2022 Staff Favorites - Part 4: Alaina's Favorites
The staff at Berwick Public Library had a great reading year, and we want to share some of our favorite books we read in 2022! In this post, Alaina, the assistant director, is sharing some of her favorites from 2022.
Top Favorites of the Year
African Town by Irene Latham and Charles Waters
In 1860, long after the United States outlawed the importation of enslaved laborers, 110 men, women and children from Benin and Nigeria were captured and brought to Mobile, Alabama aboard a ship called Clotilda. Their journey includes the savage Middle Passage and being hidden in the swamplands along the Alabama River before being secretly parceled out to various plantations, where they made desperate attempts to maintain both their culture and also fit into the place of captivity to which they'd been delivered. At the end of the Civil War, the survivors created a community for themselves they called African Town, which still exists to this day. Told in 14 distinct voices, including that of the ship that brought them to the American shores and the founder of African Town, this powerfully affecting historical novel-in-verse recreates a pivotal moment in US and world history, the impacts of which we still feel today.
I never expected to be the kind of person who cries at a poem written from the point of view of a ship, but here we are. I picked this book up in January and it has remained undefeated as my favorite book of 2022 since then. This story is told from multiple points of view, and each character (including the ship Clotilda) is written with a different style of poetry. The authors put *so much* thought and care into this book, and their explanation at the end about why they chose each poetry style for the different characters is really fascinating. The story of the Clotilda and African Town was one I wasn’t familiar with before picking up this book. Even if you hate poetry (like me!), this book is a must-read!
As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh
Salama Kassab was a pharmacy student when the cries for freedom broke out in Syria. She still had her parents and her big brother; she still had her home. She had a normal teenager’s life. Now Salama volunteers at a hospital in Homs, helping the wounded who flood through the doors daily. Secretly, though, she is desperate to find a way out of her beloved country before her sister-in-law, Layla, gives birth. Salama must contend with bullets and bombs, military assaults, and her shifting sense of morality before she might finally breathe free. And when she crosses paths with the boy she was supposed to meet one fateful day, she starts to doubt her resolve in leaving home at all. Soon, Salama must learn to see the events around her for what they truly are—not a war, but a revolution—and decide how she, too, will cry for Syria’s freedom.
This book absolutely broke me. At one point, I threw the book across the room and just sat and cried. I try to read books about people and places I know very little about, so, while it was the gorgeous cover that initially drew me in, I ultimately decided to pick this book up because it’s set in Syria, which is a country I know very little about. This book is full of pain, trauma, loss, and violence, but it still has a message of hope. Be warned that the violence in this story is explicit and frequently involves children. This is a very difficult to read, but it’s completely worth it.
In the Wild Light
by Jeff Zentner
Life in a small Appalachian town is not easy. Cash lost his mother to an opioid addiction and his Papaw is dying slowly from emphysema. Dodging drug dealers and watching out for his best friend, Delaney, is second nature. He’s been spending his summer mowing lawns while she works at Dairy Queen.
But when Delaney manages to secure both of them full rides to an elite prep school in Connecticut, Cash will have to grapple with his need to protect and love Delaney, and his love for the grandparents who saved him and the town he would have to leave behind.
I never would have picked this book up on my own. The cover is boring and the description is pretty blah. Since this book is one of the Maine Student Book Award nominees, we decided to read it as part of our teen book club. To my surprise, I ended up loving it! This is a slow-paced story about a poor teen from Appalachia named Cash who, thanks to his brilliant best friend, is given the opportunity of a lifetime to attend a prestigious New England boarding school. Jeff Zentner’s writing is so stunning that is practically poetry. This is a beautiful character-driven story about family, friendship, and love that shines a light on heavy topics like like addiction, poverty vs. privilege, and grief.
by Steven Rowley
Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is honestly a bit out of his league.
So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick’s brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of “Guncle Rules” ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting—even if temporary—isn’t solved with treats and jokes, Patrick’s eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you’re unfailingly human.
This brought me so much joy, and quite a few tears, as well. I absolutely adored Patrick and spent the entire book wishing he could be my best friend (it also helps that I pictured him as Neil Patrick Harris). I love how this book combined comedy with very important conversations about grief, which is a topic that, in my opinion, never gets talked about enough.
Love and Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love
by Kim Fay
When twenty-seven-year-old Joan Bergstrom sends a fan letter--as well as a gift of saffron--to fifty-nine-year-old Imogen Fortier, a life-changing friendship begins. Joan lives in Los Angeles and is just starting out as a writer for the newspaper food pages. Imogen lives on Camano Island outside Seattle, writing a monthly column for a Pacific Northwest magazine, and while she can hunt elk and dig for clams, she's never tasted fresh garlic--exotic fare in the Northwest of the sixties. As the two women commune through their letters, they build a closeness that sustains them through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the unexpected in their own lives.
Food and a good life--they can't be separated. It is a discovery the women share, not only with each other, but with the men in their lives. Because of her correspondence with Joan, Imogen's decades-long marriage blossoms into something new and exciting, and in turn, Joan learns that true love does not always come in the form we expect it to. Into this beautiful, intimate world comes the ultimate test of Joan and Imogen's friendship--a test that summons their unconditional trust in each other.
As a teen librarian who is devoted to young adult books, I don't find myself picking up adult fiction too often, but I was drawn to this book while I was cataloging one day because it's a friendship story (my favorite), it's written as letters (another thing I love!), and it's short (a bonus when you're in the middle of a readathon and need to cram in a few more books!). So while I was cautiously optimistic going into this book, I did not expect to fall head over heels in love with it. This was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. This sweet and gentle story will stay with me for a long time.
So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix
by Bethany C. Morrow
North Carolina, 1863. As the American Civil War rages on, the Freedmen's Colony of Roanoke Island is blossoming, a haven for the recently emancipated. Black people have begun building a community of their own, a refuge from the shadow of the old life. It is where the March family has finally been able to safely put down roots with four young daughters:
Meg, a teacher who longs to find love and start a family of her own. Jo, a writer whose words are too powerful to be contained. Beth, a talented seamstress searching for a higher purpose. Amy, a dancer eager to explore life outside her family's home.
As the four March sisters come into their own as independent young women, they will face first love, health struggles, heartbreak, and new horizons. But they will face it all together.
I cannot say enough good things about this book. This was on my radar well before it was released because I love Little Women (or, more specifically, the 1994 film adaptation), but what pushed me to prioritize reading it was a panel discussion about using antiracist books in classrooms and book clubs that featured the author, Bethany Morrow. Two things in particular that she discussed stuck with me during my reading of this book. The first is that this is not a retelling, it is a remix - she is intentionally not trying to be to "true to the original". The second is that it is not the responsibility of antiracist books (and conversations) to make white people comfortable.
I love that Bethany Morrow was able to use some of the familiar root elements of Little Women to tell an entirely new story. One of the things that is new to this story is the setting, which has shifted from Concord, MA to the Freedmen's Colony of Roanoke Island in North Carolina. Honestly, if I ever learned about the Freedmen's Colony in school, I don't remember, so learning about this colony was one of my favorite things about this book. I also LOVE that the characters - especially Mammy, Meg, and Jo - had zero patience with "well meaning white people" at the colony turning them into pet projects or expecting gratitude for treating them like human beings.
Other Favorites (scroll through the gallery below)