Better late than never, right? Yes, it’s midway through April, and this list is typically published at the beginning of the month. However, our commitment to bringing you the books we’re most invested in hasn’t waivered. This list has it all: There are novels about grief, exile, and how campuses in the past and present grapple with feminism. We’ve got a political memoir, essay collections, and even a book about the women writers and critics who shaped the 20th century. All of these books are designed to entertain and educate, so I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed picking them.
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Paige Moresco’s life was going well—until her husband died in a car accident. They’d been together since eighth grade, so Moresco knows she’ll be grieving for a while, but two years after his untimely death, she’s still struggling to find joys in her life’s simple pleasures. Everything about her life, including her relationship with her son, Trey, is in disrepair, and Moresco’s tired of everyone, including her nosy neighbors, reminding her that she still has a life to live. So, she decides to confront her grief head-on: through gardening. Her thriving vegetable garden riles the neighbors, but more importantly, Digging In shows the extremes we must all go to find our way through grief.
America is Not the Heart is a twist on Carlos Bulosan’s 1946 novel, America Is In the Heart. Like Bulosan’s seminal text, Elaine Castillo’s debut novel focuses on a Filipino family who immigrated to America and finds that the home of the free doesn’t have as many freedoms as they were led to believe. Castillo’s book follows Hero as she goes from wealth and the possibility of being a doctor to joining the New People’s Army, a Communist group that formed in 1969. Ten years later, Hero has broken thumbs, a broken spirit, and a family that has disowned her. Now, she’s in Milpitas, California, attempting to start over. America is Not the Heart isn’t an easy read, and that’s what makes it such a beautiful book. Readers will embark on flashbacks to understand Hero’s journey, and in the process, they will feel what Hero has felt.
Think back on everything you’ve learned, seen, or heard about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Most of it caricatures people who have the disorder, stripping them of their humanity and making it seem as if their obsessions are mere quirks. In Because We Are Bad, London-based journalist Lily Bailey upends those mischaracterizations of the disorder by beautifully exploring her own life. When she’s diagnosed with OCD as a teenager, Bailey realizes there’s a legitimate reasons for the voice she hears that persuades her to do everything from going into her sister’s room to make sure she’s breathing to going through a nightly checklist of all the things she’s done wrong. Bailey is incredibly honest in her memoir, and in the process, she shows how common OCD is and why it’s important to understand the compulsions that plague those with the disorder. You never know who’s struggling with it.
It has been 10 years since acclaimed essayist Sloane Crosley released I Was Told There’d Be Cake and eight years since she blessed us with How Did You Get This Number. And in her third collection of essays, Crosley is as witty, insightful, and courageous as ever. In these 16 essays, she explores everything from mountain climbing in Ecuador to paying $4,200 to get her website’s domain name back with the same humor that marked her previous collections. Be careful, you might finish Look Alive Out There in one sitting.
In many respects, The Female Persuasion is just the latest novel about feminism, sexism, and misogyny on college campuses: Sarah Henstra’s The Red Word and Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Devil and Webster also dealt with a similar subject through the lens of a single character. However, Meg Wolitzer pushes a bit further by presenting a character in Greer Kadetsky who doesn’t accrue empathy from the reader. She’s an introvert who’s disappointed that she has to attend Ryland College because her parents messed up her financial-aid forms. Through Kadetsky, Wolitzer grapples with larger issues, such as the generational divide between feminists and how women often perform invisible labor that nobody acknowledges. Is The Female Persuasion a perfect novel? No. Is it close? Absolutely.
What stories do well tell about addiction and how does the media we consume reinforce our misunderstandings? Those interlinked questions are the center of Leslie Jamison’s incredible new memoir, The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath. While Jamison’s book deals directly with her addiction to alcohol and her recovery journey, she doesn’t trot out the same old story about hitting rock bottom. Instead, Jamison really grapples with the relationship between identity and addiction as well as how our individual experiences shape our understanding of addiction. The Recovering is a book that readers will come back to again and again.
I wish YA books had more protagonists like Abby Ives when I was a child. She’s plus-size, queer, fashion-obsessed, and worried that she’ll never kiss a girl, but one summer might change everything. When Ives begins interning at the Lemonberry boutique, she finds that she’s competing against Jordi Perez, a confident photographer who’s crushing on her. The Summer of Jordi Perez is a classic coming-of-age story with a protagonist who’s learning to love her body, trust her instincts, and possibly fall in love.
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Michael Bennett is a three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, a Super Bowl champion, and a proud activist who has decided that being remembered as a great athlete isn’t enough for his legacy. In his powerful book about the relationship between race and sports, Bennett writes simply, “I’ll be a football player for just a few more years, but I’ll be Black forever.” That line captures the point and the focus of his memoir. Things That Make White People Uncomfortable traverses Bennett’s life from being raised by a teenage mother to going undrafted in the NFL because he wasn’t “coachable” to finding his voice in a professional league that attempts to stifle those who want to raise awareness about social ills. Bennett is brutally honest throughout his book in an effort to challenge fellow professional athletes to champion the causes that matter.
When Dorothy Parker, Janet Malcolm, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Susan Sontag, Hannah Arendt, Renata Adler, Rebecca West, and Pauline Kael were shaping intellectualism in the 20th century, each of them were described as “sharp.” Sometimes it was a positive descriptor, but often, it was a pejorative used by men to downplay their talent. Journalist and critic Michelle Dean doesn’t just offer mini-biographies of these women in Sharp: The Women Who Made An Art of Having an Opinion. Instead, she focuses on their ideas and compares the similarities and differences in their work to show how each of these women pushed against backlash and sexism to really solidify their place in history. Sharp is a fine piece of cultural criticism, unlike anything I’ve read before.
How can we confront the hate that’s manifesting in politics, our lives, and on the internet? That’s the question CNN commentator Sally Kohn aims to answer in The Opposite of Hate because she believes that it’s possible for the world to move past hate. Through interviews with researchers who study hate movements, former white supremacists, activists, and others who are invested in examining systemic bias, Kohn presents a compelling argument for how hate continues dominating our discourse and interactions with each other. The Opposite of Hate is really a testament to the power of empathy; if we can better understand people and systems, we can figure out how to make decisions and policies that aren’t oppressive.
Transgender activist and writer Juno Roche didn’t aim to create a “guide” in the traditional sense. Instead, Roche wanted to “lay myself bare and share stories and experiences from others and to celebrate the potential of our wonderful bodies and lives,” and she definitely achieved that in Queer Sex. While the book tackles serious issues, such as how we culturally perceive and stigmatize bodies that are considered “different,” Roche interviews a series of people about how they’ve learned to embrace themselves and broach intimacy. Queer Sex is simply phenomenal.
For a decade, Amy Chozick has been reporting on Hillary Clinton. She’s followed the former senator and secretary of state through her failed 2008 presidential bid, her decision to run in 2016, and her controversial loss to Donald Trump. Through a combination of insider political insight, interviews with fellow insiders, and a focus on how Chozick came-of-age while covering one of the most powerful women in the world, we get a really unique portrait of how women in political journalism navigate the fraught, sexist terrain.
In 2016, novelist Alexander Chee wrote a powerful essay for BuzzFeed about finding the perspective and the courage to write autobiographical novels. None of the advice was practical: “You must write it. It would be so easy,” he wrote. “And yet when you sit down to try, the perfection is gone. The beautiful symmetry, the easy way of it, all of it is replaced by awkwardness, something worse than if your mind made only noise.” The lack of practicality was intentional, and seemingly the start of Chee’s collection of essays that share the title of those BuzzFeed guidelines. How To Write An Autobiographical Novel is the essay collection that most writers wish they could deliver: Chee traverses everything from MFA programs to losing friends to AIDS with a focus on how he’s survived it all.
Two years after Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda shook up the world and less than two months after the film adaptation of the book was released, Becky Albertalli is expanding Simon’s world once again by focusing on his best friend, Leah. Like Simon, Becky’s afraid of how her friends will react to her bisexuality, so she chooses to keep her truth close to her chest. As Leah and her friends enter their senior year of high school and begin thinking about college, the prom, and all of the complex realities of adulthood, she realizes that she has feelings for a fellow teen girl—and she has no idea how to navigate that. Leah On the Offbeat is another deep-dive into teenage sexuality, and how we can all show up for the young people in our lives as they figure out who they are.
She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak is a groundbreaking collection of intimate first-person stories about what it means to be queer, a woman, and Nigerian in a world where homophobia is still rampant and used to fuel everything from hate crimes to policies. Each essay deals with more than sexuality, as the editors explain in the introduction. There are ruminations about childhood abuse, addiction, intimate partner violence, and even abortion, which is really what makes this collection so powerful. As the editors wrote in the introduction, “For a number of our narrators, opening up was a cathartic experience. Many shared experiences they had never previously spoken about.” Silence is not a form of protection, as Audre Lorde said so long ago, so writing about these experiences hopefully set these 25 authors free—and will free everybody who reads this book.