18 Great Books You Can Read In Paperback This Month

Get beach-ready copies of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, Luster, Mexican Gothic, and more.

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey (Ecco; June 1)

When this future Pulitzer Prize–winning poet was just 19 years old, her mother was shot and killed by Trethewey’s former stepfather. Memorial Drive is Trethewey’s first wrenching prose account of that loss. In the beginning of the book, she recounts happier days when Natasha’s father, a white Canadian academic, and her mother were still together — her parents married a year before Loving v. Virginia struck down anti-miscegenation laws. But everything changes when Natasha moves with her mother to Atlanta and a man Trethewey refers to as Big Joe enters their lives. Relying on memory, case documents, and transcripts of recorded phone conversations between her mother and Big Joe, Trethewey offers a gutting depiction of domestic violence. This book is not an easy read, but it is an illuminating one. —Tomi Obaro (from Best Books of Summer 2020)

Read our profile of Natasha Tretheway here.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Penguin Books; June 1)

Vuong is already one of the most celebrated poets of his generation, and his debut novel cements his considerable talent. Formatted as a letter addressed to his illiterate mother, Vuong’s narrator, a queer Vietnamese American writer not unlike Vuong himself, crafts indelible images — a young mother staring down the muzzle of a gun in Vietnam, an unexpected act of kindness in a schoolyard, purple flowers stolen from the side of a highway. An exploration of generational trauma, of violence, of addiction, of poverty, and of beauty too, every word in this book feels written with such care. A truly memorable fiction debut. —Tomi Obaro (from Best Books of 2019)

Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; June 1)

Filled with sharp, funny dialogue, impeccable pacing, and exquisite enemies-to-lovers romance, you'll be hard pressed to find a cuter story than Today Tonight Tomorrow. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair are high school rivals. On the last day of senior year, Rowan is determined to beat Neil one last time at a game of Howl: a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle. But when their class begins teaming up to take them down, they must work together to win. And the more time they spend together, the more they realize that the other isn't as bad as they once thought. —Farrah Penn (from The Best YA Books of 2020)

Magnetized: Conversations With a Serial Killer by Carlos Busqued, translated by Samuel Rutter (Catapult; June 1)

Over the course of one week in September 1982 in Buenos Aires, the bodies of four taxi drivers were discovered murdered in the same way. It didn’t take long to find the killer, who didn’t protest when his horrified family turned him in; 19-year-old Ricardo Melogno spoke of his crimes with an unsettling calm. More than 30 years later, Argentine writer Carlos Busqued started visiting Melogno in prison to talk about his history, his way of thinking, and this series of crimes Melogno swore he couldn’t explain. Magnetized comprises those conversations, which are revealed in straightforward transcription and interspersed with forensic documents, newspaper articles, and Busqued’s own analysis. It’s a chilling but fascinating portrait and a must-read for true crime fans. —Arianna Rebolini (from Best Books of Summer 2020)

Parakeet by Marie-Helene Bertino (Picador; June 1)

Parakeet is a fever dream of a novel that you'll find yourself attempting to understand and longing to return to weeks after you've finished it. The book begins with a young woman on the brink of marriage visited by her long-dead grandmother in the form of an admonishing parakeet. Believe it or not, anthropomorphic birds are not the strangest thing to happen in this book, but with each outlandish development, the story imparts lessons on aging, loss, acceptance, and love. Marie-Helene Bertino is a rare writer — one whose wit and eloquence are obviously innate but who will quietly knock you out with the alarming importance of what she has to say. —Caroline McGregor, seller at Books & Books (from 38 Great Books to Read, Recommended By Our Favorite Indie Booksellers)

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron; June 1)

Beauregard “Bug” Montage is a hardworking, honest family man and mechanic. But not that long ago, he was known as one of the best getaway drivers in the Southeast. Bug has tried to put all of that behind him, but when his new life starts to fall apart around him and his financial obligations start to mount, he can’t turn down a lucrative gig as a getaway driver in a major jewelry store heist. Then the robbery goes sideways — and Bug’s life and family are in danger. —Arianna Rebolini (from 14 Page-Turners That Will Keep You From Obsessively Checking The News)

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House; June 1)

I'M OBSESSED. Sittenfeld has created a nuanced character portrait and an explosive page-turner speculating what would have happened if Hillary and Bill Clinton had broken up and not gotten married. This ultimate what-if leads the novelized Hillary down some very surprising paths that you will want to travel with her. — Consuelo Hacker, seller at BookPeople (from 38 Great Books to Read, Recommended By Our Favorite Indie Booksellers)

Luster by Raven Leilani (Picador; June 8)

No book I read in 2020 made me laugh, cringe, and marvel in equal measure more than this debut by the extremely talented Raven Leilani. Edie, a Black millennial toiling at a dead-end publishing job with aspirations to paint professionally, finds herself in a complicated living arrangement with Eric, a married white man she’s dating; Rebecca, his grimly determined coroner wife; and their adopted Black daughter, Akila. It’s Leilani’s writing that’s the real treat here, though — her prose is exacting, hilarious, and heartbreaking all at once. I can’t recommend Luster enough. —Tomi Obaro (from Best Books of 2020)

Read "If You Like Normal People, You'll Love Luster."

I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick (Margaret K. McElderry Books; June 8)

YA thriller veteran Frick is back with her strongest yet, a Hamptons-set take on Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca that'll have your mind reeling with possibilities until the very end. Told in a mashup of alternating timelines and podcast extracts that call to mind Courtney Summers' Sadie meets Abigail Haas's I'll Never Tell, it follows Anna Cicconi's first summer in the Hamptons as a nanny — and how her sudden appearance unsettles an entire village of people who swear she looks like a local girl who disappeared months earlier. When Zoe's body is found, Anna is charged with manslaughter, and eerie visions make even her worry that she might have more to do with the girl's death than she remembers, especially as a podcast dedicated to the case continues to dredge up the past. The truth is out there, but will it be revealed in time for Anna's sentencing? —Dahlia Adler (from 17 YA Thrillers You Won't Want To Put Down)

Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie (Dutton Books; June 8)

In 1948 Japan, Nori is unwelcome just for who she is — the daughter of an elite Japanese woman and an African American soldier. Abandoned with her grandparents, Nori is hidden away and taught to be silent and obedient. When Nori's half-brother comes back to claim his estate, they surprisingly form a bond that their grandparents can't tolerate. But as Nori learns to finally fight for herself, she also learns that breaking free could cost her everything. —Kirby Beaton (from 19 Historical Fiction Books You Won’t Be Able To Put Down)

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey Books; June 15)

This twisty horror fantasy is engrossing and wonderfully repulsive. Noemí Taboada is a socialite who delights in parties, fancy dresses, seducing men, and anthropology. After receiving a garbled letter from her recently married cousin and dear friend Catalina, she travels to the distant village of High Place and the decaying mansion that is now Catalina’s home. There, she finds Catalina incoherent and lethargic while the family she’s married into exudes white-colonialist patriarchy — except for the youngest son, Francis, whose shy demeanor and pallid looks are the exact opposite of the men Noemí typically enjoys. But in this rank home with no friends, Francis becomes an anchor for Noemí. Meanwhile, the house itself seeps into her dreams and slowly comes alive around her. This is a must-read for fans of gothic writers like the Brontës, Daphne du Maurier, and Shirley Jackson, and also for those who enjoy the feminist, surreal fiction of Carmen Maria Machado. —Margaret Kingsbury (from 17 Summer Must-Reads For Fantasy Lovers)

The New Wilderness by Diane Cook (Harper Perennial; June 22)

Few books electrify me the way Cook’s surreal short story collection Man v. Nature did, but her debut novel — which continues her exploration of the interplay between nature and civilization — has done it again. (It was also a 2020 BuzzFeed Book Club pick.) In a too-familiar version of our world, Bea is desperate to leave the heavily polluted City, whose air is slowly killing her 5-year-old daughter, Agnes. When a study calls for volunteers to move to the last nature area on Earth, the Wilderness State, there’s no question — they’re ready to go. What begins as a group of 20 dwindles over the years (they’ve lost track of time) as the Community struggles to survive in an environment that doesn’t care if they live or die. The emotional core of the story is the relationship between Bea and Agnes, whose perspectives drive the narrative. It’s a damning piece of horror cli-fi, but it’s also a gripping and profound examination of love and sacrifice. —Arianna Rebolini (from Best Books of 2020)

Read an excerpt from The New Wilderness.

The Lightness by Emily Temple (William Morrow & Company; June 22)

After her father disappears, Olivia decides to enroll in the Levitation Center, one of her father’s old haunts and a Buddhist meditation spot said to be the only place in America where people can still levitate. At the center, which houses a group of mostly white teenage girls looking for Buddhist enlightenment, Olivia becomes friends with three other girls: Laurel, Janet, and the mysterious Serena, who is rumored to be able to “convince you of anything, anything at all, by looking directly into your eyes and telling you it was true.” Over the course of the summer, Olivia falls more and more deeply into Serena’s thrall as they go to increasingly violent lengths to achieve the power of levitation and grapple with their shared attraction to a gardener at the center named Luke. An elegantly written look at the cruel naivete of teenage girls. —Tomi Obaro (from Best Books of Summer 2020)

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Books; June 22)

Walking with her dog in the woods by her new lake house, elderly widow Vesta Gul finds a note that reads, “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.” — but there is no body. Vesta commits herself to not only solving this mystery but also understanding the woman at the center of it. —Arianna Rebolini (from The Most Anticipated Books Of 2020)

Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters (HarperTeen; June 22)

When Shady Grove’s father died in a car accident, he left her his fiddle — but this is no ordinary fiddle. When played with enough sorrow, it can call up ghosts. After Shady’s stepfather is murdered and her older brother Jesse is accused and arrested for the crime, Shady’s sorrow reaches a peak, and ghosts come to her when she plays the old folk songs her father taught her. She’s determined to prove her brother’s innocence and believes answers might lie with the dead. But every time she calls up ghosts with her fiddle, a dark, shadowy man appears and sometimes even controls her movements. Her friends try to help her find other ways to help her brother, but the allure of the fiddle is too strong. Meanwhile, she’s torn between her longtime crush for her fellow bandmate Sarah and her new crush for cowboy Cedar, who plays the bluegrass folk songs Shady adores. In this YA debut, Waters perfectly captures small-town Southern life, and her prose sings as much as Shady’s fiddle does. It’s a lovely and eerie Southern gothic. Content warning for child abuse. —Margaret Kingsbury (from 17 Summer Must-Reads For Fantasy Lovers)

A Burning by Megha Majumdar (Vintage; June 29)

The lives of Jivan, a Muslim girl who has been accused of a terrorist attack, PT Sir, a cunning gym teacher, and Lovely, an outcast who has a lifesaving alibi for Jivan, fatefully converge in this debut literary thriller from a fiction editor at Catapult. —Tomi Obaro (from The Most Anticipated Books Of 2020)

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (Gallery / Saga Press; June 29)

Rebecca Roanhorse sets Black Sun — the first book in a new trilogy — in a fantasy world inspired by the pre-Columbian Americas. Blinded as a child by his mother, Serapio is destined to become the reborn Crow God and wreak vengeance on the Sun Priest and their followers, who have violently suppressed the holy city of Tova’s indigenous religious traditions. Naranpa recently became Sun Priest, and she’s unprepared for the order’s political machinations and backstabbing. Xiala, a captain charged with carrying Serapio to Tova, can calm the waters with her voice, an inheritance from her magical, ocean-dwelling Teek heritage, but her sailors fear her. This violent and epic clash between colonizers and indigenous peoples pushes against Euro-centric fantasy. It’s also a thrilling and intriguing read. —Margaret Kingsbury (from 18 Excellent Fantasy Books Coming Out This Fall)

They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman (Razorbill; June 29)

There's just something so delightfully creeptastic about ritzy prep schools as a backdrop for murder, and that's exactly what you get with Goodman's debut. It's about a girl named Jill who's inducted into her school's elite secret society as a senior, only to find herself closer than ever to uncovering the truth behind her best friend's death back when they were freshmen. Of course, everyone already thought they knew the truth, since Shayla's boyfriend confessed. But when Jill receives texts telling her to dig deeper, she can't ignore them — especially if it's true that the killer's still out there. —Dahlia Adler (from 17 YA Thrillers You Won't Want To Put Down)

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