To the chagrin of plenty, when people ask me about Miriam Toews (and when they don't), I often say her name in the same breath as "greatest novelist writing in English today" and "the best writer on grief and loss living on this continent," superlatives that surely test my credibility and raise eyebrows, but I stand by them. So help me. It's easy for me to articulate what makes Toews so compelling: her acidic humor, her total inability to play by the rules, always one eye on the specter of death. Rivaling some of Toews's best novels (All My Puny Sorrows, Women Talking, A Complicated Kindness, to name a few), FIGHT NIGHT is the most invigorating work of art in Toews's oeuvre thus far. Come for Toews's unparalleled knack for writing sour grandmothers; stay for Swiv, the precocious child narrator who says things like this: "I don't know why saying bowel movement and stool is better than vag and piehole. It doesn't matter what words you use in life, it's not gonna prevent you from suffering."
"That is our 'pointed task. Love & die." So says John Berryman, the pre-eminent lovedrunk poet and the central obsession of Andrew Palmer's debut novel, The Bachelor, a book that is, yes, partially about romantic love in the age of reality television. But what if you're not a fame-starved Instagram model, and instead a brooding but friendly millennial type, recently void of artistic ambition? Palmer's brilliant work is full of insight and romantic mistakes, like reading the best of Andrew Martin, Ben Lerner, or Elif Batuman. Palmer extracts the language of love for what it is—its hollowness! its empty repetition! ("I've never felt this way before." "I think I'm falling for you.") It's a difficult thing to watch, as it starts to indict us all.
I can feel my gums tingling and grit on my face just from reading this story of Phoebe and Carmen’s escapades through 1980’s New York. Standiford’s adult debut novel brings us as close to time travel as possible, the dazzling nightclubs and downtown squats feel so real. A magnificent coming-of-age story full of dark twists and a quiet grief.
I'm a sucker for a novel in verse! For fans of Elizabeth Acevedo and Jacqueline Woodson, Mahogany L. Browne writes the story of a teenage girl just trying to play basketball without getting too cold in her best friend's shadow. Her words bite but her voice is delicate, letting me relish in that dichotomy of girlhood. Chlorine Sky feels like the chemicals from the community pool and the sun setting orange, your fingers are pruny but it's just so beautiful. Five more minutes
A perfect example of a book for children and adults alike; give this to everyone you know! Woodson writes in verse, beautifully combining prose and poetry, to tell the autobiographical story of a brown girl coming of age at the tailend of Jim Crow. She grapples with identity and the idea of home, growing up in South Carolina and New York, while still trying to be a kid with dreams of becoming a writer. It's powerful, it's beautiful, it's no wonder it was a Newbery Award nominee.
This is a wonderfully shameless story that I wish was around when I was in school. Period.
The characters are relatable and diverse, the social situations are true to life, and the use of social media formats to share facts from women's history is clever and well done. Schneemann opens up an important discussion here, in many shades of red, and I can't wait to see how her characters will continue to inspire change.
Bump writes from his own childhood experience on the South Side of Chicago. It’s a heartfelt story with familiar themes of family, love, and growing up, but from a completely unique voice – one that will endear you to main character Claude McKay and one that needs to be heard.
Pair it with Margo Jefferson’s Negroland a memoir, also about growing up, decades earlier and in another part of Chicago, as an affluent African-American. Two illuminating and unforgettable portrayals of race in the U.S.
How mystifying the customs of ancient peoples seem to us... but how far removed are we, really?
Sylvie and her parents join a small university class on "a summer experience" living as Iron Age Britons may have. As prehistoric tasks become more intuitive to the group, so do the rituals they once thought horrific.
This unassuming wisp of a book belies the disquieting story within.
"I shivered. Of course that was the whole point of the re-enactment, that we ourselves became the ghosts, learning to walk the land as they walk it two thousand years ago."
Hot with violent urgency, and shrouded in the moss and fog of the rural Northwest, Vera Violet opens with the eponymous Vera on the run someplace deep in Montana, and does not let up until the final page. In between is something like the root system of a tall cedar, or the wiring Harness on an old pickup: tangled at first glance, but intricate as soon as you start to trace it. This is an unforgettable novel.
E. J. Koh is a poet and translator and in her debut memoir we see proof of a master of language at work. At 15 years old, E. J.'s parents "temporarily" move back to Korea, leaving her and her brother by themselves in California. This coming-of-age memoir skillfully tells the story of a family's complicated history and love for each other.