A Country You Can Leave by Asale Angel-Ajani
This remarkable debut focuses on the turbulent and complicated relationship between a Black, biracial teen and her erratic, fierce Russian mother. Lara, 16, and her mother Yevgenia are homeless yet again. They move into the Oasis Mobile Estates trailer park in the middle of the California desert, the only place they can afford. Lara longs to fit in and find friends and is fed up with her mother’s unwillingness to see how she experiences racism, while Yevgenia wants her daughter to be as wild and as Russian as she is. Yevgenia works as a bartender and drinks constantly, enjoys casual sex, and thinks her daughter should only be reading Russian literature. Everything changes after one night’s trauma. It’s a quiet and gripping coming-of-age novel. —Margaret Kingsbury
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Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth
In this fascinating novella-length dystopian retelling of the Greek tragedy Antigone, Earth has been ravaged by climate disaster and war. Only one human city remains, and humanity is slowly becoming endangered. The Archive preserves people’s “souls” — or DNA — after death, and potential parents visit the Archive to choose the perfect DNA combo for them. Editing DNA helps eliminate a life-threatening virus, yet still half of all women die during childbirth. Antigone and her siblings, Pol, Ismene, and Eteocles, are natural-born children, an abomination in this society. Her parents once sat on the city’s throne, but Kreon had them murdered, and now Kreon constantly monitors Antigone and her siblings’ doings. The novella switches between four characters' points of view. It’s an inventive, fast read, and the audiobook, narrated by Dion Graham and January LaVoy, is excellent. —M.K.
Empty Theatre, or the Lives of King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Sisi of Austria (Queen of Hungary), Cousins, in Their Pursuit of Connection and Beauty… by Jac Jemc
Historical fiction has never been more entertaining and playfully unhinged than in the hands of Jan Jemc, and I loved every second of my time spent in the world they crafted. A novel that’s based on the lives of King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Sisi of Austria, cousins who refused to play by the traditional rules laid out for them by their respective monarchies, Empty Theatre is hard to summarize succinctly because to do so would diminish the magic inherent in the experience of reading this book for the first time. Surreal, witty, tongue-in-cheek, and distinctly singular, just like the subjects whose life it covers, this is not your mother’s historical fiction. Buckle up for a wild ride, and enjoy every second of it. —David Vogel
Sister, Maiden, Monster by Lucy A. Snyder
I finished listening to this queer, body horror postapocalyptic novel on audio yesterday, and wow, is it one wild ride! A new pandemic-level virus has popped up, and three women’s lives become irrevocably altered when they contract the virus. Erin works in technology support and has just agreed to marry her long-term boyfriend when she starts vomiting blood. Several weeks later, she wakes up in a hospital with an unsettling appetite for brains. Savannah, a sex worker, becomes infected by a client but shows no outward symptoms. Instead, she hears voices telling her she needs to protect "the mother." Mareva works with Erin and longed to be her friend before Erin became infected. Since childhood, Mareva has been plagued by chronic tumors, and she’s horrified by her important role in the coming apocalypse. This is such a weird but delightful read; a must for feminist horror fans. —M.K.
I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
Film professor and podcaster Bodie Kane gets asked to come back to her alma mater, the Granby School, to teach a course. The only problem? Kane’s memories of the school are more complicated than nostalgic. Her roommate, Thalia, was murdered in the spring of their senior year, and the school athletic director was convicted of the crime, though residual doubts lingered as to who the actual killer was. When Bodie agrees to go back to Granby to teach, the past comes rushing back to her in ways she never expected, and she finds herself reinvestigating what really happened that spring. Taut and finely detailed, with a cast of unforgettable characters, Makkai’s latest book is both an engrossing thriller and a timely social commentary. —D.V.
The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz
Writers know that getting words on the page at a retreat can be stressful, but the atmosphere should never get dangerous! Determined to be published, Alex attends an exclusive retreat at world-famous author Roza Vallo's isolated and possibly haunted winter manse. It's uncomfortable enough with her frenemy there, but things get terrifying once a guest disappears, and Alex stops being able to tell the difference between nightmares and reality. —shireenwrites
For Her Consideration by Amy Spalding
Screenwriter Nina Rice retreated to a condo in the suburbs after a devastating breakup three years ago, remotely working her talent agency job and managing celeb email accounts from home. But a young out and proud actress named Ari Fox has a few ideas for how her account should be managed, so she gets to know Nina better. But is it possible that Ari is also flirting with her? When Ari eventually encourages Nina to start writing again, Nina begins to consider that reflecting on her past and future might not be as scary as she thought. —Farrah Penn
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Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim by Patricia Park
Biracial Korean Argentine teen Alejandra Kim goes to an elite private high school on a scholarship during the day, and after school, she works in a laundromat. She doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere — not in school where she experiences constant racist microaggressions from the primarily white student body and teachers, nor in her diverse Queens neighborhood where she doesn’t feel Latina or Korean enough. The only people she feels like she can be herself around are her jazz-playing Papi and her neighbor Billy. Billy has moved in with his grandmother far away when the worst thing imaginable happens: Alejandra’s Papi dies in what Mami calls a horrible accident falling on the subway tracks. Alejandra suspects it was no accident. In the midst of grieving, she becomes the center of attention at school after a teacher’s blatant racism. This is a powerful debut YA novel. —M.K.
Where Darkness Blooms by Andrea Hannah
In the town of Bishop, Delilah is one of four girls whose mothers disappeared on the same night, but that’s not out of the ordinary for a town known for windstorms, sunflowers, and missing women. For twins Whitney and Jude, the loss of their mother is entwined with Whitney’s grief over losing her girlfriend and Jude’s closely held secret affair with Delilah’s boyfriend. Bo wants answers more than anything else, and she will do whatever it takes to find them. But Bishop won’t let go of its secrets that easily. —Rachel Strolle
A Stone Is Most Precious Where It Belongs by Gulchehra Hoja
In this devastating, lovely memoir, Uyghur American journalist Gulchehra Hoja describes life under Chinese rule in East Turkestan, recounting the steps toward the active genocide currently occurring against the Uyghurs. During her idyllic childhood, Hoja learned the cultural traditions of her people and excelled in dance and storytelling. Her family and community were very tightly knit. She later became an actor and journalist. As the Chinese government began to tighten its grip on the Uyghurs, she started investigating, reporting, and spreading awareness about the Chinese government’s crimes against her people. In response, 2 of her family members disappeared. This gripping memoir is an essential read to learn more about the Uyghurs and the genocide currently underway. —M.K.
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