“A Bischari Warrior” (1872) by Jean-Léon Gérôme cropped because it was the book cover for If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga. Image: Public Domain.

Need Something To Read Over the Holidays? These Are the Best Books I’ve Read in 2022 (So Far!)

Despite doing a lot of research and keeping up with new and upcoming books, many of the books I read each year are backlisted. These are novels picked up at my library, especially on apps like Libby. I don’t always get the newest things right away. So, I took a look at my data on StoryGraph to see if this rang true for 2022. And to my surprise, this year, several of my favorite 2022 reads were actually published in 2022! There are some truly fantastic new books to dive into. So, here are my favorite books that came out in 2022 (so far!).

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Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades

Brown Girls by Daphne Palasia (Image: Random House.)
(Random House)

If this book looks familiar, it’s because it was the first feature on The Mary Sue Book Club’s January 2022 edition. After putting it off for a while, I finally buckled down so it could mark off a prompt four (Read a book by an Asian author that has a cover worthy of googly eyes) for Cindy Pham’s 2022 Asian Readathon. The novel, chapter by chapter, plays out shared moments of brown girls and their immigrant families from Queens, New York. Some of these include generally shared experiences like various “firsts” and hyper-specific fractures that happen entering adulthood. The story follows these brown girls from childhood to becoming their mothers to elder status.

Other than the beautiful writing, I loved the emphasis on names. They all had unique and different experiences, but between chapters, the “who” would often change. Generally, if a name was brought up in one particular chapter, it would be brought up again in that same chapter unless it was said in a list sort of way. These lists came every so often and felt meditative and homely to anyone who has a family (including found) or grew up in spaces where these names were more common. Names that would never make the “most popular girl names of the year” kind of lists.

Because I’m a biracial Black Texan who’s ambiguous enough not to stand out and have lived in a community with these women my whole life, this book felt like I was conversing with (but mostly listening to) a friend.

If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga

If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga. Image: Graywolf Press.
(Graywolf Press)

This short novel broke me. I read it and was like, “I don’t know how to process my feelings, so let me look at what else author Noor Naga has published.” Turns out, this novel is her debut, so I just had to sit with it alone. The story follows two main characters who meet and fall in love. The novel may have romantic elements, but it’s not a romance. I need to say that just in case somewhere, someone misclassifies it.

One of the characters is an Egyptian-American woman who is “returning” to a country she has never known, disillusioned with the state of her place in the U.S. (post-2016 election) and the other, a man from Shobrakheit who’s even more severely distraught with the state of Egypt after the way the Arab Spring played out. In the first two parts, each chapter starts with a question and then its answer in one long poetic (but very clear) paragraph. Together with alternating POVs between them, we get a glimpse into their dreams, worries, and more.

These chapters are internal thoughts, but sometimes it feels like they break the fourth wall. Readers are forced to examine their own biases, especially when the story takes a dark turn. “The gaze” is often discussed in the context of women and film, but this book utilizes these discussions in literary form in an uncomfortable (but necessary) way. This theme even plays out in the cover choice. The painting is French painters’ Jean-Léon Gérôme 1872 orientalist painting A Bischari Warrior.

Almost everything changes in part three a.k.a. the last thirty pages. I refuse to spoil part three but know that this section, while in a different format, place, time, and with different characters, will be very sobering to some, too.

The Eat. Bang! Kill. Tour (1-6) from Harley Quinn: The Animated Series by Tee Franklin

Cover to Harley Quinn Eat Bang Kill
(Max Sarin/DC Comics)

So technically, this series started in 2021, but it didn’t conclude until 2022, and the hardcover of the book came out this summer. Still, this fun ride started and continued as a girls’ trip, but gave both of them,—especially the very pragmatic Poison Ivy—time to breathe and process after the finale of season two. I say this even though Commonissor Gordon was breathing down their necks the whole run, and there was a big bad.

In addition to the fun story, I loved the interactions with working-class people and the expressive art style. This was a fun adventure, and I’ll definitely be rereading this once the show gets a release date. While I caution against picking it up if you haven’t finished season two of Harley Quinn: The Animated Series, if you have no interest in continuing the show (or want a short mini-series) this could be read as a solo work.

Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser & Robyn Smith

Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser & illustrated by Robyn Smith (Image: Chronicle Books)
(Chronicle Books)

Not only was this graphic novel featured in the June 2022 edition of The Mary Sue Book Club, but I interviewed the artists behind the project in August. Enamored by the art style in Nubia: Real One, I looked for more work from Robyn Smith and found this project. Wash Day Dairies is a slice-of-life story about four friends. Each character gets her own chapter, where we see the complications of dating, the tolls of mental health issues without a friend to check in, and the complicated nature of having a family that doesn’t 100% accept you.

The art (by both artists) has so much movement and rhythm. The best way I can describe it is like watching a really good movie about cooking, like Jon Favreau’s Chef. While they aren’t experimenting for some big event or opening, each coil and braid is given as much care as someone making a dish out of love. The book captures that ritual of hair care. Also, I love that the novel doesn’t make hair styles some sort of hierarchy. Each of the four characters likes what they like. Societal expectations are present because Black hair is always political, however, it is also just left to each one of them to do as they please.

Heartstopper – Volume 4 by Alice Oseman

Cover of Hearstoppers vol. 4. (Image: Alice Oseman/Hachette Children's Group)
(Alice Oseman/Hachette Children’s Group)

I get it. After finally reading the Heartstopper graphic novels ahead of watching the massively popular Netflix show of the same name, I get the hype. Heartstopper follows the love story between two teenage boys and has a bigger cast of characters, mostly made of fellow classmates. While all four volumes are heartwarming, Vol. 4 (which was released this year) and Vol. 2 were my favorites for different reasons. Heartstopper Volume 4 takes a dark turn as issues hinted at from earlier volumes come to a head with Charlie. I can’t say more because this is the latest book in a series, so you need to just read it!

If you watched the first season on Netflix and for some reason don’t want to read what was already shown there (even though it’s totally worth it!), then start with Vol. 3. Then, read Vol. 4. Oseman released chapters of Heartstopper as a free webcomic first, so you can read it on Web Toon, too! (Please note that I’ve only read some sections online, so it might not have EVERY chapter.) While Oseman is on hiatus, she set up guest artists’ stories for the characters.

Iranian Love Stories by Jane Deuxard & Deloupy

Iranian Love Stories by Jane Deuxard and illustrated by Deloupy (Image: Graphic Mundi.)
(Graphic Mundi)

While this book was listed as a December 2021 book release (and featured on that book club edition), the title was published back to January 2022, so technically, it’s a 2022 release now. This is great because I can’t recommend this book enough! Essentially, the graphic novel features a series of vignettes of young Iranians between the ages of 20 and 30 navigating love, intimacy, and partnership under a theocratic regime. These ages are important because they were kids during the Green Revolution in 2011, which is widely considered the first revolution sustained via social media and was the precursor to other uprisings in the region (like the Arab Spring) and worldwide (like the Black Lives Matter movement).

The story is led by two French journalists, but they (under the pseudonym Jane Deuxard) stay in the background of the novel. The interviews appear to let the Iranians speak for themselves rather than be filtered through an outsider’s lens, which was really appreciated and vital to the power dynamics of the book. This is most evident by keeping in those stories that challenge non-Iranians to value the nuance and individual nature of each story. Sure, the constant surveillance and oppressive government is a through line, but each couple and really each individual processes it very differently. Often times their perspective is via privileges like gender and class, but also what age they were during the revolution.

As serious as this book is, there are moments of levity and relatability because, ultimately, the state’s rule (like our own) is led by patriarchy. This can be read as a snapshot capturing the mood, hopes, and fears of these people in the 2010s went the interviews were collected. However, the regime has been in place for decades and is inextricably linked to the current violence by the Iranian government toward its people today, following the state killing of Mahsa Amini (22).

(featured image: Jean-Léon Gérôme, now in the public domain)

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Author
Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.