Reviews of the 2022 Newbery Medal Winners


The Last Cuentista
by Donna Barba Higuera
Middle School    Levine Querido    336 pp.    g
8/21    978-1-64614-089-3    $17.99

When a solar flare knocks Halley’s Comet off course and sends it hurtling toward Earth, a small group of citizens is selected to leave the planet and colonize a new one to ensure humanity’s survival. Once onboard, the citizens are put in suspended animation for the four-century journey to the new planet, Sagan. When twelve-year-old Petra Peña wakes up, however, she learns that a cult-like group, The Collective, has taken over the ship, “purging” citizens who fail to comply and erasing all memory of Earth and its diverse inhabitants. As an aspiring storyteller and one of the only people who remembers life before The Collective, Petra must rely on her Mexican storytelling heritage to protect the remaining humans from the fate of living life as Collective drones. She follows in her grandmother’s footsteps to become a cuentista, using storytelling to save humanity and remind her companions of the histories that were taken from them. Through The Collective, Higuera chillingly foregrounds seemingly benign attempts to eliminate violence and war via the homogenization of humanity. Through Petra, she effectively showcases how cultural memory, familial bonds, and story are essential to the progression of society, and how cultural difference is indispensable now and in the future. S. R. TOLIVER

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

Red, White, and Whole
by Rajani LaRocca
Middle School    Quill Tree/HarperCollins    224 pp.    g
2/21    978-0-06-304742-6    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-304744-0    $9.99

It’s 1983, and thirteen-year-old Reha feels she has “two lives.” In one, she’s a serious student who tries to make her Indian immigrant parents proud but is seen as an outsider (who speaks “Indian”) at her predominantly white school. In her other life, Reha, who doesn’t actually speak her parents’ native languages, feels that “no matter where I go, / America or India, / I don’t quite fit.” These feelings intensify when her Amma (mother) is diagnosed with leukemia, goes through several rounds of chemotherapy, and, ultimately, succumbs to her illness. Composed of short, metaphor-rich poems, this verse novel weaves together complex narrative strands with sophistication. It does the double duty of giving voice to the hyphenated American experience and navigation of dual identities, while also representing the illness and loss of a parent with tenderness and fidelity to the stages of grief. Blood is a predominant metaphor, but it’s not off-putting. The “red, white, and whole” of the title refers to “whole blood…the precious river in our arteries, our veins, our hearts,” and represents both Amma’s illness and Reha’s more abstract yearning to belong wholly to one place. Give this emotionally powerful novel to immigrant, third-culture kids or anyone experiencing grief and loss. JULIE HAKIM AZZAM

From the May/June 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


A Snake Falls to Earth
by Darcie Little Badger
Middle School, High School    Levine Querido    352 pp.    g
11/21    978-1-64614-092-3    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-64614-114-2    $18.99

This original and suspenseful fantasy explores perceptions and understandings of space, time, identity, environmentalism, communication, and “the rightness of home.” Nina, a human, is determined to translate a haunting Spanish and Lipan Apache oral story passed down by her late great-great-grandmother. Oli, a cottonmouth snake and animal person from the “world of spirits of monsters,” will do anything to save his toad friend Ami, who has become ill because his Earth equivalent species is near extinction. Nina’s and Oli’s worlds are connected; a portal between them has something to do with a “pseudosun” in Oli’s Reflecting World and temperature and magnetic anomalies on Nina’s family land. The two characters eventually unite and together deal with a trickster mockingbird; an untrustworthy internet influencer; severe weather; and the threat of violent, cultish followers of a power-hungry “King” (a.k.a. “the Nightmare”) who aims to be the only immortal left on Earth. They also use magic and learn why Nina’s grandmother’s health mysteriously declines whenever she leaves the family’s land. Chapters alternate in voice and perspective, with the characters’ worlds skillfully delineated and stories masterfully woven together. Modern dialogue, which offers further depth to characterization, intermingles with elements of traditional storytelling and family history, creating an imaginative and multilayered work of speculative fiction. ELISA GALL

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Too Bright to See
by Kyle Lukoff
Middle School    Dial    192 pp.    g
4/21    978-0-593-11115-4    $16.99

Bug has always believed his family’s old Vermont farmhouse is haunted — partly because of shadows and creaks, and partly because he often “catch[es] a glimpse of something in the mirror that isn’t me.” Since Uncle Roderick’s death, that haunting has seemed more directed specifically at Bug: “Some presence is trying to send me a message.” Lukoff (When Aidan Became a Brother, rev. 7/19) lets readers decide for themselves whether the haunting is real or whether it stems from Bug’s believably portrayed grief and process of growing up (Bug is about to enter middle school). Either way, Bug figures out a great deal via some exploring about Uncle Roderick, who was openly gay and had worked as a drag queen, and finally realizes his own transgender identity. (Bug, eventually known as Tommy, uses she/her pronouns at first and transitions to he/him pronouns.) Bug’s first-person, present-tense narration gives readers a close look at his sense that things don’t quite fit, both in interactions with peers and on his own, and his gradual understanding of why that is: “I’ve never recognized myself before, but now I do.” SHOSHANA FLAX

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


by Andrea Wang; illus. by Jason Chin
Primary    Porter/Holiday    32 pp.    g
3/21    978-0-8234-4624-7    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-5054-1    $11.99

Transcending space and time, memories bring a Chinese American family together. A girl in cutoffs and a T-shirt is embarrassed when her parents stop the car to pick wild watercress growing by the side of the road; she doesn’t understand why her family has to be so different from everyone else. At dinner, she refuses to even taste the watercress. But when her mother shares the story of her family’s difficult past in China, the girl learns to view the food on her table with new appreciation and understanding. Together, the girl and her family make “a new memory of watercress,” ending the story on an optimistic note. Chin’s expressive watercolors create their own narratives to complement the different layers of Wang’s story. On one double-page spread, the illustration delivers devastating information only implied by the text. Another spread visually connects the family’s present and past: as readers’ eyes move from left to right across the gutter, they experience two completely different spaces and times — cornstalk morphs into bamboo, and the scene changes from Ohio to China, present to past. Chin’s smooth visual transition cleverly disturbs and dissolves the barrier created by the gutter and bridges the two worlds. Inspired by Wang’s own memories as the child of Chinese immigrants (as revealed in the closing author’s note), this quietly affecting book encourages honesty, communication, and sharing of family history. WEILEEN WANG

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


For more, click on the tag ALA LibLearnX 2022.

Horn Book
Horn Book

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.