RaveThe Seattle TimesAlthough The Prophets is his debut novel, Robert Jones Jr. is no stranger to critical thinking in craft, criticism and analysis. Jones, and his stunner of a novel, embody what can only be called art ... a cornucopia of brilliant, beautiful sentences. The writing in The Prophets calls to mind Toni Morrison’s famous quote, \'I stood at the border, stood at the edge, and claimed it as central … and let the rest of the world move over to where I was.\' The novel shifts and subverts the most common narratives of America’s foundational practice of enslavement and exploitation ... In Jones’ deft hands, the pages of The Prophets seem to radiate with its warmth ... Jones’ prose plays exquisitely with the notions of light and dark, exploding the false binary of these words, making light into dark and dark into light ... The Prophets is an astounding book, at once potent and universe-level expansive, a sky unto itself. With it — and with his work at Son of Baldwin — Jones establishes himself as a writer, thinker and creative force to watch.
RaveThe Star Tribune... a deft exploration of what it means to live in a world teeming with the violence of white supremacy, and what that means for how people survive. It\'s also an engrossing and perfectly paced story, a dystopian parable that lives so close to the bone of reality that it rings painfully true ... Hernandez does not shy away from the complications and conflicts of these characters who are simultaneously complicit and working to embody the resistance ... populated with characters of various genders, abilities and racial identities, all of whom are shown in their full humanity. Hernandez renders the necessarily messy work of undoing white supremacy for characters at every crossroads. Her prose is at once sharp and punctuated with moments of lyrical beauty, even interludes of poetry ... has an intimate quality that succeeds in centering love as the driving force of resistance ... the overall propulsion of the book is forward, toward an increasingly disturbing and corporeally arresting climax ... In Hernandez\'s skilled storytelling hands, white supremacy is the root of evil but it is not the center of the story.
RaveThe Washington PostHow can asexuality and the ace perspective challenge the biases of compulsory sexuality and relationship hierarchies? This is the central question of the book, and Chen expertly and beautifully nudges this discussion forward ... Ace is a fantastic starting point for dismantling harmful sexual narratives and reimagining human connection as a broader, more equitable, enjoyable and free experience.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleAkhtar...deftly weaves politics, family, friendship, capitalism, work and the eternal existential crisis of being \'American\' into a tapestry of form that includes essay, lyric passages and dialogue in its pattern (which, like America, is somewhat chaotic) ... Akhtar’s playwriting chops are clear in the searing, humorous, fast-moving dialogue...in sections that are truly a feat of observation of human behavior and language. Layered with political overtones is an impressive level of detail in setting, action and dreams, the latter of which hold court over the story in both a literal and metaphorical sense ... Dreams and mundaneness function beautifully as allegories for living a life in this fictional/nonfictional world, which can fairly be described as vivid and messy, not unlike this book.
MixedThe Seattle TimesWith so much going on, the narrative can feel overwhelming. The muddled meaning of family, and of extreme individualism within a family, are compelling themes that Veselka deftly explores. The characters have chaotic interiorities, which are both jarring and strangely poignant ... The portrayal of the choices one must make when living paycheck to paycheck in late capitalist America is realistic and devastating, especially when it comes to medical decisions ... This is a thorny book. Veselka is a talented writer, with sensual imagery and an unflinching ability to stick with troubled and troublesome characters. However, the book falters in some important ways, especially around race ... The book often seems to undermine its anti-capitalist narrative by engaging in the casual racism and stereotyping rooted in that capitalism ... the added layer of these historical ties almost overloads an already ambitious book ... a twisty, dense novel. Despite the many side characters, the four main characters are well developed and the messy relationships they have with one another ring true ... While the novel perhaps meanders too often, and though some characters fall short, this novel shines in its exploration of motherhood. The deeply moving and nuanced mother narrative is a rewarding journey in itself. Also satisfying is the parallel emotional evolution of the sisters, however flawed it remains ... On balance, this is a compelling, sometimes frustrating and disturbing novel that realistically portrays poverty and messy family dynamics. Its settings are vivid and will be recognized by many Seattle-area readers. Its structure is sprawling, its emotional beats hard-won. But like the characters at its center, it leaves some important things unexamined.
RaveLambda LiteraryTheir storytelling prowess goes beyond the idea of giving away an ending. The fact that the reader knows it from the start makes what happens in between all the more interesting. And in Emezi’s skilled hands, the mosaic of love, pain, community, family, trauma, and beauty, that make the crown to which Vivek is the bloody jewel, is crafted into an unforgettable and deeply moving story ... Vivek’s embodied fulcrum is expansiveness, is possibility, with all of its attendant joy and ache. Emezi is a master of writing this expansiveness. The word it hinges on is gender, but gender expansiveness petals outward to all of life, an inherent queering of inherited and invented narratives. Every page of this novel is electric, but the story really shines with the loving and complex portrayal of the relationships between its younger protagonists ... Emezi’s choices about which perspectives will provide which context for the story are perfect, creating an atmosphere both fluid and engaging ... As the plot unfolds toward its already-established conclusion, the reader is let in on not just secrets and a bit of mystery, but a work of art.
RaveThe Washington Post... [Faliveno] explores gender and identity with the honesty and complexity of a person who has thought a lot about how complicated people are, including and especially herself ... Faliveno’s deft writing of gender dynamics is as fluid as gender itself, making it a relief to read ... Among the tributaries of this theme of rural stoicism are candid examinations of gun culture, drinking culture, parenthood and grief. Tomboyland delves into the idea of violence in unexpected and fascinating ways, though the violence of Whiteness is mostly unexamined, which feels especially conspicuous considering her connection to formerly indigenous land ... The language of weaponry comes up again and again, jolting the reader into a framework that is usually the domain of the masculine. In this way, Faliveno not only refuses to shy away from the ways in which violent language permeates our discourse, but subverts its gendered associations ... The theme of violence intertwined with fear, love and reverence for place and created family propels Tomboyland into captivating territory. On the surface, its beautiful prose belies the darker complexities it scrapes at, making it all the more gratifying to read.
RaveThe Washington PostThe threads of playwright David Adjmi’s debut memoir are woven tightly ... Reality is just as fluid as fiction, and Adjmi deftly plays with this tension ... Adjmi’s prose is so precise and detailed as to bring the reader into the chest cavity of a person suffocating from confusion ... As Lot Six assiduously charts David’s life — from early childhood through college, graduate school and his career — the book becomes an immersive experience, not unlike theater. On every page, readers are tasked with asking themselves the terrifying, beautiful question: What is the story of a life?
Jean Kyoung Frazier
RaveLambda LiteraryFrazier’s storytelling prowess only grows more deft. Much of the short, firecracker Pizza Girl is the protagonist’s interiority, which is as complex as it is engrossing ... Pizza Girl is unsettling at times, like the floating lights of a smoggy city at night. This unease comes from a place of deep honesty and spot-on late-adolescent voice ... The delicacy with which Frazier constructs a character defined by both apathy and emotional depth is part of what makes this novel so readable ... Like pickle pizza, Pizza Girl’s blend of tang and cheese is one of the most satisfying novels you’ll read this year.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesIt\'s...full of strong narratives ... Manning deftly plays with the idea of rules, and the idea of queerness, weaving a neon cat’s cradle of complex characters whose questions and desires push on the constraints and freedoms of both ... The \'gay aunt\' and \'gay uncle\' are fixtures in pop culture and family narratives. But these categories, like all categories, flatten people. Manning actively writes their characters into three dimensions.
RaveThe Seattle TimesTran\'s debut memoir...recounts in stunning detail his coming of age in white, small-town America ... Tran...structures the narrative around works ranging from The Scarlet Letter to Homer’s Iliad. This approach expresses themes like longing, love and rebellion, but is emblematic of assimilation in and of itself, and of the ways white supremacist roles of race and class infiltrate identity formation. This framework is perhaps the book’s most powerful hinge ... In laying out his childhood around themes and metaphors, Tran makes his own Great American Memoir ... full of humor and wordplay. This is a writer who loves language, and whose keen sense of observation lends a great deal of humor in the layers ... Tran also does a service to this memoir by containing it in a period of time, closing as high school ends. By focusing on the rich trove of youth without the \'after,\' this journey never lets go of its nostalgia even while critiquing it.
Kristen Millares Young
RaveThe Seattle Times... brilliant ... the book accomplishes something that only the best literature can: It asks the reader to wonder, and to reflect, and to ask crucial questions about society and identity. And it does so in a deeply entertaining and moving story. In less than 300 pages, the fast-moving but quiet plot of Subduction guides the reader on a journey that feels both disruptive—like an earthquake—and serene, like the rocking of a boat in gentle waves ... Most of all, the narrative doesn’t settle. It is an urgent odyssey that reverberates in the mind and body. In prose as drippy and lush as the moss and licorice ferns that green Pacific Northwest forests, Subduction shakes at the ground beneath all of our feet, avalanching us into a mess of colonialism, home and humanity.
PanThe Seattle Times... many stories end too neatly, with heavy-handed messages of inner power and freedom. Freedom is an important concept in this memoir, but the language of freedom and liberation has larger connotations outside of white women’s experience of patriarchy ... Agency is essential in Untamed — the ability to trust oneself is, according to Doyle, the key to so-called freedom. But there are things individuals can do and things they can’t, often based on outside constraints. Doyle swings between recognizing this and insisting that women have everything they need inside them. Often overusing the words \'power,\' \'freedom,\' \'Knowing\' and \'Self,\' Untamed reads like a self-help book for wealthy white women. When it treads lightly into the complex territories of race, privilege, misogyny and capitalism, it boomerangs back to the tired language of every affirmation book ever written ... The book sags with one-liners and clichés ... After a while, the platitudes and pseudo-empowering statements begin to blend together and sound the same ... Where the book manages to be unique and interesting is in the tension between Doyle’s Christian identity and her marriage to a woman ... does not bring a queer ethos to its storytelling, but rather happens to have a lesbian relationship in a narrative that has Lean In vibes — that is, general, oversimplified advice about finding and cultivating inner power that only works for a certain subset of the population.
RaveThe Star TribuneNarrated in the collective \'we,\' the book takes on the task of crafting compelling characters out of 11 protagonists, and succeeds in spades. The side characters include various personified body parts ... The presence of these sort-of-sentient corporeal entities is but one colorful pane in a surprising and ultimately delightful narrative mosaic ... The narration is playful, making the emotional crescendos even more satisfying. Humor is an abundant buffer to rage, confusion, sadness and the tricky waters of love. Barry is a skilled storyteller and sentence artist who embraces irreverence where irreverence is due ... Sticks...only falters in some of its use of gender stereotypes ... However, the book treats all of its characters with a love so tender that even with these stereotypes, it’s impossible not to love them, too.
RaveThe Seattle TimesVern’s words enchant the town just as Bieker’s enchant the reader. But the author’s language is much more luxurious her villainous character’s ... Despite the fact that, in many ways, it is men’s power that creates the storm Lacey must weather, this is a book about women ... In the rendering of loss, which occurs over and over in the body and the narrative, Godshot shines. It also glimmers in its hypnotic prose, in its use of humor and color and sensual detail and its unflinching portrayal of the ways people hurt each other, and how they show up for each other ... Godshot is an utterly readable novel, though it is not always easy. It does not flinch away from the worst sides of humanity. But it doesn’t shy away from earnestness either, and is generous with its faith.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesSpirit Run is a very different kind of running book ... Spirit Run is a narrative deeply rooted in the body, both as a singular organism and a part of humanity’s whole. It ambitiously conveys how complex the relationship between body, land, spirit and groups of people can be ... The book itself is a fascinating memoir of a very specific attempt to practice justice and connection ... The prose in Spirit Run is lyrical in its description of land and body, of human pain and hope. At times, the pacing is uneven — not unlike being on a run — and the story lacks some specifics ... The result can leave the reader wanting, but overall, Spirit Run succeeds in a major way: combining the acts of a body with the sowing, and sewing, of humanity and land.
Melissa Anne Peterson
PositiveThe Seattle Times... the markings of white supremacy are on Vera and her voyeuristic white gaze. [The way] Peterson writes of Vera’s experience listening to her students’ stories...is troubling—vague, with no concrete detail about who these children are, and fraught with the power inherent to whiteness. While realistic, it’s unclear whether the author intends for the reader to see this as problematic ... Vera Violet is poetic in its description of how capitalist society fails the poor ... The sense of place in the novel is palpable, the treatment of its characters empathetic and complex. Violence and grief saturate the forest of these words. The mosaic of Vera’s world is dark, but so is capitalism, which facilitates poverty and oppression. Vera Violet is a compelling read from a potent new voice.
RaveThe Washington PostDense and layered, the book crests with the lyrical resonance while looking back at a young, queer life gripped in the talons of loss, on the rim of death ... In layered, poetic, self-aware prose, Lisicky reckons with the tensions between the freedom of community and its insularity; between dark desire and animalistic power; between sex and death. Lisicky explores the devastating, hard-to-look-at idea that death bonds the queer community through sex ... is not only a chronicle of the AIDS crisis, though its pages are inevitably permeated by that tragedy. Lisicky deftly weaves a story of a young gay man both jaded and alive, acutely observing the people and landscape around him, taking his freedom and power and questioning what these even are. Later moves in vignettes inextricably bound to one another, crescendoing at the end with a scene that is less cerebral but pumping with symbolism.
RaveLambda Literary\"...an exquisitely rendered map of discovery–of an icon, and of a self. It asks, with humor and tenderness, who gets to tell the story of their life? How do we understand each other’s stories? And is everyone queer? (Answer: yes).\
Kawai Strong Washburn
RaveThe Seattle TimesEvery once in a while, a debut novel is born into the world singing notes so unexpectedly pitch-perfect and melodic that reading it feels like a marvel. Such is the case with Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks In the Time of Saviors, an epic family saga that nimbly weaves together threads of familial and cultural legend, of human connection and loss, class and capitalism, the meaning of home, all with prose that flows over the reader in a warm, welcome current ... Alternating points of view between Dean, Noa, Kaui and Malia, Washburn proves himself a true master of the ensemble novel, perfectly manifesting the voice of each character. Each narrative is not only utterly immersive and believable, but a shining example of how different family members are from each other, while simultaneously embodying the things that make them one ... Washburn’s sensuous prose is a gift; like the characters in the book, it both immerses the reader and leaves them searching—searching within, for what maps and stories we live by.
R. Eric Thomas
RaveThe Seattle Times... shows [Thomas\'s] life and identity are much more vast and engaging than even this impressive résumé ... Thomas brings his trademark humor, but doesn’t shy away from sadness and existential crises ... With the lens of a gifted humorist and writer, Thomas skillfully crafts a prism from his multifaceted experiences ... Just as he explores race and class with a mix of curiosity and deft understanding, Thomas approaches sexual and gender identity with a calm and open demeanor, despite some anxiety and endearingly awkward moments ... When it comes to queer narratives in literature, lightheartedness that embraces the mystery of it all is rare ... With its joyful embrace of the strange and funny, Here For It is a welcome addition to the genre of queer memoir ... Thomas’ prose discards the easy notion of a spoiler, and lets us in on all of that middle stuff. These are emotionally and intellectually complex stories buoyed by humor and heart — something we can all be here for.
RaveLambda LiteraryDanez Smith’s poetry feels like breathing. Their newest collection, Homie, feels like coming up for air when you didn’t know you were under water. Their words are specific, funny, glowing with a truth that seems like it has never been said in quite the right way before they said it ... Homie is expansive, big enough to hold a vast mosaic of emotion and style, of life and death, of survival and resilience, of pain and joy. Smith’s skill lies in their ability to convey entire universes in the syntax and arrangement of a few words ... Language is Smith’s gift, and Smith is a gift to language. Homie will not disappoint fans of their electric work, and will likely bring many more readers their way.
RaveLambda LiteraryThe interplay between the removed perspective of a bird in flight and the corporeal, vital connection of the flock creates a kind of dance where the prose is like bird tracks in snow. The reader both soars above it all and gets hit in the face with the violence of a hollow bone snap ... so deliciously complex. The characters are full of moral flaws and good intentions. No one is entirely likeable, and few are entirely hate-able. Real Life troubles the line, which one might argue is arbitrary to begin with ... Real Life is one of those novels that perfectly captures a moment in time while also being timeless. It’s an arresting portrayal of an internal map and the one-ways and glass panes that restrict its movement. Taylor has given the literary world a masterful debut.
Emma Copley Eisenberg
PositiveOn the SeawallThis kind of meta-layering permeates Third Rainbow Girl, creating a reading experience that is both electric and cerebral, acute and obtuse ... one of the most striking and disturbing moments in the book, a potent manifestation of one of the main narrative arcs: storytelling as a basic impulse that can be empowering in some cases and utterly horrifying in others. Both have profound consequences ... The Third Rainbow Girl, then, is not so much a true crime story as it is a philosophical meditation ... The Third Rainbow Girl aims a beam at a vast constellation of droplets, and draws color.
Emma Copley Eisenberg
RaveThe Seattle Times... can be read as a memoir, as a deeply researched true-crime report, as a work of philosophy. And the language is physical and visceral in its description of both the corporeal and the psychological. By Eisenberg’s own rubric, this book succeeds on many levels ... Eisenberg is a skilled researcher, a truth made clear by the troves of detail about the \'Rainbow Murders\' case, expertly laid out in engaging prose ... Eisenberg injects the book with two vital lifelines: her own memoir-esque chapters, and copious historical context. The narrative is expansive, but it doesn’t get out of hand. It is engagingly written and well paced ... Ultimately, the book is about accepting multiplicity and the prismatic nature of truth and justice ... A book like The Third Rainbow Girl is a rare find. Its nuance and self-awareness propel the narrative forward into territory far beyond the black and white. In that sense, it is a rainbow in itself.
RaveThe BelieverThe poems in Eyes Bottle Dark reject the white background and the hollow image it presents. They pulse with beauty and blood, and their lines challenge ubiquitous colonial linguistic habits to reveal another way of creating meaning ... this collection turns the everyday acts and elements of Diné culture into the root from which its poems spring ... And the poems, they are beautiful. They embrace cracked syntax and staccato rhythm and enact imagery rather than merely representing it: the words themselves are dry tributaries, drowning lakes, weeds and flowers, shadow and light. They cascade and layer over one another to create painful, gaping omissions, white space ... we see the theme of queerness, which blossoms throughout this collection as both a wonder and a brutality ... Just as Skeets works the trap of colonial language, navigating the inherent violence of grammar in a way that might allow him to convey his experience, he navigates the minefield of sexual intimacy, in which the possibility of pain always lurks ... precisely because they perceive an entanglement between violence and pleasure, pain and exultation, the poems in Eyes Bottle Dark don’t fetishize oppression. In this way, the book orients itself toward the present and the future.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesWest returns with her signature wit and unapologetic snark ... most essays make compelling points about social and environmental injustice. But some succeed more than others ... she refers to Ted Bundy admirers (and incels in general) with homophobic dismissal. Even as a throwaway line, the surprisingly tone-deaf insult undermines the core of the essay. It’s not the thoughtful use of humor West’s readers expect from her. And while the oppression of the gender binary is acknowledged, that binary is perpetuated in that very same argument. It’s hard to avoid using this binary language but important in a book that deals with social justice; it’s tiny corners like these where those harmful structures assert their power ... This is where anti-racist and queer frameworks are needed to build a progressive conversation about how to dismantle white-supremacist, cis-hetero patriarchy ... The openness with which West writes about \'cancel culture\' is refreshing ... West is at her best when her humor and sincerity complement each other ... There is plenty of sincerity in these pages ... Many of these essays grapple with base morality, which feels apt. The world demands this reflection — there is so much evil with so much power, there is the looming problem of climate change. These are difficulties of morality, and West argues there is a pressing need to fight for what is beautiful and right. In this way, The Witches Are Coming succeeds in balancing darkness with light, despair with a kind of reverence, playfulness with rage ... That’s an alchemy, a spell, that West can pull off better than most.
PositiveThe Brooklyn RailWith absorbing prose, fast-moving plot and excellent dialogue, Buckhanon examines silence in the face of patriarchy and white supremacy, and the dynamics of family.
RaveThe Seattle Times\"Kaminsky grounds the collection with layered images and concrete details that serve as shifting metaphors ... Deaf Republic is a one-sitting read, a book of poetry both complex and accessible. The concepts of collective silence in response to war and the many applications of deafness are artfully traversed. The poems set during peacetime show that even when a society thinks it is at peace, it may not be. With lyrical and fearless language, Ilya Kaminsky has written an engrossing page-turner that challenges society’s silence, and celebrates the power of community in the face of violent atrocities.\