This month, we’re checking out haunting poetry collections, meditations on menstruation, funny and sweet comics exploring our favorite supervillan’s backstory, and insightful historical fiction about the sterilization of Black women in post-segregation Alabama. Curl up with your favorites and let us know how you liked them!
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In his second volume of poetry, MacArthur “genius” Ocean Vuong once again transports us into the heart of his singular talent. Time Is a Mother is a collection about grief as a sacred ritual and a means of transportation; Vuong’s haunting pen explores his emotions and experiences after losing his mother. Much like his acclaimed 2019 debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, his latest work uses the intimate relationship between mother and son to tell the story of another relationship—that between himself and society, between a people and scattered nations. These relationships, no matter how broad in scope, still feel intimate and powerful thanks to Vuong’s careful, attentive writing.
Set in 1970s Lahore, Pakistan, Aamina Ahmad’s period novel is a masterpiece of a mystery. Faraz was torn from his birthplace and hometown, Lahore’s notorious red-light district called the Mohalla, when he was just a child. Now, as a grown man with his own baby daughter, he’s being sent back home to cover up the murder of a young girl. In the Mohalla, the art of being a courtesan is passed down from mother to daughter for generations, and the legacy of violence towards them is strong. So when one girl is murdered while performing for a group of older men, Wajid (Faraz’s boss and powerful father) assumes that Faraz will carry out the task of obscuring what happened—even though Faraz himself doesn’t know who killed her or why. This routine act of corruption should have been easy. But from the minute Faraz steps back into his old life, he feels haunted. He instead pushes to find justice and learn the truth about the crime, his family, and his community.
Douglas Stuart, who won the Booker Prize for his 2020 novel, Shuggie Bain, returns with his second novel. Young Mungo is a transformative and suspenseful queer love story set in a working-class community in Glasgow, Scotland. Mungo (a Protestant) and James (a Catholic) are each other’s forbidden best friends and later, each other’s forbidden first loves. They’re under immense pressure navigating their families’ different religious backgrounds and keeping their relationship secret from their families and communities. This love is fraught with danger, especially for Mungo, whose older brother Hamish is the leader of a local gang. Stuart’s lyric novel captures your attention and doesn’t let go, exploring the concept of masculinity, the devastation of sectarianism, and the intimacy of all forms of love.
For lovers of sweeping, multigenerational epics like Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing or Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, this story following three generations of Arab women will strike right at the heart. Spanning Lebanon, Iraq, India, the United States, and Kuwait, Al-Nakib’s debut novel interweaves a story of triumph and failure, joy and heartbreak. In an alternate reality set in contemporary Kuwait, where blasphemy is made a capital crime, the novel’s trajectory from the 1920s to the near present explores the question of individual choice and the grip of a homeland.
With this tale centered around a “mixed-race vampire” named Lydia, Claire Kohda has created something delightfully strange, funny, smart, and touching. Eternal hunger is a core part of the centuries-old vampire trope, but Kohda manages to explore it freshly and more evocatively in Woman, Eating. As a vampire, Lydia can only consume blood. But she longs for food all the time, especially the kinds of dishes her Japanese father used to eat. Sustaining herself on pigs’ blood alone requires a significant amount of effort as she struggles with her inability to feed on the humans around her—natural prey, to be sure, but prey she can’t bring herself to destroy. Lydia feels the ache of hunger constantly, for not only food, but something intangible she can’t pinpoint. The character is conflict and longing personified, part-demon and part-human, mixed ethnic heritage, and an irresistible pull towards hunger for food and hunger for humans.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Wench, Take My Hand is a searing novel about the forced sterilization of Black girls and women in post-segregation Alabama. When Civil Townsend, a young Black woman fresh out of nursing school, starts working at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic in 1973, she’s convinced that she, her coworkers, and her white supervisor will make change in the surrounding African American community helping girls and women make decisions and learn about their own bodies. But when her first assignment has her driving to a worn-down one-room cabin to administer birth control to preteens Erica and India who had never kissed a boy, Civil learns the depth of state violence against Black people. When an unthinkable event changes everything, Civil must reconcile with what she’s witnessed. And decades later, when her own daughter is grown and her career has been established, Civil sets herself to revealing the truth, setting things right, and ensuring that the memory of this never dies.
With this debut novel, Okwiri Oduor—winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing—leaves no room to doubt the extent of her talents and imagination. It’s rich, evocative, and irresistible, full of beguiling magic and mystery. Traveling between our world and the spirit realm, Ayosa only has elusive and ghostly beings for companions. She is lonely and hopeful, longing for a friend with whom she can share her passionate heart. But when a friend finally comes along, nothing unravels as Ayosa hoped.
Llanos-Figueroa’s novel about chattel slavery in Puerto Rico is a much needed title given the overwhelming lack of published stories of Afro-Latinidad. Set in a 19th-century Puerto Rican plantation and told through the eyes of Pola, an African captive abused and used as a “breeder,” readers witness the brutality of slavery in the Caribbean and the hope it requires to survive unimaginable conditions. Pola, a deeply spiritual African woman, must endure her children being snatched from her at the moment of their birth, her life becoming constant dehumanization and heartbreak. But as a story about the African Diaspora, this is ultimately a narrative of resilience, love, triumph, and hope.
Essayist Chloe Caldwell’s memoir approaches menstruation as a portal to understanding many different facets of her life, but especially love. Periods are often tucked away, trivialized. And reflecting on their importance usually leads to a deluge of theorizing and medical terms. Caldwell’s book is refreshingly different, honoring the intimacy and conflict that menstruation can bring. In her 30s, Caldwell began falling in love with Tony, a musician and single dad. And at that time, swirling around with the intensity of her new love, her moods—rage, anxiety, despair—were exacerbated by her menstrual cycle. Caldwell did what all writers do in moments like these: interrogate, investigate, meditate. She goes back in the archives of her own family stories (the sanitary belts of her mother and grandmother’s time), talks to her friends about their recollections and reflections on menstruation, reads Reddit threads on premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and learns about what she’s experiencing with her own moods and physical pain, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). A humorous, tender, and informative memoir, The Red Zone, shows readers how exploring our bodies can help us connect to the deepest parts of who we are and how we relate to others.
Harley Quinn fans will love this first installment of a trilogy within the DC Icons Universe that examines the backstory of one of the most dynamic and multidimensional female supervillains in comic book history: the incomparable Harley Quinn. As a brand-new intern in a psych lab at Gotham University, Harleen Quinzel knows her future is just within reach. If she makes a Big Scientific Discovery, she’s sure she’ll land a full scholarship to college and finally escape her abusive father. But abusive men are everywhere, and after Harleen experiences and witnesses the way women are harassed in STEM departments at the university, she and a vigilante girl gang called The Reckoning become fixated on getting justice—and revenge. When Harleen falls in love with another girl in The Reckoning, she’s convinced she’s found her people. But when one of the gang members is found murdered, everything Harleen has worked so hard for—and everything she’s found—begins to spiral out of control.