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Best Books 2022
STARRED REVIEW

December 2022

The Best Books of 2022

The editors of BookPage share their top titles of the year, across all genres and categories.

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Babel by R.F. Kuang

Set in an alternate Victorian Britain, R.F. Kuang’s standalone historical fantasy is an unforgiving examination of the cost of power.

Babel

Everywhere With You by Carlie Sorosiak, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth

Carlie Sorosiak and Devon Holzwarth’s flawless picture book rings with a tender truth: When you are with the ones you love, everywhere you go is home.

Everywhere With You by Carlie Sorosiak and Devon Holzwarth

Honey and Spice by Bolu Babalola

This enemies-­to-lovers romance set on a British university campus hums with Bolu Babalola’s energetic, intelligent voice.

Honey and Spice jacket

An Immense World by Ed Yong

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ed Yong’s nonfiction study of animal senses is an immersive, page-turning reading experience.

An Immense World book cover

In Love by Amy Bloom

Amy Bloom is known for examining the dynamics of intimacy in her fiction, but she has never gotten closer to the flame than in this memoir of her husband’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In Love book jacket

Lolo’s Light by Liz Garton Scanlon

Liz Garton Scanlon’s compelling middle grade novel glows with empathy and understanding.

Lolo's Light by Liz Garton Scanlon book cover

Man o’ War by Cory McCarthy

This YA novel’s exploration of queer identity ferociously resists the idea that coming out is a simple or straightforward process.

Man O' War by Cory McCarthy

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty

Despite its doomed Midwestern setting, Tess Gunty’s debut novel makes storytelling seem like the most fun a person can have.

The Rabbit Hutch book jacket

Trust by Hernan Diaz

Hernan Diaz’s second novel is a beautifully composed masterpiece that examines the insidious disparities between rich and poor, truth and fiction.

Trust book cover

Winter Work by Dan Fesperman

Dan Fesperman’s intense post-Cold War mystery savvily addresses both the personal and political pressures facing an East German spy.

Winter Work book cover

Discover more of BookPage’s Best Books of 2022.

2022 brought innumerable literary wonders, but as far as the year’s very best, we’ve narrowed it down to 10 outstanding titles.

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah

The engrossing 10th novel from Nobel laureate Gurnah is filled with compassion and historical insight.

Afterlives book cover

All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews

Bitingly funny and sweetly earnest, Mathews’ debut is one of those rare novels that feels just like life.

All This Could Be Different

The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li

Not since Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend has a novel so deftly probed the magical and sometimes destructive friendships that can occur between two girls.

The Book of Goose

Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah

When your heritage and ancestry are the reasons for your oppression, to whom can you turn in order to survive, but to family? Hokeah’s exceptional debut novel follows a Native American man’s life through the many leaves of his family tree.

Calling for a Blanket Dance

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

Egan’s empathetic interest in human behavior is what drives The Candy House, making her companion novel to A Visit From the Goon Squad more than a literary experiment.

The Candy House

The Consequences by Manuel Muñoz

In this story collection, Muñoz forges a new Latinx narrative, wherein all aspects of Latinx life are displayed with richness and complexity.

Book jacket image for The Consequences by Manuel Munoz

Either/Or by Elif Batuman

Selin, the hero of Batuman’s The Idiot, returns with a voice that is more mature, reflective and droll.

Either Or book jacket

The Furrows by Namwali Serpell

Serpell’s award-winning debut novel, The Old Drift, was a genre-defying epic about three generations of Zambian families, and her purposely disconcerting follow-up will reinforce readers’ appreciation of her daring experimentation and keen talent.

Book jacket image for The Furrows by Namwali Serpell

How It Went by Wendell Berry

Taken together, the 13 stories in Berry’s How It Went create a tale that gently unwinds and doubles back on itself, not so much like a river but more like a flowering vine.

Book jacket image for How It Went by Wendell Berry

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

Escoffery’s connected stories offer an imaginative, fresh take on being a man and nonwhite immigrant in America.

If I Survive You book jacket

Lessons by Ian McEwan

This scathing, unsettling novel posits that knaves and heroes come in all guises.

Lessons cover

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Garmus’ devastating and funny debut novel blows the lid off simplistic myths about the 1950s.

Lessons in Chemistry book cover

Natural History by Andrea Barrett

The stories in Barrett’s dazzling collection demonstrate that while history distills events, fiction can bring messy humanity to life.

Natural History book cover

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

Ng is undoubtedly at the top of her game as she portrays an American society overcome by fear.

Our Missing Hearts book cover

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty

Despite its doomed Midwestern setting, Gunty’s debut novel makes storytelling seem like the most fun a person can have.

The Rabbit Hutch book jacket

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

It’s impossible to predict how, exactly, you’ll fall in love with this novel, but it’s an eventuality you can’t escape.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow book cover

Trust by Hernan Diaz

Diaz’s second novel is a beautifully composed masterpiece that examines the insidious disparities between rich and poor, truth and fiction.

Trust book cover

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Stuart’s follow-up to Shuggie Bain is a marvelous feat of storytelling, a mix of tender emotion and grisly violence.

Young Mungo book cover

Discover more of BookPage’s Best Books of 2022.

The year’s best fiction included a remarkable number of groundbreaking story collections—some deeply interconnected like Oscar Hokeah’s and Jonathan Escoffery’s, others bound mostly by theme and setting, such as Manuel Muñoz’s. We also reveled in several major releases from well-established authors, including Celeste Ng, Ian McEwan, Yiyun Li and Gabrielle Zevin.

Sophomore novels from Hernan Diaz, Namwali Serpell, Douglas Stuart and Elif Batuman surpassed the high bars of their debuts, and first-timers Tess Gunty, Sarah Thankam Mathews and Bonnie Garmus made a hell of a splash.

Also a Poet by Ada Calhoun

Calhoun’s biography of the poet Frank O’Hara unexpectedly transformed into an absorbing and insightful memoir about her father.


Free by Lea Ypi

Political scholar Ypi’s poignant, funny memoir views Albania’s journey out of socialism through a child’s eyes.


Half American by Matthew F. Delmont

Delmont provides a top-notch overview of the contributions of Black service members and civilians during WWII.

Book jacket image for Half American by Matthew F. Delmont

How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo

Castillo brilliantly argues that being a good reader means learning how to interrogate the stories all around us.

Book jacket image for How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo

An Immense World by Ed Yong

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Yong’s nonfiction study of animal senses is an immersive, page-turning reading experience.


In Love by Amy Bloom

Bloom is known for examining the dynamics of intimacy in her fiction, but she has never gotten closer to the flame than in this memoir of her husband’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In Love book jacket

In the Shadow of the Mountain by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Unlike mountaineering memoirs that celebrate the individual, Vasquez-Lavado’s is intimately collaborative.

book jacket for In the Shadow of the Mountain

Inciting Joy by Ross Gay

Gay’s powerful and poetic sixth book asks: What incites joy? And more importantly, what does joy incite in us?

Inciting Joy by Ross Gay

The Invisible Kingdom by Meghan O’Rourke

O’Rourke compassionately chronicles the rise of autoimmune disease alongside her own search for healing.


Last Call at the Hotel Imperial by Deborah Cohen

Historian Cohen brilliantly captures the complicated lives of America’s most influential interwar journalists.


The Man Who Could Move Clouds by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Rojas Contreras makes the history of Colombia immediate and personal.


Raising Lazarus by Beth Macy

Macy’s follow-up to Dopesick ​​will radically change your opinions on the opioid crisis.

Raising Lazarus by Beth Macy

Red Paint by Sasha LaPointe

LaPointe offers a poetic narrative of trauma and healing through ancestral rites and punk rock.


The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams by Stacy Schiff

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Schiff vividly renders an essential Founding Father: Samuel Adams.


River of the Gods by Candice Millard

In this unforgettable history of the Nile, European explorers’ egos loom godlike, but East African guides save lives.


The Song of the Cell by Siddhartha Mukherjee

This captivating book from Pulitzer Prize winner Mukherjee explores how cellular engineering can reshape medicine.


South to America by Imani Perry

In a vibrant blend of travelogue, memoir and cultural history, Perry shows the South’s iniquity and beauty.


Stay True by Hua Hsu

Hsu’s remarkable memoir examines the reverberations of a friendship frozen in time by untimely death.

Stay True by Hua Hsu

Strangers to Ourselves by Rachel Aviv

This stunning book profiles people whose experiences of mental illness exceed the limits of Western psychiatry.


Tell Me Everything by Erika Krouse

Krouse’s compelling, highly personal account of a landmark Title IX case reads like a detective novel.


This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch by Tabitha Carvan

Carvan makes an excellent case for embracing what you like and the delight it brings—no shame allowed.

Jacket of This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch by Tabitha Carvan

Under the Skin by Linda Villarosa

Villarosa’s wonderfully written book makes stunning points about the health risks of racism.

Book jacket image for Under the Skin by Linda Villarosa

Virology by Joseph Osmundson

Sparkling prose, glittering insights and accessible writing make this one of the best science books of the year.


Discover more of BookPage’s Best Books of 2022.

This year’s best nonfiction books ran the gamut from timely to timeless. Meghan O’Rourke, Siddhartha Mukherjee and Linda Villarosa broke new ground in our understanding of illness. Memoirs by fiction writers including Amy Bloom, Ingrid Rojas Contreras and Erika Krouse told gripping true stories with a novelist’s flair. And beloved favorites such as Ed Yong, Ross Gay and Stacy Schiff rose to meet their fans’ high expectations.

Blood Sugar by Sascha Rothchild

Promising Young Woman meets “Dexter” in this highly suspenseful and strangely empowering thriller from an Emmy-nominated screenwriter.

Blood Sugar jacket

The Cage by Bonnie Kistler

Part locked-room mystery, part legal thriller, The Cage is tailor-made to be read in one breathless session.

The Cage jacket

Geiger by Gustaf Skördeman

Geiger is a truly excellent first novel: deeply researched, painstakingly crafted and thrilling on every page.

Geiger jacket

The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley

With unexpected twists, a paranoid atmosphere and a fascinating narrator, The Half Life of Valery K is a superb work of historical fiction and an excellent mystery.

The Half Life of Valery K jacket

Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen

Mystery lovers will be thoroughly entertained by this thoughtful noir that examines midcentury LGBTQ+ life through a cast of dynamic characters.

Lavender House jacket

Little Sister by Gytha Lodge

A teenage girl covered in blood interrupts Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens’ afternoon pint—and Gytha Lodge’s mystery only gets more unpredictable from there.

Little Sister jacket

Sometimes People Die by Simon Stephenson

Simon Stephenson’s darkly hilarious Sometimes People Die harks back to classic English satire a la Kingsley Amis or Evelyn Waugh—just with more murder.

Sometimes People Die jacket

Winter Work by Dan Fesperman

Dan Fesperman’s intense post-Cold War mystery savvily addresses both the personal and political pressures facing an East German spy.

Winter Work book cover

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

Readers are treated to an inventive and expertly crafted mystery-within-a-mystery in Sulari Gentill’s The Woman in the Library.

The Woman in the Library jacket

You’re Invited by Amanda Jayatissa

This thoroughly satisfying and beautifully plotted thriller deconstructs the trope of the crazy ex-girlfriend.

You're Invited jacket

Discover more of BookPage’s Best Books of 2022.

2022 was a year marked by meta mysteries, Cold War thrillers and complicated women.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

The delightful Book Lovers both dismantles and celebrates the “career woman” archetype.

Book Lovers

A Curse of Queens by Amanda Bouchet

In her fourth Kingmaker Chronicles book, Bouchet continues to strike a perfect balance between world building and romance.

A Curse of Queens jacket

Honey and Spice by Bolu Babalola

This enemies-­to-lovers romance set on a British university campus hums with Bolu Babalola’s energetic, intelligent voice.

Honey and Spice jacket

Hook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa Bailey

This fabulous friends-to-lovers rom-com feels authentic every step of the way.

Hook, Line, and Sinker jacket

A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall 

The king of the rom-com conquers the Regency with an angsty historical romance.

A Lady for a Duke

Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

The only bad thing about Kelly’s wonderful foodie romance is that after you’ve gulped it down, you’ll want more.

Love & Other Disasters jacket

Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez

Jimenez’s special blend of humor and angst is polished to perfection in the fairy tale-esque Part of Your World.

Part of Your World jacket

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

Subversive yet satisfying, Sebastian’s latest breaks new ground for historical romance.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes jacket

The Redemption of Philip Thane by Lisa Berne

Berne’s Groundhog Day-inspired love story is a clever addition to the canon of “rake redemption” romances.

The Redemption of Philip Thane jacket

You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

Emezi’s first romance novel is a hot and sultry exploration of love and grief.

You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty

Discover more of BookPage’s Best Books of 2022.

2022 was a year of spectacular debuts, groundbreaking historical romances and, of course, HEAs aplenty.

All the Seas of the World  by Guy Gavriel Kay

Kay tells small stories of hope and resilience in an expansive fantasy world modeled on the Renaissance era.

All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay

Babel by R.F. Kuang

Set in an alternate Victorian Britain, R.F. Kuang’s standalone historical fantasy is an unforgiving examination of the cost of power.

Babel jacket

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Dean’s deliciously dark debut is a haunting story that’s part fairy tale and part nightmare.

The Book Eaters jacket

Juniper & Thorn by Ava Reid

Inspired by Eastern European history and folklore, this fantasy novel is a tender love story as well as a chilling tale of escape from abuse.

Juniper & Thorn by Ava Reid jacket

Leech by Hiron Ennes

Dark and horrifying, Leech is perfect for readers who wish that Wuthering Heights had been more like Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation.

Leech by Hiron Ennes jacket

The Maker of Swans  by Paraic O’Donnell

If you like beautiful things, read The Maker of Swans, an enthralling dance over the line between literary fiction and magical fantasy.

The Maker of Swans jacket

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

This dark fantasy starring a possessed chicken and a feminist avenger represents the burgeoning “hopepunk” ethos at its finest.

Nettle & Bone jacket

A Restless Truth by Freya Marske

Marske’s second historical fantasy is a stunning, sensual love story wrapped in an exciting murder mystery.

A Restless Truth jacket

Sign Here by Claudia Lux

Sign Here is both a hilarious reimagining of Hell as a corporate nightmare and a painfully realistic exploration of morality in the modern world.

Book jacket image for Sign Here by Claudia Lux

Thistlefoot by GennaRose Nethercott

Inspired by traditional tales of Baba Yaga, Nethercott’s Thistlefoot is a weird and wonderful triumph.

Book jacket image for Thistlefoot by GennaRose Nethercott

Discover more of BookPage’s Best Books of 2022.

There is probably no better way to sum up 2022 than to say it was a year dominated by both horror and hopepunk—sometimes even in the same book.

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Recent Features

The BookPage editors share their top titles of the year, across all genres and categories.
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Peyote Trip is an office drone on the Fifth Floor of Hell, which resembles a particularly soul-crushing corporation. But a promotion is within Peyote’s grasp, and all he has to do is snag a fifth soul from the wealthy Harrison family. Peyote sets out with Calamity, his potential new workplace bestie, to snare his final Harrison and escape the doldrums of the Fifth Floor, but complications both logistic and ethical soon arise. We talked to author Claudia Lux about finding humanity in an infernal bureaucracy.

Have you ever worked in a corporate environment? If so, are there any specific memories that inspired the idiosyncrasies of Hell’s office spaces? What were some of your other inspirations for Hell-as-bureaucracy?
I’ve worked in the social work version of a corporate environment, which is like a normal corporate environment with less money and loftier aspirations. But the initial scene in the Fifth Floor’s kitchen before the morning meeting was based largely on the kitchen in that office, in which the coffee machine never worked and people hoarded plastic silverware like we were preparing (poorly) for the apocalypse. 

The first kernel of the idea started when I was streaming TV shows on a work trip and the same insurance commercial started for the millionth time. Without thinking, I yelled, “THIS IS HELL.” Of course, it was not. It was a nice hotel room. But I started noticing it more: How quick we are to compare our momentary discomfort to eternal damnation; how low the colloquial bar has gone for suffering. I began asking people for their most recent “Hell” moments, and, unsurprisingly, a lot of them took place at work. The conversations were so fun and unifying, and soon I had a world to explore and a character to explore it.

Sign Here is told from several different perspectives. How did you decide how much time each character would spend narrating the story? Did any of them take over the plot more than you initially expected?
I wish that I had an answer to this that made me sound like a put-together writing mastermind, but honestly, I didn’t really decide, I wrote it as it came, switching perspectives when it felt like the previous section was complete. Besides the broad strokes, I was in the dark about what would happen until I got there. That being said, the character who took over the plot more than I could’ve possibly anticipated was Calamity. 

One night, after a long bout of writing, I got this kind of cheeky, mischievous feeling, like right before you challenge someone to eat a pepper you know is super hot, and I typed: “Calamity Gannon, human name redacted, got her taste for blood the first time one of her brothers beat another to death in front of her.” Before that moment, I didn’t have any plans to go into Cal’s background. And I certainly had no idea how I would explain that sentence the next day. But I found myself really excited to get back to it, to rise to the challenge. Now Cal and her background are some of my favorite content. 

“Realistically uncomfortable is my whole jam.”

Your characters have such realistic (and realistically uncomfortable) tendencies and thoughts. Were any of them based on real people?
Thank you! Realistically uncomfortable is my whole jam. As far as the characters being based on real people, the answer is both yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I mine my daily life for character traits. For example, Silas Harrison’s childhood bedroom in New Hampshire is verbatim my high school friend’s bedroom, down to the Playboy poster and the hidden pot. (Sorry, Mom!) But that’s all. The rest of Silas, and everyone else—as scary as it is to admit—is just me and my wacky, disturbingly curious imagination. 

What excites you about digging into a character’s psyche?
Part of my work as a therapist, my profession before transitioning to writing full time, was designing and facilitating group therapy programs. At first, I was super intimidated by the concept. One-on-one therapy was already intense; why add in nine more people? But I wound up completely won over by its therapeutic power: the realization that we’re not alone in our thoughts or feelings, especially the darkest ones; that there is nothing we’ve experienced that no one else could understand, even if no one else lived it exactly. If a writer makes a character real enough, reading can provide the same realization. So that’s what excites me the most about developing a character’s psyche—the catalyst for empathy. The possibility that someone who didn’t yet know that feeling seen was possible might feel seen by a character I write. 

Book jacket image for Sign Here by Claudia Lux

What’s your favorite way to work? Do you have any drafting or editing rituals?
Up until recently, I have always worked full time while writing, whether as a social worker or in the gig economy, cobbling five wages into something livable. So out of necessity, I developed the ritual of only writing at night, which has continued even though it’s no longer required. I write for long chunks, five hours at least at a time, and I love the stolen quiet of the night. I also have a specific candle from Paddywax Candles that I used the whole time I was writing/editing Sign Here. Not cheap, but whether placebo or genuine sensory memory tool, it really helped get me in the zone. I need a new one for the next book (it’s a one-scent-per-book kind of deal), so I’m currently on the hunt for that, if anyone has any suggestions!

I also love setting up a specific writing space wherever I live, and I always include a framed copy of “Berryman” by W.S. Merwin on my desk. It is a brilliant take on the writing process that never fails to give me goosebumps and makes me feel so insanely lucky that I get to do this. 

What is your favorite piece of media (book, movie, TV show, anything) from the last year, and why?
Oh man, what a big question! Off the top of my head:

I just finished Before Everything by Victoria Redel, and it completely rocked my world. I studied with Victoria at Sarah Lawrence when I was in college, and I have always been in awe of her and her work, but Before Everything had me full on ugly-crying in the middle seat of a transatlantic flight and also cackle-laughing like a maniac. (The people next to me were thrilled!) She writes about grief and friendship with equal parts humor and raw sadness, and that makes every single character feel so real that I keep finding myself missing them. She’s got that writing-as-empathy-catalyst thing down pat. 

I’ve also been totally captivated by “Reservation Dogs” on FX. The writing and the acting are incredible, and it’s one of those rare shows that provides both escape and nourishment. It’s hilarious and completely captivating, and at the same time, watching it makes me feel like I am being fed only the best ingredients. Like its quality is improving my own. 

Finally, anything Phoebe Robinson does blows me away. I just read her third book of essays, Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes, and I am devouring her new show, “Everything’s Trash.” She’s my Bono. 

If you could pick one author from the past or present to have tea with, who would it be?
Honestly, my dad, Thomas Lux. I would give anything to have tea (well, not tea. Coffee? Screwdrivers?) with him again. 

Read our starred review of ‘Sign Here’ by Claudia Lux.

What was the biggest thing you learned from this experience? What’s next for you? 
I’m just so amazed and grateful; I still can’t quite believe it. I first started writing novels in 2014. Sign Here is my third but the first to get picked up. So it’s been a long process, and I’ve definitely learned a lot. Most profoundly, I’ve learned to listen to myself. Not to the trolls who live in my head and tell me how terrible I am but to the me underneath their noise. The consistent beacon in the chaos, that steady blink. My whole life, no matter where I took my career or how much I loved social work, which was a lot, that beacon was there, telling me to write. But it terrified and intimidated and exhausted the hell out of me. Following it would require complete faith, against all odds, with little to no external validation, likely ever. So I tried to ignore it. I set the trolls loose to berate and mock and admonish it. Until eventually, I started to follow it. Nearly a decade later, I am grateful every single day that I did. Not only because of the publication, which is an absolute dream come true, but because now that I know I can hold the faith through the hard parts, listening to myself—in any area of my life—doesn’t scare me anymore. Now, it excites me. 

I am currently working on my second book with Berkley, which will be out in a couple of years. It’s not a sequel, but it will have the same combination of humor, sincerity, darkness and nutty thought experiment! 

Photo of Claudia Lux © Sarah Moore.

The debut author explains how she found humanity in an infernal bureaucracy.

As the days grow shorter and the nights grow colder, we turn to all things cozy—and we can think of nothing more heartwarming than an unexpected friendship. Here are the platonic pairings that made the BookPage editors feel all snuggly inside.

The Secret Place

In Tana French’s The Secret Place, Detective Stephen Moran gets his chance to join the Murder Squad when 16-year-old Holly Mackey brings him new evidence in an investigation into a murder that took place on the grounds of her boarding school. Stephen heads to Holly’s school to investigate alongside Antoinette Conway, the original detective assigned to the case. Their first interactions are anything but promising, given their diametrically opposed approaches to their work. Stephen masks his ambition behind a friendly, unassuming persona, but Antoinette, who is biracial, has long since given up on playing nice with people determined to hate her due to her gender, racial background or both. As they interrogate Holly and her friends over the course of one long day, a tentative respect begins to grow between the two of them, thanks to their mutual intellect and their common experience of clawing their way up the ranks from working-class backgrounds. It could be the start of a beautiful partnership, and French makes readers as invested in Stephen and Antoinette’s burgeoning friendship as they are in the mystery’s solution.

—Savanna, Associate Editor

Frank and the Bad Surprise

I’m going to cut to the chase here. The titular character in Martha Brockenbrough and Jon Lau’s Frank and the Bad Surprise is a cat who lives a good life with his humans, and the bad surprise is a new puppy. The puppy interrupts Frank’s naps, has gross puppy breath and eats Frank’s food, so Frank decides it’s time to move on. “Good luck with that puppy,” he writes in a note to his humans. “You will need it.” There’s so much to love about this illustrated chapter book, from the way Brockenbrough’s wry prose perfectly captures Frank’s feline perspective to the way Lau’s paintings bring Frank’s personality to life. In several images, you’ll swear you can almost hear Frank purring. But the best part is the way Brockenbrough engineers a moving reconciliation between the two former enemies, neatly sidestepping schlock and sentiment and going straight for understated emotional truth. It’s positively the cat’s pajamas.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

Lolly Willowes

In Sylvia Townsend Warner’s 1926 novel, an aging woman breaks away from her grating London family and has a go at independent life in the countryside. After keeping house for her father and brother for over 40 years, Laura Willowes feels liberated in Buckinghamshire—finally free to take long walks in nature and enjoy her own company. Until her nephew visits. Suddenly she is reduced to her old Aunt Lolly self again—put upon and bedeviled—and she becomes so desperate that she calls out for help. Luckily Satan answers, and the novel transforms into a fantastical tale of Lolly’s burgeoning talents as a witch. Along the way, the devil turns out to be a chummy pal: giving Lolly the power to hex her nephew, listening to her complaints about society’s treatment of women. (Satan, as it turns out, is a compassionate and attentive listener.) It’s a darkly humorous novel of a middle-aged woman who is so desperate for autonomy that she’s willing to make a deal—or at least make friends—with the devil.

—Christy, Associate Editor

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders’ first (and so far, only) novel brings together some odd characters. In Lincoln in the Bardo, a group of ghosts works together to save Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, Willie, from a place between life and death. Here in the bardo, the ghosts know all of one another’s quirks and faults and dreams and regrets. They’ve come to love one another, and as a reader, I found it easy to love them too. The most unlikely best friendship in the bardo is between middle-aged, carnally frustrated Hans Vollman and Roger Bevins III, a heartbroken young man who took his own life and now bursts involuntarily into poetry about the beauty of the world he left behind. One of Saunders’ most remarkable gifts is his ability to make even unpleasant characters deeply befriendable. He outdoes himself with this book, crafting 166 distinct, compelling voices and interspersing them with excerpts from real and invented historical sources. He fantastically spins a moment in American history into a philosophical exploration of how grief can either isolate or unite us.

—Phoebe Farrell-Sherman, Subscriptions

The Kindest Lie

People aren’t all that different, even though it often feels that way, and therein lies one of the key superpowers of the “unlikely friendship” trope: bridging polarized experiences to discover where people actually overlap, where one person’s hand fits snugly into another’s. Nancy Johnson’s debut, The Kindest Lie, is one of the novels that most successfully encompasses both the political optimism of 2008 and the insidious racial divisions that were worsened by the economic stress of the Great Recession. Johnson’s protagonist, Ruth, is a Black chemical engineer who returns to her Rust Belt hometown to seek out the child she placed for adoption when she was 17. Upon her return, Ruth bonds with Midnight, an 11-year-old white boy who is mostly being raised by his grandmother but still hopes for connection with his neglectful, bigoted father. Ruth’s and Midnight’s experiences of race, class and privilege are very different, but they’re both lonely, lost and understandably flawed people, and together they find something akin to belonging in a heartbreaking world.

—Cat, Deputy Editor

You’ve got a friend in me! These books feature platonic pairings that made us feel all warm and snuggly inside.

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