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The Irish Times books of the year: Best young-adult fiction of 2022

From a skillful condemnation of an unjust system to a strange and eerie fantasy, Claire Hennessy selects her favourite young-adult titles

Books of the year 2022 - young adult: Things I Know, I must Betray You, Rapunzella and Run for Your Life

Jane Mitchell’s Run For Your Life stands out from this year. It is a well researched and hugely empathetic novel about a teenage girl living within the direct provision system. Deft and lyrical, it is a shocking condemnation of an unjust system wrapped in an utterly compelling story.

The long traumatic shadow of violence is also explored in Sue Divin’s superb Truth Be Told, a nuanced account of two teenage girls in Northern Ireland who meet at a “cross-community peace-building” event and discover they are half-sisters. The outcome here is a little messier than The Parent Trap, with many more family secrets to be uncovered.

Things I Know by Helena Close is a delightfully scathing look at the platitudes around mental health in a world where so many young people are still “having tiny breakdowns all the time”. The sharp wit of protagonist Saoirse and the pitch-perfect dialogue make this book a pleasure to read.

Ruta Sepetys is known for shining light on the less explored corners of history for young readers, and her latest, I Must Betray You, is an immersive and terrifying tale of a 17-year-old boy blackmailed into becoming a government informer in communist-controlled Romania. This has the propulsive energy of a dystopian thriller, with a bittersweet final note.


A shimmering debut, Ella McLeod’s Rapunzella is a poetic and inventive retelling of Rapunzel, moving between a real-world hair salon and a fantastical land, that also draws on the history of how black hair has been coded and policed. It’s smart, layered and beautifully written.

When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill brilliantly reimagines American history, adding dragons into the mix of things the House Committee on Un-American Activities need to worry about. Sometimes women turn into dragons; aspiring scientist Alex yearns to find out more amid a culture of secrecy and shame.

The dizzying rush of falling under a new friend’s spell is vividly evoked in Meg Rosoff’s exquisite Friends Like These, in which suburban Beth is charmed and then – inevitably – betrayed by glamorous, dramatic Edie after they meet at a summer internship in 1980s New York.

A new Frances Hardinge novel is always an event: Unraveller, her latest strange and eerie fantasy, pulls us into a world of magic and cruelty, in which two teenagers attempt to unravel several horrific curses. Part meditation on pain and punishment, part sprawling adventure, this book is both weird and wonderful.

This article is part of our guide to the Irish Times books of the year. Follow one of these links to read Malachy Clerkin on sports books / Tony Clayton-Lea on music books / Rory Kiberd on nonfiction books / Adrian Duncan on art books / Seán Hewitt and Martina Evans on poetry /Niamh Donnelly on fiction / Jane Casey on crime fiction / Sara Keating on children’s books / Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín, Fintan O’Toole and more on their books of the year

Claire Hennessy

Claire Hennessy

Claire Hennessy, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in reviewing young-adult literature