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This debut collection of interconnected short stories charts the effects of downward mobility on a Jamaican immigrant family living in Miami. Told mostly from the point of view of the youngest son, Trelawny, the book details the steady degradation encroaching poverty brings upon Trelawny, his father, and his older — and, in Trelawny’s eyes, more favored — brother, Delano. The depictions of poverty’s humiliations are all kinds of bleak: from living in cars to stealing trucks to racist sexual encounters in exchange for money. And yet Escoffery also has a withering sense of humor that leavens some of the stories’ relentlessness. His observations about being racially ambiguous and the confusion of being a light-skinned Jamaican, with all the attendant colorism that accompanies them, feel particularly astute.
I laughed and I cringed when reading this memorable debut by an author set to have a huge literary career. —Tomi Obaro
A devastating book that is seemingly about nothing and everything at the same time. Sadie and Sam were inseparable as kids until a fight estranged them. Now, as adults, they’ve reconnected and decided to create a video game together, along with Sam’s friend, Mark. The story follows this trio for decades, watching them grow — both themselves and their video game company. They fall in love, fight, and experience immense loss, but the tender tether between the three friends jumps from the page like a livewire. Zevin has crafted a masterpiece that feels so emotionally raw, I had to keep reminding myself it wasn’t a true story. This is one that will burrow into your heart and stay with you for a long time. —Kirby Beaton
Li’s latest book begins with narrator Agnes's discovery that her childhood best friend Fabienne has died. This revelation liberates Agnes to tell the truth about their youth, including her intensely intimate relationship with Fabienne and her rise to stardom as a child prodigy. What begins as a coming-of-age story told in flashbacks turns into a fable about the nature of intimacy and making art. The Book of Goose had me underlining and highlighting passages on almost every page so I could go back and savor the transfixing quality of Li’s writing. She has a way of using language that is intensely evocative while also being economical. Each chapter cuts like a knife, telling a story that is singular in its insight. —David Vogel
In this National Book Award nominee, we meet Sneha, an ambitious queer college grad eager to create a stable life for herself in Milwaukee. She lands a decently paid job — enough to establish some savings and even help out her parents back in India — but as she establishes connections with a web of new friends and lovers, Sneha somehow feels more isolated and lonely than ever. In stunning prose, Mathews unpacks the impossible mental task, especially for folks with many intersecting identities, of distilling a lifetime of experiences and traumas into one concrete personality, all while trying not to be crushed under the psychological weight of capitalism. The cast of side characters, just as loving and charismatic as they are selfish and stunted, are so richly developed you can’t help but recognize them. A deceptively readable (and often hilarious) tale full of sharp meditations on what it means to be a young adult in the modern world. —Will Hunt
This all too unique coming-of-age debut novel follows a young boy named Owen Tanner, whose mother tells him he must keep the bird (named Gail) that lives inside his chest a secret. Lund’s beautiful story can be read as an allegory for being transgender, as we see Owen grapple with how homing a bird in his chest makes him different from others. I immensely enjoyed the side characters — Owen’s cousin Tennessee, who discovers her own queerness, and Owen’s mother, who desperately wants to protect her son at all costs — as well as the lyrical and thoughtful writing that pulled me right into their world. —Farrah Penn
Two young Egyptians, an American transplant with a shaved head, and a photographer with a drug addiction meet in Cairo in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution and quickly fall in love. But they are very different. The transplant is wealthy, hailing from New York, and is “Egyptian enough to wax her arms but American enough to shave her head,” while the photographer comes from a village called Shobrakheit and only owns one pair of socks. What makes this book especially compelling is the writing and form of the novel itself, which is evocative and inventive. Naga opts to tell her characters’ stories in alternating first person for the first two sections of the novel. Each chapter of the first section begins with a rhetorical question, and the second section includes footnotes that appear to intentionally overexplain things to some imaginary non-Egyptian reader. The third section, which I won’t spoil, throws into question the construct of the novel itself.
A thoroughly creative and thought-provoking novel that has stayed with me. —T.O.
If you’re not a big romance fan but want to dive into the genre, this is the place to start. Part–steamy romance, part–hard-hitting lit fic, You Made a Fool tells the story of Feyi, a young Black artist who tragically lost her husband a few years ago. Finally ready to get back out there, she starts dating Nasir and impulsively accepts his offer of a lavish vacation at his father’s mansion on a tropical island. But when Feyi feels sparks fly between herself and Nasir’s father, she's caught in the crosshairs of her own desires. Emezi pens a tenderly queer tale about grief, love, and vulnerability that packs a powerful punch. —K.B.
Yinka’s cousin just got engaged. Normally, this would be cause for celebration (and to an extent, it is!). But for Yinka, who is trying to get over her ex and whose married sister is now pregnant, it cranks the pressure from her mother and Nigerian aunties up to 11. So here she goes, launching a spreadsheet to find a date for Rachel’s wedding, tired of waiting for the right man to come to her and instead choosing to reach out her hand. But along the way she might just learn to find herself instead. With heart and charm, Yinka is one of those books that feels like a classic, a pitch-perfect contemporary delight. —Rachel Strolle
Wilsner proves their serious romance range with a sophomore novel that laughs in the slow-burning face of their debut by kicking off with a hookup that’ll have you fanning your face for days. Said hookup happens between Cassie, a college senior, and Erin, a hot older woman she picks up at a bar...and whom Cassie quickly learns is one of her best friend’s moms. Thus begins the delicate dance of keeping that night a secret and giving into the hottest chemistry either of them has ever experienced, made even more challenging by the fact that they’re spending an entire break together. Can they say goodbye when vacation ends, or is there something here that cannot be denied, no matter what it costs? —Dahlia Adler
In this moving, incisive memoir, Jones, a professor and writer born with sacral agenesis, a rare condition that affects her mobility and leaves her in chronic pain, charts the process of coming into her own and taking up space, after a lifetime of reminders — some shockingly overt, others implicit — that her disabled body makes her marginal. Leaving her young son and husband at home in New York, she travels to Italy and Cambodia, ostensibly for dissertation research but really as a way to sate her wanderlust and desire for something novel. She shifts between ruminations on ancient notions of beauty, from Socrates to Plato, and her own background, growing up as the only child of an idealistic white father and more practical Filipino American mother amid all of these assumptions about what her life should look like because she is disabled. Her doctors assume she can never get pregnant, fellow philosophy doctoral students argue over whether she should exist at all. Jones resists sentimentality and is as unsparing of herself as she is of other people, and yet she writes with such graciousness. A wonderful debut. —T.O.
For as long as corporate greed has been part of American life, working-class solidarity has been an enduring corrective. But a whole side of the US labor movement is forgotten, Kelly posits, potentially because people aren’t interested in stories in which men aren’t centered. Connecting an Appalachian coal mine to the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, and a Starbucks in Buffalo, Kelly foregrounds the revelatory organizing work done by women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and disabled people. The resilience of the sex workers’ rights movement and the mistreatment of incarcerated workers are among the crucial stories of US labor that are often swept aside. Fight Like Hell is an electrifying, inspiring history of how countless American industries have exploited employees of marginalized backgrounds, and how these workers protected one another and fought back. —Emerson Malone
At the time of the death of theatrical legend Stephen Sondheim in November 2021, D.T. Max had been working on a profile of the composer for the New Yorker. These were some of the last interviews he gave before his death, and they’re compiled in this slim, entertaining, and enlightening volume. The conversations are candid, recorded over a period of five years, and show a side of Sondheim that he didn’t often reveal to the public. For theater fans like myself who were profoundly saddened by the loss of one of the greats, Finale is a glorious final gift of a little more time spent with Sondheim. —D.V.
In her humorous, heartfelt memoir, Erika explores what it was like growing up as the daughter of Mexican immigrants in Chicago during the '90s and throughout adulthood. She reflects on aspects of her life with unflinching honesty and raunchy humor, focusing on sex and unknown vagina pain (always a pleasant surprise to find a book that explores vagina problems!), love and divorce, feminism and colorism, and depression and mental health. I especially recommend the audiobook. —F.P.
A hilarious and touching collection of essays centered on Gomez’s journey of becoming comfortable with his identity as queer and Latinx, this book captured me from the Too Wong Foo quote in the dedication all the way to the end. Edgar Gomez’s tone is personal, heartfelt, and introspective, with a healthy dose of humor. Finding self-acceptance can be difficult, and for someone raised in an environment that didn’t always accept them, it can easily lead to bitterness. Thankfully, Gomez made it through, gained perspective, and emerged as his glorious self. —D.V.
In this powerful and brilliant graphic memoir, Beaton depicts the two years she spent working in the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, to pay off her student loans. As one of the few women working in the claustrophobic, mostly male oil camps, she experienced relentless misogyny. It would be easy for Beaton and the reader to hate all the men Beaton encountered in the camps, yet Beaton does not allow the reader that too-easy reaction. She challenges the reader to see that these men could be anyone’s fathers, brothers, cousins, and friends. She shows their humanity while at the same time unflinchingly addressing the day-to-day horrors she experienced. It’s a vulnerable, moving, and empathetic glimpse into the micro-society the isolation of oil camps develops. However, it’s clear that the misogyny, though worse in the camps, does not exist only within its confines. Beaton also confronts her own culpability in the climate destruction caused by the oil camps, something she had not considered when, fresh from college, she signed up for the camps. This is easily the best graphic work I’ve read this year. —Margaret Kingsbury
Delaney’s memoir, about his 2-year-old son Henry dying of brain cancer, is not an easy read. The comedian and TV writer documents his anguish and his endeavor not to let the tragedy break his spirit or his family. The subject matter is unfathomably dark, but Delaney is a singular voice and consummate storyteller, whose writing is tender, vulnerable, even unexpectedly funny. Harrowing scenes in the pediatric oncology ward are followed by him sharing his coping mechanisms; he and other bereaved parents hoot and holler and have a ball watching Midsommar. “I must confess I now find it difficult to truly and fully relax around people who haven’t had some significant tragedy and pain in their lives,” he writes. “Just another one of the many things that make me a fun hang.” —E.M.
This book, by a former longtime New York Times cultural critic, is a thoughtful melange of criticism and memoir. In her previous book, 2015’s Negroland, Jefferson wrote about growing up as part of the Black bourgeoisie on the South Side of Chicago, interspersing personal memories with biographies of famous Black elites. Constructing a Nervous System feels more experimental in form; she addresses beauty, aging, and colorism using subjects like Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, and Josephine Baker as conduits. Her roving intelligence and refusal of pat conclusions make this a nuanced, thought-provoking read. —T.O.
What do the Hot Priest from Fleabag, Edgar Allan Poe stories, and Jane Eyre have to do with each other? Well if you like any of those three things (and especially if you like all of them), this is the book for you. Taking place in the shadow following the Mexican War of Independence, The Hacienda follows Beatriz, who, with nothing left to lose after the execution of her father, marries Don Rodolfo for some security. The rumors of what happened to his first wife are only some of the whispers she’ll need to deal with, as she starts to realize there is something deeply wrong with the hacienda she now calls home. And the only one willing to help her is Padre Andrés, a priest who feels a forbidden connection to Beatriz. A gothic marvel, this book lingers in your mind like fog clinging to the air. —R.S.
Rosen’s deeply compelling and suspenseful historical mystery pulls readers into the 1950s with Detective Evander “Andy” Mills, who was just tossed off the force for being gay and is feeling just unmoored enough to pick up a gig investigating a maybe murder. The job brings him to Lavender House, a queer safe haven that loses a bit of that safety when its matriarch, Irene Lamontaine, falls to her death. Whether or not she was pushed is just one of the many points of contention of the family and staff filling the stately manor, where “nothing is as it seems” is the baseline. The mystery itself borders on cozy, and wrapping it in an exploration of WWII-adjacent queer life makes for the perfect autumn page-turner. —D.A.
This brilliant historical fantasy takes place in an alternative Victorian-era Oxford. Silver bars inscribed with unique word combinations can be activated to do magical tasks, from the mundane, like heating tea, to the essential, like holding up a bridge. Because of the nature of silver-working, people who can speak multiple languages — especially less common languages in England — are crucial. To that end, a professor from Babel — Oxford's translation tower and the world center of silver-working— essentially steals Chinese children with promising language skills and whisks them away to England. Robin Swift, the protagonist, is one such child. He spends his childhood learning languages, and if he tarries, he faces the professor’s wrath. When he arrives at Oxford to begin classes, he befriends other outsiders like him: charismatic Rami, originally from India, who quickly becomes Robin’s best friend; brilliant and principled Victoire, originally from Haiti; and stubborn Letty, a white woman born to wealth who refuses to be married off by her father. These four become everything to one another, but they cannot escape Babel’s fractious, colonialist politics. Kuang deftly explores the period and its legacy of racism and colonialism while also fully committing to Robin Swift’s character arc. It’s an impressive, emotional read. —M.K.
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Vo weaves a haunting tale that blends old Hollywood glamour with dark magic. Luli Wei — a name the main character “borrowed” from her sister — is an aspiring actor when she manages to nab a spot at a big studio through blackmail. For a Chinese American woman, the only roles available are monsters, roles that Luli falls headfirst into. After all, she’d rather be a monster than a stereotypical maid. But it turns out the monsters aren’t just movie magic, and this twisted version of Hollywood runs on dark magic and blood sacrifices. Staying on top might require becoming a monster herself — and it might be a risk Luli is willing to take. —K.B.
This riveting historical fantasy set in the United States during the 1950s is deeply embedded in the patriarchy of the time. Alex Green is a child when the Mass Dragoning occurs, when 300,000 women — fed up with the daily misogyny they experience — transform into dragons. These women dragons take to the skies and do not return. Alex’s Aunt Marla is one of them, leaving behind her infant daughter, Beatrice. Alex’s mother adopts the child and not only demands Alex forget all about dragons, but also that she forgets she ever had an Aunt Marla. Instead, Beatrice has always been Alex’s sister. All of society insists that any mention of dragoning be covered up, for anything to do with women’s bodies is shameful. Alex keeps her eyes on the ground and tries to repress her memories of dragons and family, but she struggles to mold herself into the perfect girl her emotionally abusive father and the nuns at her school require. Everything about Alex is wrong, from her mathematical aptitude to her attraction toward girls. Barnhill’s child characters are deeply authentic and nuanced, which is no surprise considering she’s best known for her award-winning middle-grade novels like The Girl Who Drank the Moon. What’s surprising about Barnhill’s rare foray into adult fiction is its subversiveness and feminist rage. It’s a powerful, searing novel that feels deeply true, despite its magical premise. —M.K.
This novel takes a sharp, thoughtful look at the depths of curiosity, obsession, and self-sabotage, and is bound to intrigue you from the very first chapter. Naomi Ackerman is a 24-year-old, privileged New Yorker who’s found the perfect guy: Caleb, a New York transplant from Wales. Things couldn’t be better between the couple — until Naomi stumbles upon Caleb’s ex, Rosemary. Rosemary seems to be the “better” version of Naomi — a successful editor — while Naomi struggles to find success as a writer. As her curiosity grows, stalking Rosemary turns to genuine friendship under false pretenses. Caleb can never find out, but Naomi can’t seem to quit manipulating Rosemary into liking her, going so far as to write her next book about her. Naomi is forced to decide what’s most important and what she’s willing to sacrifice. —F.P.
I could actually feel my heart beating in my head as I was approaching the end of The Violin Conspiracy. Ray, an aspiring classical violinist, is gifted the old family violin from the attic (that he has to pay to get fixed up). When it becomes clear the violin is actually a multimillion-dollar Stradivarius, it doesn’t seem to matter to others how talented he is or what beautiful music he can make. With his family seeking partial ownership and financial gain from the violin, and the family of the slave owner who once owned Ray’s great-grandfather claiming ownership over the violin, it's all the more shocking when, in the leadup to an international competition, the instrument goes missing. Every time any friend or acquaintance has asked for a book recommendation recently, I’ve truly word-vomited this pitch at them in excitement because it is just so incredibly compelling and well written, and I want everyone to read it. —R.S.