PositiveBooklistReaders will be fascinated by the novel’s scenery, psychological acuity, and even of Xu’s room, filled with rotting food that she needs around. Queerness, grief, isolation, dependence, and love merge in this novel of geographically-based healing and descent.
RaveBooklistGay’s poetically influenced prose is nothing short of joyful. Blending the serious and the playful, this essay collection incites joy with writings about a wide range of actions and places ... Gay’s pedagogy, explained in detail, disrupts the systems that are baseline incongruent with joy, as does his writing, in every sentence.
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
RaveBooklistAnother rich, complex novel that tells deeply personal stories against a national and historical backdrop. Narrating duties rotate among Vivian and each of her daughters, illuminating the stressors and conflicting values that the women must navigate as they try to find themselves within their singing family, their Black community, and their unjust country. Once again, Sexton delivers.
PositiveBooklistReaders compelled by existentialism, unanswered questions, and ambiguity will enjoy this interesting debut. Odd details, such as a chat room for wives of fictional husbands in space, percolate up like unexplained air bubbles from an ocean crevasse. This is also a book for readers compelled by oceanography, its organizing principal being the ocean’s five main layers.
RaveBooklistLike its subjects, this first book by journalist Pasulka is a national treasure. Authentically, sensitively, and expansively recording the personal and sociopolitical realities of drag in Brooklyn from 2011 to 2021, this compendium preserves the people, places, and evolving culture that made drag famous ... Focusing on the actual human players, Pasulka generously considers the complex and multilayered effects of RuPaul’s Drag Race on the show’s Brooklynite stars ... Pasulka also charts the contributions and essential presence of queens not cast on Drag Race, such as Merrie Cherry and Krystal Something Something, and inclusively details the impacts of drag kings, cisgender women, nonbinary performers, and the hosting venues. The book’s impressively broad lens is matched by its zoom-in on the details of drag. Readers will learn drag-specific lexicon and cultural competencies that make this subculture unlike any other and influential beyond any expectations.
Marisa Renee Lee
PositiveBooklistA blend of memoir, advice, and research...an anti-blueprint, laying out her argument that those grieving must do so without shame, on their own timelines and in their own ways ... Her willingness to share grief’s unexpected lessons is designed to help others get through and access concurrent joy ... Clearly written and accessible to many readers, this book adds a leader’s personal voice to the growing body of work inviting us to grieve better.
PositiveBooklistThe premise is contextualized as madcap rather than problematic, and the stretching required to make it work can be intense. Yet, title aside, this is actually a novel of deep, transformative healing ... Debut novelist Winter oscillates between the satirically ridiculous...to the profoundly important (how to forgive). The effect is a little uneven, but the novel remains thoroughly interesting, unusual, and compelling.
PositiveBooklistThe personal essays in Gutowitz’s first book examine pop culture through a lens of evolving lesbian identity and range in tone from self-deprecating snark to cotton-candy light to truly profound ... The collection is both interesting and uneven. Claiming a difference in intention, one ultimately unconvincing essay attempts to separate the ethics of her own speculation on celebrity sexuality for profit from the cruel-toned blog of Perez Hilton. Yet, another, stunning piece is a letter to the author’s younger self ... Readers who recall where they were during iconic moments like when Orange is the New Black debuted or when paparazzi pictures of Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson arguing were published will relish reliving their importance with Gutowitz.
Chloé Cooper Jones
RaveBooklistJones’ soul-stretching, breathtaking existential memoir chronicles her reclaiming of body, mind, and self ... A profound, impressive, and wiser-than-wise contemplation of the way Jones is viewed by others, her own collusion in those views, and whether any of this can be shifted. She shares her ultimate answer—yes—in superlative writing, rendering complex emotion and unparalleled insight in skillfully precise language ... Her debut is a game-changing gift to readers.
PositiveBooklist[A] wide-ranging, global consideration of shame ... While the argument’s core is solid, some examples equivocate and oversimplify ... Readers will be taken on a broad and meaningful survey of the \'shamescape\' from incels to Google AI to masking and vaxxing to addiction recovery.
Tara Isabella Burton
PositiveBooklistBurton writes with a heart-stopping understanding of the micro-dynamics among adolescents still uncentered at their cores. The insular campus setting and small scenes in crypts, libraries, and dorm rooms that contain big emotions and powerful dialogue will make readers cringe at what they can see coming ... Burton skillfully offers readers treacherous and believable adolescent experiences surrounding sex and suicide.
RaveBooklistLovely ... Readable and compelling chapters move around in time...and in perspective ... The novel’s arrangement feels meaningful as turning-point moments in the siblings’ lives take center stage, one after the other ... As the title invites us to consider, perhaps the most profound meaning is not taken from a singular experience but from the collective of family members’ voices. Kauffman’s writing style renders complex dynamics in simple, impactful language and scenes.
PositiveBooklistThe thematic rather than chronological structure of the chapters results in some repetition. Even so, Kennedy’s winning argument invites readers to focus on Houston’s triumphs: the ceilings she broke and the pathways she paved. Particularly impactful is Kennedy’s work to locate Houston’s legacy in a historical-cultural context, retrieving, for example, the no-longer-sung, racist third verse of \'The Star-Spangled Banner\'—which she breathtakingly performed in 1991—and contemplating the meaning of a Black woman performing the national anthem at such a profound level.
RaveBooklistReaders of this beating heart of a book will spend valuable time immersed in queer life ... Katz’s observant, wise, and compelling prose voices in Jules a character who navigates oceans of queer alienation to finally tap into connection among queer ancestors, art, and community ... On gorgeous display in this novella—winner of Dzanc’s 2019 Novella Prize—is a powerful experience of the world, both painful and rich, from outside its dominant systems.
RaveBooklistApproaching each of her topics, Srinivasan orients readers with care, nuance, and intersectionality ... To accompany Srinivasan on her thought-work into unpacking, questioning, considering, contextualizing, and deepening contemporary feminist issues is to be stretched into new shapes that the world needs. Srinivasan’s powerful thinking is matched by her powerful language, often striking like an electric revelation at the core of an issue. This is required reading.
PositiveBooklistQueers reconstructing and shaping their stories, including getting it wrong and needing some guidance, are at the core of this novel. The plot, the language, and the characters move perhaps a little too quickly at times, making rereading necessary. Even so, the futuristic New York and Los Angeles that form the backdrop for a modern and youthful queer culture make for stimulating immersion.
RaveBooklistThis rich, unafraid debut novel offers a masterclass in perspective-taking and will leave readers deep in their feelings ... Ahmed’s impressive insight into his characters’ lives is lifted up by a lovely use of intuitive and beautiful language ... Showing his characters honestly and authentically in the full ranges of their different and shared humanities succeeds in meaningful ways.
RaveBooklistThis debut, a collection of connected stories set in the American West, offers a wonderful, meaningful experience to readers ... The stories rise above on multiple levels: rich settings both integrated and essential, compelling characters navigating life’s most formative crossroads, the tapestry effect of skillfully woven elements, and emotional intelligence in breathtaking spades ... Boyles both respects the intelligence of her reader and brings heart and soul to the page.
PositiveBooklist\"Sammie’s profound imperfection will be a source of relief to queer parents everywhere; her bond with her son is complicated and fraught ... The novel’s crescendo bends toward questions of plot (what is actually happening here) when the existential questions are more compelling (what is life for a not-young queer woman struggling in parenthood). Even so, this book is equal parts Florida queer and fascinating.\
RaveBooklistThis skillful debut takes a righteous spot on the shelf next to recent novels like Kate Elizabeth Russell’s My Dark Vanessa (2020), unpacking childhood sexual abuse with complicated and nuanced lenses ... Roan’s first-person voice is wise and interesting, clear and observant....Mihalic is an expert in creating narrative drive; the urge to keep reading is powerful. Readers will encounter descriptions of sexual abuse and should be forewarned, yet Mihalic guides readers in looking deeper and considering what might make a victim misunderstand her own \'consensual\' participation. A provoking and needed book.
RaveBooklistMcGhee offers a mountain range of evidence ... McGhee’s book is required reading, a true work of courage and intellectual rigor. Readers have likely asked: Why is this so hard for a country that has so much? By unearthing and exposing the faulty why, McGhee illuminates the path to actual change.
Dantiel W. Moniz
RaveBooklistThis debut collection from award-winning Moniz sets its fascinating and difficult stories in Florida. These stories are fascinating because their connective moments are both unpredictable and earned ... Moniz reinforces that pain is pain is pain. Sometimes it is transformative; sometimes it only hurts. This story collection is for readers who want to be both challenged and compelled.
RaveBooklistIn therapy, Tate learns that secrets are toxic, and applies that lesson to her writing. Essential to Tate’s project is authorial ethos, and she maintains credibility by writing the bad, the ugly, and the badly ugly through years of painful relationships and despair. Her writing displays a wonderful combination of clear and simple with sparkle and intelligence ... a compelling narrative.
Jared Yates Sexton
RaveBooklistSexton’s work is a well-informed fly-over. His research offers a big-picture view of leadership, regardless of political affiliation, that repeats and re-repeats patterns of creating and protecting wealth for the American elite at any cost. Greed is not novel, but this book’s ability to convince its populace that their country enacted greed’s opposite is extraordinary. Sexton’s writing is to be praised for its lack of equivocation. He calls the immoral immoral, the unethical unethical. The reading is uncomfortable yet necessary. Sexton’s well-executed project of looking at American history with radical candor is meant to make us more patriotic, not less; only with clear eyes do we have a chance of fulfilling America’s promise.
RaveBooklistThis dense, well-researched project alternates between chapters contextualizing political and legal events from a high-level view and closeup chapters that follow, empathically and personally, the lives of LGTBQ+ people living on the wrong side of the Pink Line ... This structure reinforces the social justice belief that the personal is political and vice versa. Gevisser’s monumental effort in this global deep-think of a text outlines how much work remains ahead. This necessary, timely, intelligent book belongs in every library, the world over.
PositiveBooklistTo his credit, Sellers exposes his own flaws in this book; mistakes he’s not proud of. This solidly written memoir is an important addition to contemporary politics shelves.
RaveBooklistThe narrative voice of Janet in Britsch’s debut novel is a skin-tingling combination of new and necessary ... The joy of Janet’s narration is in her self-acceptance, which results in surprising notes of humor and profound truths ... This book and this character are radical, and readers are likely to feel a relief at reading the thoughts they’ve had but not spoken.
PositiveBooklist...the most compelling is Sam’s thoughts and beliefs around HIV, which are surprising, nuanced, and compelling ... The novel captures a very now portrait of contemporary privileged gay male life, narrated in an authentic voice and painted in a full, ugly-to-beautiful spectrum.
PositiveBooklistReaders of this novel could be triggered by its content, which contains disturbing violence and abuse. Despite the novel’s focus on one man, the author places her story in the larger context of immigration, racism, sexism, and injustice. The chapters rotate among two characters and the house, and this unusual tactic succeeds because of the essential point it makes regarding bearing witness versus taking action. Momplaisir’s observant and informed writing is sensitive to the emotions of her characters while not sparing readers hard moments.
PositiveBooklistShortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018, this novel from Kandasamy ...reflects deeply and meaningfully on an unnamed woman’s marriage to an abusive man ... The abuse is revealed on page one, a refusal to relegate it to revelatory plot point. Instead, the text focuses on the sadistic step-by-step that morphs an independent, intelligent, Indian woman into an isolated, empty, scared wife. Kandasamy’s thoughtful deep dive into the nature of abuse and its effects is a call-to-action to believe and support all women, and Indian women in particular.
PositiveBooklistCard’s clean, readable prose provides an important counterbalance to the dense, heavy problems her broad scope of characters endure. A fantastic debut.
RaveBooklist...critical and convincing ... Denworth’s work achieves the best of science writing by making complicated concepts clear. She uses intelligent observation, empathy, and curiosity to offer a friendship manifesto that will absolutely affect readers’ own personal approaches to friendship.
PositiveBooklist... can be an uncomfortable read by design ... Peck is a brave, bold writer who disallows a safe, predictable reading experience. The final line of a story often cracks it open in unanticipated ways. His writing style is a combination of readable, experimental, clear, and challenging, and he shows great range over his career. Not every reader will connect with these stories, each with desire burning at its core, but those with a tolerance for what lies outside the margins will find reality and humanity.
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
RaveBooklist...a powerful, deeply personal second novel ... It’s rare for dual narratives to be equally compelling, and Sexton achieves this while illustrating the impact of slavery long after its formal end. Nurturing, motherhood, and pregnancy rise up as important themes. Readers will engage fully in this compelling story of African American women who have power in a culture that attempts to dismantle it.
RaveBooklistThis book’s combination of personal narrative and collective refugee story is compelling, necessary, and deeply thought and felt. Writing with truth and beauty, Nayeri..reckons with her own past as a refugee ... This valuable account of refugee lives will grip readers’ attention.
PositiveBooklistThe essay’s structure is singular yet mosaic, chapter-less and broken into seemingly disconnected blocks of thought that are ultimately designed to be contemplated as a fractured whole ... To all of these topics, Low applies the full force of her compelling intellect.
RaveBooklistPoet McCann...makes a momentous nonfiction debut ... The core subject is nothing less than the nature of American identity and the concept of freedom. Admirably, McCann’s ethos is not that of a neutral bystander but of a truth seeker. He thinks through viewpoints with depth and empathy, but he also takes stands and calls out the problematic ... Contradictions, hypocrisies, and sanitized history were at the forefront of a standoff that cost at least one man his life. This heavily researched and thoughtful book, written with detail and care, asks big questions of readers and the country
MixedBooklistAt times the novel can feel a bit directionless, which is fitting for Denny’s current status: things just seem to happen to Denny. She’s visited by animals and people and weather, all of which thwart her disengagement plan and eventually send her back to her father, changed by the woods. Goldblatt’s spare and illuminating language suits her protagonist, who spends a good deal of time lonely inside her own head and experience.
PositiveBooklistZaki’s heart-of-the-matter writing style relates complex emotion in clear, direct language. He walks his own fine line, between significant research findings and his personal emotional and empathic responses. His research and his book are worthy.
PositiveBooklist... heavily researched and passionately argued ... An immigrant himself, Mehta weights his personal, readable manifesto with history and data. The result is profoundly disturbing, convincing, clear-eyed, and hopeful.
PositiveBooklistMaking a list of what’s quirky about this debut novel from Arnett...is too tempting to resist, but these quirks also serve as the novel’s starting points. Arnett’s writing cuts through all the unusualness and renders Jessa human and relatable ... The squeamish may struggle to read about Jessa’s life, but readers who persevere will be both compelled and rewarded.
RaveBooklistThe large cast of characters and nuanced detail in this exceptional true story require close attention, but the payoff for readers is tenfold ... Stories layer on top of each other in a seemingly endless display of bravery ... Purnell’s writing is as precise and engaging as her research, and this book restores overdue attention to one of the world’s great war heroes. It’s a joy to read, and it will swell readers’ hearts with pride.
PositiveBooklistJames...considers otherness in this book from three colliding frameworks: geographical, artistic, and societal ... Pagan Light is full of anecdotes that can be both difficult and fascinating to read. This is a heavily researched and detail-laden portrait of Capri that will most interest historically minded readers.
RaveBooklistIn straightforward and readable prose, Allen argues that queerness thrives everywhere, perhaps even more so in states like Indiana, Texas, and Tennessee, precisely because there’s still so much advocacy work to do. Allen’s openness about her personal story—including growing up Mormon, living an angst-filled double life in Provo, coming out as transgendered, meeting her wife in an elevator at the Kinsey Institute, and undergoing surgery to get a vagina—invites respect. She writes with loving curiosity about other people in the LGBTQ community and blends this with national-level reporting on political and historical LGBTQ issues.
PositiveBooklistThe novel answers its primary question, \'Is doing good even possible?\', with significant emotional honesty, and Lichtman’s clear and accessible writing allows readers to explore its complex topics at many levels. Jonas is a bundle of shifting emotions, needs, and coping mechanisms, and rather than doing good, easing the discomfort of being human is at times all he can manage.
Khaled Khalifa Trans. by Leri Price
RaveBooklist[A] powerhouse novel ... clear-eyed in its presentation of living in a war zone ... Khalifa reaches readers with a style that is straightforward, true, and profound.
PositiveBooklistSoloway...writes with self-awareness about their jealousy of more successful peers; their messy divorce; the integration of their life into the show’s story lines; and their mistakes and triumphs ... This is an honest look at Soloway’s mind-opening journey, which allowed for deeper understanding of Hollywood’s patriarchy as well as of the author’s own gender, art, and self.
Lacy M. Johnson
PositiveBooklistThese essays attempt to parcel out several knotted problems and suggest forms of meaningful justice ... She implicates herself, offering her personal life up for examination, modeling what we all must do to achieve anything close to justice. Johnson’s questions and answers are hard but necessary.
PositiveBooklist\"At the moment a seagull drops on Ray Eccles’ head, his eyes open to a woman’s face. He paints that face, over and over, for years: first in foodstuffs on the wall of his rented bungalow, and later in sought-after paintings as part of the outsider-art movement. Paige invites us to spend time in the life of Eccles’ unknown muse, a young mother who runs a dress shop and who eventually discovers her fame ... The small moment with the seagull ripples into large impacts across many lives in untidy ways that are nonetheless compelling and honest.
PositiveBooklistQuestions of queerness, race, and social position intersect in important ways in Donkor’s debut ... Donkor’s nuanced world view allows readers to see the layers of life that intelligent, burdened Belinda discovers.
RaveBooklist\"Bauer’s amazing book examines one of slavery’s toxic legacies, using convicted people to make profit, through a dual approach ... In short, he observes an acutely dangerous and out-of-control environment created by CCA’s profit-driven underpaying of staff and understaffing of prisons. Bauer’s historical and journalistic work should be required reading.\
PositiveBooklist OnlineThe premise of Mattson’s debut could have overtaken his story, but doesn’t. The novel contains 80 film reviews written by critic Noah Body, who lives in a future where water usage is monitored and those who live in the Zone have microchips. Body’s reviews are the cynical underpinning for the novel’s primary story of his own life ... Writing reviews that no one reads of films he doesn’t respect has worn Body down to the point that making art is a matter of survival: he must make his own film. Is it enough to redeem him? Mattson’s intelligence, in the form of...observations and acrobatic language, takes the novel’s center stage.
Michael Scott Moore
RaveBooklist Online\"Moore’s account of his captivity in Somalia is a fascinating page-turner ... Moore’s honest writing will speak to readers; he is candid about his feelings, his mistakes, Somalia, his conditions, and his pirates. He walks the tightrope of inviting readers to have empathy for pirates whose national history includes brutal colonialism while demonstrating the pirates’ capacity for torture ... Having faced an experience no one ever should, Moore constructs a narrative that makes readers’ hearts beat faster and with purpose.\
PositiveBooklist Online\"In this debut story collection from Arthurs, winner of the 2017 Plimpton Award, readers meet Jamaicans in a wide spectrum of life moments ... Jamaican realities contemplated through many engaged and interesting eyes.\
PositiveBooklist\"Bullwinkel’s strength lies in her realistic portrayals of the human emotions these surreal situations amplify ... Readers will enjoy contemplating Bullwinkel’s launching points, but the strength of her writing and the nuanced views will stay with them long after.\
RaveBooklistMiles’ account of the founding and rise of Detroit is an outstanding contribution that seeks to integrate the entirety of U.S. history, admirable and ugly, to offer a more holistic understanding of the country ... Miles sets a standard for thoroughness. With scant historical documentation available, she details personal accounts of the lives of the 'unfree' and the political ideologies and actions that affected them.
RaveBooklistHansen’s must-read book makes the argument that Americans, specifically white Americans, are decades overdue in examining and accepting their country’s imperial identity ... Hansen’s argument goes beyond the factual assertion that Americans are ignorant of the country’s long, complicated, invasive histories with many other countries around the world. She makes the paradigm-breaking claim that what Americans are taught about their national and personal identities disallows the very acquisition of this knowledge ... Hansen builds her winning argument by combining personal examination and observation with geopolitical history lessons. She is a fearless patriot, and this is a book for the brave.