We’re halfway through 2021, and the books just keep on coming. In fact, it seems as if publishing is getting geared up for an amazing latter half of the year, with the month of June full of reads we’re ready to dig into throughout the summer. On this list alone, there’s a memoir about love and forgiveness, a queer rom-com that includes time traveling, two nonfiction books that dive deep into multiple disabilities, and even a social horror about micoaggressions in the workplace. In other words, there’s something for everyone on our June BitchReads list. As always, happy reading!
Every book recommendation in this list comes from a Bitch Media editor with complete editorial independence. However, Bitch Media is an affiliate of Bookshop.org, and we want to make sure you know that a small percentage of any books you click through and purchase will come back to Bitch as a commission. Bookshop.org does not ship internationally.
Slavery didn’t end that long ago. In fact, it’s still omnipresent as an institution, one that has shaped every facet of our world and continues to do so. Beginning in his native New Orleans, The Atlantic staff writer Clint Smith III traces slavery through the monuments erected throughout the country and what they tell us about who gets to dictate our history. It’s a powerful, timely book, one that we should all read over and over again, marking up the pages as we go.
After Daisy Hernández’s aunt Dora travels from Colombia to the United States to seek treatment for intestinal issues, she learns that she has Chagas disease—also known as the “kissing bug”— and dies. As Hernández grieves, she attempts to understand how this could be: Why is this disease killing so many people in Latin American countries and how can the parasite be rooted out? In Search of the Kissing Bug is an expansive account of poverty, race, and who we consider worthy of help as it relates to location-based medical ailments.
Casey McQuiston doesn’t miss: Those who read and loved Red, White & Royal Blue will also fall for One Last Stop, another rom-com told from the perspective of an enchanting protagonist who has no idea what awaits them. August is cynical about life, and New York City hasn’t changed her perspective at all—until she crosses paths with Jane, a gorgeous, mysterious woman. It’s the perfect love story with a twist: Jane turns out to be a time-traveling stranger from the ’70s stuck on the subway in a loop, and only August can save her newfound love. One Last Stop is the perfect summer romance.
Ashley C. Ford is one of our culture’s most important voices, and her debut memoir, Somebody’s Daughter, is an absolute tour-de-force. The book chronicles Ford’s childhood as she tries to grapple with her father’s incarceration for rape, a crime she doesn’t know he’s committed until long after he’s been convicted; her mother’s cruelty, which she struggles to understand; and her grandmother’s love, which sustains her. A memoir for the ages, Somebody’s Daughter redefines our understanding of love—and how we can navigate it in ways that preserve our emotional and mental health.
Liam is devastated when their brother, Ethan, dies in a hit-and-run accident, and they feel as if there’s nowhere for them to turn for comfort. Their parents are also grieving Ethan; their closest friends, Vanessa and Joel, are now dating each other, leaving little time for anything else; and making music is no longer the outlet it used to be. Liam doesn’t know how to grieve, until they begin building a surprise friendship with Ethan’s best friend, Marcus, and realize there’s more to Ethan than Liam ever realized. The Ghosts We Keep delves deep into the ways grief can shape us, especially when it’s new.
Nella’s a Black woman working in publishing who’s hoping she’ll soon be promoted at the elite publishing company Wagner Books and be able to change the industry from the inside out. When Hazel—or, as she’s quickly known, the “Other Black Girl”—is hired at Wagner, Nella thinks she’s found a confidante, but Hazel has something sinister stirring that will change Nella and Wagner forever. The Other Black Girl is a haunting social horror that turns microaggressions into inescapable real-life terror.
M. Leona Godin, who lost her own sight to the degenerative illness retinal dystrophy, offers up a fascinating cultural history of blindness. She not only considers blindness itself, but the ways we use “blind” as a catch-all for everything from our anger (“blinding rage”) to the way we describe science (“blind evolution”) at the same time we marginalize actual blind people in our society. Though we’ve come a long way in blind education, we haven’t come far enough, and Godin offers a combination of cultural criticism, research, and personal analysis to explore how we can better understand and accommodate blindness as a condition within our society.
After each mass shooting, conservative politicians hide behind the Second Amendment as their reason for refusing to move the needle on legislated gun control. Though mass shootings are by now stitched into the fabric of American life, historian and award-winning author Carol Anderson offers an important intervention in the ongoing debate over gun control. The Second explores how that widely interpreted amendment came to be, and how it has since been wielded to prevent Black Americans from obtaining guns—and to justify killing them. It’s an eye-opening, enraging account that every politician should read as they fight on both sides of the aisle to either progress or curtail gun-control legislation.
Long ago, Danielle Henderson created the iconic Feminist Ryan Gosling Tumblr, turning her into an internet legend in her own right. In the time since, Henderson has lived multiple existences as an essayist, critic, in-demand television writer, and now, a memoirist who traces the origins of the comedic instinct we’ve come to love. The Ugly Cry chronicles Henderson’s upbringing as one of the only Black children in her upstate New York neighborhood, where she moves with her grandparents after her mother abandons her to be with a drug-addicted boyfriend. It’s in that home that she comes into her own, learning from her stern grandmother about the ways of the world and from pop culture that she could reinvent herself time and time again. This is a triumph of a memoir.
When I was asked to blurb this book, I was unsure if I wanted to read another manuscript about doctors overlooking, dismissing, and misdiagnosing sick women. By the time I finished reading Unwell Women, though, I couldn’t write that blurb fast enough. Elinor Cleghorn has written a sprawling history about women’s health and the various ways it was misunderstood and sidelined within medicine, and the lingering impact of decisions made centuries ago. Treat Unwell Women as if it’s a textbook. You’ll be armed with the necessary information to advocate for yourself with all of the medical practitioners tasked with treating you.
Language scholar Amanda Montell has a treat for readers, myself included, who are obsessed with learning as much as possible about cults: They’re all around us—and not just those we’re taught to think about cults. As Montell details in this follow-up to 2019’s Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language, cults intrigue us because they use language as a brainwashing tool. And it’s not just NXIVM or Heaven’s Gate; Montell makes the case that QAnon, Peloton, CrossFit, and other normalized cultural phenomena adopt similar language in their pursuit of drawing others toward a singular view, accurate or otherwise. We’re all susceptible to coercion, and Montell’s phenomenal book that chilling point as clear as can be.
Krys Malcolm Belc has long thought about the relationship between gender and embodiment, but giving birth to his son, Samson, helped clarify his own understanding of how we culturally understand parenting. Cisgender women aren’t the only people who give birth, but that’s what legal documents presume; when Belc’s partner, Anna, adopts Samson, the nonbinary and transmasculine Belc is listed as “the natural mother of the child.” Belc’s illustrated memoir-in-essays delves into what the experience of giving birth taught him about the rigidness of medical and legal systems and the deftness of those determined to exist beyond binaries. It’s a powerful, necessary book—one that every single obstetrician should be assigned in medical school.
If you’re familiar with the Greek classics, then you’ve likely learned about Princess Helen—the most beautiful woman in Greece, who is credited with being the cause of the Trojan War—and her sister, Princess Clytemnestra, who’s much more grounded and disinterested in life as a king’s wife. Claire Heywood masterfully reimagines their lives as princesses of Sparta—first as pawns in the plots and games of men, and then as powerhouses capable of standing on their own and commanding whole kingdoms. Daughters of Sparta is a fantastic rewriting of an age-old tale.
Skye has always been a loner, never needing anyone or anything as she goes through life. She’s so detached, in fact, that she never thinks twice about donating her eggs at the age of 26 because she expects the reproductive clinic to protect her privacy. As Skye approaches her 40s, however, one of those eggs—now a 12-year-old girl—tracks her down, throwing her life into tumult as she tries to figure out how to bond with the child she never expected to meet. Mia McKenzie’s second novel is an endearing read that gives us a disenchanted protagonist for the ages.
Vivian Ellenshaw is fat and uninterested in losing weight, but when she’s forced to attend fat camp with her ex-best friend, Allie, she tries to make the best of it with fellow campers who are also displeased to be there. But Vivian’s unprepared for zombies to overrun Camp Featherlite, and even less prepared to save the world while reaffirming her right to remain fat without intervention. Eat Your Heart Out is a rollicking good time.
Most feminists, particularly those who analyze pop culture, are familiar enough with the “strong Black woman” trope to know the harm it causes. But clinical psychologist Inger Burnett-Zeigler sees its impact firsthand, and has poured personal and professional experience into a guidebook for Black women that aims to provide “a healthy balance between strength and vulnerability.” Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen offers tips to Black women who need their strength to navigate an anti-Black, sexist, queerphobic, ableist, and classist world—but who also don’t want their emotional turmoil overlooked or dismissed. It’s a thorough guidebook that goes beyond basic self-help to delve into the literal psychology of the trope, and what it takes to shed it for good.
When Tanya and Nessa Bloom’s mother, Lorraine, asks them to return to their childhood home in Boston to help her pack it up, they expect to dredge up some difficult memories. However, neither Nessa nor Tanya expected to learn that their stepfather has been abusing Lorraine—and that she’s ready to file for a divorce and a restraining order. Nessa and Tanya are not only forced to confront their stepfather’s brutality; they’re also pushed to deal with a childhood secret they’d agreed to bury, and how it permanently altered both of their lives. Something Wild offers powerful insight into the bond sisters share, and how far they’ll go to maintain it.