It's hard to believe we've already reached the end of our 2022 wrap-up! To finish off our top ten on a high note, we have two utterly amazing middle-grade books: a realistic fiction story, and a graphic novel.
Thanks for reading about our favorites--here's to another year full of books as amazing as these ones!
Favorite Graphic Novel: When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
I usually prefer prose books over graphic novels, but every so often I'll come across one whose beautiful illustrations and powerful story utterly absorb me. When Stars Are Scattered was one of those, a story of growing up that is both universal and powerfully unique.
In fact, I realized partway through reading it that I was experiencing the same feeling of total immersion in a story, oblivious to anything around me, that I usually only get when reading standout books in prose!
The bright, evocative, emotional artwork is gorgeous, and the writing is crisp and concise, creating a vibrant, compelling, sometimes heartbreaking story about childhood in a refugee camp, based on coauthor Mohamed’s own life. The characters are deftly woven and immensely believable, and it’s a fast, satisfying, and deeply important read.
At once a powerful personal story and an ode to the resilience and courage of the millions of people living in refugee camps today, I highly recommend When the Stars Are Scattered to readers ages nine and up.
Favorite Realistic Fiction: Summer of Brave by Amy Noelle Parks
I usually read more fantasy than realistic fiction, but some of my favorite books are unexpected finds from this genre. Summer of Brave was one of those. Unflinching, realistic, and beautiful, Summer of Brave manages to say so much in a relatively short book, and I loved every word of it.
Many books, especially contemporary novels, feel almost overwhelmed by their themes, becoming preachy and contrived instead of creating a meaningful story too. Summer of Brave never even considered stumbling into that territory--and yet is one of the deepest and most thematically complex books I can remember reading recently. Navigating friendships, feminism, academic pressure, divorce, girls in STEM, and so much more is tied together into a quiet but brave story which gains its power from both when Lilla speaks up and when she feels she must remain silent.
I loved Lilla, the protagonist. While many books about bravery present it from a single angle, which includes becoming constantly, effortlessly confident, but this book doesn't--Lilla remains quiet and shy while still becoming brave, a powerful and too-rare nuance which was part of why I loved her character so much. I also loved how Lilla feels the seemingly conflicting pressures to be 'girly' and smart and groundbreaking, and her struggle with what everyone seems to think is the 'right' way to be a girl. The depth of her character (and all the supporting characters) truly made this book come alive for me, and even when the characters' decisions weren't objectively 'right', I couldn't help but understand where they were coming from. I highly recommend Summer of Brave to readers ages ten and up.