My 5 Star Reads of 2022

It's that time of year when reading goals are met or abandoned, and we all spend the liminal week between Christmas and New Years curled up with a book trying to escape the cold. Or, at least, that's what I do. This weekend, I'll compile all my reading stats into an annual reading report blog post, I figured that I'd start off by celebrating my favorite books of 2022. While I'll have to choose an ultimate favorite in a few days, all my 5 star reads deserve a little bit of love. I was surprised by how few 5 star reads I had this year (I'll have to check if it's lower than in year's past), and the categories reflected look very very different than any year before now. So without further ado, here's the YA, fiction, and nonfiction favorites that have stuck with me all year long. 

YA

by Racquel Marie
Why It's 5 Stars: Being many years removed from high school and honestly not ever having had much of a high school experience, it takes a lot these days to get me to fall head over heels for a high school set YA book. Racquel Marie melted my heart with this story, though. It offers much needed ace representation among LGBTQIA YA books, and it's a really beautifully drawn coming of age story about friendship, family, and finding yourself despite others expectations. 

Summary: Ophelia Rojas knows what she likes: her best friends, Cuban food, rose-gardening, and boys - way too many boys. Her friends and parents make fun of her endless stream of crushes, but Ophelia is a romantic at heart. She couldn't change, even if she wanted to.
So when she finds herself thinking more about cute, quiet Talia Sanchez than the loss of a perfect prom with her ex-boyfriend, seeds of doubt take root in Ophelia's firm image of herself. Add to that the impending end of high school and the fracturing of her once-solid friend group, and things are spiraling a little out of control. But the course of love--and sexuality--never did run smooth. As her secrets begin to unravel, Ophelia must make a choice between clinging to the fantasy version of herself she's always imagined or upending everyone's expectations to rediscover who she really is, after all.

Fiction


by Nina LaCour

Why It's 5 Stars: If you click through the review, I initially gave it 4.5 stars, but this book has stuck in my brain for nearly an entire year, so it's gotten a retroactive half a star upgrade. Nina LaCour is a talented  author in the YA space, and her move into adult proves just as thoughtful, close, lyrical, and intimate as her YAs. I loved exploring LA, the city I currently live in, through Sara and Emilie's lenses. It's the kind of expansive story that is plenty approachable but still feels heartwarmingly complete.

Summary:  When Sara Foster runs away from home at sixteen, she leaves behind not only the losses that have shattered her world but the girl she once was, capable of trust and intimacy. Years later, in Los Angeles, she is a sought-after bartender, renowned as much for her brilliant cocktails as for the mystery that clings to her. Across the city, Emilie Dubois is in a holding pattern. In her seventh year and fifth major as an undergraduate, she yearns for the beauty and community her Creole grandparents cultivated but is unable to commit. On a whim, she takes a job arranging flowers at the glamorous restaurant Yerba Buena and embarks on an affair with the married owner.
When Sara catches sight of Emilie one morning at Yerba Buena, their connection is immediate. But the damage both women carry, and the choices they have made, pulls them apart again and again. When Sara's old life catches up to her, upending everything she thought she wanted just as Emilie has finally gained her own sense of purpose, they must decide if their love is more powerful than their pasts.
At once exquisite and expansive, astonishing in its humanity and heart, Yerba Buena is a love story for our time and a propulsive journey through the lives of two women finding their way in the world.


by Emily Wibberly and Austin Siegemund-Broka 
Why It's 5 Stars: I spent most of the first half of 2022 trying to find my footing in the world of books written for adults since I was a newly minted adult. The most accessible point of entry from YA felt like romance, particularly romances by authors who also write for teens. This was my favorite of the romances I tackled in the time because it felt less formulaic than some. Also, all the details about published writers felt spot on and like a fun peek behind the curtain. 

Summary: Three years ago, Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen were the brightest literary stars on the horizon, their cowritten books topping bestseller lists. But on the heels of their greatest success, they ended their partnership on bad terms, for reasons neither would divulge to the public. They haven't spoken since, and never planned to, except they have one final book due on contract.
Facing crossroads in their personal and professional lives, they're forced to reunite. The last thing they ever thought they'd do again is hole up in the tiny Florida town where they wrote their previous book, trying to finish a new manuscript quickly and painlessly. Working through the reasons they've hated each other for the past three years isn't easy, especially not while writing a romantic novel.
While passion and prose push them closer together in the Florida heat, Katrina and Nathan will learn that relationships, like writing, sometimes take a few rough drafts before they get it right.


Such a Fun Age
by Kiley Reid 
Why It's 5 Stars: This book is impossible to put down once you pick it up. I'm not sure how the writing, pacing, and voice perfectly combine to make such an undeniable read, but I stayed up way too late for too many times reading this book. Each character's unique perspective jumps off the page and adds an interesting, dynamic layer that allows the situations detailed in the book to be dissected from multiple vantage points.

Summary: A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.
Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains' toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store's security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right.
But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix's desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix's past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.
With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone family, and the complicated reality of being a grown up. It is a searing debut for our times.


by Gabrielle Zevin

Why It's 5 Stars: This is the book that made literary fiction click for me. Besides having the most gorgeous cover of the year, this book feels like John Green for adults (he even blurbed it). Covering a love/friendship story that spans from childhood to middle age, Tomorrow thoroughly explores how we evolve and change and why. Relationships bend and change in unpredictable ways, and Zevin perfectly 
articulates those shifts.

Summary: On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn't heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won't protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.
Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin's Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.


by Elif Batuman 
Why It's 5 Stars: This is truly right book, right time. This seems to be a book you really get or you really just don't connect with. The first time I attempted to read it over the summer, it didn't quite click. This winter, though, the book felt relatable and like a salve for unresolved feelings. Batuman captures, in sometimes absolutely minute detail, the realities of being a young adult and navigating university and discovering yourself. Apparently, it's not that different now than it was in 1995. 

Summary: The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings.
At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan's friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin's summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.

Nonfiction

Everything I Need I Get From You
by Kaitlyn Tiffany
Why It's 5 Stars: Fandom has been a huge part of my life, and if you're not in it, it's hard to articulate the magic and disaster that is online fandom. This book offers the perfect explanation delving into the good and bad of these online communities and how they played a large role in shaping the internet as we know it today. Less about fangirls or boy bands than other books on the topic, Tiffany uses her experiences as a teen in the 1D fandom to guide her research and approach to storytelling. 

Summary: In 2014, on the side of a Los Angeles freeway, a One Direction fan erected a shrine in the spot where, a few hours earlier, Harry Styles had vomited. “It’s interesting for sure,” Styles said later, adding, “a little niche, maybe.” But what seemed niche to Styles was actually a signpost for an unfathomably large, hyper-connected alternate universe: stan culture.
In Everything I Need I Get from You, Kaitlyn Tiffany, a staff writer at The Atlantic and a superfan herself, guides us through the online world of fans, stans, and boybands. Along the way we meet girls who damage their lungs from screaming too loud, fans rallying together to manipulate chart numbers using complex digital subversion, and an underworld of inside jokes and shared memories surrounding band members' allergies, internet typos, and hairstyles. In the process, Tiffany makes a convincing, and often moving, argument that fangirls, in their ingenuity and collaboration, created the social internet we know today. “Before most people were using the internet for anything,” Tiffany writes, “fans were using it for everything.”
With humor, empathy, and an insider’s eye, Everything I Need I Get from You reclaims internet history for young women, establishing fandom not as the territory of hysterical girls but as an incubator for digital innovation, art, and community. From alarming, fandom-splitting conspiracy theories about secret love and fake children, to the interplays between high and low culture and capitalism, Tiffany’s book is a riotous chronicle of the movement that changed the internet forever.


by Jennette McCurdy
Why It's 5 Stars: Sam was always my favorite character on iCarly, and I loved Jennette's COVID era podcast, so I was super excited for her book. I didn't expect it to be one of the biggest releases of the year, but as soon as you start reading, it's pretty clear why. This isn't your standard celebrity memoir. Told in vignettes that flit throughout her childhood and young life, Jennette transports the reader through time and into her world seamlessly. The writing is incredible, and the story charts a genuine emotional rollercoaster. I couldn't put the book down, and I got so deeply invested and moved.
Pro Tip: Read the audiobook as Jennette is a fantastic narrator. 

Summary: A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by iCarly and Sam & Cat star Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life.
Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.
In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.
Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.

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