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Biography of X: A Novel by Catherine Lacey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; March 21)
One of the most inventive works I’ve read in a long time, Catherine Lacey’s latest novel is a must-read for fans of ambitious, genre-bending literary fiction. Set in an alternate 20th-century America, the book takes the form of a biography written by CM, the wife of a deceased iconoclastic artist named X. The problem is, few people know who X truly was. She adopted many pseudonyms and personas that took performance art to the extreme. As CM tries to untangle the mystery of X’s origins, she often comes up with more questions than answers. Lacey asks readers if it’s possible to draw strict boundaries between art and the artist’s personal life and dares us to consider which parts of ourselves remain hidden to even our closest companions. —David Vogel
Sea Change by Gina Chung (Vintage; March 28)
Set in a near future wrecked by climate change, this novel follows Ro, a woman in her 30s working at the local aquarium her marine biologist father used to love. The aquarium’s prized possession is Dolores, an enormous octopus born in the Bering Vortex, a heavily polluted, mysterious area of the ocean where Ro’s father went missing. But the aquarium auctions off Dolores to a private buyer while Ro is still reeling from a breakup with her boyfriend, who was sent on a mission to colonize Mars, and her estrangement from her childhood best friend, who has been outgrowing Ro ever since she got engaged. As Ro tries to rescue Dolores, she finds herself grappling with decades of piled-up grief. —Izzy Ampil
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The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa by Stephen Buoro (Bloomsbury; April 18)
Published last year in the UK, this debut novel about a young, horny 15-year-old named Andy Aziza who lives in northern Nigeria is a compelling, frustrating but never boring portrait of a teen poet who desperately wants to date a blonde woman and leave Nigeria by any means necessary. He fixates his energies on Eileen, the visiting niece of the white priest of a church in his hometown of Kontagora. But around him, tensions between Muslims and Christians reach a boiling point and the mystery of his paternity corrodes his relationship with his mother. Written in an obscene, colloquial style reminiscent of Junot Diaz and Sherman Alexie (for better and for worse), the novel is funny, raucous, and most devastating in its depictions of the dearth of choices young Nigerians have today. —Tomi Obaro
Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Pantheon Books; May 2)
This speculative novel takes the sadistic entertainment of The Hunger Games and sets it in the American private prison industry. It follows Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker, two of the most famous fighters on the gladiator-style reality show Chain-Gang All-Stars, which forces prisoners to kill each other to gain their freedom. Thurwar, who has been enrolled in the program for years, is due to be freed in a few weeks. But the showrunners are determined not to lose their most profitable star, and they keep changing the rules to prevent Thurwar from leaving, throwing new and old foes at her to try to keep her in her place. —I.A.
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The Guest by Emma Cline (Random House; May 16)
In this white-knuckle paranoid thriller from the author of The Girls, the enigmatic Alex, 22, is staying with Simon, a well-off older man, at his coastal home on the East End of Long Island — until he kicks her out and buys her a train ticket back to the city. But she has no home there, so she decides to stick around. On her own and with a waterlogged phone, Alex has a week to kill before Simon’s Labor Day party, and nowhere to go. Leaning on her skills of pretending someone she’s not, she navigates the desires of rich and privileged strangers around her and ingratiates herself into their lives and into their homes. Her extended grift at the expense of the upper crust could be compared to the recent trend of “eat the rich” narratives, and her odyssey of desperation and misadventures also in a way feels like Barry Lyndon for Gen Z. Cline ratchets up the suspense so well, and sums up Alex’s lawlessness: “These were the type of people who assumed that there were rules, who believed that if they followed them they would one day be rewarded. And here was Alex, naked in their pool.” —Emerson Malone
The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor (Riverhead; May 23)
I can think of few novels that feel both timely and classic simultaneously, but The Late Americans is at the top of that list for me. About a group of Iowa City friends and lovers who weather various forms of conflict, the book makes contemporary the concerns of 19th-century writers such as Edith Wharton, Henry James, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky with its wry social commentary and class consciousness. Taylor creates such finely drawn characters, and his precise, economical language and insightful analysis of the realities of contemporary life are excellent. This book is one of my favorites of the year so far. —D.V.
The Adult by Bronwyn Fischer (Algonquin; May 23)
This debut is a powerful, queer coming-of-age story about a young woman in the throes of first love. At 18, Natalie has just moved from her remote hometown to attend school in Toronto, where it appears everyone around her knows exactly who they are. When she meets Nora, an older woman with a keen interest in her, Natalie becomes immersed in Nora’s world, even lying to her friends to protect this intoxicatingly grown-up secret. But Nora’s stories have glaring cracks, and Natalie is determined to figure out what, or who, she’s hiding. This gripping novel has the distinct pang of nostalgia mixed with the discomfort of growing up — a bittersweet but delicious experience. —Kirby Beaton
Chlorine by Jade Song (William Morrow; March 28)
Chinese American Ren Yu’s fascination with mermaids began as a young child, when her mother checked out a collection of mermaid folktales for her from the library. When she tries out for the swim team, despite having little experience with swimming, she’s a natural and immediately catches the coach’s all-consuming eye. She becomes obsessed with swimming, constantly working out and training so her body can transform into the perfect swimmer’s physique. She only makes a single friend during her childhood and teen years, Cathy, a fellow swimmer whose only passion is watching Ren. Both girls experience the coach’s abuse, but whereas Cathy cringes from it, Ren relishes in it. However, even more than becoming a perfect swimmer, Ren longs to become a mermaid. This fantastically strange, explosive debut novel entrances even as it unsettles. It’s so brilliantly written. The audiobook, narrated by Catherine Ho and Imani Parks, is excellent. —M.K.
Natural Beauty by Ling Ling Huang (Dutton; April 4)
From the moment our narrator walks into Holistik, the Goop-esque beauty treatment center for the rich and desperate, she’s hooked. Not just on the jellyfish skin treatments and leg-lengthening procedures, but on the mysteriously gorgeous people who revolve around the elusive brand the narrator now works for, including Helen, the niece of its eccentric CEO. As she settles into her new job at the company and the two women become closer, Holistik’s shiny exterior begins to chip away to reveal the unsettling truth at its core. This is a darkly absurd and hilarious skewering of the luxury beauty industry, as well as a heart-wrenching story of a woman left alone in the world. It’s definitely not one to miss. —K.B.
Advika and the Hollywood Wives by Kirthana Ramisetti (Grand Central Publishing; April 11)
Twenty-six-year-old Advika Srinivasan dreamed of screenwriting, but reluctantly gave in to a life of catering to the Hollywood elite after a family tragedy. At one of these events, she meets Julian Zelding, a successful producer who — despite the 41-year age gap — woos her into a whirlwind romance that ends in marriage. But when Julian’s first wife dies, she leaves behind a strange will: She’ll bestow Advika $1 million and a single mysterious film reel — but only if Advika divorces Julian first. Advika throws herself into investigating her new husband through the eyes of his ex-wives, realizing how little she truly knows about him. Ramisetti excels at holding back just enough to keep you furiously turning the pages looking for answers in this mystery-meets-romance. —K.B.
Symphony of Secrets by Brendan Slocumb (Anchor; April 18)
Bern Hendricks, an expert on 20th-century composer Frederick Delaney, has just been called in by the Delaney Foundation to help with a newly discovered piece. While searching for clues that might help them confirm that the score is Delaney’s famous lost opera, Bern and his acquaintance Eboni discover a more shocking piece of information: that Delaney might have not been the only one behind his best-known work. In the 1920s, musical prodigy Josephine lived on the streets, until meeting and partnering with Fred Delaney. While Delaney’s career takes off, Josephine’s contributions are left unsung. Music and history are strung together in a delicate harmony that further solidifies Slocumb’s place as a must-read author. —Rachel Strolle
Social Engagement by Avery Carpenter Forrey (Mariner; May 23)
When we’re introduced to Callie Holt on her wedding night, she’s lying in a bathtub, eating pizza in her sauce-stained gown while the groom is asleep in the next room. Determined to pinpoint the marriage’s undoing, Callie looks at her phone and combs through the last year: the camera roll, the photo uploads, the status updates. Social Engagement, Forrey’s debut novel and a uniquely 21st-century mystery, runs with a pretty clever conceit, a detective story using the detritus of social media as the clues they are. “Everyone talks about how their phone is a rabbit hole,” Callie says, “but tonight, I imagine it as a magnifying glass.” —E.M.
Yellowface by R. F. Kuang (William Morrow; May 16)
Athena Liu’s star is on the rise in the publishing world, much to the chagrin of her supposed friend June Hayward. It’s not June’s fault that she’s jealous, as the pair were meant to ascend through the publishing ranks together, but instead June doesn't even get a paperback release. Though June thinks she deserves so much more, she is dismayed at what seems like a fact to her: No one wants to read about basic white girls. But after a freak accident kills Athena, June takes Athena’s next manuscript, about Chinese laborers in World War I, and decides to publish it as her own. As June undergoes a rebrand, including the new pseudonym of Juniper Song and a new author photo where her ethnicity seems more…ambiguous, Athena’s shadow and legacy cast a wide shadow the newly successful June is unable to escape, leading to questions about the true author of the manuscript. Kuang, the author of last year's bestseller Babel, has created a compulsively devourable novel about a self-destructive antihero in Yellowface. —R.S.
Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere: An American Story of Assimilation and Erasure by Robert Lopez (Two Dollar Radio; March 14)
In Lopez’s first nonfiction book, following last year’s A Better Class of People, the writer grapples with the questions he’s had about his family since his grandfather emigrated from Puerto Rico to the US in the 1920s. Lopez, “a rootless, ersatz Puerto Rican,” knows little about his ancestry besides a few scant details. His fragmented memories — hearing epithets in high school, watching the Puerto Rican Day Parade, practicing tennis with his friends, staying in the ER — cumulatively make up a portrait of someone caught in a liminal space between cultures and identities. It’s a rich and soulful memoir about how much gets lost in assimilation, how to sit with unknowability, and how we define our character as we move through the world. —E.M.
We Were Once A Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America by Roxanna Asgarian (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; March 14)
The 2018 murder-suicide of the Hart family — a married white lesbian couple and their six adopted Black children — was shocking in its cruelty and incomprehension. Media stories in the aftermath tended to focus on the motives of the mothers. But as the Texas Tribune journalist Roxanna Asgarian notes in her new deeply researched book based on five years of reporting: “Stories about the children— who they were, where they came from, what happened to their birth families— were mostly absent.” All of the children, two sets of siblings, were part of the Texas foster care system. Asgarian finds and interviews the children’s birth families and case workers and culls through court documents, ultimately writing a powerful indictment of the foster care system. Blood relatives unknowingly terminated their rights to legally adopt the children. Siblings were separated and placed into separate care homes. And these acts of injustice happened because the families were poor, Black, and traumatized. This book is a poignant eye-opener. —Tomi Obaro
Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond (Crown Publishing; March 21)
In Evicted, his landmark, Pulitzer Prize–winning 2017 book, sociologist Matthew Desmond wrote moving vignettes about people who were struggling to make rent in Milwaukee. It was a powerful illustration of the US housing crisis. In his new book, Desmond doesn’t bother using analogies or narrative-driven interviews. Instead, he writes succinctly about how the poverty crisis in America has gotten out of hand, and who is to blame. And he doesn’t pull any punches, explaining how greed and heartlessness are at the root of the US economy and corporations, but also in every citizen who would rather get an extra $10,000 back in taxes every year than meaningfully change the status quo.
While parsing through seemingly complex topics like the tax code and corporate governance, Poverty, by America reaches a relatively simple conclusion. The poverty crisis in America is one that we could easily solve if anyone had the bravery to do so. Who is willing to step up? —Stephanie McNeal
Blanche: The Life and Times of Tennessee Williams's Greatest Creation by Nancy Schoenberger (Harper; April 4)
Few fictional characters have a hold on the American imagination like Blanche DuBois. In her fantastic new book, Nancy Schoenberger sets out to discover why audiences and actors remain enchanted by Blanche more than 75 years after A Streetcar Named Desire premiered on Broadway. Moving through six notable performances of the character, including Vivien Leigh’s Academy Award–winning turn, Schoenberger dissects the different aspects and qualities each actor brings out in the role, perfectly illustrating that just when it appears a character may be in danger of appearing cliché, there are always new depths to be mined when working with great material. Tying literary and performance analysis in with Tennessee Williams’s personal life, specifically the guilt he felt over abandoning his sister, Rose, Blanche is a testament to great art that continues to evolve long after its creator has departed. —D.V.
Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma by Claire Dederer (Knopf; April 25)
The writer Dederer expands on her 2017 Paris Review essay about loving the work of artists who have done horrible things, encouraging readers to see that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the issue of consuming art made by problematic individuals. Using examples as wide-ranging as Woody Allen, Ernest Hemingway, and Sylvia Plath, she presents a compelling case for not only critically evaluating “great” art, but also forming our own unique relationships with these artists. Compelling and eminently accessible, this book changed the way I think about consuming art and culture for the better. —D.V.
Unlikeable Female Characters: The Women Pop Culture Wants You to Hate by Anna Bogutskaya (Sourcebooks; May 9)
While audiences have historically praised difficult male characters as antiheroes, viewers are still repelled by women characters who exhibit the exact same traits. But film programmer Anna Bogutskaya has always been drawn to these messy, complicated women. Her book's thesis looks at who’s given the privilege of being off-putting onscreen, and it’s kind of surprising this book didn’t already exist. There’s nothing compelling or grounded about a perfect character, she writes, and “behind unlikeability lies humanity, which is flawed by default and necessity.” The three “golden ages” for the unlikeable women we see on TV and in movies, she offers, were the pre-Code 1930s, 1990s, and today. Bogutskaya explores nine different character tropes in pop culture and how they have evolved over time. Succession’s Shiv (Sarah Snook), she says, is notable for being written as “a failure, a Bitch in her flop era.” From Barbara Stanwyck to Lana Del Rey, Regina George to Amy Dunne, Unlikeable is an awesome reconsideration of the TV and film canon and its patriarchal gaze. —E.M.
Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs by Jamie Loftus (Tor; May 23)
Loftus, cohost of The Bechdel Cast and the My Year in MENSA podcast miniseries, has written a travelogue and compendium on the noble hot dog. Traveling the US, she eats hot dogs swathed in deep-fried bologna in Baltimore, a frank topped with SpaghettiOs in Albuquerque, and bacon-wrapped wieners in LA, among other inventive concoctions. The book includes Costco hot dog lore, a visit to see professional hot dog eater Joey Chestnut compete, even a breakdown of ballpark stadium fare, from Fenway Franks to Dodger Dogs. There’s a lot to digest here, and Raw Dog will leave you nourished. Anyone who’s able to sway a book publisher to run with a filthy title like this one has to be a convincing writer. And she is! Put another way: I wasn’t vegan until I read this book. The chapter titled “Here Is How You Make a Hot Dog” charts the trajectory from factory farm to meat tube and spells out in sobering detail the barbarity of how animals are grown and abused, as well as the exploitation of the human workers. It casts a dark shadow over the remaining three-fourths of the book. Raw Dog is very funny! Until it extremely isn’t. —E.M.
Lone Women by Victor LaValle (One World; March 28)
This tightly written horror novel occurs in the early 20th-century American West. Thirty-one-year-old Adelaide Henry has had a relatively sheltered though hard-working life on her parents’ California farm in one of the few all-Black settlements in the US. Their gruesome death upends her quiet life, and she’s forced to flee her childhood home with nothing but a tightly locked, surprisingly heavy trunk beside her. She decides to escape to Montana, where she claims a remote homestead. She allows no one to touch her trunk but her, though some hear whispering from within when they get too close. This is such an absorbing, powerful horror novel with one of the best endings I’ve read in a while. Joniece Abbott-Pratt’s audiobook narration is spot on. —M.K.
Loki's Ring by Stina Leicht (Gallery/Saga Press; March 28)
I fell in love with the diverse cast in this entertaining space opera by the author of Persephone Station. When Gita Chithra, captain of the spaceship The Tempest, receives a distress call from her AI daughter Ri, she immediately starts planning her rescue. However, Ri is working as an undercover operative on a ship that’s traveled to Loki’s Ring, an alien-made solar system that’s off-limits to travelers. The humans on Ri’s ship have come into contact with some kind of virus that makes them act erratically and violently. Little does Chithra know that trying to rescue Ri will set off an intergalactic power struggle. With action-packed, high-stakes scenes and memorable characters, this gripping novel is a must for space opera fans. —M.K.
White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link (Random House; March 28)
Link has already proven herself the fairy godmother of fairy-tale retellings in her previous four short story collections, expertly updating and humanizing them into enchanting, perfectly contained vignettes. Her latest collection so seamlessly entwines the real with the surreal that the stories threaten to slip into reality, resonating long after reading. Each story, set now or in the near future, grapples with mortality and the nature of love. In her opening story, “The White Cat’s Divorce,” a wealthy father, annoyed by his three sons and haunted by dreams of death, bids his sons to go out into the world on yearlong quests to compete for their inheritance. In “Prince Hat Underground,” a retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” a 57-year-old happily married gay man journeys to hell to rescue his husband. A struggling grad student who agrees to house-sit a remote cabin for the summer finds himself entertaining guests from another world in a retelling of “Snow White and Rose Red,” while a girl longs for an ageless man who can only appear on snowy Christmas days in a “Tam Lin” spinoff. All seven stories are thought-provoking and wonderfully told. The full-cast audiobook is mesmerizing. —M.K.
The Thick and the Lean by Chana Porter (Gallery/Saga Press; April 18)
In her second novel, Porter once again builds a fascinating dystopian setting, though this one is quite a bit different from the world in her first novel, The Seep. Beatrice lives in Seagate, a town governed by a cultlike anti-food religion. Her thinness and beauty are hailed as perfection by everyone in Seagate, but she longs for a different life. Despite having never tasted a real meal, she dreams of becoming a chef and cooking delectable treats. Meanwhile, Reiko — who lives in the poorest level of society — dreams of becoming rich and escaping the climate disasters and inequities that plague the working class. When she receives a scholarship to a middle university for her avant-garde tech art, she snaps it up, hoping it will be her way out of impoverishment. Entwined with their narratives is the story of a young chef told in a banned book that both Beatrice and Reiko have managed to get copies of. It’s a riveting, provocative read about classism, body politics, and taboos. —M.K.
To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose (Del Rey; May 9)
Though dragons used to live among the people of Masquapaug, no one has seen one in generations, until 15-year-old Anequs finds a dragon’s egg. Now revered as a Nampeshiweisit (a person in a unique relationship with a dragon), Anequs does not fulfill the requirements set by those who conquered her land — the Anglish. Sent off to the mainland to attend an Anglish dragon school, Anequs begins to come into her own strength, determined to succeed. And her fight at the colonizer’s school is about more than just herself — her failure would lead directly to the execution of her dragon. To Shape a Dragon’s Breath is a remarkable novel that is bound to be a staple of fantasy shelves for years to come. —R.S.
The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (HarperVia; March 14)
It’s 1518 in Strasbourg, France, and one woman’s manic, unceasing dance is about to turn into a pandemic of dancing women. Lisbet lives just outside the city on a bee farm with her husband and mother-in-law. She loves beekeeping more than anything and is pregnant for the 13th time. All her previous pregnancies have resulted in miscarriage. When the novel opens, Lisbet’s small home of three is about to increase by one. Her husband’s sister, sent away by the clergy, is returning after seven years of punishment. No one will tell Lisbet why she was banished, not even her best friend, who acts strangely when Lisbet’s sister-in-law arrives. All three women are captivated by news of the dancing women of Strasbourg, whose numbers increase every day. This claustrophobic, immersive queer historical fiction based on actual historical events is beautifully narrated by Ruta Gedmintas on audio. —Margaret Kingsbury
The Last Russian Doll by Kristen Loesch (Berkley Books; March 14)
This preternaturally absorbing intergenerational saga seamlessly weaves between two narratives set during peaks of modern Russian history: 1917, as the nation stands on the eve of a revolution that will tear down the bourgeoisie, and 1991, as the Soviet Union is about to collapse. In the former storyline, miserable noblewoman Tonya falls for charismatic Bolshevik Valentin. In the latter, engaged student Rosie — once Raisa — leaves her life in England behind when she takes a job that will give her full room and board in Moscow, allowing her to finally pursue the mystery of who murdered her father and sister in cold blood before she and her mother fled. And in between, a lifetime’s worth of haunting mysteries shrouded in love, betrayal, secrets, danger, and lies. —Dahlia Adler
I’ll Stop the World by Lauren Thoman (Mindy’s Book Studio; April 1)
As hard to put down as it is to see the twists coming, Thoman’s debut is a deeply compelling time-travel mystery wrapped in a coming-of-age tale. When Justin Warren — most notable for being the grandson of the very Warrens whose suspicious fiery deaths in 1985 saw his high school renamed in their memory — drives drunk on a rainy night, he crashes on a bridge and ends up back in 1985 face to face with a woman named Rose. Rose believes Justin that he’s come from the future, and the two agree they must work together to stop that fateful night from occurring twice if they’re going to have any hope of sending Justin back to 2023. But how can you stop a murder if all you’ve ever known is that it was almost definitely pinned on the wrong guy? —Dahlia Adler
Out of the Ashes by Kara Thomas (Thomas & Mercer; May 1)
Thomas’s adult debut follows Sam, who has returned to her hometown of Carney, New York, after 22 years away. While no answers have ever come to light regarding who murdered her family and burned their farmhouse to the ground, Sam receives a shocking piece of news upon her return. A prison inmate claims that the sister Sam long thought dead made it out of the house the night of the fire. And now Sam has to recalculate everything she thought she knew about what really happened that night. —R.S.
The Fiancée Farce by Alexandria Bellefleur (Avon; April 18)
Tansy doesn’t need a girlfriend, per se, but she is tired of the endless questions about her love life. So when her attempts to assuage her family’s pestering lead to a lie about having a girlfriend, she takes inspiration from a striking book cover model. She never means to cross paths with the model, Gemma, and certainly wasn’t counting on a fake engagement announcement. But Gemma needs Tansy, as she can only inherit her family publishing company once she is married, and who better to ask for a fraudulent hand in marriage than someone who, in addition to needing money to save her family bookstore, is already pretending to date you? Alexandria Bellefleur powers this fake dating masterpiece with boatloads of heart and the result is perhaps her most divine tale yet. —R.S.
Happy Place by Emily Henry (Berkley Books; April 25)
The Queen of Banter is back with her spin on the second-chance romance trope. Harriet and Wyn were the perfect couple — until they broke up for reasons they’re still not sharing. In fact, they still haven’t told their college friend group and don’t plan to, at least until their final annual trip to the group’s Maine cottage (which is up for sale) is over. But pretending to still be a couple for a week isn’t easy, especially when Harriet is still madly in love with Wyn. What could possibly go wrong? Perhaps the better question is: What could possibly go right? Alternating between the couple’s past and present, Henry captures an incredibly realistic, heart-aching relationship alongside her signature humor. The perfect read for a spring getaway. —K.B.