January is always a time of mixed emotions for me as a reader. I look back with regret on all the books that I did not manage to read in the previous year while looking forward with eager anticipation to all the new ones to come. Scanning the first half of 2022, these 10 teen titles—many of which have strong crossover adult reader appeal—deserve a spot on TBR lists everywhere.
Author Jason Reynolds and fine artist Jason Griffin, two tremendous talents, collaborated to create Ain’t Burned All the Bright (Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum, Jan. 11), a highly original illustrated verse novel that evocatively expresses the emotional stresses of the first year of the pandemic through the experiences of one family.
In a companion to their National Book Award–finalist title, PET, Akwaeke Emezi’s Bitter (Knopf, Feb. 15) introduces a 17-year-old artist who, following a childhood in foster care, finds refuge at an arts school. But citizens’ agitation for justice against exploitative monsters in the surrounding city forms an irresistible call to action.
Ironhead, or, Once a Young Lady (Levine Querido, Feb. 15) by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem, translated from the Dutch by Kristen Gehrman, is set against the sweeping backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. When Stance is married off to a cruel, older man, she heads off to battle dressed as a boy and forges a new life path.
Written and illustrated by Laura Gao, with color and art assistance by Weiwei Xu, Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, March 8) is a timely and emotional story about immigration, coming-of-age, and coming out, framed by the anti-Chinese racism of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Candace Fleming’s Murder Among Friends: How Leopold and Loeb Tried To Commit the Perfect Crime (Anne Schwartz/Random, March 29) is an unforgettable account of the devastating 1924 murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks by two older teens. It describes the subsequent trial and discusses arguments surrounding the insanity defense and death penalty.
Once thought to be unattainable, the quest to run a four-minute mile is a story full of drama. Neal Bascomb does it justice in The Race of the Century: The Battle To Break the Four-Minute Mile (Scholastic Focus, April 5). This gripping work introduces readers to three mid-20th–century runners as they strive for glory.
The Color of the Sky Is the Shape of the Heart by Chesil, translated from the Japanese by Takami Nieda (Soho Teen, April 5), won awards upon its 2016 release in Japan. Centering a Korean Japanese protagonist like the author herself, this is a thoughtful, textured story of exclusion and the search for belonging.
The latest from 2020 Kirkus Prize finalist Hanna Alkaf, Queen of the Tiles (Salaam Reads/Simon + Schuster, April 19), immerses readers in the world of competitive Scrabble. Following the death of her Scrabble champion best friend, a grieving teen hopes to find closure through competing herself—but instead encounters an unsettling mystery.
Dina Nayeri, who came to the U.S. from Iran as a child refugee, explores this subject in The Waiting Place (Candlewick, May 3), featuring photographs by Anna Bosch Miralpeix. Nayeri thoughtfully and respectfully portrays daily life in a Greek refugee camp for 10 young people from Iran and Afghanistan.
Jen Ferguson (Michif/Métis) debuts with The Summer of Bitter and Sweet (Heartdrum, May 10), a powerful and empowering work of realistic fiction that follows a young woman through her journey of reckoning with relationship struggles with friends and family, understanding her own sexuality, and coming to grips with violence against Indigenous women.
Laura Simeon is a young readers’ editor.