28 New Books To Add To Your Summer Reading List ASAP
A witch trial novel from Rivka Galchen, an innovative memoir from Akwaeke Emezi, an espionage thriller from Kathy Wang, and more — each one perfect for the beach.
In the world of Alex McElroy’s dazzling debut novel, the men are really not OK. They’ve started to gather in small spontaneous “hordes,” committing random acts of kindness or violence and then disbanding without any memory of the event. Sasha Marcus, founder of a beloved women's wellness brand, is being targeted by a different type of dangerous man: After one of her trolls livestreams his suicide and blames her for it, she becomes the subject of op-eds and death threats, while crowds of angry men station themselves outside of her apartment. She’s lost her job, friends, followers, and all hope, until her eccentric childhood friend Dyson shows up with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: Together, they're going to start a cult to rehabilitate bad men. It's a virtuosic send-up of a society run ragged by disingenuous influencers, toxic masculinity, commodified self-care, weaponized positivity, and performative "wokeness” — and the alienation that comes from desperately trying to fit in. —Arianna Rebolini
Ethel Rohan’s latest short story collection is a rumination on human contact, both physical and emotional. She describes a young girl, one of triplets, who can’t be touched; a woman haunted by her childhood best friend who went missing; a misanthropic crossing guard who finds unexpected kindness after being hit by a truck. These are characters who are desperate to feel, and Rohan’s keen sensitivity to the many textures of longing and loss bring their exquisite stories to life. —A.R.
Poet Sam Riviere's formally inventive debut novel imagines a London built on a booming poetry economy, so serious that the city has created an apparatus for checking literary submissions for plagiarism. The story takes place on one night: An unnamed narrator ends up at a bar with a renowned poet recently accused of plagiarism, and that poet tells him his entire story, which turns out to be a lot more complicated than a single literary scandal. It's a timely and provocative (if a bit inside baseball) take on the very nature of poetry and what happens when it's reduced to commodity. —A.R.
I loved Kathy Wang’s 2019 debut, Family Trust, about a dying patriarch being coy with his wealth. (It was the inaugural BuzzFeed Book Club pick.) Her excellent sophomore release, Impostor Syndrome, is a far cry from a domestic drama: It’s an intricate and suspenseful piece of corporate espionage, following Julia Lerner, a Russian spy playing the long game as a COO in Silicon Valley, and Alice Lu, the employee whose accidental discovery might threaten everything. Amid the excitement, Wang deftly explores some of the broader cultural issues she broached in Family Trust as well — how women and BIPOC are treated in corporate America, and who has access to the American dream. —A.R.
In one of the most anticipated titles of the summer, Ford, a former BuzzFeed staffer, writes movingly about her childhood growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as the oldest daughter of a single mother and incarcerated father. The news that her father is getting out of prison after 25 years is the starting point of this memoir, but it’s really Ford’s alternating loving and contentious relationships with her mother and grandmother that form the beating heart of this book. Ford has had the kind of life that could easily be turned into the kind of self-exploitative Black trauma memoir that has become de rigueur. But there’s a clear sense of self-preservation Ford wields even as she writes about her experiences with sexual assault, physical violence, and poverty. The result is a book that’s full of inspiring self-compassion. —Tomi Obaro
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith (Little, Brown and Company; June 1)
Poet and journalist Clint Smith’s debut examines the legacy of slavery in modern America, looking at historical monuments and landmarks across the country, ruminating on the ideas they represent in the narrative of our national identity and how that identity is bound to, and requires, anti-Black racism. Smith tours former plantations, prisons, cemeteries, and museums, and challenges the ways we engage with them — from willful ignorance (weddings at plantations) to commodification (souvenirs from the Angola prison museum) — bringing the past into light with lyrical mastery. —A.R.
The stories in this vivid debut collection cover an admirably wide range. There’s dark comedy in the form of the wickedly clever “It Takes a Village Some Say,” about a young American couple and their enterprising adopted Cameroonian daughter. There’s dystopian horror in “It Just Kills You Inside,” about a grizzled PR flack who tries to cover the French government’s complicity in the creation of zombies in Cameroon, and haunting beauty in “Night Belongs to Us,” about a refugee who is a bathroom attendant at a trashy New York club. What unites all these stories is the strength of Nkweti’s writing; it crackles with energy and verve. —T.O.
The Kissing Bug: The True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease by Daisy Hernández (Tin House; June 1)
Former New York Times reporter Daisy Hernández has crafted a trenchant work of investigative journalism in her latest book, weaving in cultural and political analysis, extensive research, and personal history as she chases down answers about her aunt’s tragic death from an underreported disease known as Chagas, or “the kissing bug disease.” Despite an estimated 6 million cases across Latin America and the US, Chagas remains largely (and, as Hernández discovers, willfully) neglected in the US because of who it disproportionately affects: immigrant Latinx communities with low incomes. As Hernández exposes the racism and greed underlying the politics that has allowed this potentially fatal disease to propagate, she also puts the spotlight on those whose lives have been changed by the disease — the scientists looking for cures, the doctors and nurses working on care, and the patients and loved ones who’ve lived through the worst of it. —A.R.
Intimidatingly prolific, Akwaeke Emezi, who has published four books in four years, starting with their stunningly original debut novel Freshwater, turns to nonfiction with this “black spirit” memoir, which takes the form of letters addressed to various friends, exes, acquaintances, family, and Toni Morrison. In Freshwater, a young woman named Ada, born of a Tamil mother and Igbo father, realizes she is an ogbanje, a spirit in Igbo ontology, who inhabits a human body. Freshwater is fiction, but in Dear Senthuran, we learn that the experiences of Ada are essentially Emezi’s own. Dear Senthuran, then, is in many ways a sequel. With each letter, Emezi touches on various themes: their dogged belief in their divinity (Emezi dismissively mentions the critics who called Freshwater a metaphor for mental illness); the jarring depressive effects of Freshwater’s rapturous reception, which sparked a suicide attempt; their literary ambitions; their relationship to gender and their body; their loneliness; their desire for an abiding romantic love. The writing is gorgeous and evocative, but it’s their unwavering self-belief that really inspires. Are they a god? Emezi tells us our opinions on that subject don’t matter. One thing is certain though: Their talent is clearly divine. —T.O.
Every year I find at least one book I love so much that my very vocal appreciation of it becomes part of my (annoying) personality. Last year it was This Is Chance! by Jon Mooallem. This year it’s Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch. The maddeningly brilliant Rivka Galchen returns with a painstakingly researched fictionalization of the witch trial against 17th-century German astronomer Johannes Kepler’s mother, Katharina. Galchen strikes the perfect balance between historical accuracy and modern humor to render Katharina vividly — a strong-willed, big-hearted healer and mother whose punchiness becomes her liability when she’s accused of poisoning a neighbor and finds most of the town quick to condemn her. Katharina’s story is told as related to her neighbor turned legal guardian, Simon, whose own account is woven throughout; Galchen also includes court transcripts and letters written from Johannes to the governor — some word-for-word translations of original documents. It’s at once an illuminating account of history and a timely, provocative study of weaponized morality, group hysteria, and the villainization of powerful women. —A.R.
The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood by Krys Malcolm Belc (Counterpoint Press; June 15)
In this poignant memoir-in-essays, nonbinary, transmasculine author Krys Malcolm Belc considers the ways parenthood honed his understanding of his gender, diving into the experience of pregnancy and birth — and the attendant expectations — from the perspective of someone who isn’t a woman, and who doesn’t feel at home within the category of “mother.” Reminiscent of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, Belc’s memoir is both personal and philosophical, resisting mainstream notions of gender and family while exploring the interplay between the body and the self. —A.R.
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize and in the works to become a film, Brandon Taylor’s debut novel, Real Life, was a literary hit. His latest is a probing short story collection that grapples with societal expectations and transgressions, following young Midwesterners who live and feel outside the norm. There’s the Black, queer grad student on leave following a suicide attempt; the open couple figuring out their new sexual relationship with a third (who happens to be that same grad student); the babysitter on the verge of emotional collapse. These characters appear throughout the collection, linking the stories to build a cohesive world and emphasizing how little we actually know of the interior lives of others. It’s a luminous exploration of identity, mental health, and sexuality. —A.R.
When Catherine Raven left her abusive family at 15 years old, she quickly found solace in nature, first working as a park ranger, then getting her PhD in biology, and eventually building a small cottage in the remote woods of Montana where she settled into a mostly solitary life, with breaks to lead field classes and lectures. Then, one day, a fox showed up, and kept coming back. In this quiet, charming memoir, Raven recounts her journey to accepting this unusual companion, loath as she is to anthropomorphize him. And as she embraces the vulnerability of loving an animal she objectively knows can’t love her back, she warms up to the idea of letting other people in, too. Throughout, Raven writes about her environment with wonder and reverence but never formality — it’s the easy affection of someone who’s long made family of the natural world. —A.R.
Dana Spiotta’s latest novel opens on a familiar scene: A middle-aged woman wakes up one morning, scrolls through real estate listings, and decides to check out a particularly appealing open house. She falls in love with the beautiful, rundown home and impulsively buys it, leaving her husband and daughter behind. Her life changes completely, but she’s liberated by her ability to upend it. This is a story about female desire and fulfillment, a woman realizing she’s fallen into roles she resents (“bored housewife,” “stay-at-home mom” — the latter, she notes, makes it sound like she’s under house arrest) and giving in to the impulse to abandon them. Spiotta glides through her journey with sparkling prose, delving into the contradictions and complexities of being an aging woman — and raising a daughter who will one day do the same — in today’s America. —A.R.
Highly acclaimed Brazilian author Luiz Ruffato’s latest is a brooding, poetic portrait of a man undone by grief. After 20 years away, Oséias returns to his hometown with low expectations — recently divorced and unemployed, this is mostly an act of desperation. He rediscovers the city and people he used to know so well, confronting his former self and reconnecting with similarly disillusioned siblings, and childhood friends who’ve taken unexpected paths. All the while he’s haunted by the guilt he carries from his sister’s suicide and his own failures. It’s a mournful story, written in a dreamy rush of consciousness and dialogue uninterrupted by paragraph breaks, but Ruffato’s emotional clarity allows a layered ambivalence. Oséias’s fate is tragic but also illuminating, and, perhaps, invigorating: Underneath, for the reader, is the push to live better. —A.R.
In her latest graphic nonfiction, Kristen Radtke hones in on the loneliness she so keenly described in her 2017 memoir, Imagine Wanting Only This, as she traveled through abandoned cities. Here, she chronicles Americans’ attempts to reach each other through technology, art, media, and politics. Radtke pulls out moments from recent history that reveal a deeply felt need for connection, specifically those broadly judged or mocked — a woman live-tweeting her husband’s death; Instagrammers rushing to get photos at a cliff where another woman died taking a selfie — and connects them to her lived experience, exploring the possibility of deeper meaning with humility, grace, and remarkable insight into the human condition. It’s a bittersweet and especially moving journey following more than a year of unprecedented (sorry) alienation and despair. —A.R.
Andrea Bartz, author of The Lost Night and The Herd, has proven herself a master of the timely literary thriller. We Were Never Here — her third release in as many years — is, as expected, absolutely gripping. The slow burn page-turner follows Emily Donovan on a much-anticipated backpacking trip with her best friend, Kristen — but things go very wrong when Kristen kills a man, claiming self-defense. This would be unsettling enough; what amplifies the tension is the fact that it's not the first time Kristen has murdered on one of their trips. Readers will be on the edge of their seats as Emily, trying to return to her regular life, is increasingly haunted by the pesky suspicion that Kristen's story isn't quite right. —A.R.
The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer by Dean Jobb (Algonquin; July 13)
True crime fans will want to pick up Dean Jobb’s engrossing account of Thomas Neill Cream, the 19th-century doctor who traveled from Canada to the US to Britain on a killing spree that spanned decades. Using his medical expertise, Cream began poisoning his victims as soon as he learned how, murdering women and leaving town whenever suspicions arose, until he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for poisoning his alleged lover’s husband. He picked up where he left off when he got out. Jobb builds Cream’s world in vivid, transportative detail; I had a lot of fun being swept away. —A.R.
Pik-Shuen Fung’s debut novel is slim but powerful. In scattered fragments and vignettes, our unnamed narrator paints a slow, tender portrait of her father, whose recent death she’s still processing. Her family left Hong Kong for Vancouver when she was just 3, but her father stayed behind for fear of not being able to find work, and their relationship grew strained over the course of their few visits each year. Now she’s left trying to understand and make peace with a ghost. She turns to her mother and grandmother to fill the gaps, weaving their memories with hers in this elegiac account of familial love. —A.R.
In this quietly intense fourth novel from Kitamura, an interpreter working for the Hague in a contract position is called to interpret for a West African dictator on trial for his crimes. As she grapples with the strange complicity she feels in working for him; she’s also distracted by her absent love interest Adriaan, in Lisbon to ask for a divorce from his wife, and by a disturbing robbery outside her friend Jana’s house, in a more run down part of town. The attraction in this novel is the narrator’s assured, graceful voice and the subtle epiphanies she uncovers about our queasy, enigmatic relationships to one another. This is a good slow burn. —T.O.
Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine by Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley (MCDxFSG; July 20)
Maybe reading a book about quarantine sounds like the last thing you want to do this summer, and, OK, I get that. But indulge me in a counterargument. Manaugh’s and Twilley’s extensive history of a concept we might otherwise take for granted is actually the perfect postpandemic read — an imaginative, layperson-friendly way to make sense of and contextualize what we just lived through. Looking at everything from the 14th century’s Black Death to the present day to possible futures, the authors expertly analyze the ways in which humanity has adapted to harm and attempted (and often failed) to survive. It’s a fascinating read. —A.R.
Jeanne Thornton’s epistolary novel centers on Gala, a thirtysomething transgender woman who lives and works at a New Mexico hostel and spends her days writing letters to B---, the former lead singer of legendary ‘60s beach band the Get Happies. Gala is obsessed with the Get Happies, and has dedicated her life to finding out why they stopped making music and how she can get them to reunite. She’s writing these letters as part of a ritual — Gala is spiritual, chaotic, and impossibly endearing — and she needs to believe not only in the possibility of more music, but also in the magic she’s drawing upon to make it happen. But as much as the letters are about the Get Happies, they are also, despite her insistence otherwise, about Gala herself. With intimacy and yearning, Thornton captures the intensity of fandom and self-discovery, of our relationships with art and each other, and the transcendent joy of truly being seen. —A.R.
Stockton, California, is home to the country’s largest community of Cambodian Americans. Anthony Veasna So, a promising writer who died tragically last December at only 28, grew up there. His debut collection of short stories focuses mainly on this community, the first- and second-generation Cambos, as characters dub themselves, whose parents were refugees from the Khmer Rouge genocide. Though the shadow of this trauma colors many of the stories in this collection, the stories never feel like trauma porn; they’re gloriously alive, full of humor, intelligence and quiet heartbreak. Two young girls wonder about the middle-aged man who keeps showing up at Chuck’s Donuts, the donut shop their mother owns (“...though she isn’t named Chuck … she simply thought the name was American enough to draw customers”) in “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts.” A raucous afterparty becomes the scene of fast-flying recriminations among cousins in “We Would’ve Have Been Princes.” And gentrifying San Francisco takes a drubbing in “Human Development.” The force of So’s talent is the clear throughline throughout this book — that we won’t be able to read more of him is gutting. —T.O.
David Hoon Kim’s hypnotic, inventive debut centers on Henrik Blatand, a Japanese adoptee from Denmark working as a translator in Paris while trying to make sense of the suicide of his girlfriend, Fumiko. Built on Kim’s phenomenal short story Sweetheart Sorrow, the novel experiments with form and perspective: We’re never quite sure of Henrik’s reality as he searches for clues throughout the city, spotting Fumiko in strangers, looking for meaning in coincidences, going to disturbing lengths to remain close to her. Eventually his journey propels him into broader discoveries as he encounters eccentric Parisians and expats, and starts to contemplate his own history. It’s a brilliant and absurd meditation on what it means to be haunted, and I couldn’t put it down. —A.R.
YZ Chin (author of the superb 2018 short story collection Though I Get Home) captivates in her debut novel, which follows twentysomething Edwina in the aftermath of her husband, Marlin, suddenly leaving her. Marlin’s abandonment follows months of odd behavior. After traveling from New York to Malaysia, their home country, for his father’s funeral, Marlin becomes distant and argumentative. He’s losing patience with the drawn-out process of securing green cards, becoming preoccupied with spiritualism, convinced Edwina cheated on him in a past life. When he disappears, Edwina sets off to find him and bring him back, not just to her, but to himself, too. As the journey becomes increasingly hopeless, Edwina’s own identity starts to crack. She indulges her own anger — at her condescending coworkers (all men) and the tech startup employers who urge her to brush off their microaggressions, at her judgmental mother, at this country that promised so much more, at the best friend who can’t possibly understand, at Marlin — and finds the result both scary and liberating. Chin tells her story with dark humor, heart, and unflinching honesty (and, full disclosure, one surprisingly nauseating scene) while exploring themes of intimacy, family, race, and identity. —A.R.
This Moroccan-French author became internationally famous for The Perfect Nanny, a compelling story about a Parisian nanny who murders her client’s two children, and a withering critique of the impossible choices in modern motherhood. Her third novel turns to the past. Inspired by her own family history, In the Country of Others, the first in a planned trilogy, centers on an interracial couple living in post–World War II Morocco. Malthilde is a headstrong Alsatian woman who falls in love with Amine, a similarly stubborn Moroccan soldier who fought on behalf of the French in World War II. Now they live on a blighted farm with their two children as tensions between French colonists and Arabs fighting for independence for their country escalate. Slimani is a doggedly unsentimental writer; the romance between Mathilde and Amine is a complicated, and often violent one; her characters, particularly the women, grapple with the reality of their limited choices. But even with its brutality, I felt compelled to keep reading and eagerly await the next book. —T.O.
Whiting Award–winning author Louis Edwards returns with his first book in nearly 20 years, and it’s a stunner. The larger-than-life story, written with a distance and formality that nods at mythology, follows Ramadan Ramsey, a young man in New Orleans bound for greatness. His destiny is born of his parents’ doomed teenage romance: Alicia, a Black New Orleans native, and Mustafa, a Syrian immigrant working at his uncle’s convenience store, fall for each other almost immediately, but Mustafa (whose uncle explicitly warned him to stay away from American women) returns to Syria before he finds out Alicia is pregnant. Edwards lets us know from the start that Ramadan is blessed but with blessing comes tragedy, and Ramadan sees plenty of it when Hurricane Katrina hits and destroys his world as he knows it. And at his 12th birthday, his mission becomes clear: It’s time to find his father. What follows is a magnificent, transformative epic about love and courage that will stick with you for a long time. —A.R.
So much of poet, podcast host, and former BuzzFeed News staff writer Nichole Perkins’ essay collection is a celebration: of pop culture, female lust, herself. Perkins uses her multimedia obsessions (fanfiction, ’90s sitcoms, early internet chat rooms, Prince) as stepping-off points in her journey of self-discovery, exploring the intersections of these interests with her romantic relationships, her experience with mental illness, and her perspective as a Black woman from the South. It’s a candid, affecting, and joyful read. —A.R.