Sweet escapism continues to be the name of the game for YA lovers, myself included. Many of the great books featured on this list are fantasy, taking us to gorgeous new worlds. A world influenced by Spirited Away, and another inspired by tea? Sign me up! But what really stands out when I look at the novels on this list is the depth of feeling in every single one. After 2020, we are all processing a lot of big feelings, and these books feel the full range of emotions. Readers, in our most humble opinions, here are the best books of 2022… so far.
Ashley Schumacher has the power to capture unique and deep emotions. In Amelia Unabridged, she tackled the death of a best friend with sensitivity, but almost a fantastical touch, which made a beautiful read. In Full Flight, she captures the relationship between two outsiders in a small, prejudiced town with unflinching honesty. It hits hard while still managing to be filled with sweet, quirky moments. The main character is a literal ray of sunshine who wears Christmas socks in August, while experiencing so much grief at the same time. Truly an unforgettable read. — Abby Petree
In her recent novel, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea, author Axie Oh weaves a story of folktales, betrayal, and soulmates into a story that, fittingly, both borrows from past tales while infusing it with something fresh. A tale spent in the Spirit World after our protagonist Mina–headstrong, defiant, and loyal–sacrifices herself to the Sea God to save her brother’s happiness and put a stop to her village’s suffering. However, it’s in her realization that all is not what it seems and that the Sea God may not have been willfully seeking destruction onto her village where the story truly picks up.
This is especially true with the introduction of the mysterious Shin, guard to the Sea God. With clear influences (especially for Studio Ghibli fans–Spirited Away in particular), Oh crafts a universe with lush intent, making it so that each character and new place in the Spirit World hums with life yet to be explored. Confident and whimsical, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is an enthralling addition to the YA fantasy genre. — Allyson Johnson
I love tea, but perhaps obsessed is a better word for it. So what if I told you there was a brand new fantasy duology with a tea-based magic system? Well guess what friends, it’s real! A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin is a truly dazzling fantasy. Not only does it have tea, but it has amazing world-building, political intrigue, backstabbing in the literal and metaphorical sense, and a little romance to boot. The story is heavily influenced by Chinese folklore, so the setting is brimming with vivid descriptions of scrumptious food and incredible scenery. This is a fantasy for foodie’s, and it makes me wish every fantasy I pick up is as delicious as this one. — Meagan Stanley
Emma Lord’s third novel has all the charm and sparkle of her debut and sophomore titles. A love letter to Broadway and Mamma Mia, the book follows a larger than life teen on her quest to find her mom (a much needed ally in her father’s decision to say no to theatre pre-college), mining her father’s livejournal entries, and sleuthing across the city. The romance between her rival Oliver and the sweet relationships between her aunt, best friend Teddy, and single dad, added a warmth to this light and happy read perfect for summer and beyond. — Brianna Robinson
V.E. Schwab’s newest young adult novel Gallant is a haunting story of a family mystery, a dark secret, and things lurking in the shadows. With V.E. Schwab’s beautiful words weaving images in our minds, introducing rich and well-developed characters, and artist Manuel Šumberac’s evocative illustrations lending their own spooky vibes, it is difficult not to tip into the world of Olivia Prior and the house of Gallant. This was a fun and cozy mystery book with a lot of chilling, atmospheric vibes; V.E. Schwab fans will not be disappointed! — Gisselle Lopez
Alexis Hall has four–FOUR–books being published this year with the extraordinary A Lady for a Duke being his second release. Sweepingly romantic with prose and passages that will ignite stars in readers eyes, it might be his very best yet as he continues to raise and surpass his own bar. With richly drawn characters and a period piece that refuses to skimp on the details that prove to further give depth to the world, it is packed with adventure, burgeoning and returning emotions, and a central pairing that are all but destined to be together. With a trans heroine at the forefront, it’s also a deeply needed reminder of the significance of exploring queer and trans stories in spaces where they’ve typically been written out of. Run to check this one out–especially as we still have two more books to eagerly await from Hall this year alone. — A. J.
I Must Betray You by Ruta Spetys
Ruta Spetys’ work always amazes me. Every new novel tackles a different part of history that I had never learned about and brings it to life with brutal, stunning prose. Her characters feel so real and you ache along with their suffering. I Must Betray You is no exception. I never knew how long Romania was oppressed under a Communist regime. These Romanians never get to tell their story, but through Spetys, they can. This book will devour you from start to finish. — A. P.
If you liked the rivals-to-lovers element of Red, White, & Royal Blue and were desperate for more, you will absolutely adore I Kissed Shara Wheeler. Lucky for you, both are by the same author! Casey McQuiston knows exactly what to do to make their audience want to clutch their books to their chest with a happy sigh, and their first foray into young adult fiction was no exception! I Kissed Shara Wheeler is a fantastic read for anyone that is young and LGBTQ+, and should be an important staple read for them to see that happy endings are for everyone. — G. L.
As dark and magnetic as her debut, A Far Wilder Magic has a slow-burn romance that was agonizing and fascinating. Magaret Welty and Weston Winters need to win the Halfmoon Hunt to save their families. Working together against the prejudice of the town and their own grief, they train to do the impossible–kill the legendary hala against all odds. The stakes of this atmospheric and at times, chilling, book were high and comparisons to The Scorpio Races are spot on. — B.R.