: become a spy. He plans to figure out the truth, hoping to share the true horrors happening in Romania with the world. But things are not what they seem. Pretty soon Cristian realizes that the people he trusts the most are among the most dangerous to him and those he loves.
Another amazing, unforgettable read by Ruta Sepetys! Being a young child in the 1980s, I grew up knowing nothing about what was going on in Romania and other communist countries in Europe. I didn’t learn about the revolution in school either. My first bit of knowledge comes from this book, so thank you for your research and the beautiful story that emerged, Ruta.
The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander
11-year-old Kofi has a wonderful life. He has two loving parents, an older brother he looks up to, Kwasi, a girl he adores, Ama, and many friends in his African town, Upper Kwanta by the Offin River. One day, Kofi finds out Kwasi was picked to participate in a wrestling match against a prince from Lower Kwanta. When Kwasi accidentally kills the prince, the King of Lower Kwanta plans revenge. From there, begins a horrific adventure Kofi could never imagine.
Wow. What an epic, gorgeously-written tale full of deception and bravery. Even in the darkest of times, Kofi still found hope. Auntie Afua was one ray of great strength, but so was Kofi himself. There are so many gorgeous passages I hope to share with my students, and my own children. Teachers and librarians, we must read this one and share.
This book is labeled as middle grade, but I think high schoolers need it too.
All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir
Best friends Salahudin and Noor are seniors trying to prepare for what lies ahead after high school. They live in the small town of Juniper, California, where racism is pervasive, from their classmates to the doctors who treat them. Salahudin is a talented writer, but with his father’s alcoholism and his mother’s health worsening each day, he doesn’t have time to write the essays that could earn him scholarships because he has to care for the family’s motel. Meanwhile, without parents, top-student Noor is stuck living with her evil Pakistani uncle who blames her for his own misfortunes. He hates everything having to do with Pakistani traditions and the Muslim faith, so Noor hides her college applications, as well as her trips to visit Salahudin and his mother, Misbah, who treats Noor like the daughter she never had. Life is not easy for the oppressed, and Salahudin and Noor must confront tragedies they are not prepared for. Life can be complicated and downright exasperating, especially when you’re willing to do everything it takes to thrive.
Wow. What a truly unforgettable book. Chapters alternative between Noor’s and Salahudin’s perspectives, as well as bits and pieces from Misbah’s past. From characters to storyline, this book has it all. Sabaa Tahir, who is know for her Ember In the Ashes series, has created an epic intergenerational tale that incorporates poverty, substance abuse, assault, debt, but most of all, love. This is a book that must be shared!
I Rise by Marie Arnold
Ayo is the daughter of Rosalie Bosia, the founding member of See Us, a civil rights organization in Harlem. As Rosalie’s daughter, Ayo has always been a part of See Us, from running youth groups to advocating for justice. Now, however, she wants out and has no clue how to tell her mother. Ayo wants a social life, and a chance to be a teenager, but as a Black teen in America, is that possible? Ayo thinks so, but her mother doesn’t. Her disappointment frustrates Ayo, but that immediately disappears when she watches her mother get horribly injured at a protest on live TV. Now, Ayo just wants her heart back. Despite her recent frustrations, her mother is everything to her. Can she find the courage to go back to See Us and do what’s needed?
An epic story that studies the effects of inequality and systemic racism. Ayo, her mother, her friends. They are all so beautifully crafted. I think Kwame Alexander said it best: “from the first line to the last, this novel sings. It’s a poetic and powerful anthem of justice. A love letter to Harlem and hope.” An unforgettable read.
Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith, Dawud Anyabwile, and Derrick Barnes
A powerful and important graphic novel about the life of Tommie Smith, Olympic athlete and civil rights activist. The book starts when Tommie was a young child living with his family in a tiny Texas town. His parents were sharecroppers, and moved up north to give their children better opportunities. Tommie took every opportunity, but was not willing to stay silent when he saw injustice. As Tommie said, “we had to get seen because we were not being heard.”
Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed
In January of 2022, 14-year-old Jawad Ali was found murdered in Chicago’s Jackson Park, and high school journalist Safiya Mirza is the one who found his body. Through both their narrations, readers will learn of the events that led up to Jawad’s death, including his amazing invention that was “mistaken” for a bomb by his English teacher. This led to bullying, and the nickname of “Bomb Boy.” Once Jawad disappears, Safiya feels her connection to him and begins investigating. She looks for the facts, but struggles with finding the truth among the many lies. How can she get justice for Jawad when people in her school and community are blinded by the masks that systemic racism created?
I finished this book so quickly, for the format Samira Ahmed used made it unputdownable! I loved both Safiya’s and Jawad’s perspectives. Like Safiya, I felt a connection to Jawad. A need for justice. But what is justice for a murdered boy who did nothing wrong? This book will not leave my thoughts for a while, and that’s as it should be.
How Moon Fuentez Fell In Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
When her twin sister, Star, becomes a PhotoGram sensation, Moon Fuentez’s religious mother makes Moon go on a summer tour with her as her photographer and merch girl. Moon sees herself as the opposite of her twin: ugly, unwanted, and destined to be in the background. That opinion comes from the way her mother treats her, who puts all her love and effort into Star, who’s seen as pure and good. Moon is seen as a disappointment. When the tour begins, Moon meets Santiago Phillips, a grumpy brother of another influencer, and the hottest guy Moon’s ever seen. As they begin to work together, Moon is certain she hates Santiago and that he hates her back, but soon that begins to change. Santiago sees Moon as so much more than the weed she always thought she was. Soon, Moon begins to see herself as worthy of more than just being in the background, and that encourages her to start speaking up for herself.
I loved everything about Moon’s story! From her wit and sarcasm to her love for photography, art, and the universe. Her relationship with Santiago is beautiful, for he is the first to teach Moon that she’s not the whore her mother tells her she is, but special. Teens need more books like this one.
Nothing Burns as Bright as You by Ashley Woodfolk
This is the story of two girls and their time together. From their beginning to their friendship. From their friendship to “something more.” From their “something more” to completely wild, passionate recklessness. Their love was desperate, and deeply intimate, until it wasn’t. On that one day, everything they created comes crashing down.
Wow. I don’t think I have ever read a novel-in-verse like this, or a romance for that matter. This book weaves together the girls’ history with one tumultuous day where everything seems to go wrong. I love how one of the girls was the main narrator, but the first and last poems are by the other girl. Ashley Woodfolk’s words are gorgeous and heartbreakingly real.
The Silence that Binds Us by Joanna Ho
Maybelline Chen adores her older brother, Danny. From the moment she was born, there was always a strong bond between them. Danny is the favored sibling; he’s the star of the school basketball team that just got into Princeton. May thinks her brother has the ideal life, until her family receives the earth-shattering news that Danny committed suicide. From that day on, May, her parents, and close friends are just trying to make it through each day, when a “big-shot venture capitalist,” and parent of a classmate, spews racist anti-Asian remarks at a school function, even blaming May’s parents for their son’s death, May makes the split second decision to respond through her writing. But there are consequences. May must learn to break the shackles and speak up not just for herself and her family, but others whose voices are oppressed. “There is a silence that binds us. It ties our tongues when we need help. It muzzles our minds when we need to reach out and shackles our voices when we need to speak up.”
Wow! A truly unforgettable book! So much to learn and love in May’s story. This is Joanna Ho’s first YA novel, and I hope it isn’t her last!
Confessions of an Alleged Good Girl by Joya Goffney
Monique is the 17-year-old daughter of the town’s preacher, and she’s always done all she could to follow his and her strict mother’s rules. She’s been dating Dom for two years now, and she feels she loves him. He’s the boy she grew up with, and her father thinks very highly of him, since both Dom and Mo wear purity rings, proving they’re waiting to have sex until they’re married. Except, they’re not. They’ve tried to have sex many times, but for some reason Mo’s body can’t seem to let her do it. After all the failures, Dom decides to break up with her, and Mo’s devastated. In order to get him back, she comes up with a plan that includes two unlikely people: church girl Sasha, who her parents want her to be more like, and so-called bad boy Reggie, who her father is trying to mentor. As they embark on this journey, Monique discovers more about herself than she ever could have imagined.
SO much to love about Joya Goffney’s latest! I love the emphasis on what true friends are, as well as what a great relationship should look like. We need more books with a sex-positive storyline. The characters of Dom and Reggie are so different, but a reader can immediately see why one treats Monique better than the other. I also didn’t know anything about vaginismus, so I learned a lot too. Looking forward to booktalking this one.
The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson
Since the days of segregation, the small, diverse town of Springville, Georgia has always had a white prom and a Black prom, and now in the year 2014, it’s still happening because “that’s how it’s always been done.” When the town ends up in the news for racist bullying at the high school, popular senior Wendy and others decide to make an “all-together prom,” hoping to show they are righting their wrongs. Wendy, who is white, tells her Black football-star boyfriend, Kenny, that she wants him to take Maddy Washington to prom, the girl who was being bullied. Always called Mad Mad Maddy by the kids because her father kept her out of the spotlight, Kenny is reluctant at first. But after a recent incident where the high school found out she’s biracial, Kenny feels drawn to her. He can’t explain it, but there’s something about Maddy that can’t be explained. The results of this decision are catastrophic for the whole town.
I couldn’t put this one down! The events of prom in 2014 are woven together with a current investigation a radio show host is doing about the Springville fires. I love that Jackson dove into the effects that systemic racism have, and in typical Tiffany D. Jackson fashion, it has one of those endings that will shock you.
White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better by Regina Jackson and Saira Rao
By sharing their own personal experiences, including some of their Race to Dinner meetings, Regina and Saira describe the many ways that white women’s silence equals violence, and it upholds white supremacy. White women need to do the real work. This book is a call to action, and the best part is the way Regina and Saira don’t hold back. They tell us the truth, and for many of us white women, the truth hurts. Too bad. We white women must do more than be an ally. We must be co-conspirators and collaborators. Accomplices. White supremacy is detrimental to us all. I will be rereading this one.
So, what were your favorite books of 2022? Please share in a comment below.