City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
In crafting a coming-of-stage story set under the bleary, borderline-palpable lights of Manhattan’s Times Square in the summer of 1940, author Elizabeth Gilbert has deliberately (but far from ignorantly) eschewed producing a story that mirrors the dark, heavy political and social mire of modern times. Any medium grounded in the year 1940 would, of course, be remiss to ignore the vile storm brewing in the United States (and beyond) at the time, but Gilbert’s dextrous storytelling finds a way of creating a narrative that is somehow politically aware and downright romplike.
And so City of Girls follows the mile-a-minute goings-on of Vivian, a bright-eyed 19-year-old dripping with curiosity who checks off every connotation of the word “virginal” one could possibly procure. Kicked out of Vassar and dropped off in the city, Vivian encounters cheap thrills, a cast of histrionic and outrageous friends, and, of course, the kind of love one can find only in the thick, humid air of New York City. Ultimately, City of Girls provides a sort of summertime escapism that doesn’t sacrifice sharpness or wit, a rare example of a “beach read” with shrewd edge and something to say. What exactly that is really depends on what you’re looking for from Girls, which has something to offer any reader as hungry as its delightfully voracious protagonist. Get your copy now. —Kyle Davis
Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick
Bright and motivated, 15-year-old Ilya has achieved what he and his brother Vladmir have dreamed of their whole lives: a ticket to America in the form of an exchange program between his small Russian refinery town, Berlozhniki, and its sister oil town across the world in Louisiana. But Ilya is unable to savor his achievement because his arrival in the States is clouded by Vlad’s recent incarceration back in Russia after confessing to the murders of three women. Convinced of his brother’s innocence, Ilya is determined to set Vlad free with the help of Sadie, the enigmatic eldest daughter of his American host family.
In chapters alternating between Ilya’s life in Russia and his time in the US, Lydia Fitzpatrick’s Lights All Night Long is both a mystery and a coming-of-age story that is plot-driven and engaging without ever skimping on character development or straying from the bond between Ilya and Vlad — the true core of the story. It’s a heartbreaking read, and one I struggled to put down. Fitzpatrick has crafted an impressive debut that feels transportive yet holds within it an intimate study of the ties that bind us to one another — across families, across continents. Get your copy now. —Jillian Karande
Socialist Realism by Trisha Low
Part memoir, part art criticism, part queer theory, part futuristic dream, Trisha Low’s extraordinary book-length essay, Socialist Realism, grapples with questions that have obsessed me lately about modern living: How do we reconcile our desire for love and family with our desire to make the world a better place for everyone else? Is true revolution really possible? And does that even matter?
Reminiscent of Maggie Nelson’s groundbreaking work, The Argonauts, Socialist Realism is breathtaking in its genre-bending, its excavation of American culture’s sexism, racism, and homophobia, and in its unflinching tenderness. The end had me in tears. I’m sure I’ll return again and again to this remarkable little book. Get your copy now. —Shannon Keating
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
"It was not enough to survive, you have to live."
Colson Whitehead delivers another harrowing tale, filled with rich details about the black experience in America. Inspired by the real-life abuse at the notorious Dozier School for Boys in Florida, Whitehead tells the story of an ambitious young black boy named Elwood Curtis who's sent to the fictional Nickel Academy after being falsely accused of a crime. Elwood quickly learns of the horrific and dehumanizing practices keeping institutionalized racism afloat at Nickel Academy, masked as a reform school for wayward boys. In The Nickel Boys, Whitehead renders the horrors of the Jim Crow era while stirring up feelings of hope. It’s a chilling novel that deserves to be read, despite the pain it conjures up. Get your copy now. —Morgan Murrell