Best Fiction of 2022 | Best Nonfiction of 2022 | Best Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Romance & Graphic Novels of 2022 | Best Kids' and YA of 2022
Every year, as I look over upcoming fiction releases, I pay special attention to debut novels and story collections because they bring so much new energy to the bookstore. Debut authors often have fresh ideas about form, and they utilize unique perspectives to spotlight different aspects of human experience — this is especially true in recent years as publishers are working to correct past injustices and produce work by authors from a greater variety of backgrounds and identities.
Probably my favorite aspect of enjoying a debut author’s work, though, is the possibilities that a strong start represents — I have no idea what these authors will publish next, but I know that I want to read absolutely all of it.
That energy I was talking about in the intro? It often manifests in a lead character who is frantic, trying to keep up with a world moving at a hectic pace. Sara Freeman’s debut novel, however, moves at an entirely different speed. Told in fragments, the protagonist has left behind her entire life and arrives in a seaside town emotionally numb with almost nothing. Where she goes from there is a gradual and moving story. If you’re feeling at all frantic, this book will stop you in your tracks.
If you took some Nabokov, disenchantment about the state of campus life, and discourse about the #metoo movement, and put it in a blender — at the highest speed possible — you might get the (liquified) building blocks of this satire/thriller/character study that is shocking in all sorts of ways. I don’t want to say too much, just that the story and the ideas behind it are often in magnificent tension, and I wish I could watch all the conversations that readers and book groups have been having about it, because my own ideas and reactions still haven’t settled, all these months after finishing it.
This novel sits at the nexus of passion and obligation. Olga Dies Dreaming is doing so many more things at once than it might want to, just like its main character, Olga. The central theme of this book is the tension Olga feels between succeeding in her personal and professional lives, while also having to do what’s best for her family and her community — and they’re not reconcilable. The genius of Xochitl Gonzalez is that her book embodies these tensions in form as well as content. This could’ve been a delightful romantic comedy, or it could have been a clear-eyed novel about the ways in which contemporary politics fail ethnic communities, and instead it’s both; it’s neither; it’s better.
The story of Eve, a not-living-up-to-her-professional-potential Brooklyn barista who falls into a relationship dynamic that’s questionable. Extremely questionable, it turns out, because she spends the entire book questioning it and all the aspects of contemporary relationships that it surfaces; issues of power, orientation, gender, and a great deal more. Lillian Fishman’s debut feels like it’s in dialogue with so much, but it’s also entirely its own. This book may have polarized the critics, but it’s definitely asking the right questions.
I think we’re calling this a short story collection, but the stories about these two childhood friends are so linked that this is at least novel-adjacent (Viking didn’t give it a subtitle, so presumably, they couldn’t settle on a designation either). Jean Chen Ho’s exploration of the lives of these friends and their friendship — how they perceive events differently, what drew them together or pushed them apart at various times — is so assured and skillful, and who needs a designation beyond that?
I accept that most debut authors are going to be younger than me, but do they have to be less than half my age? Leila Mottley didn’t need any more time to write a great novel, so I guess I’ll get over it. Her book follows Kiara, a teenager who is caught up in police corruption, only to be victimized at every stage in the process — especially after the criminal behavior of the cops is brought to light. Mottley is able to honor the limits of her character’s perspective while showing the reader a wider view. It’s a careful balance, and she pulls it off will aplomb.
At the end of this book, there’s an author’s note about the historical events that inspired the novel. I’m glad that I didn’t know that history before starting this book, because for most of this story, I was expecting something else. In retrospect, whatever I was expecting was not as powerful as what I got — a stunning picaresque that took a path I couldn’t foresee and left me reeling. My reading experience may have been improved by my ignorance of history, but I’m grateful to Jenny Tinghui Zhang for correcting that and informing me of so very much.
A novel told in various voices, Oscar Hokeah’s debut is gripping; heartbreaking; hope-filled. The story of Ever Geimausaddle is told in language that is beautiful and precise and wise. As perhaps you can tell, I tend to identify one aspect of a book when trying to describe its power, but for this book, I can only praise it in its entirety: it’s wonderful; it’s important.
Sidik Fofana is a public school teacher in New York City. He wrote these astonishing stories. That’s two jobs already, but I bet he could get a third as a sought-after Hollywood film editor, because he knows exactly when to cut away. He fills his stories with vivid voices, but the silences, the things unsaid, are just as powerful. While often very funny, this book is also very serious. Still, the predominate feeling I had was joy. The joy, I think, of being able to witness a master craftsman at work.
Many of the books on this list are concerned with the kinds of questions that are especially relevant for people younger than myself, sometimes much younger. I don’t know what it says about me or society or both, but that makes perfect sense to me. However, Jane Campell’s debut came out after she’d turned 80, and somehow her focus on the intimate desires of women in her age bracket seems audacious? That feeling is probably enhanced by the reckless glee that’s at the heart of many of these stories. Of all the authors on this list, Campell is the least precious with her characters; they often have limited options and wild emotions — or at least the contrast between these characters and the women of similar ages in basically every other book is so striking that this feels like an especially wild ride. I hope that you take it.