Bookish Superlatives, 2022 – Part II: Genres and Communities

See yesterday’s post for Part I of my 2022 Bookish Superlatives, focusing on readerly expectations, media, and style. And now for Part II.


Best Romance

Good Boy, Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy (2017)

My favorite romance of 2022 came down between this one and Emily Henry’s Book Lovers and let’s be honest, Henry gets enough praise, and deservedly so, so I went with the less well-known option. Good Boy is a MF sequel to the wonderful Him/Us duology and tells the story of Blake, a teammate of Ryan’s and Jess, Jamie’s sister, who are introduced in Us. Blake is a fantastic, overgrown puppy, cinnamon roll of a hero, and nursing student Jess is a worthy, whip-smart foil to his nonsense. Such a delightful book — romance at its heartwarming and hilarious best.

Best Science Fiction / Speculative Fiction

The Kaiju Preservation Society, John Scalzi (2022)

This was an incredibly hard choice for me this year, since four of my favorite books of the year were sci-fi. I decided to go with the one that is the ‘purest’ science fiction story. So with the utmost respect for the profound A Prayer for the Crown-Shy (Becky Chambers, 2022), the disturbingly speculative Hunting by Stars (Cherie Dimaline, 2022), and the more literary Sea of Tranquility (Emily St. John Mandel, 2022), my top science fiction title of the year is The Kaiju Preservation Society. Here, in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, our hero is recruited to join a secretive organization dedicated to studying and preserving a species of dragon-like monsters on a parallel Earth. There’s terrific world-building, wonderful characters, witty banter, and a propulsive story. So much to love here!

Best Fantasy / Alternative History

The River of Silver, S.A. Chakraborty (2022)

I wavered a bit on this choice, but in the end there was no way I could pick anything other than this collection of supplementary material to Chakraborty’s fantastic Daevabad trilogy (all three of whose volumes made it into my best-of year lists). It contains some background stories, chapters cut from the original novels, and even an alternative ending. It was wonderful to be back in this world again. I was particularly happy to see some extra Dhiru and Jamshid material, since the necessities of the plot in the final book meant that I didn’t get as much of them as I’d have liked.

Honourable mentions to Natalie Zina Walschots’s Hench (2020) and Travis Baldree‘s Legends and Lattes (2022). All of these are adult titles, so I’ll also call out Victoria Schwab’s wonderful middle grade fantasy Cassidy Blake series (beginning with 2018’s City of Ghosts).

Best Historical Fiction

My Government Means to Kill Me, Rasheed Newson (2022)

Most of my favorite historical fiction this year pushed the edge of what can be considered ‘historical’, being set in the 1970s and ‘80s. The one that did the best job in bringing a specific time and place to life was Rasheed Newson’s blistering novel set in the first days of the AIDS and housing crises in New York City, and the founding of Act Up.

Honourable mentions to Stephen King’s Joyland and Jessica Anya Blau’s Mary Jane, both of which made me wish I’d been around in the 1970s. For older history, I loved Denise Mina’s Rizzio, set in the court of Mary Queen of Scots.

Best Non-Fiction

Wired for Love, Stephanie Cacioppo (2022)

I read a lot of great non-fiction this year, especially on the theme of Indigenous resurgence and reconciliation. But the single title that jumped out to me was neuroscientist Stephanie Capcioppo’s wonderful exploration of the science of loneliness and romantic love, Wired for Love. It is the perfect combination of memoir and science and handles some difficult and potentially triggering material with an empathetic and responsible hand.

Honourable mentions to Aaron Dignan’s Brave New Work (2019), Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women (2019), and Resurgence and Reconciliation (2018), edited by Michael Asch, John Borrows, and James Tully.

Best Memoir

Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk, Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe (2022)

Because of my big Indigenous reading project this Fall, a lot of the memoir and autobiography I read was by Indigenous writers. My favorite is Red Paint, which is an intense, no-holds-barred exploration of intersectionality, identity, sexuality, and trauma. It’s a wonderful, if at times difficult, read.

Honourable mention to Still Stace by Stacey Comiak (2021), which is the author’s story of her difficult journey of accepting her lesbian identity within a conservative Christian environment. Another late-breaking honourable mention has to go to Bono’s Surrender, which is one of the most profound and insightful things I’ve read in a long time. (Surprising, I know. I didn’t expect it either.)

Best Literary Fiction

Don’t Cry for Me, Daniel Black (2022)

Literary fiction is difficult to define and tends to be a ‘you know it when you see it’ situation. For me, it tends to be about the register of the writing and the book’s orientation to character and plot. This year my favorite was Daniel Black’s Don’t Cry for Me, which the author describes as his attempt to understand his difficult relationship with his father from his father’s perspective. It is an epistolary novel, letters from a Black father to his estranged gay son, explaining how he was raised and the values and traumas he carried into his parenting. I read this in a single sitting and was awed by its beauty and empathy.

Honorable mentions to Oh, William! (Elizabeth Strout, 2021), Home (Marilynne Robinson, 2008), A Town Called Solace (Mary Lawson, 2021), Sea of Tranquility (Emily St. John Mandel, 2022) and The Incandescent Threads (Richard Zimler, 2022)

Creepiest Paranormal/Horror

Small Angels, Lauren Owen (2022)

This is not a genre in which I read a lot, but just this week I finished the absolutely incredible contemporary gothic novel, Small Angels by Lauren Owen (2022). This is the best kind of ghost story, featuring an epicly creepy setting in the Mockbeggar woods, a compelling mystery, and perhaps the most elusive thing of all for this genre: a completely satisfying ending.

Honorable mention to The Hacienda, by Isabel Cañas (2022) and Stephen King’s woefully underrated Joyland (2013).

Most Mysterious Mystery or Thrilling Thriller

The Old Woman with the Knife, Gu Byeong-mo (2013; translated into English 2022)

This is another less-favored genre for me, since I don’t tend to find thrillers all that thrilling and I’ve soured a bit on cozy mysteries over the years. But I can full-heartedly recommend  this story about an aging Korean assassin who tries to manage her diminishing skills while finding her efforts at retiring with dignity undermined by an unknown agent.

Honorable mentions to White Rabbit (Caleb Roehrig, 2018), The Maid (Nina Prose, 2022), The Thursday Murder Club (Richard Osman, 2021), and Gaudy Night (Dorothy L. Sayers, 1936).

Comfiest Comfort Read

Legends and Lattes, Travis Baldree (2022)

I could have gone a few different directions with this category, but in the interest of highlighting something new, I’ve chosen Legends and Lattes, Travis Baldree’s charming low-stakes fantasy about a retired orc warrior who wants nothing more than to open up a coffee shop. It’s a warm hug of a book with just enough magic, intrigue, and action to stay true to its fantasy roots.

Honorable mentions to Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy (Rey Terciero with illustrations by Bre Indigo, 2019), A Prayer for the Crown-Shy (Becky Chambers, 2022), Good Boy (Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, 2017), and the Heartstopper series.

Best Spirituality or Theology

Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer, 2000

This title may be from the way-back-list now, but it stands out as a rightful modern classic on the topic of vocation. Palmer writes from a Quaker perspective, but the insights are valuable to anyone from any background. It’s inspiring but also realistic about the limitations of our own minds and bodies and those placed upon many of us by unjust systems. In that way, it was far ahead of its time.


Best Children’s or Middle Grade Fiction

Pony, R.J. Palacio (2021)

As a rule, I hate Westerns. So R.J. Palacio’s 2021 release Pony was a delightful surprise to me. Following a boy trying to rescue his father from a group of outlaws, it was exciting and adventurous, but also thought-provoking, with a perfect paranormal twist. It’s fantastic.

Honorable mention to City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab (2018), The Barren Grounds by David Robertson (2020), Holes by Louis Sachar (1998), and Tumble by Celia C. Pérez (2022).

Best Young Adult / New Adult Fiction

Mary Jane, Jessica Anya Blau (2021)

This was another difficult category to pick and I ended up tipping the balance to a title that wasn’t going to be highlighted elsewhere here. Mary Jane is YA at its best, with a realistic protagonist who finds herself suddenly confronted with good people with vastly different values from her family’s and has to sort out her own beliefs and identity for the first time. This is a great coming of age story with a fantastic 1970s suburban setting.

Honorable mentions to Hunting by Stars (Cherie Dimaline, 2022), Where the Drowned Girls Go (Wayward Children 7, Seanan McGuire, 2022), Openly Straight (Bill Konigsberg, 2013), and White Rabbit (Caleb Roehrig, 2018).

Best Queer Fiction

First Time for Everything, Henry Fry (2022)

This was a crowded category. I could have selected ‘the Most Important’ book relating to LGBTQ2S+ issues, which would have been Rasheed Newson’s My Government Means to Kill Me (2022), or the best ‘literary’ book on queer themes, which would have been Daniel Black’s Don’t Cry for Me, or the book featuring the best queer relationship, which would have been Us (Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, 2016). But in the end it came down to a battle between Henry Fry’s First Time for Everything and Alexis Hall’s Husband Material. They stand out because they felt very current and engaged in the types of conversations that are happening within the gay and broader queer communities right now in what I felt was a balanced way. Between these two, I have to go with First Time for Everything, because I think it pushes the envelope a bit farther.

Best Indigenous Fiction

Motorcycles and Sweetgrass, Drew Hayden Taylor (2010)

This is another category with a wealth of great options for me this year. I’ve decided to go with Motorcyles and Sweetgrass because it tells an honest story about life in Indigenous communities, but with a wonderful sense of humour that is characteristic of Indigenous cultures but not always Indigenous fiction.

Honorable mentions to Taylor’s compilation of science fiction short stories, Take Us to Your Chief (2016), Richard Wagamese’s Ragged Company (2008) and Medicine Walk (2014), Cherie Dimaline’s Hunting by Stars (2022), and Oscar Okeah’s Calling for a Blanket Dance (2022).

Best Fiction by an Author of Asian Descent

Dead-End Memories, Banana Yoshimoto (2003, translated into English in 2022)

I’m still shocked by how long it takes for amazing fiction by some of the best Asian authors to be translated into English. This collection of short stories on the theme of death by the multiple-award-winning, brilliant Banana Yoshimoto blew me away. It’s disappointing it took eighteen years for it to be made available to English readers.

Honorable mention to The Old Woman with the Knife (Gu Byeong-mo, 2013; translated into English 2022), and Moshi Moshi (Banana Yoshimoto, 2010, translated into English in 2017).

Best Fiction by a Black Author

Don’t Cry for Me, Daniel Black (2022)

This was one of my top reads of the year, so I couldn’t not choose it here, particularly since it engages so well with so many aspects of the twentieth-century Black experience — from poverty in the rural South to the hopes of the Great Migration, to the complicated dynamics of Black fatherhood.

Honorable mentions to Toya Wolfe’s Last Summer on State Street (2022), for its depiction of gentrification in the Chicago projects and Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone (2019), for its exploration of the meanings of family and success for African Americans across generations.

Best Canadian Literature

A Town Called Solace, Mary Lawson (2021)

My pick for best Canadian literature I read in 2022 goes to A Town Called Solace, a moving story about complicated (and problematic) relationships within a small town.

Honorable mentions to Natalie Zina Walschots’s Hench (2020), and the works cited above by Indigenous writers Cherie Dimaline, Richard Wagamese, and Drew Hayden Taylor.


2 responses to “Bookish Superlatives, 2022 – Part II: Genres and Communities”

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