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Updated by Jen Blair on Dec 05, 2023
Headline for Winter Break 2022 - End of Year - Best Realistic Fiction
Jen Blair Jen Blair
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Winter Break 2022 - End of Year - Best Realistic Fiction

These books just blew me away this year. Tough stories, with tough kids, solving problems and not just surviving, but thriving. (also, slipped in one historical fiction, because it didn’t fit anywhere else…)

Attack of the Black Rectangles by Amy Sarig King

Attack of the Black Rectangles - A.S. King

A timely story of censorship and book bans in a small Pennsylvania town. This book took my breath away in its honesty and bravery. One of the best books I’ve read all year.

From the publisher:
Grades 6 and up.
When sixth-grader Mac discovers several words of his classroom copy of Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic are blacked out he is outraged, so he, his friends, and his eccentric family set out to do something about the censorship imposed by one teacher and the school board.

Azar on Fire (Perfectly Parvin, #2) by Olivia Abtahi | Goodreads

Azar on Fire - Olivia Abtahi

A young songwriter trying to find her voice. Literally. So funny, so real - this book is all joy.

From the publisher:
Grades 8 and up.
Azar Rossi's first year of high school has mostly been silent, and intentionally so. After a bad case of colic as a baby, Azar's vocal folds are shredded--full of nodules that give her a rasp the envy of a chain-smoking bullfrog. When she hears about a local Battle of the Bands contest, it's something she can't resist. Azar loves music, loves songwriting, but with her vocal folds the way they are, there's no way she can sing her songs on stage.

The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander | Goodreads

The Door of No Return - Kwame Alexander

A beautiful celebration of story, and history, and family, and roots. It’s a book that won’t leave you.

From the publisher:
Grades 6 and up.
A festival comes to the villages of Upper and Lower Kwanta and Kofi's brother is chosen to represent Upper Kwanta in the wrestling contest. Encircled by cheering spectators and sounding drums, the two wrestlers from different villages kneel, ready to fight.

The match is over before it has barely begun, when the unthinkable-a sudden death-occurs...

As his world turns upside down, Kofi soon ends up in a fight for his life. What happens next will send him on a harrowing journey across land and sea, and away from everything he loves.

Each Night Was Illuminated by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Each Night Was Illuminated - Jodi Lynn Anderson

Ghosts, beloved little brothers, smart and savvy nuns, climate change, first loves - it’s all here.

From the publisher:
Grades 9 and up.
The day the train fell in the lake, Cassie stopped believing in much of anything, despite growing up in a devout Catholic family. Then she set her mind to forgetting the strange boy named Elias who was with her when it happened. When Elias comes back to town after many years away, Cassie finds herself talked into sneaking out at night to follow him ghost-hunting--though she knows better than to believe they will find any spirits. Still, the more time she spends with Elias--with his questions, his rebelliousness, his imagination that is so much bigger than the box she has made for herself--the more Cassie thinks that even in a world that seems broken beyond repair, there just may be something worth believing in.

The Epic Story of Every Living Thing by Deb Caletti | Goodreads

The Epic Story of Every Living Thing - Deb Caletti

Harper has always wanted to know who her father is. Her mother is very protective and won’t tell her anything. And then she finds out…and this story takes off in a direction that I did not expect.

From the publisher:
Grades 9 and up.
When Harper Proulx and her newfound siblings travel to Hawaii to track down their sperm donor father, Harper finds a deep-sea diver obsessed with solving the mystery of a shipwreck and the experience forces her to face even bigger questions.

The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen by Isaac Blum

The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen - Isaac Blum

Hoodie is irreverent and hilarious. His family is pure chaos, but you understand why he loves them all the way he does. Since he’s been taught to question and critically think his whole life, why is everyone so surprised when Hoodie takes a stand to be part of the bigger world outside of what he knows? Just freaking good storytelling. Read it.

From the publisher:
Grades 9 and up.
Hoodie Rosen's life isn't that bad. Sure, his entire Orthodox Jewish community has just picked up and moved to the quiet, mostly non-Jewish town of Tregaron, but Hoodie's world hasn't changed that much. The people of Tregaron aren't happy that so many Orthodox Jews are moving in at once, but that's not Hoodie's problem. That is, until he meets and falls for Anna-Marie Diaz-O'Leary--who happens to be the daughter of the headstrong mayor trying to keep Hoodie's community out of the town. And things only get more complicated when Tregaron is struck by a series of antisemitic crimes that quickly escalate to deadly violence.

No One Is Alone by Rachel Vincent | Goodreads

No One is Alone - Rachel Vincent

There are multiple storylines/themes deftly woven together: drug abuse, cheating, friendships - made and broken, underage drinking, grandmothers, sisters, family relationships, songwriting and bands AND a high school production of Into the Woods. I’m telling you, it’s all here. And yes I cried. Many times. And I laughed. Many times. Pitch perfect YA.

From the publisher:
Grades 9 and up.
When Michaela's mom dies and she has to move in with her dad, she discovers he's been married with kids all this time and she's the product of an affair.

We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds | Goodreads

We Deserve Monuments - Jas Hammonds

A tale of generational trauma, and love, and the unbreakable bonds of friendship and family, and U.S. history that you can’t look away from. Definitely in my top ten reads of the year.

From the publisher:
Grades 9 and up.
When seventeen-year-old Avery moves to rural Georgia to live with her ailing grandmother, she encounters decade-old family secrets and a mystery surrounding the town's racist past.

A Year to the Day by Robin Benway

A Year to the Day - Robin Benway

The story of one sister’s grief, told in reverse order. The backwards storytelling adds layers of mystery and poignancy to the grief that Leo experiences at the loss of her sister. An engrossing, compelling read, don’t pass this book up!

From the publisher:
Grades 9 and up.
A year after her sister Nina's death and still unable to imagine a world without her, Leo forms a friendship with Nina's boyfriend East based on their shared grief, only to discover he knows more about the accident that killed Nina than he is letting on.