Note: Some book publication dates have been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Unferth’s eco-heist story is inventive, but accessible; uncompromising in its critique of the agricultural-industrial complex, but also a whole lot of fun. In Janey, Cleveland, Dill, and Annabelle — two auditors for the US egg industry, two animal rights activists — Unferth has created a band of misfit reluctant radicals who come together to pull off a seemingly impossible scheme: stealing a million chickens from a local farm. Through their chaotic adventure — and an exploration of the life events that brought each character to it — Unferth injects humanity and heart into the dilemma of consumption in a capitalist society, making very clear the consequences of moving forward with blinders on. —Arianna Rebolini
In her latest extraordinary novel, Erdrich brings us a story based on the life of her grandfather, Patrick Gourneau. Like Gourneau did, protagonist Thomas Wazhashk works as a night guard, is a chair on the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa council, and becomes instrumental in the 1953 fight against a bill that would allow the government to abandon treaties that protected Native Americans’ rights to their land. Thomas’s niece Patrice works at the factory he guards at night and stretches her small salary to support her brother and mother while dreaming of abandoning the expectations she feels from the tribe and following her big sister Vera to Minneapolis. Erdrich is uniquely able to create a cast of distinct and lively characters in a world that is expansive but not overwhelming — and, here, she has done so in a story of power and prejudice, tradition and self-discovery, and the Native fight against oppression that is as relevant now as it was in the 1950s. —A.R.
The Flores family — ex-footballer father Augie, hustling mother Malia, kids Dean, Noa, and Kaui — are native Hawaiians constantly struggling to make ends meet in the state with the highest cost of living. When middle child Noa appears to acquire some mystical healing powers, the family takes advantage of it to eventual devastating effect. Alternating perspectives among the family members over the course of a decade, Washburn has written a vivid, heartbreaking portrait of a family rocked by economic precarity. —Tomi Obaro
“The rain will eventually come, or not. / Until then, we touch our bodies like wounds,” so reads a verse from the titular poem in Diaz’s second fantastic poetry collection. It’s a line that captures the myriad tones and themes of her work, which Diaz, who is queer, Mojave, and Latinx, deftly balances. Poems like “Top Ten Reasons Indians Are Good at Basketball” (one reason: “When Indian ballers sweat, we emit a perfume of tortillas and Pine-Sol floor cleaner that works like a potion to disorient our opponents and make them forget their plays”) live alongside poems mourning the decimation of her Native heritage (“Manhattan Is a Lenape Word”). The result is a collection that refuses easy sentiments and is all the more effective for its nuance and range. —T.O.
Leichter’s unnamed protagonist is a temporary worker, working endlessly with her temp agency to hopefully one day settle into “permanence.” She’s unnamed, as are her many boyfriends, whose multiplicity — like that of her series of surreal gigs — make it nearly impossible for her to settle into any kind of stable existence. Instead, she gives herself over to meaningless jobs that ask too much of her — like, for instance, the late Chairman who asks her to carry his ashes with her at all times. It’s an absurd, laugh-out-loud funny critique of (and antidote to) the dystopia that is late-stage capitalism. —A.R.
Maisy Card's debut is — as you might guess from the title — absolutely haunting. The book opens with a scene of an old man on his dying day, reckoning with a secret that's plagued most of his life — the man known as Stanford Solomon is actually Abel Paisley, who faked his death more than 30 years ago and abandoned his life in Jamaica to start anew in the US. From there, Card moves into the past and future, exploring the stories of Paisley's ancestors and descendants — enslaved women in colonial Jamaica, his struggling daughters in modern Harlem — and the ways each generation's trauma bleeds into those that follow. Card's writing is inventive and captivating, dipping into different narrative styles and playing with magical realism and folklore. —A.R.
Calling something “readable” can have negative connotations, but it’s still hard to pull off! Russell achieves that feat in her compelling story of Vanessa Wye, a woman whose decadeslong predatory relationship with her high school teacher has lasting repercussions for her years later. The novel jumps back and forth in time between the late ’90s, when 15-year-old Vanessa first meets and eventually ends up in a sexual relationship with her high school English teacher Jacob Strane, to 2017 during the height of #MeToo, when 32-year-old Vanessa is pressured to publicize a relationship she spent years convincing herself wasn’t abusive. Russell is particularly adept at capturing the tortuous psychological effect this relationship wreaks on Vanessa — all the ways in which Strane manipulates her into thinking she has any kind of power over him. The result is a — yes — very readable, slow-burning thriller. —T.O.
Read our profile of Kate Elizabeth Russell here.
“With the last of my loved ones now long dead, I find funerals kind of fun,” so begins Shah’s mordantly funny debut novel about Ant, a man making his way back to the Midwest for a childhood friend’s funeral. Offering him a ride is Vince, cousin of the deceased. They make their way in the midst of a snowstorm, popping oxys, and not really saying anything meaningful to each other. But beneath their macho posturing is a world of hurt and loss, which Shah manages to capture in just under 100 pages. —T.O.
Rest assured, lovers of St. John Mandel’s previous novel, Station Eleven (one of our best books of the decade and a soon-to-be HBO Max series). Her latest novel, The Glass Hotel, does not disappoint. Though it deals with a disaster of a different sort, St. John Mandel continues to weave together disparate storylines and characters in a moving reflection on how interconnected we are for better and for worse. Among the characters in this book are Paul, a recovering opioid addict, his half-sister Vincent, Walter, a concierge at a remote hotel on Vancouver Island, and Jonathan Alkaitis, a rich investment banker with a festering secret. It’s my opinion that the less you know about the plot the better, but suffice it to say, I finished this book with a deep appreciation for St. John Mandel’s mastery here. —T.O.
This Is Chance!: The Shaking of an All-American City, A Voice That Held It Together by Jon Mooallem (Random House; March 24)
On March 27, 1964, the very young state of Alaska was struck by what is still the most powerful earthquake in American history, and Anchorage — a city that had been a beacon of progress in this new frontier, a manifestation of its residents’ optimism — was literally torn apart. This Is Chance! is the riveting account of the following three days — the resilience and resourcefulness of a town that hadn’t yet established a system or infrastructure to handle such an emergency, and the bravery of Genie Chance, an ambitious and underestimated radio reporter whose impromptu three-day broadcast became the beating heart of a community struggling to survive. It’s a beautifully wrought and profoundly joyful story of compassion and perseverance. —A.R.
Jing Jing is 24 years old and trying to figure out who she is. She’s bored at her job as a tech reporter, dismissed and underpaid as a young Chinese American woman, and when her long-term boyfriend announces he’s moving to Ithaca, New York, to attend grad school, she decides to go with him in hopes of achieving her own fresh start. But as Jing Jing contends with a town full of mostly white neighbors preoccupied with proving they’re “good liberals,” and starts spending time researching the history of Chinese women and interracial relationships in the US, she begins to explore her relationship with her own history and identity, questioning where her boyfriend fits into it. Her journey shifts as she moves from place to place — San Francisco, then Ithaca, then China — and Chang follows her in prose that flows so gracefully across themes of millennial ennui, capitalist disillusionment, immigration, love, and sacrifice. —A.R.
In 2000, during her first year at Brown University, journalist Casey Schwartz tried Adderall for the first time — and for the next 10 years she’d grapple with an addiction to it. In Attention, Schwartz recounts her relationship with the drug, contextualizing it within a culture that fetishizes and obsesses over attention — where to place it, what deserves it, how to navigate an economy built on taking it. Schwartz deftly weaves together scientific research and reporting, personal narrative, and textual analysis, creating a hybrid story — and if attention is the best way to perform love, then indeed this is a love story from Schwartz to the notion of attention — that is as critical and philosophical as it is personal. —A.R.
First, let’s acknowledge the fact that a new novel by Julia Alvarez, the bestselling author behind beloved classics How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies, is major news. Second, and more importantly, her new adult novel is really good! Antonia, a retired English professor, is struggling to cope after the sudden death of her husband, Sam. When twin crises occur — an undocumented immigrant working on the farm next door asks if she could help his girlfriend, who is also undocumented, and Antonia’s older, headstrong sister Izzy goes missing — Antonia is forced to grapple with what it means to be a good, present person in a world full of so much incomprehensible tragedy. —T.O.
Fourteen-year-old Lacey May lives in Peaches, California — formerly an idyllic paradise, now a drought-stricken town whose residents live under the spell of a cult leader who claims to be God, with a grandmother too enthralled by Pastor Vern to see how dangerous he is. When Lacey realizes Pastor Vern’s plan to bring rain back to the valley involves impregnating local teens, she runs away in search of her mother — confronting cruelty, but also discovering unexpected friendships and personal resilience along the way. It’s a harrowing but elegantly wrought exploration of trauma and autonomy. —A.R.
The best hosts on late-night TV have given us all a spring present with their first book, which offers primers on everything from dating (it’s hard) to how to survive New York City when you’re dead broke. You don’t even have to be a fan of their podcast or their late-night show to see why they have become so popular; I laughed out loud several times while reading this. —T.O.
An Yu’s debut novel is dreamy and surreal, and actually not as dark as one might expect a book that opens with a woman finding her husband dead by possible suicide to be. What we quickly realize is the protagonist Jia Jia was extremely unhappy in her marriage, that her late husband was dismissive and cruel, and so she reacts to his death less with grief than with ambivalence and disorientation. What follows is her journey of rediscovery — of her passion, of her spirituality, of her artistic abilities, and of herself — that evolves in her real life and in dreams. It’s otherworldly and deeply moving. —A.R.
Perfect Tunes is a candid, big-hearted story about choices and consequences, following young Ohioan Laura, whose story begins when she is a 22-year-old recent transplant in early 2000s NYC. She’s chasing her dream of making it as a singer-songwriter, spending her nights waitressing and doing drugs and/or having sex with Dylan, an up-and-coming musician. In the span of just a few months, everything changes — the Twin Towers fall, Dylan drowns while high, his band asks Laura to step in as lead singer, she declines, and finds out she’s pregnant. The rest of the book tracks the aftermath of these events, jumping ahead in time to see Laura struggling as a single mom, while her former roommate — who ended up joining the band in Laura’s stead — enjoys the critical success Laura so desperately desired. The years progress, and Laura’s daughter starts asking about her cult icon father — and through their complicated, parallel journeys of self-discovery, Gould poignantly and carefully explores what happens when plans go awry, expectations and priorities shift, and people adapt in their pursuit of love, meaning, and fulfillment. —A.R.
Tsui’s history of the human relationship with water is compelling and profound, in writing so fluid it mimics the flow of her subject — that is, at its most peaceful. But water is deadly too, and it’s this characteristic that gets at the core question of Tsui’s investigation: If we are not built to survive in water, then why are we drawn to it again and again? She attributes this to five motivations — survival; well-being; community; competition; and the physical, emotional, and nearly sublime experience of it, which she calls “flow” — and explores each through personal experience and firsthand research. It captivated me from start to finish. —A.R.
In southeastern Arizona, about 15 miles from the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, lies Oak Flat. It's a sacred piece of land for the Apache community — the site of past burials and ongoing religious ceremonies, notably the four-day coming-of-age rite for girls called the Sunrise Dance. And it was protected land — until, ten years after a massive copper deposit was discovered beneath it, ownership was transferred to private hands intent on mining the mesa into obliteration. In the graphic narrative Oak Flat, Redniss chronicles the ongoing clash between a Native population who've long been waiting for the US federal government to deliver on the promises they made and broke, and the mining corporations that are piling more promises — of jobs, money, new life in a ghost town — on the heap. Redniss offers herself as a witness, giving life to the people and place through straightforward dialogue and rich, sweeping illustrations. It's a vital read and a staggering work of art. —A.R.
Geologist Zach Wells returns from a field trip to find his beloved daughter’s health mysteriously deteriorating, and the family man is at a loss for what to do. So when he finds an anonymous call for help in the pocket of a secondhand coat, he grasps the opportunity to act, funneling his frustration into a trip to New Mexico to save a stranger. Despite Wells’ proclaimed impassiveness, Everett’s writing reverberates with feeling — love, grief, desperation, hope, the desire for human connection — in a story that is both heartbreaking and life-affirming. —A.R.
Karen Tei Yamashita contends with the Western canon in this astute, pitch-perfect, and wryly funny short story collection. Yamashita recasts Jane Austen characters as Japanese Americans navigating themes familiar to anyone who has read Austen and her contemporaries — social tension, familial obligation, clumsy personal growth, all of the mundanities that add up to meaning — through the lens of Japanese immigrant and Japanese American experiences. It’s a genuine pleasure to read. —A.R.
No one writes family drama like Straub, and in her new novel All Adults Here, she brings the Strick family to life with her unique wit and wisdom. When matriarch Astrid witnesses a school bus accident, the trauma uncovers a long-repressed memory that forces her to question the kind of parent she was to her now-adult children, who are floundering in their own ways. It’s a heartfelt, grounded story about family dynamics, forgiveness, and the unavoidable effects we have on those we love. —A.R.
Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots by Morgan Jerkins (Harper; May 12)
Between the years 1910 and 1970, 6 million black people made their way from the South to cities in the Midwest, West Coast, and Northeast in the hope of more opportunity. Among the folks making this Great Migration were the writer Morgan Jerkins’ own ancestors. Jerkins, who grew up in New Jersey, the only daughter of her father and mother who split before she was born, sets out to uncover her family roots. Why did she grow up being told not to go near water? Why does her father have a French last name? Is it true that there is Cherokee in her family tree? Jerkins traces her family history, spending time in Georgia, New Orleans, Oklahoma, and Los Angeles. I learned a lot reading this book, including sobering information about the fight for the Gullah Geechee to keep their land, the difference between hoodoo and voodoo, and the complicated history of freedmen — black people with Native American ancestry. —T.O.
Evelyn is not “good at confrontations,” we learn early on in this BuzzFeed News executive editor’s third novel. Her father is dying, her marriage is on the rocks, and Evelyn, at 37, has just quit her run-of-the-mill assistant job. When she decides to join a death doula group, helping people with terminal illnesses end their lives, she discovers a whole new world of people seeking answers for life’s biggest tragic inevitability. While the subject matter is undoubtedly dark, this novel is a ruminative, incredibly moving reflection on the impossible heartbreak of waiting for a loved one to die. —T.O. ●
This post has been updated to note that some publication dates have changed in light of the coronavirus outbreak.