Best Books of 2020 So Far
It’s time: welcome to Book Riot’s round-up of the best books of 2020, so far! It’s been a stellar year in publishing (if not in other areas), and we’ve got everything from nonfiction to poetry to graphic novels to romance and beyond for your reading consideration.
Night Theater is a fantastical tale of a surgeon who has fled the big city from a scandal and set up a clinic in a small Indian village. One night, when the clinic is ready to close, the surgeon is visited by a teacher, his pregnant wife, and their son. They require immediate medical attention, except for one problem: all three have been murdered. However, the family has been given a second chance at life, so long as the surgeon can mend them before sunrise. Over the course of the night, the surgeon gains knowledge that forces him to question the limits of mortality and medicine’s power over it.
Tara June Winch
In her American debut, The Yield, Australian (Wiradjuri) author Tara June Winch celebrates the reclamation of Indigenous language and culture. The novel begins when August Gondiwindi returns to her small hometown in rural Australia to attend her grandfather’s burial. While she’s home, she discovers that her grandfather had been working on a dictionary of their people’s Indigenous language. Through her grief, August determines to learn more about her grandfather’s work, her people’s history, and her Aboriginal identity. Winch’s The Yield is, by far, the Australian novel of 2020 that you won’t want to miss.
I knew from the moment I read the premise of this book that it was going to be very much a book for me. Tara Schuster’s bible of battling depression and anxiety while managing to “re-parent” herself feels very relevant, and was especially helpful for me as I was very stressed out to the point of numerous breakdowns right before COVID-19 happened. I would have loved to have read this during a time when half the world wasn’t shut down—since it’s a little hard to better yourself when 95% of the outside world is closed—but I still really appreciated Schuster’s wisdom and advice for young people battling mental illness. Highly recommend!
Naomi is engaged to Nicholas, but there’s a hitch: they hate each other. The two are at odds all the time and she suspects him of cheating. But whoever calls off the wedding will get slapped with a sizable bill and neither is willing to throw in towel. So ensues a game of who can drive the other one to the point of no return. Along the way, Naomi and Nicholas start talking and actually listening to each other and, well, maybe one will have a change of heart.
With reading lists of antiracist books by Black authors popping up everywhere, this book is probably already on your list. Move it to the top. In compelling, unapologetic prose, Mikki Kendall covers a vast network of issues overlooked by mainstream white feminism, including intersectionality, food insecurity, housing, sex work, and how discourse on topics like eating disorders and the Mommy Wars ignores and overlooks all but the most privileged women. Smart, incisive, and wide-ranging, this is a vital addition to your progressive library.
C Pam Zhang
On the surface, How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang appears to be a story of two orphaned Chinese immigrant children surviving in the old west, but it quickly challenges even the basic expectations created by this noteworthy premise. Through visceral, evocative language, the book centers a broader idea of Asian American experience by casting labels and presuppositions off of it, bringing the frustrations surrounding fractured identity together with the grief of family separation to create something fresh and extraordinary. It’s a beautiful work of historical fiction that’s frankly so good it makes me want to break something.
Maren and Devin are best friends and cofounders of Richual, an online community of well-meaning women looking for the ultimate in self-care and wellness. When Maren tweets something awful about the U.S. president’s daughter, she’s sent on a company-mandated detox, where she discovers some unsavory secrets about one of her board members. Meanwhile, her best employee is keeping a growing secret of her own. Complete with comments from the Richual message board and press releases to try to save face, this is the story of wellness influencers from behind the filter. Self Care is so funny and scathing and perfect, and Leigh Stein is a treasure.
This eye-opening nature read for fans of Mary Roach, Sy Montgomery, and Susan Orlean will literally have you seeing the world in a new way. By deftly blending her personal story with that of the eccentric and prolific biologist David Starr Jordan, the author steers the narrative on as she finds resilience, personal awakening, and love.
—Sarah S. Davis
If there was ever a book worthy of a nuzzle and a hug after reading, it’s Check, Please! This second installment of the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle is just as emotionally enrapturing as the first. As we follow him through the second half of college as he rises in the ranks of his hockey team, we also get to watch him fall even further in love. So if you’re looking for fun times, baked goods, found family, some pretty great actual family, and the most adorable love story ever drawn, this one is for you.
This gorgeous genre-bending autobiographical fantasy novel tells the story of Echo Brown, who lives on the East Side. Her parents are addicted to the white rocks and the stressors of poverty and violence are high; even so, Echo sees magic throughout her everyday life. When she transfers schools to a rich school on the west side, she finds herself balancing the two very different parts of her life. This is a story of Black girl magic, trauma and healing, learning to save oneself, connection and forgiveness, and given and chosen family.
Brit Bennett’s debut novel The Mothers (2016) was phenomenal, and I was looking forward to seeing what this author would do next. I’m so happy to report that this book lives up to the hype. Desiree and Stella are identical twins who run away from home at the age of 16. Years later, Desiree lives in the same Southern town she once tried to escape. Meanwhile, Stella secretly passes for white and no one, not even her husband, knows of her past. Still, despite the worlds of difference between them, these sisters’ stories are still intertwined. This is a story about family, identity, and race that I highly recommend everyone read.
In romance, fated mates is a label conferred on couples whose pairing is written in the stars or nature or somewhere in the supernatural. It exists outside of logic and rationality: a pairing that was simply meant to be, two people so bonded together that no one else will do. True fated mates traditionally happen in romance with a fantasy or paranormal bent. But in Queen Move, a gorgeously written, emotionally wrenching contemporary about childhood best friends who are torn apart and then reunite two decades later, being together was this couple’s destiny from the day they were born. There’s nary a witch or shifter around, but magic abounds.
R. Eric Thomas
Renowned Elle humor columnist R. Eric Thomas uses his insight and narrative skills to grant his readers access to the funhouse. From a thought-provoking essay on Grover and The Monster at the End of this Book to the tragic loss of a friend in his teenage years. From his experiences as a Black child in a predominantly white private school to his marriage to a white Presbyterian pastor, this book is a perfect culmination of the gravitas and absurdity with which Thomas approaches his much-loved columns.
Murderbot is just the best. The fact that at any given moment, even in the middle of a crisis, they might duck into their files and pull up a favorite episode of Sanctuary Moon is grounds for unconditional love and devotion as far as I’m concerned. Network Effect is the fifth installment of The Murderbot Diaries and first full-length novel. Meaning that there are even more space opera adventure times, human and AI friends, and warm fuzzies for you to feel and for Murderbot to try and ignore. And the best thing about Network Effect is that it works as a standalone, so you and your sci-fi found family can jump into the series here and enjoy.
Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston’s highly anticipated Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick includes eight previously “lost” Harlem stories. Cracking open the cover is akin to unlocking a treasure chest filled with precious stories exploring the complexities of Black life, written with care and rooted in love. Each story stands alone with a glow of its own, but when read collectively one is gifted with seeing Zora’s voice develop. Her timeless critiques of the politics of race, gender, and class are intertwined in the lives of beautifully crafted characters who open readers up to feeling the multitude of emotions that define what it means to live.
The 1989 Danvers High field hockey team is tired of losing. So, inspired by their town’s storied past as the site of Salem Village where the infamous witch trials took place, the girls on the team give in to their darker impulses in their quest for a winning season. With references to everything from Heathers to all-knowing, all-seeing, powerfully teased ’80s hair, this book is a total delight. And as the events of the 1989 season unfold, the novel’s shifting viewpoints allow us to get to know every character, painting a portrait of 1980s teenage girlhood that’s as timeless as the sex appeal of an ’80s heartthrob.
In many ways, Two Rogues Make a Right is spare: there are only a handful of characters, the rustic setting is simple, and the plot is free of major twists. The book is so contained that it could easily be a play—perhaps not a coincidence, since one of the characters is a playwright. But the characters are so dynamic that it’s impossible to tear yourself away. Reunited childhood friends Will and Martin are grappling with the likes of chronic illness, addiction, past abuse, and parental neglect. Their journey to discovering that their relationship is strong to bear all of that is a quiet one, but it will leave a reader breathless nonetheless.
This is one of the most timely, important novels of the year. It’s a powerful, heartwrenching book about injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism in America. It’s told through the lives of Ella and Kev, a sister and brother living first in Los Angeles and then New York City, who also hold supernatural powers. Ella is able to see bits of the future, and later move about in time, and as her powers grow stronger, she struggles to keep them in check. But when Kev is imprisoned, she finds it hard to hold onto her powers any longer. Riot Baby is a speculative tale of love and family, and the devastating consequences of racism in America.
The Black Flamingo is the coming-of-age story of a young gay biracial boy who finds power in drag performance. Written beautifully, this novel-in-verse explores many important themes with nuance and depth. The book shows the intricacies of navigating biracial identity, belonging to dual cultures while feeling you don’t really belong, being Black and gay, and more. It’s difficult not to fall in love with the endearing protagonist, Michael, whose journey throughout the novel is transformative. The Black Flamingo is the kind of book that you can’t put down, but will also stay with you long after the last page.
Becky Albertalli & Aisha Saeed
A hysterical, swoony YA novel about teenage love and political activism! Jamie and Maya don’t start out excited about canvasing for a Democratic senate candidate in Georgia. But when they team up, they become an unstoppable team while each turning into the friend the other needs. This story touches on themes as serious as divorce, antisemitism, and islamophobia, as well as topics as silly as Settlers of Catan, Bat Mitzvah themes, and the many uses of washi tape. Once I got over my pandemic-induced stress reading about two teens going door to door at strangers’ houses, I fell in love with how real and romantic this book felt on every page.
So many Christian books position themselves as X-number-of-steps fix to break a habit, get out of a bad situation, or wash your face, but This Too Shall Last is different: it shows you how to live when life is hard and the difficulties don’t seem like they will end any time soon. K.J. Ramsey is a licensed professional counselor who has lived with a painful chronic illness for a decade, and her book is full of comfort and wisdom for anyone who is suffering physically, mentally, or spiritually. It’s the kind of book that will be “the just right book at the just right time” for many people for years to come.
Cathy Park Hong
Cathy Park Hong offers a wide exploration of Asian American history as well as focused examination of various specific Asian American cultures, recognizing that while we are not a monolith, we have a lot of shared oppressions. The writing, though heartwrenchingly beautiful, is not light. The author covers so many things, from the model minority myth to Asians in media to Asians in academia to how we as Asians sometimes interact with other Asians. Her chapter about the ways that language is used to both racially oppress and racially glorify is phenomenal. I found myself holding my breath while I read it because it was so intense.
Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes
Hurricane Season describes a small Mexican town and the murder of the person the townspeople call “the witch.” The witch has fascinated and repelled the townspeople for years, and her death sends everyone into a tailspin. A series of different narrators tell the tale, each one adding new information and a new perspective on the other characters and on the novel’s events. Almost every character is deeply flawed, but Melchor shows why they are the way they are. They struggle with poverty, abuse, addiction, violence, and hopelessness. Melchor’s energetic sentences are entrancing. Hurricane Season is explosive, unrelenting, and unforgettable.
If you told me to read a book that started with a plane crash (not on page) and was about the grieving families I would say, “No, thank you.” Especially in this decade-year of 2020. But it’s Acevedo so I pressed play on the audiobook with zero hesitation—because I will also listen to anything she narrates. Once again Acevedo has written a beautiful story that will have you feeling every single emotion—with not a single word out of place or wasted—as two young Dominican women fight to find their way in the world. If you’ve yet to read Acevedo’s previous novels, or this book, remedy that immediately—your life will be better for it.
Come Tumbling Down is the fifth book in Seanan McGuire’s brilliant Wayward Children series. In this installment, we return to the Moors and reunite with fan-favorite siblings Jack and Jill, but what delighted me most was how this book spent more time with my personal favorite character, Christopher, who plays a bone flute and fell in love with the Skeleton Girl. I began reading this series about two years ago, while floating in the grey haze of raising a 6-month-old and moving to a different state. This series rekindled my love of reading, and each book reminds me that THIS is the important fantasy series I’ll pass on to my children.
In this electric, desire-drenched sophomore collection, Diaz, who is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe, explores addiction, anxiety, basketball, the body, the environment, language, memory, myths, tenderness, and violence. The titular opening poem ends: “The rain will eventually come, or not. / Until then, we touch our bodies like wounds— / the war never ended and somehow begins again.” On every page, there is love—breathing, infinite. It’s a gift to read and reread these poems. To trace the light in hips, scorpions, thighs, dust, gyms, on hands, snakeskin, in a lasso, breast. To follow threads of copper and green.
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
The Mountains Sing is a testament to love that explores the inescapable ways in which history binds itself to us and how the process of unravelling our traumas is a generational feat of strength and wisdom. The novel follows the Trần family from the 1920s to contemporary day as they navigate major political changes in Vietnam. With poetic prose, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai crafts a striking tale of human resolve which confronts complex questions. The message about the power of compassion is a resolute reminder that we must deliberately hold onto enduring hope in order to contest oppression and create brighter futures for ourselves and loved ones.
Dr. Deja Evans is on the tenure track. Her life is too busy at this moment so a romantic relationship is not on her mind. That doesn’t mean she cannot watch Dr. Alejandro Mendoza at the never-ending Faculty Senate meetings from a good distance. She never thought her crush on him would be reciprocated until one steamy encounter in her office changes everything. Over an academic year, Deja will try to manage her classes, help her students, and maybe let Alejandro love her.
—Silvana Reyes Lopez
I picked this book up because I love a running memoir, and I’m here to tell you Spirit Run is singular in the genre. Alvarez grapples with the effects of colonization, racism, and class on himself, his family, and his fellow runners on the Peace and Dignity Journey. It’s not pretty, and it’s not safe, and there is very little closure—because these are issues that are still deeply affecting North Americans, every day. Whether he’s writing about his mother’s shifts at the apple packing plant in Washington, encountering a cougar alone on a trail, or eating with a host family, his prose is sharp and clear. My only critique: I wanted more!
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award–Winning Stamped from the Beginning
Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi
In this remix of the National Book Award–winning Stamped from the Beginning, Jason Reynolds brilliantly reimagines Ibram X. Kendi’s writings on racism and American society for a younger audience. However, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You is no mere scaling down of Kendi’s work. Rather, Reynolds fashions a book that is poetic and timely, delivering profound analysis with an engaging style. Stamped is an important resource for YA readers, especially given the national discussions about systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd. Kudos to Kendi and Reynolds for joining up on this amazing book project. Grab this one today.
N. K. Jemisin
Five people wake up to find each of themselves as the gods of the five boroughs and have to protect the city from forces of evil. This intense but very timely read will knock your socks off. It’s a much needed take down on toxic white feminism. I read it during the outrage over Amy Cooper trying to get birdwatcher Christian Cooper arrested for asking her to leash her dog. There’s a similar scene in the book, among others. It’s also a love letter to NYC.
Claribel A. Ortega
This book is marketed as a middle grade cross between Stranger Things and Ghostbusters and while it is certainly that, it is so much more. Shout out to Claribel Ortega for writing a funny, charming, and sweet ghost adventure with two smart, brown girls (Lucely and Syd) and a badass grandma at the center. She manages to center the ancestral knowledge of Latinx and Black communities—our deep connection with spirits and ancestors—in a way that makes this book sing. Did I cry reading the final battle scene? I did. Because it was perfect. This is a great read for the adventure-loving kids in your life.
This book is one of the best novels I have ever read. It manages to achieve the social commentary and use of the uncanny or unknown in a way that I had never seen done outside Latin America. To say that Card is a modern master of magical realism is not in any way exaggeration. I am always on the lookout for books with this amount of history and cultural footprint, and I am thrilled to have found this one, a true and rare gem. If you are looking for something profoundly moving, and entrancing this is the book for you. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Marin Machado had the kind of life other people envied…right up until it became a nightmare. While shopping at Pike Place Market, her son was abducted in the mere seconds it took for her to accept a phone call. A year later, a private investigator rocks Marin’s world with a devastating blow, but it’s not the one she expected: her husband has been cheating. Willing to do whatever it takes to salvage what’s left of her family, Marin goes to dark lengths she never realized she was capable of. Along the way, she discovers her husband might be keeping a bigger secret than his mistress: He might know what happened to their son.
—Brooke Bailey Peters
Snapdragon is brash and independent; tough enough to go alone to rescue her dog, Good Boy, from the rumored witch in the woods. Turns out that the witch, Jacks, is actually a kind, eccentric animal rescuer who plays the role to keep kids away. As the unlikely friends spend more time together, Snap learns that Jacks does have actual magic abilities and that there is an unexpected family connection between them. Leyh gives readers a unique story set in a delightfully magical world and staring a diverse cast of charming, endearing characters. Can you ask for much more than witches, love, dogs, and blossoming friendships?
In the fourth installment of the Dreamers series (please read the other three!), JuanPa and Pris are taking their umpteenth chance at love and hoping for a win this time. Before they can get there, they have a lot to sort out. Namely, how to forge your own path to happiness while honoring what previous generations have sacrificed to start you on your path. How it takes strength to ask for help. Best of all, American Sweethearts shows the transformative power of love: self love, romantic love, love for family and friends, and love for community. And yes, I mean self love. Did I mention this book features a justice-oriented sex toy side hustle?
Sylvia Aguilar Zéleny
Through a coming-of-age story, Sylvia Aguilar Zéleny depicts the contraposition and the unbreakable connection between border cities Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, divided by law but connected through their landscape and their complicated history. Zéleny captures the voice and life of a young woman living between childhood and adulthood; on the edge of safety and danger; stability and chaos. The Everything I Have Lost is an acute representation of a modern world, where children have to maneuver more than one culture, more than one language, more than one home, and more than one way to understand the world.
—Minerva Laveaga Luna
I practically inhaled this novella about a librarian recruited to work on a podcast about climate change. Though sparse in the way of plot, Weather chronicles the underlying emotional terrain of everyday moments in a way reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. It’s a quiet book about dealing with the large-scale existential dread of living on a planet that is dying, while also trying to find meaning enough to work, to parent, to love, and to live more sustainably even though our individual actions do little to offset the inevitable. “It’s unbearable,” one character says. “It’s barely bearable,” another corrects.
Ayumi Richards and Lewis Upton provide relief for each other, in more ways than one. With stress and drama in other parts of their life, when these two are together there is a reprieve, if only temporary. However, while Ayumi is fine with the stringent boundaries she’s imposed, Lewis is not and makes it his mission to change their situation, quickly. Release Some Tension was a feel-good and free-flowing vibe. It was funny, smooth, and kept you on your toes; a book you wouldn’t mind reading more of. In a short period of time, we’re able to peel back the layers of both characters while still maintaining the lighthearted mood.
Alyson J. McGregor
In Sex Matters, McGregor digs into gender disparities in healthcare, showing how everything from gender bias in research to incomplete medical school curricula leads to medical professionals who are unprepared to give women the healthcare they need. Then she goes even further by giving readers scripts and other action steps women can take to ensure they get the healthcare they deserve. This is such an essential read.
When somebody at his summer arts program posts old photos of him in the school lobby, Felix, a Black trans teenager, hatches an elaborate revenge plan. Along the way, he discovers a lot about himself and his peers, makes new friends, and falls in love for the first time. This is a bighearted, messy, and exuberantly queer novel about friendship, gender identity, and family, full of painfully real teenagers who make a lot of mistakes and (sometimes) learn from them. It deals with transphobia and racism in queer communities, but it’s also full of queer joy. It’s a celebration of trans youth, Blackness, and finding the courage to be yourself.
As a Black graduate student in biology at a midwestern university in a mostly white town, Wallace is the victim of countless cruel comments, dismissals, and microaggressions. And as those encounters stack up, he looks for someone, somewhere, to help him cope. Brilliant and beautiful and painful and perfectly real, Real Life is an incredible piece with prose that will cut you straight down to the bone. Wallace is a nuanced and difficult protagonist, one who takes so much hurt and buries it deep, making the reader want to scream out for his pain. The power in these pages is beyond measure.
My Summer of Love and Misfortune is the funniest book I’ve read this year. Think Crazy Rich Asians meets Sandhya Menon’s books. The premise: Iris is sent to live with relatives she’s never met in Beijing, after failing high school and being a general mess. Iris acts and thinks like a teenager, but the book reads more adult than YA. There are so many funny moments with traveling faux pas, awkward teenage moments, delicious foodie descriptions. Family and connecting with culture is at the heart of this book. This book is a hilarious adventure that will cure the travel bug while we’re all staying home this summer.
Bethany C. Morrow
This beautiful YA novel centers Black girls in a way we all need to see more. Sisters Tavia and Effie share a bond that couldn’t have been stronger if they’d come from the same womb. Together, they laugh and cry through shared heartache over troubled family dynamics, loss, and the daily dangers of being Black in America. Also, Tavia is a Siren, Effie isn’t sure what she is, and there’s a living gargoyle on their roof. Come for the sisterhood, stay for the magic (both #BlackGirlMagic and otherwise), and enjoy the ride as these two delightful and awkward Black girls find their voices and claim their space in a world that doesn’t want them.
With an unusual compulsion that makes him announce the number of letters spoken in any sentence said aloud, Collin is a natural target for his peers. When he moves to the Midwest to escape his tormentors, Collin also learns about the Ojibwe half of his heritage with the help of his Native mother, a new and mind-boggling friend named Orenda, and others in his new community. Try as he might to suppress his letter counting, Collin must first understand more about himself and the world around him before he can conquer anything within.
Working as an archivist, Jenn Shapland stumbled on letters that she believed revealed the queer relationships of acclaimed Southern author Carson McCullers. But in her search to find more evidence, she would face resistance from scholars and other gatekeepers; she would interrogate the need for “proof” of queerness and the biases ingrained in biographical research; and she would find emotional links between McCullers’s life and her own. A gorgeously written, audacious book, this is one of my favorite reads of the year, a queer book that asks us to think about the invisibility of chronic illness, queerness, and womanhood.
—Leah Rachel von Essen
I’m a sucker for a good gothic story. Creepy moors. Crumbling mansions. Glimpses of the supernatural. As she normally does, Silvia Moreno-Garcia puts her own spin on genre tropes. Here she’s written a classic horror with modern sensibilities. Noemí Taboada is one of her signature headstrong heroines, and her stubbornness is an asset when she arrives at gloomy High Place in the 1950s Mexican countryside. The mystery is twisty. The supernatural elements are unexpected, unique, and, well, gross. The story is dark, moody, and atmospheric. It’s everything you could want from gothic horror.
This book is so full of heart. As a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, Linus investigates orphanages where magical children are kept. He thinks he’s inconsequential and that’s how he likes it. When management orders him to investigate a top-secret orphanage, what he discovers about himself and about the children he investigates there will tear down all his preconceived notions. The novel features M/M romance, a murderous gardening gnome, Lucy the antichrist, a were-pomeranian, a button-collecting wyvern, and a wood sprite. They all entwined their way into my heart, and I just want to hug them and fight for their rights.
When Cleo’s friendship with Layla explodes, she wrestles with how to erase their time together. Reclaim old spots, finding new friends, falling for a cute boy…this all sounds great, but is a lot easier said than done when she’s forced to tutor her ex–best friend. This quiet YA contemporary brilliantly (and heartbreakingly) shifts timelines, showing the collapse of a friendship, and makes for one of the best reads of the year. World-ending stakes don’t have to be an asteroid. Sometimes that whole world is a friendship. Woodfolk’s masterful novel hits all the perfect beats, and breaks your heart while putting it back together again.
With tinges of sci-fi, romance, and bleak comedy, this strange graphic novel lives entirely in its own world. Imagine a Black Mirror episode populated by curiously cute creatures, that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still leaves an emotional trail.
Neela and Rukmini are two Brown Canadian women musicians (one trans, one unspecified) who form a fierce, fast friendship when Rukmini, an emerging artist, covers one of the more established artist Neela’s songs. The story investigates professional jealousy, the pleasure and price of making art, social media’s infiltration of our relationships, call-out culture, the way systemic racism and sexism pit women of color against each other, and more. It’s also a love letter to women (mostly of color) artists. The characterization of Neela and Rukmini is incredible, as is Shraya’s thoughtful, nuanced exploration of the issues the novel brings up.
I have been looking forward to this book for roughly ten months and it did not disappoint. It was the perfect blend of horror, humor, and social commentary with just a dash (okay maybe more than a dash) of an “ick” factor. What is brilliant about these is that you don’t even realize that you’re reading social commentary until the end or a character brings your attention to it with a statement or comment. There are a few content and trigger warnings, but I do heartily recommend it, especially considering our current social climate.
Victoria Chang’s newest poetry collection centers around grief. Grief over the death of her mother and grief over her father’s downward spiral after a stroke. Most of the poems are in a nonce format, taking on the shape and style of newspaper obituaries. These poems look at Chang’s parents as well as friendships, writing, and all the other aspects of life that these dueling losses affect. Sprinkled throughout, though, are tankas focusing on Chang’s children, bringing light and joy and hope for something after the sadness. “Hope, hope, hope,” Chang writes, the hope for light at the end of our tunneling grief.
—Chris M. Arnone
When an elderly customer disappears in a Swedish furniture store, Ava and Jules learn that their workplace has a slight wormhole problem. As the two newest employees it’s up to them to jump through as many multidimensional portals as necessary to track her down. Easier said than done when confronted with carnivorous plants, doppelgängers, and mixed-up feelings over their own recent break up. Let’s just say it’s way above their pay grade. A clever, quirky read set in what’s basically an interdimensional IKEA. Full of heart and longing and self-discovery and pretty much everything that makes portal SFF fun. It’s just wonderfully weird.
In the second volume of Saint Young Men, Buddha and Jesus continue their quest to learn as much as they can about humanity, and being human, during their gap year sharing an apartment in Tokyo. Our intrepid heroes attempt to find joy in the smallest of things while navigating the trying, confusing, maddening, but always miraculous vicissitudes of existence on Earth. All while perfecting their comedy routine, meeting their manga deadlines, keeping the household budget balanced, and not relaxing so much they levitate at the movie theater. And let us not forget the joys of goofy boxers (in case you wanted that answer to that eternal question).
This book is Samantha Irby’s third collection of essays. I’ve loved the author since she was only writing on BITCHES GOTTA EAT, her blog, and every time I read something new of hers, it’s made me respect her even more as a writer and developing human. And, did I mention she’s hilarious? I mean, laugh-aloud-at-home-by-yourself-even-though-you’re-reading-about-depression-and-being-unable-to-control-one’s-own-bowels hilarious. Her work, and this collection in particular, is so full of raw truth and impeccable humor that it’s both sobering and intoxicating, and that’s exactly the type of memoir I want. (Bonus if it’s structured as a playlist!)
—Mary Kay McBrayer
This is a book about fear, but it is also a book with hope shining through every crack in that fear. In a near-future dystopian southwest, Esther stows away in a book wagon to run away from an arranged marriage to her dead best friend’s fiancé. Her dead best friend she was in love with. Her dead best friend who was executed for “possession of resistance propaganda.” But the librarians aren’t what Esther expects, and she finds herself reckoning with a few truths she didn’t anticipate, and joining the fight for what’s right.
—Annika Barranti Klein