THE 2022 NERDIES: YOUNG ADULT FICTION (PART ONE) ANNOUNCED BY A CHAPTER OF NERDS
We educators and community members cannot forget that it doesn’t matter which books win awards for best children’s and young adult literature if young people never see these books in their schools, libraries, or homes. National efforts to censor books in school libraries and classrooms limit students’ access to books and restrict librarians and teachers’ ability to offer current, relevant books for kids to read. Nerdy Book Club stands with the creators of these books, young readers, and all of you striving to increase and broaden young readers’ access to books. Putting books into their hands continues to be one of the most powerful ways we can positively influence young people’s academic, emotional, and social development.
Recommendations like the Nerdy Book Club Awards lists, taken from experienced readers and educators, can be useful as one resource when identifying and evaluating titles to include in library collections or offer for independent reading. Nominations for the Nerdy Book Club awards come from scholars, teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, editors, families and other readers of books for children and teens. The 2022 Nerdy Book Club Young Adult Fiction award winners include a wide range of voices, lived experiences, topics, historical time periods, formats and writing styles—something to entice every teen. Check out other 2022 award lists for more young adult recommendations in the graphic novels, poetry and novels in verse, and nonfiction categories.
Congratulations to the authors and publishers of these outstanding stories. Let’s all do what we can to get these books to kids!
Thank you to the volunteer reviewers who have offered their enthusiastic opinions about each title on Nerdy’s YA Fiction Awards list this year. We will feature the second half of the list in tomorrow’s post.
A Year to the Day by Robin Benway
IT’S BEEN A YEAR—A YEAR OF MISSING NINA.
“On the morning of the first anniversary of her older sister Nina’s death, Leo wakes up, looks at her mussed, tangled bedsheets, and bursts into tears” (1). And so begins the mystery of what really happened when Leo, the sixteen-year-old narrator of Robin Benway’s newest title, A Year to the Day, lost her sister in an accident caused by a drunken driver. Nina was everything to Leo, and for the past year she has struggled to make sense of why she cannot remember the details of the accident that took her sister away from her. East, Nina’s boyfriend who was also involved in the accident, remembers, yet refuses to divulge anything to Leo, and she ruminates on the myriad of reasons why this is as the novel moves through significant events that occur in Leo’s life in the year following the accident. The portrayal of parents (and stepparents) by Benway is noteworthy as they, too, are struggling mightily with grief and depression throughout the novel, and secondary characters attempt to lend support in accurately depicted ways. The format is somewhat unconventional, a reverse-chronological order, yet I found myself curious about what was to come in the next chapter. I am not a “read the last couple of pages first” reader, so I enjoyed the character development and plot twists throughout.
Highly recommend having a box of tissues handy as this novel deals with the heavy topic of grief, loss, and all that entails.
All My Rage by Saaba Tahir
All My Rage is a powerful and emotionally charged novel told in three perspectives: Noor, who is being raised by her uncle; Sal, her childhood best friend; and Misbah, Sal’s mother. Tahir’s novel masterfully tells the story of a working-class Pakistani-American family across two generations. Noor and Sal were best friends until one of them confessed their true feelings for the other and things fell apart. Now Noor harbors a secret dream to attend university (against her uncle’s wishes) and Sal is trying to save his family from losinguuu the motel that is their home and business. Both teens are desperate and angry, raging at the choices they don’t get to make and desperately in need of the support they can provide each other, and at the same time Misbah is slowly losing a battle with kidney disease. Tahir’s writing is raw and honest, and she captures the complex emotions of teenagers dealing with trauma better than anyone else. Who do we trust? Who do we love? What makes someone family? All My Rage is a poignant and thought-provoking read that will stay with readers long after they’ve finished it, and it should be read in all high schools.
–Sarah Mulhern Gross
As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh
Rich with character development and a vivid setting amidst the conflict in Syria, Katouh will be an author to watch. Salama’s conflict about whether to stay or go now that most of her family has been killed and the never-ending help needed at the hospital where she went from a pharmacy student to trauma nurse overnight is aided by the discussions she has with Khawf, a figment of her imagination. She doesn’t imagine Kenan, a man who showed up at the hospital and might provide her some necessary hope in all the tragedy around her and the nervousness of the impending birth of her sister-in-law’s baby. The book has the strong writing of Ruta Sepetys and the ghostly presence in The Book Thief to make it a memorable story. Highlighting the danger and politics of the Syrian conflict but the resilience of human life.
The Epic Story of Every Living Thing by Deb Caletti
A captivating novel that deals with family, donor-conceived children, climate anxiety, Covid-19, and much more, Deb Calleti’s Epic Story of Every Living Thing is just that: epic. Harper, the daughter of a single mom, knows nothing about her father except that her mother won’t talk about him other than to explain Harper was donor-conceived. When she meets her half-siblings, also donor-conceived from the same donor, her entire life changes. As Harper navigates the complexities of family and genetics, she begins to find solace in nature, and the stories of the natural world become intertwined with her own journey of self-discovery. Caletti’s writing is beautiful and evocative, and she does an excellent job of capturing the wonder and magic of the natural world. The Epic Story of Every Living Thing is a poignant and uplifting read that will leave readers feeling moved and inspired.
–Sarah Mulhern Gross
The Honeys by Ryan LaSalla
I may never look at bees the same again. Sure, they pollinate the flowers and make sweet honey, but the matriarchal society parallels many aspects of our toxic gender binary narratives. Ryan LaSala’s The Honeys, critiques this history of boxing in people by social constructs and find power in queerness. But this is no traditional queer identity novel. It is a horror novel filtered through its genderfluid narrator. It is also a story of grief, family, and all the complex dynamics that define and shape us. The book drew me in right away as it opened in the middle of the night when the main character, Mars’ twin sister, Caroline, tries to kill him. Dropping the reader into the middle of the action was a fresh way to enter their world where Mars must deal with grief, toxic gender biases, and societal expectations while trying to understand what happened to his sister. Mars travels to Aspen Conservancy Summer Academy where his sister had been attending and finds a life steeped in outdated gender roles, secrets, and a strange cult that may or may not be responsible for Caroline’s drastic change. LaSala’s unique approach s a true psychological horror story punctuated by moments of lyrically expressed grief and pain juxtaposed with moments of violent imagery. The Honeys is an intense and powerful socially relevant horror story that reminds us to question harmful stereotypes and hug our loved ones a little more often.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
The countdown between prom when Shara Wheeler disappears and graduation amps up the intrigue as Chloe narrates the story of the now-missing Shara, her nemesis and rival for valedictorian. But all is not what it seems, especially after Shara kisses Chloe, but Chloe’s quest for answers leads her to an understanding about the complexities of a high school girl.
The book has the hallmarks of a high impact mystery with all of the expected high school drama. Featuring queer characters, twists, and discussions of religion, McQuiston hits all the right notes for teens.
I’m the Girl by Courtney Summers
Georgia Avis (sixteen) believes her life is going to change after having professional photos taken as “the most beautiful girl I’ve seen in my life. It’s me. I’m the girl” (4). Her dream abruptly ends when she’s involved in a hit-and-run. In an attempt to get away, Georgia discovers the body of thirteen-year-old Ashley James then strikes up an uneasy relationship with Ashley’s sister, Nora, to solve the younger girl’s murder. To complicate matters, Georgia’s family has a tainted history with Aspera, the local members-only resort hidden away in the mountains that caters to those with unimaginable wealth and privilege. Georgia has always dreamed of being a part of that world and all too soon, she finds herself drawn into the power, intrigue, and enormous wealth. Inevitably, she must decide if she will succumb to society’s expectations for women, learn how to use it to her advantage or reject it completely. And yes, Georgia IS involved in ALL of the above, and she solves the murder. Courtney Summers invites the reader to “walk the road” with Georgia to experience this raw and important novel that ultimately asks the question: If this is the way the world is, do you accept it?
I Must Betray You by Ruth Sepetys
Ruth Sepetys, known for her historical fiction, takes on a fresh topic in this novel: the citizen spies in Communist Romania under Nicholae Ceausescu. The story takes place in 1989 just before the revolution. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu lives with his sister, parents, and grandfather in an apartment building. Cristian navigates the pressure of school and strict enforcement of government restrictions that don’t allow citizens much freedom.
Cristian has friends, and his mother cleans houses for a wealthy American diplomat and his family, setting up Cristian’s friendship with the American’s son and offering Cristian a glimpse into American culture. This friendship puts him on the radar of Romanian government officials, who blackmail Cristian into reporting on the Americans and others in exchange for protecting his elderly grandfather. How much can Cristian trust his friends and neighbors? How much can they trust him?
This novel offers the pacing of a thriller with a historical setting that many Americans are not familiar with, behind the Iron Curtain and watching the beginnings of revolution. This book is more relevant than ever as states pass laws and enact tip lines that encourage citizens to report on their neighbors. A must-read for fans of Sepetys, historical fiction that takes place in the near-past, and suspense.
The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora A. Reyes
The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School is a young adult realistic fiction title that tells the story of Yamilet Flores, also known as Yami, a first generation Mexican American gay teen and her experience in a predominately white Catholic high school.Yami was outed by a former friend, Blanca, and now has every intention in not letting her new peers and school know that she is gay. She meets Bo Taylor, who has an unapologetic personality and is the only openly queer student at Slayton Catholic High School.
This book is filled with humor, and heartfelt moments of finding one’s true self, and bringing one’s whole self around new friendships and new environments. There are several examples of Yami’s experience with macroagressions and micro aggressions from her peers and teacher. She also continues to struggle with making her mom proud, especially as her mom does not know about her gender identity.
A captivating title with fully developed diverse characters who are living their coming of age story of loving themselves and finding the courage to live and love.
Content warning: suicide ideation, hospitalization of character
The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen by Isaac Blum
in which I gush over the perfection of this book and how it reminds me of the healing power of friendship and family
Hoodie Rosen’s Orthodox Jewish family moves to a suburb that does not roll out the red carpet for their new neighbors. In fact, the mayor and town council try to block the construction of a housing development intended for people in the Orthodox community. This becomes a big problem when Hoodie meets and falls in love with the mayor’s daughter, Anne-Marie Diaz-O’Leary. Despite warnings from his father, a lecture from his teacher, and even some sage advice from his older sister, Zippy, Hoodie can’t quit Anne-Marie and is shunned by his community for his actions. The antisemitism in the town escalates until a violent hate crime changes both communities. Blum’s novel explores the teen struggle against cultural expectations and offers them the grace to question and decide how they want to fit into this world. As serious and as timely as the themes are, the book is funny, smart, well-written, and perfectly paced. Blum masterfully weaves Orthodox Jewish life into the narrative without pulling the reader out of the story. The unexpected friendship between Hoodie and Anne-Marie is life-changing, but the best relationship is between Hoodie and Zippy. Every bit of insight in this book drops from her mouth like gold. My greatest hope is that Zippy gets her own novel immediately!
Alicia Abdul is a high school librarian in Albany, NY and teaches young adult literature at two universities. She shares her reading on Instagram @ReadersBeAdvised and blogs. She’s served or chaired several YALSA book committees, reviews for several professional magazines, presents at local, state, and national conferences, and moderates and contributes to panels for SLJ and SLC.
Jennifer Ansbach (@JenAnsbach), a high school English teacher and proud member of NCTE & ALAN, loves books and can usually be found reading books or talking about reading books. She is currently finishing her American Studies dissertation on young adult literature and social justice at Rutgers University-Newark.
Abby Harrison is the Head Librarian and Upper School Librarian at Greenhill School. She has served on the Morris Award Committee and the Alex Awards Committee. She is on the 2024 Printz Award Committee. She spends her time pushing books to students, faculty, friends, and her own kids. She lives, reads, and bakes in Dallas, TX.
Sarah Mulhern Gross is a National Board certified teacher at a STEM-focused high school in NJ. She has degrees in English and biology, because science+humanities will save the world some day!
Dora Guzman is a bilingual educator and doctoral candidate in Illinois. You can find her on Twitter @SpanglishNerd.
Dr. Cindi Koudelka (@cmkoudelka) is a Curriculum Specialist with National Board Certification in Adolescent Young Adulthood/English Language Arts at Fieldcrest School District in Illinois and an Adjunct professor at Aurora University. She is involved in multiple literacy research organizations through which she has presented and published on various educational topics. Her research interests focuses on critical adolescent literacies, young adult literature, positioning, and youth participatory action research. She is a youth advocate who believes in the power of literacy to disrupt systemic oppression. Her passion is to help adolescents reflect critically and foreground activism, community, and love.
Cindy Minnich is a high school English teacher and librarian in Central PA.
Kelly D. Vorhis teaches English in Nappanee, Indiana, and loves learning alongside her students every day. She can be found on twitter and Instagram @kelvorhis. Most days she is never far from a cup of coffee, her journal, and a book.
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That is an awesome book cover