Oakland Public Library Staff’s Favorite Books of 2023

I LOVE a good list and I especially love December as it's the season for year-end lists - especially best book lists! I work with some amazing staff here at Oakland Public Library (OPL) who always point me to a good read. So I can't wait to share our 10th annual round-up of OPL staff's best books of the year. These are all titles published in 2023 that you can get from OPL.

(Psstt!). We'd also love to hear your top reads from 2023 so tell us about your favorites. We’ll be posting your list in early 2024.

Aniana Del Mar Jumps in by Jasminne Méndez
This vivid, colorful middle grade novel-in-verse immerses you in the world of Dominican-American Aniana, who is torn between her love for swimming, her mother's fear of water, and a chronic disability that becomes increasingly hard to ignore. A beautiful and vibrant story about disability, family, and being true to yourself. --Mika Permutt, Librarian
Aniana Del Mar Jumps in

Hot Pot Murder by Jennifer J. Chow
I've read other mystery books by Jennifer J. Chow and didn't realize that she'd started a new series. I LOVE the L.A. Night Market books so far! This was a great follow up to "Death by Bubble Tea"! Foodie related crimes solved by cousins.--Sandy, Chávez Branch
Hot Pot Murder

A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat
This mostly-autobiographical summer trip with a school group takes place before cell phones; a historical setting that many parents, teachers, and librarians can relate to, since it's the world of people-over-thirty, basically. Current middle-school readers will appreciate that it's well-crafted, artfully illustrated, and humorous, and also because it's kind of thrilling and CRAZY to think what middle-school age students used to be allowed to do. Santat is an amazing artist, and his drawings of tourist sites in Europe made me also believe that he was a genuinely kind, caring friend and that his nervousness and shyness were childhood qualities that he quickly grew out of, by trusting that his friends were encouraging him to do what he really wanted to do - boosting his confidence. I love the Spotify playlist! What a genius idea, and I enjoyed having a soundtrack while I read. --Erica S., Rockridge Branch
A First Time for Everything

The Eyes and the Impossible by Dave Eggers
A book for all generations. It tells a story with a quirky, wise community of animals that teach us about the importance of looking out for each other. --Melissa, Rockridge Branch
The Eyes & the Impossible

The Fall that Saved Us by Tamara Jerée
This is a love story between two women who have experienced a lifetime of hurt and trauma; one is a retired demon hunter, and the other is a demon. This love story puts you on the edge of your seat in suspense and will have you rooting for the couple to find their happily ever after. If you are familiar with paranormal romance, you might expect the traditional angel/demon love story. I am happy to tell you the story does not follow the typical troupe, and you will be surprised by the ending. --Nichole Brown, Elmhurst Branch
The Fall That Saved Us

The Ferryman by Justin Cronin
The archipelago of Prospero consists of three islands, all cut off from the problems of the rest of the world. One is inhabited by elite residents, one by the Support Staff, and a mysterious third where residents go once their health meters fall below 10% to be reborn, called the Nursery. Proctor Bennett is a Ferryman, whose job it is to bring residents to the Nursery when the time comes. Proctor feels his world coming apart as he learns more about the inner workings of Prospero and gets wrapped up in a revolutionary movement, all whiles his own health meter drops. This book is equal parts engaging, emotional, and mind-blowing. The most fun I've had reading a novel in a long time. --Brian Guenther, Rockridge Branch
The Ferryman

Saints of the Household by Ari Tison
A novel in verse and spare prose told from the different points of view of two BriBri- American brothers who are about to graduate high school. After they perpetrate an act of violence against a fellow student they believe is harming someone close to them, they are forced to truly face their demons. Their differing responses to family trauma and personal strife cause them to drift apart when one turns to art and romance and an escape plan as the other seeks comfort in home and family. This was a fast read, compelling, emotional, and gorgeously written. --Sharon McKellar, Teen Services
Saints of the Household

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
"The Covenant of Water" by Abraham Verghese is a literary masterpiece that flawlessly unfolds as a transgenerational family saga of a South Indian family. Skillfully intertwining medicine and storytelling, Verghese takes readers on an emotional journey from joy to sadness while fearlessly challenging societal norms of class, caste, and gender roles. The impeccably developed characters, with all their flaws, make it easy to fall in love with each one. Against the backdrop of a changing India, the novel provides a captivating portrayal of an evolving family. For enthusiasts of historical fiction and transgenerational family sagas, this book is a compelling read that elicits both laughter and tears, often simultaneously, creating an unforgettable literary experience that is hard to put down. --Isaiah, 81st Avenue Branch
The Covenant of Water

How to Say Goodbye by Wendy MacNaughton
Elegantly illustrated, simple guidance for how to say goodbye to a loved one who will soon pass away. I appreciated the author's clarity and candor, and was quite moved by this brief little book. --Miriam Medow, Main Library
How to Say Goodbye

UnOrdinaryy by uru-chan"Colorful manga, easy to read, great story line. --OPL staff member

The Next New Syrian Girl by Ream Shukairy
This book was just so unique and gave me window into Syrian culture through the lens of of two vastly different Syrian teens that find friendship. While gut-wrenching in parts, it is packed with humor and complex characters you really care about. If this fantastic debut is any indication, I can't wait to read what this author writes next. --Megan, Community Relations
The Next New Syrian Girl

Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow
I kept interrupting my wife to read aloud funny passages from this middle-grade novel about a middle-class Nebraska family that moves to the middle of off-the-grid nowhere USA. Eventually I just said, "You're reading this after me." The author has a dry sense of humor that this weirdo connected with -- plus there were irreverent puns. Multiple positive adult role models plus a trio of tweens who didn't read like cardboard cutouts. It's one of those juvie books where a character applies behavioral tricks to handle trauma, and I'm a sucker for that low-key mental health support in literature. --Remy, Main Library Children's Room
Simon Sort of SaysSimon Sort of Says

Sweet Undoings by Yanick Lahens
Haitian writer Yanick Lahens' latest is, ostensibly, a crime novel. Centered around the assassination of a Port-au-Prince judge who refuses to be corrupted, the story unfolds quickly and in tightly evocative prose. However, the crime and its interrogation are simply a connecting thread for Lahens' incredible character studies and searing sociopolitical commentary. A quick yet creepingly deep read. --Ian Hetzner, PT Librarian, Main
Sweet Undoings

InvestiGATORS series by John Patrick Green
It's a laugh out loud series that even adults can find enduring. My kid fell in love with the characters' hilarious investigations and the adventures in each series. Highly recommend for anyone young in heart! --Nereida, Brookfield

What You Don't Know Will Make A Whole New World by Dorothy Lazard
Dorothy Lazard's memoir is so inspiring. Her life voyage is full of fascinating stories. I would love to have met child Dorothy and am glad to know her now. --Susy, Rockridge Branch
What You Don't Know Will Make A Whole New World

Sisterhood Heals: the Transformative Power of Healing in Community by Joy Harden Bradford
A life altering journey through self-reflection and friendship! Written by Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed psychologist in Atlanta, George and creator of the award-winning podcast, Therapy for Black Girls. While a relatively short read, or listen, the audience is invited to reflect on the value of their friendships and the role they play. There are many points in the book where the audience is asked to review questions at the end of each chapter to think about how what is learned applies to their relationships. A book you will want to reread and want share with friends! --Shani B
Sisterhood Heals

The Enchanted Life of Valentina Mejía by Alexandra Alexassani
Artistic 12-year-old Valentina and her younger brother Julian are on a trek in the Andes mountains with their Papi who is searching for a mythical creature when an earthquake hits, knocking their father unconscious, trapping him in a crevice, and sending the two children down a portal to an alternate Colombia where ALL their father’s fantastic legends are real. The writing is concise while still balancing the action and dramatic tension of a young person on a life-saving quest AND introducing a variety of mythical creatures based in traditional Colombian culture. The kids’ modern-day sensibilities give space for skepticism as well as big-perspective empathy with these legendary figures who might at first seem terrifying. Readers are introduced to helpful witch Grucinda, vicious Patasola, gentle, silly Albetroz a river dragon, three noble friends - an ocelot, armadillo, & capybara, and several more. --Erica S., Rockridge Branch
The Enchanted Life of Valentina Mejía

The Reformatory by Tananarive Due
Haunting horror novel about a ghost-infested prison for boys set amongst the terrors of Jim Crow-era Florida. The steady pacing and character development will draw you in and make you even more terrified for these characters. Due draws from real life events from Florida's past, and even her own family history. I don't usually lean towards horror but I loved/was terrified of this book! --OPL staff member
The Reformatory

The Deluge by Stephen Markley
This is an impressive work of fiction that feels incredibly real. Markley weaves in details from real life to paint a vision of a near-future ravaged by climate change and the movers and shakers fighting to save humanity by any means necessary. The story is told from the point of view of several different characters, read by a full cast on the audio book. --Brian Guenther, Rockridge
The Deluge

Accountable by Dashka Slater
In 2017 a racist Instagram account was started by a high school student in nearby Albany. When the account was discovered by its targets and the creator and participants identified, the reprocussions were widespread and impacted the entire community. This is a narrative journalistic nonfiction title that covers the incident and fallout from the perspectives of many different school and community members. There isn't a satisfying conclusion.... how could there be? --Sharon McKellar, Teen Services

The People's Hospital: Hope and Peril in American Medicine by Ricardo Nulia
This book is a searing inditement of American healthcare. Beautifully written, the stories of five people navigating the inequities of the healthcare system on top of medical issues. A tough read, but one that will stay with you and have you adamant (but even a little hopeful) for change. --Megan, Community Relations
The People's Hospital

UnOrdinary by uru-chan
Colorful manga, easy to read, great story line. --OPL staff member

Human Sacrifices by María Fernanda Ampuero
Dark, very dark, just like I often like my reads. Short stories that read quick. --Susy, Rockridge
Human Sacrifice

Excavations by Hannah Michell
A former journalist and student activist must dust off her investigative skills when her husband disappears in a massive tower collapse in 1992. As she uncovers layers of neoliberal corruption in post-dictatorship South Korea, our protagonist’s carefully crafted family narrative begins to unravel. Part political crime thriller, part exploration of family and motherhood, the Seoul-raised, Berkeley-based writer Hannah Michell’s second novel is a powerful and stark exploration of capitalism’s indifference to our individual humanity. --Ian Hetzner, PT Librarian, Main

Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror
19 haunting stories to keep you up at night and frightened during the day. A master director of phycological thrillers and dark humor, Jordan Peele has curated a variety of new voices to the genre. From the first story that leaves readers fuming, to the last story that delivers bloody justice, readers are immersed into the imagined and real horrors of racism and anti-Blackness. Each story is deserving of a short film, and some leave the audience wanting more! As a bonus, listen to the audiobook for an immersive experience with an outstanding cast of Black voice actors! If you like psychological thrillers, gore, and rooting for (almost) everybody Black, this book is for you! Not every story has a hero… --Shani B.
Out There Screaming

Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones by Dolly Parton
This book is wild. Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones features Dolly Parton's iconic wardrobe collection along with anecdotes of her time in show business. This book has almost all of her most famous outfits along with stories of the designers who dressed her. Please don't miss the pages featuring the wigs that Dolly wore from the 1960s-1990s in a section titled "Hair You Come Again". Overall, a great behind the scenes look at a prolific musician, philanthropist, and American treasure. --Ryan, Rockridge Branch
Behind the Seams

The Chinese Groove by Kathryn Ma
Eighteen-year-old Zheng Xue Li, also known as Shelley, leaves his Yunnan Province home to seek Family, Love and Fortune in San Francisco. The invisible bonds that exist between family and strangers alike drive this lovable, naively optimistic hero in a story filled with lightness and humor despite the trials, disappointments and betrayal. Recommended for readers who enjoy novels with local settings, cultural explorations and anyone looking for an uplifting and meaningful comic book. --Christy Thomas, Main Library
The Chinese Groove

The Clever Rabbit: An Iranian Graphic Folktale by Golriz Golkar
In this Iranian folk tale presented as a graphic novel, the very cute characters will surely captivate young readers with imminent danger barely escaped, team decision-making (both successful & not), fears overcome, finding a center of peacefulness in one’s soul, and calling for helpful friends. My heart sank when the meek and humble rabbit first decided to sacrifice all for the greater good – and my heart soared when a with a tiny but clever idea, the tables were turned. Has so much empathy, beauty, and inspiration *ever* been packed into as perfect a package? I think children will want to read & re-read this story many times, and take time to absorb everything in it. Parents, grandparents, and caregivers will find as much to appreciate as children. --Erica S., Rockridge Branch
The Clever Rabbit

American Gun: the True Story of the AR-15 by Cameron McWhirter
This is a fascinating and frightening story of the AR-15; detailing how it came to be invented, why it is the weapon of choice of mass murderers, and a symbol for gun enthusiasts. The authors outline how attempts at gun control legislation have only made the gun more popular in the United States. A must read for anybody interested in gun control and politics. --Brian Guenther, Rockridge Branch
American Gun

Impossible People: a Completely Average Recovery Story by Julia Wertz
Julia Wertz's autobiographical graphic novels are amazing. They've gone from super silly (and super fun!) to delving into more serious matters. This one is honest and frank. I loved it. --Susy, Rockridge Branch
Impossible People

The Wager a Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann
This masterpiece is based on a shipwrecked and the characters' harrowing journey. I love how Grann presents the reader with all accounts of what occurred, which leaves you with a vivid imagery of the ordeal. If you love "The Killers of the Flower Moon", then this is your book! --Nereida, Brookfield Branch
The Wager

Hungry Ghost by Victoria Ying
In this gorgeous graphic novel a teenage girl manages to keep her serious eating disorder a secret from everyone who cares about her until, facing deep grief and loss, she realizes she needs some help. The format doesn't allow for deep exploration with words, but does give an intimate portrayal of a complicated mother daughter relationship, mental health struggles, grief and friendship and the art suits the story perfectly, bringing emotion and feeling to the forefront. --Sharon McKellar, Teen Services
Hungry Ghost

Agents of Chaos: Thomas King Forçade, High Times, and the Paranoid End of the 1970s by Sean Howe
As a child of the 80s and 90s, my memories of High Times magazine are primarily of close-up images of crystalline purple and green buds and endless, mundane discussions of strain crossing and preferred lightbulb arrangement. Little did I know at the time that the magazine was founded by a Forrest Gump-ian character who found himself involved in one way or another in nearly every major political and cultural event of the Hippie era. Frenemy of the Yippies, protégé of the White Panthers, alternative press magnate, provocateur, drug trafficker, and possible Fed, Thomas King Forçade’s life was one strange trip and this new biography is a blast. --Ian Hetzner, PT Librarian, Main Library
Agents of Chaos

Remember Us by Jacqueline Woodson
I can think of no author as prolific and versatile as Jacqueline Woodson that also consistently produces such high quality writing. She is a true economist of words and manages to spark so much character and poetry in under 200 pages. This fictional account is set in the Bushwick neighborhood during a very real time of numerous, mysterious fires in the 1970s. It's a captivating, accessing story for tweens, yet a beautiful one teens and adults alike will enjoy too. --Megan, Community Relations
Remember Us

Women of Myth: From Deer Woman and Mami Wata to Amaterasu and Athena, Your Guide to the Amazing and Diverse Women from World Mythology by Jenny Wilkinson
50 women of myth and legend from around the world to admire and inspire! Written by friends Jenny Williamson and Genn McMenemy who are also cohosts of the podcast Ancient History Fangirl. In the briefest introduction to women from all over the world, readers will hear the tragedy and triumph from across time. The book is accompanied by beautiful illustrations for nearly every woman introduced in the book. The audiobook features musical interludes and the great personality of the authors. Get familiar with the amazing stories of these powerful women and be ready to explore more when you complete the book! --Shani B.
Women of Myth

Mexikid: A Graphic Memoir by Pedro Martin
In this autobiographical graphic novel, Martín describes an epic summer expedition from Watsonville, California to Jalisco, Mexico in 1977 with his parents and 8 siblings in a borrowed motorhome, to help their abuelo/grandpa wrap up his ranch and move north with them. A variety of illustration styles expertly differentiate between the family’s adventure, cultural information about the region, people, & traditions, and historical stories of his abuelo during the Mexican Revolution. Readers meet a variety of personalities within their “100% Mexican” family, including some children born in the U.S. and some who immigrated with their parents, and they meet a wide diversity of characters along the way. The family’s humor includes much teasing, while everyone also feels loved and appreciated for their uniquenesses. Readers can read this at least twice - there is so much packed into the 300+ multi-dimensional, richly satisfying pages. --Erica S., Rockridge Branch (and several other OPL staffers who also noted this book as a favorite of 2023)