Oakland Public Library Staff’s Favorite Books of 2022

Every December I look forward to looking over the best-books-of­-the-year lists. My favorite list of all is the one my colleagues at Oakland Public Library put together. I am so lucky to work with the best people around, and I love to hear their reading recommendations! Check them out below.

We’d also love to hear your favorite reads from 2022 and we’re collecting them here. We’ll be posting your list soon.

Allow Me to Retort by Elie Mystal
Mystal is an expert on the Constitution and the Supreme Court and a columnist for The Nation. This rip-roaring book goes right out and calls the Constitution "trash," and tells us why, and also how to fix it (he also considers the current Supreme Court trash, too). It's funny, profane, and anger-inducing in the best way. Highly recommend you listen to it instead of read it. Mystal's performance on the audiobook is unfettered and passionate.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Tod Booth, Wrangler, Mostly Main Library                                     

Allow Me to Retort by Elie Mystal
If you've ever rolled your eyes at the argument that "it's in the constitution" to excuse injustice, this book can help you articulate why. Mystal, a constitutional lawyer, deftly dismantles the fundamental flaws of common right wing constitutional arguments. Most importantly, he explains how such justifications gain currency and what we can do about it. “Highly readable” and “constitution” don’t typically go together, but in this case they do.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Megan Keane, Community Relations, Main Library

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
I enjoyed this novel for the multitude of lyrical, funny, and wise observations about contemporary life. This young Irish novelist addresses the universal, while centering on a foursome of people in their thirties (millennials like herself) in and around Dublin who have either achieved too much success or, by their definition, no success. What makes the book super relatable? All humans are valued in this novel, even while they make errors, have dead end jobs, drink too much, have breakdowns, possibly have sex with the wrong people, reject the people they love the most...etc. Of course, love means accepting the failings and loving people for who they are. Whether they can be convinced they are worthy of love is another question. Within the novel, two friends write each other long thoughtful emails, which almost makes it an epistolary novel, but there are plenty of devices that drive the plot forward and create suspense.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Emily Odza, Librarian, Eastmont Branch                                          

Berry Song by Michaela Goade
Berry Song is illustrator, Michaela Goade’s first authored book and the story and pictures are both a delight. The gorgeous illustrations grabbed the attention of my storytime crowd and I loved the story celebrating nature’s bounty and appreciation of the natural world. The message of gratitude makes it a lovely alternative to more problematic Thanksgiving tales.
Recommended for: Children, Families
Recommended by: Megan Keane, Community Relations, Main Library

Big Girl by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan
Brilliant Malaya is a gifted student and talented artist, but sometimes it seems all her mom and grandmother seem to care about is her weight. In the face of unimaginable loss and amongst a backdrop of her swiftly gentrifying Harlem neighborhood, Malaya seeks her own brand of freedom and satisfaction in her own skin while she comes to terms with her appetites and her attraction to her childhood best friend. This novel is populated with complicated characters, written with poetic language and is filled of tenderness, humor, longing, and grief.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
If you appreciated Maisy Card's These Ghosts are Family, this book is for you. Families’ secrets abound.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Librarian Pat, Children's Services, Main Library                                             

Boys I Know by Anna Gracia
This debut novel from local author, Anna Gracia, deftly explores the challenges of being a young adult grabbling with competing expectations and standards. June is a Taiwanese American teen struggling to meet the impossible standards of her parents and be desired by her noncommittal romantic boyfriend. The characters feel achingly real and relatable to older teens (and adults) working to carve out their own identity.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Megan Keane, Community Relations, Main Library

By the Book by Jasmine Guillory
Beauty and the Beast meets the publishing industry. Part of the 'Meant To Be ' romance series this Guillory title takes the reader beyond the author's usual cast of characters.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Librarian Pat, Children's Services, Main Library                                             

Circa by Devi Laskar
In 1980’s North Carolina, Bengali-American teenager Heera shares a rebellious streak with her best friend Marie and Maries’s brother Marco, who is also her crush. A terrible accident changes their lives with permanent consequences. Circa is an exquisitely written, deeply felt jewel of a novel that made my heart pound in my chest. This gripping and emotional page turner explores friendship and family, grief and joy, coming of age, womanhood, and the immigrant experience.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan
Super imaginative! Folklore and mythology are always fun, but even more so when they're written to include another perspective right--Percy Jackson anyone? This book has 498 pages and it was a quick read for me.
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: SL, Library Assistant                                                 

Dead End Girls by Wendy Heard
Teens Maude and her step-cousin Frankie attempt to pull off the ultimate con: to fake their own deaths and disappear without a trace from their lives. Leaving a trail of dead bodies as they travel from Los Angeles to Hawaii, Las Vegas, and beyond, Maude and Frankie are in constant danger as they run from their families, the cops, and their former identities. Will they survive the escape? Find out in this mystery/thriller/adventure/lesbian-hate-to-love page-turner!
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Natasha Moullen, Librarian, Main TeenZone

Fearless Finances: A Timeless Guide to Building Wealth by Cassandra Cummings
Fearless Finances is a life altering how-to book about wealth-building and everything you did not know about investing. Cassandra Cummings breaks down the confusion of finance in manage steps that will guide readers to make informed choices. Cummings wrote this book to better support women of color so they can financially protect themselves and their families. Cummings includes narratives from various women she's worked with as examples of different ways women have succeeded in investing. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in getting confident with money and investing for wealth. Take pride in reading this licensed financial advisor and Oakland native's phenomenal book on "building generational wealth with clear and actionable investment strategies"!
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Shani B, Children's Librarian                                                 

Hawk Mountain by Conner Habib
Hawk Mountain is a psychologically intense story about a single father, Todd; his son; and Jack, who tormented Todd in high school and shows up out of the blue, manipulating himself back into Todd's life. Conner Habib's tale is brutal in every sense of the word. With graphic murder, raw emotion, and deep secrets rooted in insecurities, he brings you along a downward spiral that is as difficult to stomach as it is to put down.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Brian Guenther, Senior Librarian, 81st Avenue Branch                                              

The High Sierra by Kim Stanley Robinson
Renowned science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson writes about the trails, history, and geology of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in "High Sierra: A Love Story." This book is a useful guide for those interested in exploring the Sierras, accompanied with tips on gear and ways to prepare for a backpacking trip in any weather. But more importantly, it is Robinson's personal story and how his experiences hiking and exploring isolated pockets of the outdoors has shaped his life. "High Sierra" is an excellent guidebook, memoir, and an ode to the sublime inspiration that comes from being in the mountains.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Ryan, Library Assistant, Rockridge Branch                                      

How to Build A Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps by Pamela S. Turner
This thorough, complex, and detailed presentation of human evolution is also humorous, especially for teen and tween readers - roughly ages 10 to 16. Turner contextualizes physiological changes by describing the evolution of specific skills, grouped by topic, with examples that reference archaeological evidence of hominids from around the globe. Several notes about the concept of "race" from the author and other international anthropologists were useful, relevant, and timely. Readers will be caught up in the drama of paleoanthropology; amazed that handprints made with pigment on stone walls are found on every continent, that fossilized bones show that some hominids were alive into old age - years after their injuries or defects would have made them incapable of caring for themselves (...proving that prehistoric hominids took care of one another!), and many more stories related to specific archaeological findings. Also, the author lives in the East Bay!
Recommended for: Children, Teens, Adults, Families
Recommended by: Erica Siskind, Children's Librarian, Rockridge Branch                                  

I Can Explain by Shinsuke Yoshitake
Yoshitake's picture books are comic gold, and this is one of the funniest. As a kid explains to his mom, all his bad habits have perfectly reasonable explanations. He's not fidgeting, he's trying to tame a rebellious chair. It looks like he's picking his nose but he's really pushing a button that releases waves of happiness. Then Mom gets into the act -- does she beat him at his own game?
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Margaret, Children's Librarian, Asian Branch                                         

I Never Thought of It That Way by Monica Guzman
I Never Thought if it That Way is an inspiring call to action for civility when it seems so much easier to dismiss or demonize those who think differently than us. Using an engaging, conversational tone, Guzmán goes deep into how to open your mind, be curious, and have meaningful conversations that otherwise may be contentious.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Brian Guenther, Senior Librarian, 81st Avenue Branch                                              

I Won't Give up My Rubber Band by Shinsuke Yoshitake
Hilarity and fun! Anything by Shinsuke Yoshitake is tons of funnies and moments that makes me think of what it was like when I was a kid! The illustration is just spot on with the expressions of each character. A recommended reading for all is The I Wonder Bookstore!
Recommended for: Children, Families
Recommended by: Chantra, Library Aide, Asian Branch                                  

Invisible by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
If you are a fan of John Hughes' The Breakfast Club, then Invisible will be a great read, granted most teens and children will not know the John Hughes reference. Invisible is a Latine centered graphic novel that highlights the lives of 5 middle school students forced into community service. This book touches on the diversity within the Latine community and that people's lives aren't always what they seem.
Recommended for: Children, Teens
Recommended by: Isaiah, Librarian, Brookfield Branch                                   

Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey
I'm a sucker for a good "is this house haunted?" book, and this one delivered. It's dark and creepy and unpredictable, and I loved it. Sarah Gailey is good at creating protagonists who are salty and "unlovable" as part of their character development, but who you root for all the way to the end. Read it if you'd like a quick, creepy read.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Sadie, Librarian, Main Library                                               

The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid
In true Kafka-esque fashion, Mohsin Hamid gives the reader a glimpse of a world becoming less white. The Last White Man forces us to question what happens when the comfort and safety of whiteness is stripped from a person? This wonderful work of fiction examines race, othering, and family issues.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Isaiah, Librarian, Brookfield Branch   

Learning to Fall by Sally Engelfried
I was excited about the skateboarding theme in an Oakland setting, but what really stuck with me was the true-to-life character development of Daphne, the 12-year-old protagonist. Reconciling with her formerly estranged father and coming to terms with his alcoholism, Daphne goes through all the stages of resentment, willful irrationality, and endearing grumpiness that you'd expect from a smart kid who's been betrayed before. The author is an Oakland librarian.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Margaret, Children's Librarian, Asian Branch

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
This book is dystopian fiction. Life is bleak under a Totalitarian government. I cheer for the 12 years old Birds who encourages his mother, a Chinese American poet, to fight for her beliefs. I also cheer for a network of librarians helping people to find their loved ones, not only books. This book is not the best of Celeste Ng’s, but her fans will not be disappointed. I give it four stars.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Vicky, Librarian, Main Library                                               

Rise: A Pop History of Asian America From the Nineties to Now  by Jeff Yang, Phil Yu, and Philip Wang
I didn't read every single word, but it is FULL of information. A must if you want to learn about Asian American history in a fun way.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: SL, Library Assistant                                                 

Stay True by Hua Hsu
This book is a memoir. It is about growing up and finding meaning in daily life. It is beautiful and nostalgic. Hua Hsu, a New York Times journalist, recalls his friendship with his friend, Ken, when he was an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Vicky Chen, Librarian, Main Library                                    

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono
You don’t need to be a U2 fan to enjoy this memoir by its frontman, but it doesn’t hurt. Surrender traces the rise of the man and the band, interweaving personal stories with their social and political context, along with plenty of glimpses behind the music of one of the most prolific and enduring bands of our time. It is a moving story of family, creativity, and faith. (The audiobook is amazing too!)
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Rebecca Highland, Youth Services Support Librarian, West Branch                                      

Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas
In the field of realistic graphic novels for and about tweens, Swim Team rises above for a few reasons: (1) the contrast between the slowly-developing relationship with the elderly neighbor, and the fast & close friendship with a peer, (2) the real history and lived experiences of racial segregation - an age-appropriate presentation of the infuriating history explored in detail in adult non-fiction such as The Sum of Us by Heather McGee, (3) the cohesive tying-together of this history into the day-to-day life and decisions of Bree, her father, and their neighbor Etta, (4) the dynamic sports story about swimming - just right for 7th- to 8th-grade readers, and (5) the visceral depiction of intrusive, anxious thoughts as crowded, heavy speech balloons. For many young readers, this will feel similar to many other realistic stories of middle-school friendships and life in graphic novel format. To pack in a perspective on history that focuses on repairing the harm without getting bogged down is a feat to celebrate.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Erica Siskind, Children's Librarian, Rockridge Branch                                  

Time Is A Mother by Ocean Vuong
Get ready to feel the feels! Eloquent in writing, Ocean Vuong's work no matter poetry or fiction is a masterpiece that speaks straight to the heart. FYI, Ocean recently revealed that there is new manuscript from him via IG!
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Chantra, Library Aide, Asian Branch                                  

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
This is a sweet and frustrating story about a lifelong friendship of two broken people. I care about and love these characters more than any book I've read in years.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Dice, Children's Librarian, 81st Avenue Branch                                              

Troublemaker by John Cho
Written by Berkeley grad and actor John Cho, this middle grade historical fiction title is set during the L.A. uprisings of 1992 . Recommended for the social justice reader the story offers a perspective relevant to anti Asian hate and the Black Lives Matter uprisings of 2020.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Kidbrarian PT, Children's Services, Main Library

True Biz by Sara Nović
I don't usually give books a numerical rating, but True Biz, a powerfully emotional novel focused on the Deaf community, gets 1,000 stars out of 10. The author, who is deaf herself, takes us on a journey with a compelling cast of characters and shows us the beauty of Deaf culture and its intersectionality with other identities. An absolutely stunning read.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Josephine Sayers, Sr. Library Assistant, Main Library                                                                           

Tumble by Celia C. Pérez
Adela Ramirez, age twelve, sleuths out the identity of her estranged father -- and finds out that she is part of an extended family of lucha libre wrestlers! Complicated family drama coexists with quirky New Mexico small town life in this middle grade novel, great for kids in grades 5-7. Funny and tender, with characters you'll wish you knew in real life.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Margaret, Children's Librarian, Asian Branch

The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson
Carrie meets Passing in this mystery thriller. Tiffany D. Jackson's amazing tales always leave you wondering.
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Kidbrarian PT, Children's Services, Main Library           

You Made A Fool of Death With your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi
This one reads like a reality show with a messy love triangle. You may consider if and how does one find love after grief.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Librarian Pat, Children's Services, Main Library

And check out our full list of favorites and staff favorites from previous years.

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