Books Read in 2022: Four-Star YA and Children's

I think I've decided not to set a reading goal this year - not a numerical one, anyway. It doesn't make me read any more, and I hate feeling like I'm watching it. I will keep my goal to read more women - went pretty well this year - and more non-white women, which went well at first but I kind of stopped paying attention halfway through the year and my finishing numbers weren't great. I'm going to make a real effort to concentrate on quality over quantity. I'm not sure I've tackled a big, slightly intimidating tome since The Magic Mountain - I started Vanity Fair last year, but it didn't take. 

Another thing I'm really great at out of the gate and then get worse at as the year goes on is writing reviews as I read. It's not impossible to look back at the book and remember why I liked or didn't like it, but by the end of these posts if I look at the book on Goodreads and scroll down and find squat, I curse Last Year Allison a little bit. 

Four-Star YA and Children's

Brave (Berrybrook Middle School #2) by Svetlana Chmakova: Synopsis from Goodreads: In his daydreams, Jensen is the biggest hero that ever was, saving the world and his friends on a daily basis. But his middle school reality is VERY different - math is hard, getting along with friends is hard...Even finding a partner for the class project is a big problem when you always get picked last. And the pressure's on even more once the school newspaper's dynamic duo, Jenny and Akilah, draw Jensen into the whirlwind of school news, social experiment projects, and behind-the-scenes club drama. Jensen's always played the middle school game one level at a time, but suddenly, someone's cranked up the difficulty setting. Will those daring daydreams of his finally work in his favor, or will he have to find real solutions to his real life problems? 

The charming world of Berrybrook Middle School gets a little bigger in this highly anticipated follow up to Svetlana Chmakova's award winning Awkward with a story about a boy who learns his own way of being Brave!

I'm not a big graphic novel person, but I force myself to read one now and then from my library. Loved this - scarily perfect representation of a bullied kid in middle school (don't ask me how I know). Representation of all kinds of kids, great accompanying drawings.

Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado: Synopsis from Goodreads: Stranger Things meets Get Out in this Sapphic Horror debut from nonbinary, Afro-Latine author Vincent Tirado. Mysterious disappearances. An urban legend rumored to be responsible. And one group of teens determined to save their city at any cost. For over a year, the Bronx has been plagued by sudden disappearances that no one can explain. Sixteen-year-old Raquel does her best to ignore it. After all, the police only look for the white kids. But when her crush Charlize's cousin goes missing, Raquel starts to pay attention—especially when her own mom comes down with a mysterious illness that seems linked to the disappearances. Raquel and Charlize team up to investigate, but they soon discover that everything is tied to a terrifying urban legend called the Echo Game. The game is rumored to trap people in a sinister world underneath the city, and the rules are based on a particularly dark chapter in New York's past. And if the friends want to save their home and everyone they love, they will have to play the game and destroy the evil at its heart—or die trying.

Three and a half. This was very very good until the last few chapters, which seemed suddenly a bit rushed and clunky. A great example of socially conscious horror, where the marginalization of the group of people blends seamlessly with their vulnerability to certain supernatural dangers. The outlining of slumlords and redlining and the racist history of the Bronx had the potential to get preachy, but didn't fall into the trap - it was just informative, and eye-opening. I was totally here for the non-heteronormative romance, and the Echo Game was properly frightening. Near the end some of the reactions and dialogue were questionable at best, but the actual ending is effective.

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik: Synopsis from Goodreads: A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series. At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules .

I read the first of this series last year. It starts with Galadriel - El - a character who attends a boarding school for the children of wizards, where everything from having breakfast to attending class risks maiming and death by various monsters (which your fellow students will cheerfully feed you to), which still results in more children surviving than they would without the school. El is ostracized because everyone thinks she's a dark wizard on the brink of snapping - which she kind of is, but she's determined not to. This was a fully satisfying sophomore entry, although I'm unsure what makes it a crossover series - she usually writes adult, maybe, and this is more young adult? Anyway, I loved it. El's snarky voice is perfect again, but she starts to learn how to let down her guard and make actual friends which is so powerful, especially if you've ever been a lonely high school student (albeit not in a boarding school for wizards and because everyone is afraid you'll go berserk and destroy the world). There are people that pointed out flaws in the graduation plan that may have been accurate, but I don't let a little possibly-correct math get in the way of my suspension of disbelief. I also love an enemies-to-enemies-who-kiss romance. I don't love a cliff hanger, but I've come to expect them.

The Golden Enclaves (The Scholomance #3) by Naomi Novik: Synopsis from Goodreads: Saving the world is a test no school of magic can prepare you for in the triumphant conclusion to the New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with A Deadly Education and The Last GraduateThe one thing you never talk about while you're in the Scholomance is what you'll do when you get out. Not even the richest enclaver would tempt fate that way. But it's all we dream about, the hideously slim chance we'll survive to make it out the gates and improbably find ourselves with a life ahead of us, a life outside the Scholomance halls. And now the impossible dream has come true. I'm out, we're all out--and I didn't even have to turn into a monstrous dark witch to make it happen. So much for my great-grandmother's prophecy of doom and destruction. I didn't kill enclavers, I saved them. Me, and Orion, and our allies. Our graduation plan worked to perfection: we saved everyone and made the world safe for all wizards and brought peace and harmony to all the enclaves of the world. Ha, only joking! Actually it's gone all wrong. Someone else has picked up the project of destroying enclaves in my stead, and probably everyone we saved is about to get killed in the brewing enclave war on the horizon. And the first thing I've got to do now, having miraculously got out of the Scholomance, is turn straight around and find a way back in.

-"Thank goodness Liesel didn't even bother to ask permission; she just threw a spell at me, something extremely imperative in German that I imagine must have meant something like my god, get yourself straightened up at once, and it grabbed me and shook me briskly head to toe. I felt a bit like a beaten rug afterwards, but I didn't mind at all: I was clean, I was clean. On the outside at least."

-"I'd hated the school ever since I'd first come in, as if all along I'd felt the horrible lie that lived down at the heart of it, the rotting flesh beneath our feet. And now that lie was gone, replaced by that plea we'd all made together: stay and shelter us. I was having to work at hating the place, dredging through all my worst memories of being jumped in this corner or that one, sneered at here or there."

I waited eagerly for this (I know you can't tell from the space between this and the second), and then for the first little bit I was kind of disappointed. It seemed like a lot of moving around without a lot getting done. Also, I had been pronouncing 'enclaves' in my head as 'ONclaves', and then at some point during reading I found out that that's the American pronunciation, and the British pronunciation is "EN (rhymes with hen)claves". After that I went slowly mad going back and forth between pronunciations. Anyway, in the end I adjusted to the difference of pace from the first two books, and thought it was a really good ending to the series - a couple of revelations tying together things from earlier made strikingly good sense, and the concluding events worked for me, on a mental and emotional level. 

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder #1) by Holly Jackson: Synopsis from Goodreads: The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it. But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the murder, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn't so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final year project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden. And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth?

Huh. Three of my Goodreads friends three-starred this - fortunately Eve, who I gave it to for Christmas, also really liked it (or she's afraid to hurt my feelings). I loved this - I loved Pippa's voice, I loved that she had a normal, vibrant family who were involved in her life. There's a podcast - you know I'm always down for reading about a podcast. Pippa is whip-smart and determined and socially conscious, and aware of how her investigation might impact the affected families but still dogged in her pursuit of the truth. The love interest works organically - no insta-love, no cringe. And despite all the moving parts, the resolution is - dammit, I've used the word satisfying too many times and I can't think of a synonym that works. 

Good Girl, Bad Blood (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder #2) by Holly Jackson: Synopsis from Goodreads: Pip is not a detective anymore. With the help of Ravi Singh, she released a true-crime podcast about the murder case they solved together last year. The podcast has gone viral, yet Pip insists her investigating days are behind her. But she will have to break that promise when someone she knows goes missing. Jamie Reynolds has disappeared, on the very same night the town hosted a memorial for the sixth-year anniversary of the deaths of Andie Bell and Sal Singh. The police won't do anything about it. And if they won't look for Jamie then Pip will, uncovering more of her town's dark secrets along the way... and this time everyone is listening. But will she find him before it's too late?

Okay, I suppose it MIGHT strain the bonds of credulity that our intrepid girl detective ends up involved in yet another investigation (Jessica Fletcher Syndrome, anyone?) I also used to find the whole "the police won't act, so a teenager has to take the reins" ridiculous, but let's just say I'm less resistant these days. But it ROCKS, it's possibly even better than the first. I sort of hate when I like a BookTok book (because I'm snobby), but here we are. Although I'm pretty sure I found it first.

As Good As Dead (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder #3) by Holly Jackson: Synopsis from Goodreads: THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING SERIES The highly-anticipated finale to the A Good Girl's Guide to Murder series, the instant bestsellers that read like your favorite true crime podcast or show. By the end of this mystery series, you'll never think of good girls the same way again... Pip is about to head to college, but she is still haunted by the way her last investigation ended. She’s used to online death threats in the wake of her viral true-crime podcast, but she can’t help noticing an anonymous person who keeps asking her: Who will look for you when you’re the one who disappears? Soon the threats escalate and Pip realizes that someone is following her in real life. When she starts to find connections between her stalker and a local serial killer caught six years ago, she wonders if maybe the wrong man is behind bars. Police refuse to act, so Pip has only one choice: find the suspect herself—or be the next victim. As the deadly game plays out, Pip discovers that everything in her small town is coming full circle . . .and if she doesn’t find the answers, this time she will be the one who disappears. 

** mild spoiler alert ** For at least the first half of this book, I was upset. I felt like yeah, obviously, a real person who had undergone the traumatic events that Pip had in the previous two books would have PTSD and be unpleasant and self-destructive, but I wasn't here for absolute reality, I was here for a mediated reality with more witty banter and a quicker recovery than is realistic. I was going to grind through the book and be done. Somewhere in the back half, I was won over. It's not a nice, neat 'moral' solution that Pip engineers. It violates some unspoken rules about how female protagonists should behave. It sure as hell takes this from the plucky YA entry I was thinking of it as into something darker and messier. But given the state of - *gestures broadly at everything* - maybe that's okay. Maybe I'm on board with the fact that sometimes women have to make their own justice.

The Rattled Bones by S.M Parker: Synopsis from Goodreads: Unearthing years of buried secrets, Rilla Brae is haunted by ghostly visions tied to the tainted history of a mysterious island in this haunting novel from the author of The Girl Who Fell. Maine-bred, independent Rilla Brae is no stranger to the deep. She knows the rhythms of hard work and harder seas. But when she experiences the sudden death of her father, the veil between the living and the dead blurs and she begins to be haunted by a girl on a nearby, uninhabited island. The girl floats a song over the waves, and it is as beautiful as it is terrifying. Familiar and distant. Then Rilla meets Sam, a University of Southern Maine archeology student tasked with excavating the very island where the ghostly girl has appeared. Sam sifts the earth looking for the cultural remains of an island people who were forcibly evicted by the state nearly a hundred years ago. Sam tells Rilla the island has a history no locals talk about—if they know about it at all—due to the shame the events brought to the working waterfront community. All Rilla knows for sure is that the island has always been there—an eerie presence anchored in the stormy sea. Now Sam’s work and the ghostly girl’s song lure Rilla to the island’s shores. As Rilla helps Sam to unearth the island’s many secrets, Rilla’s visions grow—until the two discover a tragedy kept silent for years. And it’s a tragedy that has everything to do with Rilla’s past. 

I borrowed this last October to read during Spooky Season and didn't get to it, and then the library somehow kept automatically renewing it far past when it should have been renewable (thank-you Covid?) I'm really glad I got to read it. I'm not even sure I can articulate why it hit so perfectly. The sense of place is so clearly and lovingly rendered, and the details of the lobster fishing culture and practices. The author seemed able to pitch it so finely that Rilla and Sam were almost too perfect but not quite, and their relationship was really lovely - no insta-love, just things in common leading to a really delightful close friendship. The theme of a community rightfully ashamed and unwilling to admit past transgressions involving racism, bigotry and violence rang very true and was sensitively handled.

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games #1) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: Synopsis from Goodreads: Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why -- or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man's touch -- and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes. Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a conwoman, and he's determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather's last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.

This was kind of ludicrous, but in a really fun way - rags-to-riches, puzzles and codes, a big family that's just about as well-adjusted as you'd expect a stupid rich family to be. I was looking for a Westing Game vibe, and for the most part I got it. I liked Avery and her difficulty adjusting to wealth. I was less enamoured with the attempt to set up more than one brother as a possible love interest. We'll see how that goes (spoiler alert: it didn't go well).

You'll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus: Synopsis from Goodreads: Ivy, Mateo, and Cal used to be close. Now all they have in common is Carlton High and the beginning of a very bad day. Type A Ivy lost a student council election to the class clown, and now she has to face the school, humiliated. Heartthrob Mateo is burned out--he's been working two jobs since his family's business failed. And outsider Cal just got stood up.... again. So when Cal pulls into campus late for class and runs into Ivy and Mateo, it seems like the perfect opportunity to turn a bad day around. They'll ditch and go into the city. Just the three of them, like old times. Except they've barely left the parking lot before they run out of things to say... Until they spot another Carlton High student skipping school--and follow him to the scene of his own murder. In one chance move, their day turns from dull to deadly. And it's about to get worse. It turns out Ivy, Mateo, and Cal still have some things in common. They all have a connection to the dead kid. And they're all hiding something. Now they're all wondering--could it be that their chance reconnection wasn't by chance after all? From the author of One of Us Is Lying comes a brand-new pulse-pounding thriller. It's Ferris Bueller's Day Off with murder when three old friends relive an epic ditch day, and it goes horribly--and fatally--wrong.

I always enjoy this author. She writes teenagers that sound like teenagers (although again, there's more murder around these teenagers than is hopefully customary. This wasn't my favourite - that was probably Two Can Keep a Secret, and then One of Us is Lying and the sequel - but it was better than The Cousins. I'm reading Nothing More to Tell right now and liking it. Recommended for anyone who likes YA lit.

Cherish Farrah by Bethany C. Morrow: Synopsis from Goodreads: Synopsis from Goodreads: Seventeen-year-old Farrah Turner is one of two Black girls in her country club community, and the only one with Black parents. Her best friend, Cherish Whitman, adopted by a white, wealthy family, is something Farrah likes to call WGS--White Girl Spoiled. With Brianne and Jerry Whitman as parents, Cherish is given the kind of adoration and coddling that even upper-class Black parents can't seem to afford--and it creates a dissonance in her best friend that Farrah can exploit. When her own family is unexpectedly confronted with foreclosure, the calculating Farrah is determined to reassert the control she's convinced she's always had over her life by staying with Cherish, the only person she loves--even when she hates her. 

As troubled Farrah manipulates her way further into the Whitman family, the longer she stays, the more her own parents suggest that something is wrong in the Whitman house. She might trust them--if they didn't think something was wrong with Farrah, too. When strange things start happening at the Whitman household--debilitating illnesses, upsetting fever dreams, an inexplicable tension with Cherish's hotheaded boyfriend, and a mysterious journal that seems to keep track of what is happening to Farrah--it's nothing she can't handle. But soon everything begins to unravel when the Whitmans invite Farrah closer, and it's anyone's guess who is really in control.

All the Ws, Ts and Fs ever. I think I borrowed this based on some list from Book Riot, and that list should have been Holy Fuck, What the Hell Just Happened Books. It seems to be quite polarizing, which I understand - I enjoyed it at least partly because it was quite different and unexpected, and Farrah's voice is so strong and chillingly singular. Tackles institutionalized racism and classism and the issue of white parents raising adopted black children and then puts a particularly bizarre spin on it.

The Honeys by Ryan La Sala: Synopsis from Goodreads: From Ryan La Sala, the wildly popular author of Reverie, comes a twisted and tantalizing horror novel set amidst the bucolic splendor of a secluded summer retreat. Mars has always been the lesser twin, the shadow to his sister Caroline's radiance. But when Caroline dies under horrific circumstances, Mars is propelled to learn all he can about his once-inseparable sister who'd grown tragically distant. Mars's genderfluidity means he's often excluded from the traditions -- and expectations -- of his politically-connected family. This includes attendance at the prestigious Aspen Conservancy Summer Academy where his sister poured so much of her time. But with his grief still fresh, he insists on attending in her place. What Mars finds is a bucolic fairytale not meant for him. Folksy charm and sun-drenched festivities camouflage old-fashioned gender roles and a toxic preparatory rigor. Mars seeks out his sister's old friends: a group of girls dubbed the Honeys, named for the beehives they maintain behind their cabin. They are beautiful and terrifying -- and Mars is certain they're connected to Caroline's death. But the longer he stays at Aspen, the more the sweet mountain breezes give way to hints of decay. Mars’s memories begin to falter, bleached beneath the relentless summer sun. Something is hunting him in broad daylight, toying with his mind. If Mars can't find it soon, it will eat him alive.

-"I start to understand what Caroline must have seen in them. The bees. They operate within such an urgent, simple logic. Unbothered but also determined. Like her. Their world feels pure, unbound from creativity or pride or rebellion. All those vices live within me, so maybe I couldn't live within a hive after all."

I tried to read Reverie and couldn't get into it. This one sucked me in, sorry, I won't. I think I found Reverie too "fever-dreamy', which I've mentioned I don't love, and while some of that was in play here, there was a refreshingly grounded vein running throughout. Plus I'm a sucker for a good summer camp horror-ish tale, which is also a touching portrait of grief and coming of age for a lonely non-conforming protagonist.

I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall: Synopsis from Goodreads: After: Jess is alone. Her cabin has burned to the ground. She knows if she doesn’t act fast, the cold will kill her before she has time to worry about food. But she is still alive—for now.  Before:  Jess hadn’t seen her survivalist, off-the-grid dad in over a decade. But after a car crash killed her mother and left her injured, she was forced to move to his cabin in the remote Canadian wilderness. Just as Jess was beginning to get to know him, a secret from his past paid them a visit, leaving her father dead and Jess stranded. After: With only her father’s dog for company, Jess must forage and hunt for food, build shelter, and keep herself warm. Some days it feels like the wild is out to destroy her, but she’s stronger than she ever imagined. Jess will survive. She has to. She knows who killed her father… and she wants revenge.

-"Still, it worried me to destroy anything. I can't get more out here. Everything that breaks, everything that gets lost, can't be replaced."

-"It's like shrugging off a heavy backpack. It seems like giving up hope should mean despairing, but I feel light. Hope is a distraction. It makes you think about things that might happen to save you, instead of what's right in front of you. It makes you freeze up because you're so afraid of failing, because you don't understand yet that it doesn't matter."

This author is a consistent home-run for me, although this is the first book I've read without any hint of the supernatural. The plots are interesting, and elevated further by the writing. It's not the easiest to sustain an entire book with basically one character, but Marshall succeeds admirably. How often do we think, really think, of the work it takes to survive with zero modern conveniences, faced with the need to supply our own food and shelter? Just reading about it was exhausting. It was riveting, and excruciating, and fascinating, and would have been even without the whole revenge angle. 


I don't really have a reading goal as per number of books read, but I do aim for 2-3 each week. That doesn't always happen of course, depending on my life and the length of the books, etc. I was thinking of reading Vanity Fair, I have a copy and I do not think that I ever read it!
StephLove said…
I can put it a good word for Vanity Fair if you generally enjoy Victorian fiction, which I do. It's not extraordinary, though, imo.

I'm not reading much (any?) YA these days since I only read with North when they want to force themselves to read a classic (Iliad this fall and the Inferno this winter) and can't get through it without a reading partner. I often enjoy YA but I don't think to read it on my own. There's certainly a lot of YA gay and lesbian romance lying around the house these days if I wanted to, though.
NGS said…
I found the Scholomance such a let down after the first book. I'm not sure why it didn't really resonate with me, but I'm so glad other people enjoyed that trilogy more than I did. I still think that first book is a real good time!
Suzanne said…
I am very gung-ho about reviews at the beginning of the year, but my enthusiasm for reviewing (vs reading MORE BOOKS) wanes rapidly as the year progresses. I can already feel the review reluctance building and we're only halfway through January.

I think I read The Good Girl's Guide to Murder last year and liked it pretty well, but I don't think I have read any follow ups to the original. Maybe I need to look into that.
Thanks for your reviews here. I will be adding Good Girls' Guide to my to-read list.

I do not like to set a reading goal for the year. Sometimes I find I can't read at all, that is, I can't concentrate on anything book-length.

It really bothers me now if I don't know how to pronounce a key word in a book. And sometimes the online pronunciation guides are not conclusive, when it comes to a character's name. Because if the character is, say, Irish, I want to know how it is pronounced by that character, not how it is pronounced in the US.

Ernie said…
One positive of not sleeping is that I'm getting caught up here. I laughed at how you hate last year Allison. You distracted by the pronunciation of enclave cracked me up - so relatable. Sometimes I read a book and I'm not sure if I'm saying the character's name rigt in my head and I feel like the I'm doing soneone a disservice.

I've jotted down Girls Guide to Murder series for Curly on the off chance I can get her to read a book that isn't for school. Maybe spring break or summer?

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